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East and West by Sri Aurobindo

by on October 14, 2012

The unification of the East and the West is the religion of today. But in this task of unification, if we consider the West as the foundation or the chief support we shall be making a grievous error. The East is the foundation, the chief support. The outer world is established in the inner, not vice versa. Respect and emotion, or inner attitude (bhāva), are the source of energy and activity, one has to be faithful to one’s inner attitude (bhāva) and sense of reverence, but one is not to be attached to the application of force and the external forms and means of activity. The occidentals are busy with the outward forms and means of democracy. But the external form is only for the purpose of expressing the inner attitude; it is this attitude that shapes the form, it is one’s reverence that creates the means or the instrument. The occidentals are so attached to the forms and instruments that they are unable to notice that in their external expressions the inner attitude and reverence are languishing. These days in the eastern countries the inner attitude and respect for democracy are becoming fast clearer and creating external means and building its outward forms, while in the western countries that feeling is getting dimmed, that respect is much attenuated. The East has set its face towards the dawn, moving towards the light—the West is moving back towards the dark night.

The reason for this is the ill effects of democracy that follow from an attachment to its outward forms and instruments. So long, having created a government wholly favourable to democracy, America was fond of declaring that there was no other country which was equally free. But, in reality, the President and the executive officers, with the help of the Congress, rule despotically, and support the wrongs done by the rich, the injustice and the all-consuming greed, and they themselves grow fat by the abuse of power. The subjects are free only at the time of electing representatives, but even then the rich maintain their power through huge expenditure, and even later, by buying up the representatives of the people, they exploit and dominate arbitrarily. France is the birth-place of democracy and freedom, but the administrators and the police who had been created as instruments to run, according to the people’s wish, the departments, they have now turned into numerous miniature autocrats, of whom the people are afraid and tremble. Such a confusion has not taken place in England, it is true, but the other dangers of democracy have declared themselves there. Since the government and politics are determined by every change in the opinion of the fickle and half-educated electorate, the British race has lost its earlier political tact and is faded with danger from within and without. In order to maintain their interest and influence, the rulers, devoid of their sense of duty, by tempting or by trying to put fear into them or else misleading them, are perverting the mind of the people, adding to its fickle-mindedness and restlessness. Because of these factors some people who look upon democracy as an error are becoming sworn enemies of freedom, on the other hand, the number of anarchists, socialists and revolutionaries is going up. The conflict between these two groups is going on in England—in the sphere of politics; in America—in the conflict between workers and capitalists; in Germany— among ideological groups; in France—between the army and the navy; in Russia—between the police and the assassins; everywhere there is confusion, excitement, absence of peace.

Such a consequence is inevitable for the extrovert outlook on life. For a while, swelled with rājasic forces, the asura grows powerful, great and glorious, then its inherent defects begin to come out, and everything breaks and dissolves. The country whose main principle of education is the value of inner attitude and reverence, willed and non-attached activity, only in such a country by its synthesis of the inner and the outer, the East and the West, can the social, economic and political problems find a satisfactory and practical solution. But we shall not be able to arrive at a solution if we follow western knowledge and education. We shall have to assimilate the West by standing firm on the basis of the principles of the East. The foundation within, the expression without. By adopting western instruments we shall be in danger, we have to create in keeping with our own nature and the eastern view of things.

[East and West, Translation of Bengali Writings, pp 256-58]

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