“I like to think that someone will trace how the deepest thinking of India made its way to Greece and from there to the philosophy of our times.”
– John Wheeler (American Quantum Physicist)
The western world has long been known to appropriate ancient eastern cultures, worldviews, knowledge systems and ideas, through a process that Rajiv Malhotra terms as – ‘digestion’ – a process in which elements of a less powerful culture are assimilated into the dominant culture, and modified so as to fit into the dominant culture’s own historical templates and social structures.
Yoga is one such example of this digestion, where many aspects of the tradition were adapted by the west, and then repackaged and sold, without giving any credit to the Indic sources. Rather, yoga has now been divorced from its ancient philosophical foundations, projecting it as something other than Hindu.
Malhotra explains this explicitly in his U-turn theory, in which the westerner absorbs the knowledge from an Indic source, and then completely erases all traces of that original source.
He then repackages that knowledge as his own, and may often even proceed to denigrate the source-tradition from where he got the ideas in the first place. Carl Jung, Ken Wilber and William James are some examples of such westerners, cited by Malhotra, who made this classic U-turn
The western entertainment media is also part of this widespread process of digestion. This can be witnessed in some of the most popular movies and books that made it to bestseller charts – they were, not surprisingly, always the ones that espoused ancient eastern ideas.
Movies such as the Matrix, Inception, the Avatar, Star Wars, etc. are replete with philosophical concepts that have been absorbed from Hinduism and Buddhism. One can actually wonder, what would happen to these movies, without such pluralistic themes and advanced metaphysical concepts that provide the backbone and actual substance to these scripts.
Even western fantasy and fiction books that have gone on to win prestigious awards have often been steeped in ancient eastern concepts. American bestselling author, Brandon Sanderson of the Mistborn Series, is one such example of a defaulter who uses old concepts of eastern Dharma-cultures to fuel his fantasy world-building, but then does a complete U-turn, returning to the more comfortable zone of western monotheism.
He weaves a plot that uses science and rationalism to explain his magic systems, but the very foundations of the science that he uses is derived from ancient Hindu knowledge-systems and concepts such as Karma (causality/consequence).
He even brings forth the two forces – of Preservation (the force of Vishnu) and Destruction (the force of Shiva) – as the underlying forces that operate and govern the universe.
These two forces form the basis of his scientific systems, in which the characters develop powers, by using the material manifestations (such as metals) of these two divine forces.
But Sanderson’s cognitive capacities, it seems, cannot go beyond his own narrow western templates, because, in the end, he too does a U-turn from the vast Hindu concepts that he used to create the foundations for his fantasy.
He concludes that the two forces of preservation and destruction (Vishnu and Shiva) create problems in the world simply because they are separate/split and not ‘one’. So like all those other digestors, Sanderson too, in the end, projects the ‘one god’ of western monotheism as something superior to all those other forces, and who, in the end, brings ‘order’ to the world.
So he sells his ideas using the larger constructs of Hinduism, but then goes on to subtly denigrate those very concepts, by superimposing on them the ‘one god’ of monotheism as the ‘actual hero’ who is supposedly superior to the other “many” gods/forces.
Although this double standard may not be intentional on his part, it just goes to show the dominant trend of the western world in digesting other cultures, as and when it suits their whims.
Just as the tiger, a predator, would, the West, a dominant and aggressive culture dismembers the weaker one – the deer – into parts from which it picks and chooses pieces that it wants to appropriate; the appropriated elements get mapped onto the language and social structures of the dominant civilization’s own history and paradigms, leaving little if any trace of the links to the source tradition. The civilization that was thus “mined” and consumed gets depleted of its cultural and social capital, because the appropriated elements are then shown to be disconnected from and even in conflict with the source civilization. Finally, the vanquished prey – the deer – enters the proverbial museum as yet another dead creature (i.e. a dead culture), ceasing to pose a threat to the dominant one. (Rajiv Malhotra: Is Dharma Being Digested, 2012)
The world-renowned Dan Brown also became a popular non-conformist thinker when he challenged the mainstream tenets of orthodox Christianity in his book Da Vinci Code. He went on to use eastern concepts of ‘man being god’, ‘consciousness’, ‘the sacred feminine’, and other pagan symbols, overall portraying Christianity as a patriarchal cover-up of the sacred feminine. He even echoed the views of mythologists such as Joseph Campbell, when he declared that the image of Mary and Jesus was derived from the ancient polytheist Egyptian civilization – wherein we find the image of the Goddess Isis and her child Horus.
But unable to sustain a new or expanded template, Brown too did a U-turn and returned to his comfortable roots by once again upholding monotheism as supreme – by glorifying the Bible as the ultimate treasure, in his book – The Lost Symbol. One can almost sense a subtle intent of proselytizing on his part. Yet, this he does by first selling concepts that are diametrically opposite to that of mainstream Christianity.
The pattern followed here by western individuals and systems is exactly the same. For instance, when the British came to India, they were overwhelmed and threatened by India’s vast cultural diversity. This diversity and decentralization of powers to them represented ‘chaos’ and ‘instability’.
How could one country have so many gods, cultures, religions, worldviews and languages? – This is barbaric! Pagan! We have to teach them about the ‘one right way’, and the ‘one true god’.
The western perception of India has always been like this – a land that is exotic, chaotic, dangerous, messy, uncontrolled, and inscrutable.
This multidimensional reality and pluralistic ethos was therefore incomprehensible to them, unable to be processed by their narrow cognitive frames. This diversity of India was something that they felt they had to control, destroy or assimilate.
By introducing their own centralized structures of authority and their judeo-christian based education systems, they thus attempted to stamp out this cultural diversity, by replacing it with their monoculture and their one-god templates, because for them the ‘one way’ and ‘one god’ represented ‘order’, ‘control’, ‘sophistication’, and ‘stability’.
Renowned Vedic scholar and author, Dr. David Frawley, asserts that, ‘the destruction of cultural diversity, like that of biodiversity, is devastating to living systems.
The loss of cultural diversity does to human beings what the destruction of biodiversity does to the world of nature. Just as we are destroying our outer landscape of forests and wilderness, so we are destroying our inner landscape…’
Today we see this same pattern of ‘destroying diversity’, being repeated in the western entertainment media, which uses pagan-inspired superheroes, and then again resorts to the ‘one-god’ or ‘one-power’ as that which is superior to all.
In the animated television series ‘Captain Planet and the Planeteers’, the Planeteers are five teenagers, each of whom wields a special power – that of earth, water, fire, air or heart (love, mind-control, telepathy). But in the midst of a crisis, when the five could not resolve situations, they would have to “combine” all their powers into “one power” to summon Captain Planet – who was the superhero – the ‘One’ superior amalgamation of their ‘many’ powers.
The extreme popularity of superheroes in the west today reflects an alienated mindset of the people, where the western world has become one great orphanage, full of people subconsciously yearning for their Pagan Gods and Goddesses – who were wiped out by the Christian Monotheists.
While the victims now attempt to escape from this monotheist jail, the monotheists on the other hand are again a few steps ahead, where they’ve now embellished the iron bars of the jail with much fancy glitter, to lure the victims back again. And the “western entertainment media” is one such instrument that maintains this constant enslavement.
Captain America a Monotheist ?
In the movie Avengers, which again borrows from polytheist traditions, it is rather hypocritical to hear one of the characters (Captain America) repeat an old monotheist adage, which goes like this:
Captain America puts on a parachute to go follow after Thor, Loki and Iron Man.
Natasha Romanoff: I’d sit this one out, Cap.
Captain America: I don’t see how I can.
Natasha Romanoff: These guys come from legend. They’re basically gods.
Captain America: There’s only One God, ma’am, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.
[Captain America leaps out of the Quinjet]
– We will never know if this insular mindset is sheer arrogance, cowardice or plain ignorance. Or perhaps, and unfortunately, this, what we have here, is as far as western thought and creativity will ever go.
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