India and the USA — collaboration?

Kosha Shah is the founder of the Sri Aurobindo Research Foundation in Baroda, India, and the editor of Ritagni, A Journal dedicated to the Social and Political Vision of Sri Aurobindo. She visited the United States in the summer of 1997 and gave a talk at the AUM meeting in New York.
by Kosha Shah
 Devan Nair and Kosha Shah
Tndia and the United States of America—they seem to be two countries poles apart in every way. They are even located half-way across the globe from each other. There seems to be little that they would have in common. Perhaps this itself can be seen as an opportunity they are both presented with to learn from each other. 

My visit to the USA this summer was enlightening in many ways. I stayed there for a period of four months which enabled me to observe American Society and the American people at close quarters. What I experienced was very different from my earlier impressions about this country. When I visited nearly ten years ago, I had not been able to develop a deeper contact with the non-Indian Americans. So my perspective was limited. The media too had not done much to further my understanding of this country and her people. 

Apart from wanting to understand the USA as a nation, I was also interested in seeing it with reference to India—my own country—especially in the light of what Sri Aurobindo and the Mother may have said or implied. My personal interest lies in creating a viewpoint on the basis of what their socio-political vision was—both for India and the world at large and how to make that relevant to the current problems that we are facing. To enable this, in December 1995, I initiated the forming of Sri Aurobindo Research Foundation in Baroda. In July 1996 the first issue of Ritagni, a quarterly journal devoted to this vision, was published by the Foundation. 

India was and is central to this work for this is where all the adverse forces are concentrated at the moment in putting up a fight against the Supramental Force. Today, she appears to be the land of Falsehood, a total negation of the truth of her Spirit in every way. Doubtless, she has to awaken to her inner Truth—for her own sake as well as for the sake of the world. For what she has to contribute is indispensable for the collective movement of the world towards a spiritualized society. In that sense, each country has a unique aspect particular to her own genius which needs to be brought forward. And it is on this truth that other aspects of life can derive their strength from and grow. 

India's contribution is the permeating of spirituality into every walk of life—be it social, political, religious or educational, the arts or the sciences. This is what ancient India had achieved and this is what India of the future must rediscover. The Spirit will remain the same, the form taken will be different. There must not be a return to the past but a new future is to be created. There should be a return to the spirit, to understand it and to manifest new forms in consonance with that truth. The need for every age differs and even the most outward forms have to be plastic enough to be molded to newer needs as they present themselves. Only then can a country or her institutions or her people remains relevant to the present and the future, not fossilized because of a clinging to a distant past. 

This is what has happened to India today—an old, lady thousands of years old. A glorious past, a troubled present and a nebulous future. Repeated invasions—the last being by the British—have depleted her vitality. Every conqueror tried to destroy the fabric of her civilization. She was battered but she survived despite all that but with very few remnants of her true self. At every stage, she tried to assimilate whatever she could of the new culture that came with the invaders, giving it a shape all her own. This resulted in a rich and varied civilization which imparted a collective knowledge and wisdom to the people. But to give an impetus towards new forms for the future, a new vitality is required to overcome the present obstacles. This is what India lacks today. Fifty years of independence have not been enough for her to organize the material circumstances. The multicultural milieu has added to the complexity of the problems. Besides, her later cultural heritage had emphasized other-world spirituality due to which there was an absence of vigor in the outward expressions of life. Poverty was often eulogized as an ideal and the generation of wealth a Sin. No doubt, undue emphasis on material progress can weigh the options in favor of a totally superficial life. But if the spiritual truth behind this is seen and followed as a national ideal, the outward manifestation would be of a very different type. 

On the other hand, the USA is a young nation bubbling with life and energy. She is like a teenager on the go. Those who came to settle here were those seeking adventure and a different existence. The nation itself was born out of rebellion towards the mother country. Survival at any cost became important, for something new had to be created in an unknown land. All this had both positive and negative impacts on the psyche of the nation. Liberty was enshrined in the Constitution as central to the nation’s and the individual’s development. The desire for material progress and unparalleled freedom has its own fallouts. This has given rise to a society where the individual is emphasized over the collectivity and material success is the measure of progress. Certainly, this desire for material perfection has led to a highly organized society where efficiency is the hallmark, which is a wonderful achievement in itself. But at times it seems like a gigantic machine devoid of the human touch. There has been in the last few decades the New Age phenomenon which symbolizes the subjective search amongst many Americans. It is obvious that despite so much progress, there is a lot of frustration in many areas especially amongst the old, the not-so-strong and amongst the relatively less successful. Competitiveness and market-orientation are the key words. “If it sells, it must be good,” not “If it is good, it must sell” that is the criteria. But corruption and mediocrity which the average Indian is used to does not touch the average American. Life in the USA is comfortable and yet there is a search for something that will be truly fulfilling. The answer lies in spirituality alone. The subjective seeking has as yet not been true and has given rise to many self-styled “gurus” selling a hotchpotch spirituality. But till this true spirituality is found and its applications in life are worked out, the confusion will remain. 

To with India at one extreme with her ancient spiritual wisdom in need of vitality to recover it and with USA at the other extreme with her drive for material perfection but in need of true spirituality to give a higher and more complete form to her dream, it seems obvious that they have much to give to each other. Whether the respective governments realize this or not, individuals and groups who do recognize this need can take the initiative to come together and collaborate in several areas. Those devoted to Sri Aurobindo’s Yoga would understand this much better and could increase the movement both ways, not limiting themselves only to this group but widening the circle as it were. A great future awaits both India and the USA—in a deeper sense. I feel that their coming together in many ways would serve a higher purpose setting an example to the rest of the world and hastening as it were the movement towards a truly spiritualized society. 

Ritagni is available from: Sri Aurobindo Research Foundation, B-103, Amrakunj Apartments, Racecourse Circle, Baroda-390 007, India. Or by email from 

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