Today India celebrates its 70th Independence Day. This day in a sense is not just the celebration of India’s independence from foreign rule, but also the celebration of the ideals of Independence / Freedom that are core to its ancient values.
The concepts and ideas from India’s ancient Vedic scripture continues to inspire generations even today and have influenced many western thinkers and political philosophers.
“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all” – William Durant, American Author (1885-1981).
According to Vedic scriptures, all our choices and actions follow two distinct paths. A path of Pravritti and another path of Nivritti. These two paths have paradoxical relationships.
Pravritti – In Sanskrit, ‘Pra’ means towards and ‘Vritti’ means circling. It means ‘circling towards’. It’s a force of centrifuge that pulls things towards its center. It’s a force of oneness, accumulation, attraction, desire for pleasure, etc.
The human mind in the state of Pravritti gets sucked-in to obey, be ruled, take orders, be controlled, etc. When you see ads and make purchases you are demonstrating Pravritti.
In the context of political science, think of Pravritti as Alexander the Great’s military campaign to conquer the whole world. Europe’s colonization of the entire world also can be considered as Pravritti.
Nivritti – In Sanskrit, ‘Ni’ means away and ‘Vritti’ means circling. It means ‘circling away’. This concept is the exact opposite of Pravritti. It’s the force of centrifuge that throws things away. It’s the force of liberation, detachment, freedom, moksha / mukti, etc.
This is the state of human mind when you decide to take control, change things, rebel against unjust authority, etc. When you say no to a decadent cake, you are demonstrating Nivritti.
In the context of political science, all revolutions, independence movements, uprising, etc. are forms of Nivritti.
Which of the two paths is long lasting and leads to a happy ending?
Now this is where the paradox comes into play. In the context of these two concepts, if you take a look at known human history and ask a simple question – What is the direction / path of human history?
Yuval Noah Harari in his classical book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ provides the answer –
“Perceiving the direction of history is really a question of vantage point. When we adopt the proverbial bird’s-eye view of history, which examines developments in terms of decades or centuries, it’s hard to say whether history moves in the direction of unity or of diversity. However, to understand long-term processes the bird’s-eye view is too myopic. We would do better to adopt instead the viewpoint of a cosmic spy satellite, which scans millennia rather than centuries. From such a vantage point it becomes crystal clear that history is moving relentlessly towards unity.
The best way to appreciate the general direction of history is to count the number of separate human worlds that coexisted at any given moment on planet Earth. Today, we are used to thinking about the whole planet as a single unit, but for most of history, earth was in fact an entire galaxy of isolated human worlds”
What Harari is saying and what we are seeing today is, the whole world is becoming one big family. i.e. Pravritti or the forces of oneness / unity is in action. When you listen to political leaders, religious leaders, technology leaders, the effort is to drive unity. Be it the formation of Eurozone or United Nations or religious conversion of people or connecting every human with internet, the efforts of those in-charge is always to drive unity.
However, the human mind hates Pravritti. It wants to break away free, maintain individual identity, stay in control and follow the path of Nivritti. Brexit for example from the recent world event is an act of Nivritti. On similar lines, Swami Vivekananda provides a very illuminating view of the moral principles behind India’s freedom struggle –
‘One should raise the self by the self.’ Let each work out one’s own salvation. Freedom in all matters, advance towards Mukti (liberation) is the worthiest gain of man. To advance one’s self towards freedom, physical, mental and spiritual, and help others to do so, is the supreme prize of man. Those social rules which stand in the way of the unfoldment of this freedom are injurious, and steps should be taken to destroy them speedily. Those institutions should be encouraged by which man advance in the path of freedom.
The invisible hands of ‘History’ forces us on the path of Pravritti and the human mind wants to follow the path of Nivritti and there lies the paradox. I guess these two forces are the ebbs & flows of the wave of time and Ying & Yang of the circle of life.
On Independence Day we celebrate the victory of collective human minds over the invisible hand of History. It’s a day to celebrate the ideals of Nivritti. It’s definitely a day to remember the sacrifices of many from the past who give us our beautiful present.
Happy Independence Day! Jai Hind.