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How Is Indian Culture Spiritual? Swami Ranganathananda Answers

Writers and speakers generally say that Indian culture is spiritual. What does it mean? Does it mean that all the people of India are spiritual? India has its own share of wicked people, non-spiritual people, evil people. But if this statement has any meaning, it means this: that the direction of Indian culture is towards the high spiritual Truth hidden in every human being and that the honour the nation gives to any person depends upon the spiritual quality of that person. You can study a culture by asking the question: What is the highest human excellence that is appreciated in that culture? In one culture it is military power, in another culture it is intellectual strength, in another it may be money. In India, all these are respected, but the highest respect goes to a person of God, one who has realized oneness with all through spiritual development. Throughout history, India has maintained this quality; the highest person in India is a person of God, a person of spiritual realization. Indian hearts recognize in that person someone great and in this recognition there is no distinction of creed, no distinction of religion — any religion showing high spiritual quality will receive adoration from the people of India. It is not credal, it is not dogmatic, it is just spiritual; that person — whatever may be his or her origin in a particular race and particular religion — has gone beyond the many. That is why many Muslim mystics and mystics of other religions are honoured in this country. They represent the spiritual development of the human being, the spiritual fulfilment of humankind.

This was the background of the developments in Indian culture, commencing from the Vedic period. Very few cultures have received this philosophical and spiritual stimulus from behind. That is why there has been a succession of great teachers, great spiritual luminaries, throughout Indian history. Even in the most difficult and tumultuous period of history India did not fail to produce great spiritual teachers. Take the sixteenth century—Babar’s invasion. The whole of North India was shattered. There was so much suffering and killing, so many men and women were taken away as slaves at that time. In Babar’s history you will find the story. At that very time, in that very Punjab, where these events largely took place, India produced a Guru Nanak. He could see all the problems going around, the sufferings of the people; and he had referred to those issues in his own songs as well.

Guru Nanak provided a new type of approach to the challenge that India faced at that time, harmonizing the new elements that had come. Several times has India achieved this harmony. New people come. When the Greeks came, India took from the Greeks their great ideas and developed a synthesis of Indian and Greek cultures at that time. Foreign invaders came, they brought their culture. Slowly India assimilated them and became richer with such assimilation.

All the religions that took birth in India were living side by side in harmony and cooperation; and there were many such religions. First came the Vedic religion, and this religion itself contains many facets. Then arose, in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, the great Buddhism and Jainism. These were all wonderful developments—great spiritual teachers instructing people how to live in peace with oneself, in peace with others. 

SourcePrabuddha Bharata July 2010 page 17 -18