Why is there so much of a hurry in the ‘West’, while the ‘East’ seems more relaxed (yes, this may be an exaggerated view, but is helpful in making a most relevant point)? The reason is perhaps the difference in the orientation of time. The East thinks in terms of eternity - of many incarnations and lives. With such a time span, where is the hurry! The West believes in packing it all in this one life. For Westerners, time, and life, seems to be always slipping away…with almost a third is lost in sleep and a little more than that on the job. And whatever is left is often lost sitting before a TV! Therefore, to do everything possible, one has to hurry. The West has become very tense. There is great anxiety and the fear on whether one is going to ‘make it’ or not - because this is the only time to do so. Consequently, the West has become ill with anxiety. Easterners move far slower…often very slow. Consequently, the East has become slow, dull and lazy. Nobody seems to be interested in doing anything. ’Why worry? What’s the hurry?’ The West, through frenetic activity, has become very rich, while the East is ‘content’ to wait. Kipling, when he alluded to East and West never meeting, also felt that people with different cultural patterns (of thought and action) - including beliefs, values, attitudes, norms, customs, behaviours, skills and material aspects like artefacts – will always encounter misunderstandings, and even confrontations and conflicts.
However, the world has become flatter and more heterogeneous. Cultures have intermingled to some extent. There is a rich diversity of culture and knowledge in different parts of the globe. Maybe a better synthesis of East and West is the ‘answer’ - something that makes us very alive to the moment and yet does not create tension within us. We should perhaps learn to live in a present that is seen as a part of eternity, as time will just roll on. And nothing is ever destroyed…all remains, only forms change. We also need to rediscover our spirituality. During the course of our ‘evolution’ we have lost this focus and instead started following some rituals. Meditation is not about sitting idle in a specific posture, but a means to prepare our mind…to be able to concentrate and face our challenges better. Spirituality is the seeking of truth. There is also a need to learn from each other, and realise where some right or wrong choices were made. The West, by embracing a ‘modern’ open society, was rewarded by the benefits of science. Scientific breakthroughs are the consequences of free-thinking, the characteristic of an open society - where divergent opinions and conflicts of ideology are well-accepted and openly debated with honesty and integrity. Eastern civilisations, though often ‘ahead’ in earlier times, ceased to embrace this change, and slowly lost their ability to contribute equally to the pursuit of knowledge and the seeking of ‘truth’. Western civilisations also shaped spirituality in a more tangible manner, different from the more esoteric Eastern path. That is why nature and even animals are more cared for in Western countries; while in India we neglect even our holy cows. The West also has its own genre of gurus – called ‘motivational speakers’. The Easterners have ‘stuck’ to their traditional beliefs. The influence of religion has remained high in the less developed countries, where institutions are weak, corruption is rampant and law and order is poor. With little faith in their governments, the people perhaps have little option than to believe in a higher force that will one day deliver them justice.
Most of the Eastern gurus and ‘masters’ who went to the West framed their traditions in a science-friendly manner - emphasising the experiential dimension of spirituality, with its demonstrable influence on individual lives. They presented their teachings as a science of consciousness, with a theoretical component and a set of practical applications. In the early decades of the 20th century, the great sage and leader Sri Aurobindo, who had studied in England, blended East and West by extending the Darwinian concepts to the evolution of consciousness and the cosmos. In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda set a precedent by calling his first lecture in the West ‘The Science of Religion’. He befriended a number of scientists, growing so close to the great botanist Luther Burbank that he dedicated his ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ to him. Later, Swami Satchidananda, whose own teacher, Swami Sivananda, had been a successful physician before becoming a monk, encouraged the scientific study of Yoga. One of his early students was Dr. Dean Ornish, whose groundbreaking research sprang directly from Satchidananda's teachings. And Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, even before he became famous as the Beatles' guru, prodded scientists into studying the physiology of meditation, setting in motion an enterprise that has now produced over a thousand studies. The interaction of Eastern spirituality and Western science has expanded the methods of stress reduction, and helped in the treatment of chronic disease, psychotherapy and many other areas. Hindu and Buddhist descriptions of higher stages of consciousness have expanded psychology's understanding of human development and inspired the formation of provocative new theories of consciousness itself. Their ancient philosophies have also influenced physicists, among them Erwin Schrödinger, Werner Heisenberg and J. Robert Oppenheimer - who read from the Bhagavad Gita at a memorial service for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his landmark TV series, Cosmos, Carl Sagan called Hinduism the only religion whose time-scale for the universe matches the billions of years documented by modern science. Sagan filmed that segment in a Hindu temple featuring a statue of the god Shiva as the cosmic dancer - an image that now stands in the plaza of the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva. Unfortunately, this unique threading with the West has become unwoven after our Independence…
Of course we must remember that there is seldom a perfectly happy being, as in this story: The centipede tells the earthworm, íMy feet now donít move as they used to. You are lucky you donít have any.í íAhí, sighs the earthworm íif you had my slipped discs you wouldnít talk like that.í It is equally hard to find a true scientist these days ñ one who is interested and capable of seeking the truth and having the courage to fight for it.
Patterns of thought are shared meanings that the members of a society attach to various phenomena, natural and intellectual - including religion and ideologies.
Dr. Rajesh Bhola is President of Spastic Society of Gurgaon and is working for the cause of children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, mental retardation and multiple disabilities for more than 25 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com