On Culture

Structured compilation from Sri Aurobindo’s writings
Made by Sergei; version 10-10-03

[Culture: the meaning of the word; strata of culture]

The aim of all culture
Volume: 13 [CWSA] (Essays in Philosophy and Yoga), Page: 521

Perfection is the true aim of all culture, the spiritual and psychic, the mental, the vital and it must be the aim of our physical culture also.

Ideal of a true culture; definition of culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 93
Not to live principally in the activities of the sense-mind, but in the activities of knowledge and reason and a wide intellectual curiosity, the activities of the cultivated aesthetic being, the activities of the enlightened will which make for character and high ethical ideals and a large human action, not to be governed by our lower or our average mentality but by truth and beauty and the self-ruling will is the ideal of a true culture and the beginning of an accomplished humanity.
We get then by elimination to a positive idea and definition of culture.

Aims of a great culture; to achieve them even partially means to make a great contribution to the future possibilities of humanity.
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 180)
The whole aim of a great culture is to lift man to something which at first he is not, to lead him to knowledge though he starts from an unfathomable ignorance, to teach him to live by his reason, though actually he lives much more by his unreason, by the law of good and unity, though he is now full of evil and discord, by a law of beauty and harmony though his actual life is a repulsive muddle of ugliness and jarring barbarism, by some high law of his spirit, though at present he is egoistic, material, unspiritual, engrossed by the needs and desires of his physical being. If a civilization has not any of these aims, it can hardly at all be said to have a culture and certainly at no sense a great and noble culture. […] To have made this attempt is to have ennobled the life of the race; to have failed in it is better than if it have never at all been attempted; to have achieved even a partial success is a great contribution to the future possibilities of the human being.

Ordinary meaning of the word “culture” is  the pursuit of the mental life for its own sake; 
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 82
The pursuit of the mental life for its own sake is what we ordinarily mean by culture; but the word is still a little equivocal and capable of a wider or a narrower sense according to our ideas and predilections. For our mental existence is a very complex matter and is made up of many elements.

Layers of culture – corresponding to the layers of the mental being:
1. the mental life of senses, sensations and emotions;
2. active life of the mental being, concerned with the organs of action;
3. ethical being – ethical culture;
4. aesthetic being – aesthetic culture;
5. intelligent will or buddhi;
6. the power of illumination – spiritual culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 82
First, we have its lower and fundamental stratum, which is in the scale of evolution nearest to the vital. And we have in that stratum two sides, the mental life of the senses, sensations and emotions in which the subjective purpose of  Nature predominates although with the objective as its occasion, and the active or dynamic life of the mental being concerned with the organs of action and the field of conduct in which her objective purpose predominates although with the subjective as its occasion. We have next in the scale, more sublimated, on one side the moral being and its ethical life, on the other the aesthetic; each of them attempts to possess and dominate the fundamental mind stratum and turn its experiences and activities to its own benefit, one for the culture and worship of Right, the other for the culture and worship of Beauty. And we have, above all these, taking advantage of them, helping, forming, trying often to govern them entirely, the intellectual being. Man’s highest accomplished range is the life of the reason or ordered and harmonized intelligence with its dynamic power of intelligent will, the buddhi, which is or should be the driver of man’s chariot.
But the intelligence of man is not composed entirely and exclusively of the rational intellect and the rational will; there enters into it a deeper, more intuitive, more splendid and powerful, but much less clear, much less developed and as yet hardly at all self-possessing light and force for which we have not even a name. But, at any rate, its character is to drive at a kind of illumination,-not the dry light of the reason, nor the moist and suffused light of the heart, but a lightning and a solar splendour. It may indeed subordinate itself and merely help the reason and heart with its flashes; but there is another urge in it, its natural urge, which exceeds the reason. It tries to illuminate the intellectual being, to illuminate the ethical and aesthetic, to illuminate the emotional and the active, to illuminate even the senses and the sensations. It offers in words of revelation, it unveils as if by lightning flashes, it shows in a sort of mystic or psychic glamour or brings out into a settled but for mental man almost a supernatural light a Truth greater and truer than the knowledge given by Reason and Science, a Right larger and more divine than the moralist’s scheme of virtues, a Beauty more profound, universal and entrancing than the sensuous or imaginative beauty worshipped by the artist, a joy and divine sensibility which leaves the ordinary emotions poor and pallid, a Sense beyond the senses and sensations, the possibility of a diviner Life and action which man’s ordinary conduct of life hides away from his impulses and from his vision. Very various, very fragmentary, often very confused and misleading are its effects upon all the lower members from the reason downward, but this in the end is what it is driving at in the midst of a hundred deformations. It is caught and killed or at least diminished and stifled in formal creeds and pious observances; it is unmercifully traded in and turned into poor and base coin by the vulgarity of conventional religions; but it is still the light of which the religious spirit and the spirituality of man is in pursuit and some pale glow of it lingers even in their worst degradations.

Necessity of spiritual culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 173
Since the infinite, the absolute and transcendent, the universal, the One is the secret summit of existence and to reach the spiritual consciousness and the Divine the ultimate goal and aim of our being and therefore of the whole development of the individual and the collectivity in all its parts and all its activities, reason cannot be the last and highest guide; culture, as it is understood ordinarily, cannot be the directing light or find out the regulating and harmonising principle of all our life and action. For reason stops short of the Divine and only compromises with the problems of life, and culture in order to attain the Transcendent and Infinite must become spiritual culture, something much more than an intellectual, aesthetic, ethical and practical training.

The aims of spiritual culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 180)
A wider spiritual culture must recognize that the Spirit is not only the highest and inmost thing, but all is manifestation and creation of the Spirit. It must have a wider outlook, a more embracing range of applicability and, even, a more aspiring and ambitious aim of its endeavour. Its aims must be not only to raise to inaccessible heights a few elect, but to draw all men and all life  and the whole human being upward, to spiritualise life and in the end to divinise human nature. Not only must it be able to lay hold on his deepest individual being but to inspire too his communal existence. It must turn by a spiritual change all the members of his ignorance into members of the knowledge; it must transmute all the instruments of the human into instruments of the divine living. 

Culture and material progress
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 520
In laying this stress on culture, on the things of the mind and the spirit there need be no intention of undervaluing the outward material side of life; it is not at all my purpose to belittle that to which Nature always attaches so insistent an importance. On the contrary, the inner and the outer depend upon each other. For we see that in the life of a nation a great period of national culture and vigorous mental and soul life is always part of a general stirring and movement which has its counterpart in the outward political, economic and practical life of the nation. The cultural brings about or increases the material progress but also it needs it that it may itself flourish with an entirely full and healthy vigour.

Culture implies a freedom of development
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 98
The human mind needs to think, feel, enjoy, expand; expansion is its very nature and restriction is only useful to it in so far as it helps to steady, guide and strengthen its expansion. It readily refuses the name of culture to those civilisations or periods, however noble their aim or even however beautiful in itself their order, which have not allowed an intelligent freedom of development.
On the other hand, we are tempted to give the name of a full culture to all those periods and civilisations, whatever their defects, which have encouraged a freely human development and like ancient Athens have concentrated on thought and beauty and the delight of living.

The natural opposites of culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 92
The idea of culture begins to define itself for us a little more clearly, or at least it has put away from it in a clear contrast its natural opposites. The unmental, the purely physical life is very obviously its opposite, it is barbarism; the unintellectualised vital, the crude economic or the grossly domestic life which looks only to money-getting, the procreation of a family and its maintenance, are equally its opposites; they are another and even uglier barbarism. We agree to regard the individual who is dominated by them and has no thought of higher things as an uncultured and undeveloped human being, a prolongation of the savage, essentially a barbarian even if he lives in a civilised nation and in a society which has arrived at the general idea and at some ordered practice of culture and refinement. The societies or nations which bear this stamp we agree to call barbarous or semi-barbarous. Even when a nation or an age has developed within itself knowledge and science and arts, but still in its general outlook, its habits of life and thought is content to be governed not by knowledge and truth and beauty and high ideals of living, but by the gross vital, commercial, economic view of existence, we say that that nation or age may be civilised in a sense, but for all its abundant or even redundant appliances and apparatus of civilisation it is not the realisation or the promise of a cultured humanity. Therefore upon even the European civilisation of the nineteenth century with all its triumphant and teeming production, its great developments of science, its achievement in the works of the intellect we pass a certain condemnation, because it has turned all these things to commercialism and to gross uses of vitalistic success. We say of it that this was not the perfection to which humanity ought to aspire and that this trend travels away from and not towards the higher curve of human evolution. It must be our definite verdict upon it that it was inferior as an age of culture to ancient Athens, to Italy of the Renascence, to ancient or classical India. For great as might be the deficiencies of social organisation in those eras and though their range of scientific knowledge and material achievement was immensely inferior, yet they were more advanced in the art of life, knew better its object and aimed more powerfully at some clear ideal of human perfection.

[A system of a culture and its evolution]

A double character of a system of a culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 180)
A system [of a culture] is in its very nature at once an effectuation and a limitation of the spirit; and yet we must have a science and art of life, a system of living. All that is needed is that the lines laid down should be large and noble, capable of evolution so that the spirit may more and more express itself in life, flexible even in its firmness so that it can absorb and harmonise new material and enlarge its variety and richness without losing its unity.

The structure of a culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 54)
The culture of a people may be roughly described as the expression of a consciousness of life which formulates itself in three aspects. There is a side of thought, of ideal of upward will and the soul’s aspiration; there is a side of creative self-expression; and there is a side of practical and outward formulation. A people’s philosophy and higher thinking give us it’s mind purest, largest and most general formulation of its consciousness of life and its dynamic view of existence. Its religion formulates the most intense form of its upward will and the soul’s aspirations towards a fulfillment of its highest idea and impulse. Its art, poetry and literature provide for us the creative expression and impression of its intuition, imagination, vital turn and creative intelligence. Its society and politics provide in their forms an outward frame in which the most external life works out what it can of its inspiring ideal and of its special character and nature under the difficulties of the environment. We can see how much it has taken of the crude material of living, what it has done with it, how it has shaped as much of it as possible into some reflection of its guiding consciousness and deeper spirit. None of them express the whole secret spirit behind, but they derive from it their main ideas and their cultural character. Together they make up its soul, mind and body.

Insufficiency of any set form of culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 116)
But there must be in any culture aiming at completeness, not only great governing and inspiring ideas, but a harmony of forms and rhythms, a mould in which the ideas and the life can run and settle. Here we must be prepared for a lesser perfection, a greater incompleteness. And the reason is that as the spirit is vaster than its ideas, the ideas are too are larger than their forms, moulds and rhythms. Form has a certain fixity which limits; no form can exhaust or fully express the potentialities of the idea or force that gave it birth. Neither can any idea, however great, or any limited play of force or form bind the infinity spirit: That is the secret of earth’s need of mutation and progress. The idea is only a partial expression of the spirit. When within its own limits, its own lines it ought always to become more supple, to fill itself out with other views, to rise and broaden to new applications, and often it has to lose in uplifting transformations of its own meaning into vaster significances of fuse itself into a new and richer synthesis.

A gap between a spirit of a culture and actual workings of the culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 181)
But, finally, we have to see not only the spirit and principle of the culture, not only the ideal idea and scope of intention in its system, but its actual workings and effects in the values of life. Here we must admit great limitations, great imperfections. There is no culture, no civilization ancient or modern which in its system has been entirely satisfactory to the need of perfection in man; there is none in which the working has not been marred by considerable limitations and imperfections. And the greater the aim of the culture, the larger the body of civilization, the more are these flaws to overbear the eye.

All cultures of the present cycle are inevitably defective
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 181)
In the first place every culture suffers by the limitations of defects of its qualities and, an almost infallible consequence, by the exaggerations too of its qualities. It tends to concentrate on certain leading ideas and to loose sight of others or unduly depress them; this want of balance gives rise to one-sided tendencies which are not properly checked, not kept in there due place, and bring about unhealthy exaggerations. But so long as the vigor of the civilization lasts, life accommodates itself, makes the most of compensating forces and in spite of all stumblings, evils, disasters, some great thing is done; but in a time of decline the defect of the excess of a particular quality gets the upper hand, becomes a disease, bakes a general ravage and, if not arrested, may lead to decay and death. Again, the ideal may be great, may have even, as Indian culture had in its best times, a certain type of provisional completeness, a first attempt at  comprehensive harmony, but there is always a great gulf between the ideal and the actual practice of life. To bridge this gulf or at least to make it as narrow as possible is the most difficult part of human endeavor. Finally, the evolution of our race, surprising enough if we look across the ages, is still, when all is said, a slow and embarrassing progress. Each age, each civilization carries the heavy burden of our deficiencies, each succeeding age throws off something of the load, but looses some virtue of the past, creates other gaps and embarrasses itself with new aberrations. We have to strike a balance, to see things in the whole, to observe wither we are tending and use a large secular vision; otherwise it would be difficult to keep an unfailing faith in the destinies of the race. For, after all, what we have accomplished so far in the main at the best of times is to bring in a modicum of reason and culture and spirituality to leaven a great mass of barbarism. Mankind is still no more than semi-civilized and it was never anything else in the recorded history of  the present cycle.

Every civilization can have an anomalous appearance, but each has its special value as it has developed some potentiality of the human nature
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 182)
And therefore every civilization presents a mixed and anomalous appearance and can be turned by hostile and unsympathetic observation which notes and exaggerates its defects, ignores its true spirit and its qualities, masses the shades, leaves out the lights, into a mass of barbarism, a picture of almost unrelieved gloom and failure, to the legitimate surprise and indignation of those to whom its motives appear to have a great and just value. For each have achieved something of special value for humanity in the midst of its general work of culture, brought out in a high degree some potentiality of our nature and given a first large standing-ground for its future perfection.  

The evolution of cultural structures is needed
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 115)
Man is in his inmost self an infinite being, in his mind and life too he is continually growing, with whatever stumbling and long relapses, and he cannot be permanently bound in any one system of ideas or frame of living. The structures in which he lives are incomplete and provisional; even those which seem the most comprehensive lose there force to stand and are convicted by time of insufficiency and must be replaced or change.

Three main periods in a life of a culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 116)
In the history of all great cultures therefore we find a passage through three periods, for this passage is the necessary consequence of this truth of things. There is a first period of large and loose formation; there is a second period in which we see a fixing of forms, moulds and rhythms; and there is a closing of a critical period of superannuation, decay and disintegration. This last stage is the supreme crisis in the life of a civilization; if it cannot transform itself, it enters into a slow lingering decline or else collapses in a death agony brought about by the rapid impact of stronger and more immediately living though not necessarily greater or truer powers or formations. But if it is able to shake itself free of the limiting forms, to renovate its ideas and to give a new scope to its spirit, if it is willing to understand, muster and assimilate novel growths and necessities, then there is a rebirth, a fresh lease of life and expansion, a true renascence. 

How to judge a culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 68)
A culture must be judged, first by its essential spirit, then by its best accomplishment and, lastly, by its power of survival, renovation and adaptation to the new phases of the permanent needs of the race.  

[The mass culture of today]

The appearance of democratized culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 90
The first results of this momentous change [the appearance of a sensational man who has got awakened to the necessity at least of some intelligent use of the higher faculties and is trying to be mentally active] have been inspiriting to our desire of movement, but a little disconcerting to the thinker and to the lover of a high and fine culture; for if it has to some extent democratised culture or the semblance of culture, it does not seem at first sight to have elevated or strengthened it by this large accession of the half-redeemed from below. Nor does the world seem to be guided any more directly by the reason and intelligent will of her best minds than before. Commercialism is still the heart of modern civilisation; a sensational activism is still its driving force.

Contrast between modern and ancient attitude to culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 332)
[…] the modern man, even the modern cultured man, is or tends to be to a degree quite unprecedented politicon zoon, a political, social and economical being valuing above all things the efficiency of the outward existence and the things of  the mind and the sprit mainly, when not exclusively, for their aid to humanity’s vital and mechanical progress: he has not that regard of the ancients which looked towards the highest heights and regarded an achievement in the things of the mind and the spirit with an unquestioning admiration or a deep veneration for its own sake as the greatest possible contribution to human culture and progress.

The value of culture for the economic society
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 487
For the modern economic view of life, culture and its products have chiefly a decorative value; they are costly and desirable luxuries, not at all indispensable necessities. Religion is in this view a by-product of the human mind with a very restricted utility-if indeed it is not a waste and a hindrance. Education has a recognised importance but its object and form are no longer so much cultural as scientific, utilitarian and economic, its value the preparation of the efficient individual unit to take his place in the body of the economic organism. Science is of immense importance not because it discovers the secrets of Nature for the advancement of knowledge, but because it utilises them for the creation of machinery and develops and organises the economic resources of the community. The thought-power of the society, almost its soul-power-if it has any longer so unsubstantial and unproductive a thing as a soul-is not in its religion or its literature, although the former drags on a feeble existence and the latter teems and spawns, but in the daily Press primarily an instrument of commercialism and governed by the political and commercial spirit and not like literature a direct instrument of culture. Politics, government itself are becoming more and more a machinery for the development of an industrialised society, divided between the service of bourgeois capitalism and the office of a half-involuntary channel for the incoming of economic Socialism. Free thought and culture remain on the surface of this great increasing mass of commercialism and influence and modify it, but are themselves more and more influenced, penetrated, coloured, subjugated by the economic, commercial and industrial view of human life.

A truth behind the modern tendency
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 333)
And although this modern tendency is exaggerated and ugly and degrading in its exaggeration, inimical to humanity’s spiritual evolution, it has this much of truth behind it that while the first value of a culture is its power to raise and enlarge the internal man, the mind, the soul, the spirit, its soundness is not complete unless it has shaped also his external existence and made of it a rhythm of advance towards high and great ideals. This is the true sense of progress and there must be as part of it a sound political, economic and social life, a power and efficiency enabling a people to survive, to grow and to move securely towards a collective perfection, and a vital elasticity and responsiveness that will give room for a constant advance it the outward expression of the mind and the spirit. If a culture does not serve these ends, then there is evidently a defect somewhere either in its essential conceptions or its wholeness or in its application that will seriously detract from its claims to a complete and integral value.

An average consumer of culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 90
Modern education has not in the mass redeemed the sensational man; it has only made necessary to him things to which he was not formerly accustomed, mental activity and occupations, intellectual and even aesthetic sensations, emotions of idealism. He still lives in the vital substratum, but he wants it stimulated from above. He requires an army of writers to keep him mentally occupied and provide some sort of intellectual pabulum for him; he has a thirst for general information of all kinds which he does not care or has not time to coordinate or assimilate, for popularised scientific knowledge, for such new ideas as he can catch, provided they are put before him with force or brilliance, for mental sensations and excitation of many kinds, for ideals which he likes to think of as actuating his conduct and which do give it sometimes a certain colour. It is still the activism and sensationalism of the crude mental being, but much more open and free. And the cultured, the intelligentsia find that they can get a hearing from him such as they never had from the pure Philistine, provided they can first stimulate or amuse him; their ideas have now a chance of getting executed such as they never had before. The result has been to cheapen thought and art and literature, to make talent and even genius run in the grooves of popular success, to put the writer and thinker and scientist very much in a position like that of the cultured Greek slave in a Roman household where he has to work for, please, amuse and instruct his master while keeping a careful eye on his tastes and preferences and repeating trickily the manner and the points that have caught his fancy.

A hope for the future
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 90
The higher mental life, in a word, has been democratised, sensationalised, activised with both good and bad results. Through it all the eye of faith can see perhaps that a yet crude but an enormous change has begun. Thought and Knowledge, if not yet Beauty, can get a hearing and even produce rapidly some large, vague, yet in the end effective will for their results; the mass of culture and of men who think and strive seriously to appreciate and to know has enormously increased behind all this surface veil of sensationalism, and even the sensational man has begun to undergo a process of transformation. Especially, new methods of education, new principles of society are beginning to come into the range of practical possibility which will create perhaps one day that as yet unknown phenomenon, a race of men-not only a class-who have to some extent found and developed their mental selves, a cultured humanity.

[Human Unity and a common world culture: the need of a living unity]

Process of creation of a common civilization
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 319
The earth is in travail now of one common, large and flexible civilisation for the whole human race into which each modern and ancient culture shall bring its contribution and each clearly defined human aggregate shall introduce its necessary element of variation.

The ideal unification of mankind
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 428
In principle, then, the ideal unification of mankind would be a system in which, as a first rule of common and harmonious life, the human peoples would be allowed to form their own groupings according to their natural divisions of locality, race, culture, economic convenience and not according to the more violent accidents of history or the egoistic will of powerful nations whose policy it must always be to compel the smaller or less timely organised to serve their interests as dependents or obey their commands as subjects.

Necessity of a higher common culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 349
It is idle to hope for a federation of free nations until either the present inequalities between nation and nation are removed or else the whole world rises to a common culture based upon a higher moral and spiritual status than is now actual or possible.

The necessity of the interchange between cultures (based on the analogy with an individual)
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 440)
Mentally, vitally and physically I do not grow by a pure self-development from within in a virgin isolation; I am not a separate self-existent being proceeding from a past to a new becoming in a world of its own where no one is but itself, nothing works but its own inner powers and musings. There is in every individualized existence a double action, a self-development from within, which is its greatest intimate power of being and by which it is itself, and a reception of impacts from outside which it has to accommodate to its own individuality and make into material of self-growth and self-power. The two operations are not mutually exclusive, not is the second harmful to the first except the inner genius is too weak to deal victoriously with its environmental world; on the contrary the reception of the impacts stimulates in a vigorous and healthy being its force of self-development and is an aid to a greater and more pronouncedly characteristic self-determination. […] The man who most finds and lives from the inner self, can most embrace the universal and become one with it; the Swarat, independent, self-possessed and self-ruler, can most be the Samrat, possessor and shaper of the world in which he lives, can most too grow one with all in the Atman.

Necessity of interchange: similarity between a group-soul and an individual
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 442)
The group-soul differs from the individual only in being moue self-sufficient by reason of its being an assemblage of many individual selves capable within of many group variations. There is a constant inner interchange which may for a long time suffice to maintain the vitality, growth, power of developing activity, even when there is a restricted interchange with the rest of humanity.

Modern threat to cultural difference
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 503
But difference of culture is quite as much threatened today as any other more outward principle of group variation. The differences between the European nations are simply minor variations of a common occidental culture. And now that Science, that great power for uniformity of thought and life and method, is becoming more and more the greater part and threatens to become the whole of culture and life, the importance of these variations is likely to decrease. The only radical difference that still exists is between the mind of the Occident and the mind of the Orient. But here too Asia is undergoing the shock of Europeanism and Europe is beginning to feel, however slightly, the reflux of Asiaticism. A common world-culture is the most probable outcome.

Interaction and interchange of cultures; the case of an encounter of an inactive and an active culture
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 437)
Not only a lesser meets a greater culture, but when a culture which has fallen into a state of comparative inactivity, sleep, contraction, is faced with, still more when it receives the direct shock of a waking, active, tremendously creative civilization, finds thrown upon it novel and successful powers and functionings, sees an immense succession of and development of new ideas and formations. It is impelled by the very instinct of life to take over these ideas and forms, to annex, to enrich itself, even to imitate and reproduce, and in one way or in another take large account and advantage of these new forces and opportunities. That is a phenomenon which has happened repeatedly in history, in a greater or a lesser degree, in part or in totality. But if there is only a mechanical imitation, if there is a subordination and servitude, the inactive or weaker culture perishes, it is swallowed up by the invading leviathan. And even short of that, in proportion as there is a leaning towards these undesirable things, it languishes, is unsuccessful in its attempt at annexation, loses besides the power of its own spirit. To recover its own centre, find its own base and do whatever it has to do in its own strength and genius is certainly the one way of salvation. But even a certain amount of acceptance, of forms too,  – some imitation, if all taking over of forms must be called imitation, – is inevitable. 

How this interchange should be done ideally – on the example of India
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 439)
Obviously, if we “take over” anything, the good and the bad in it will come in together pell-mell. […] But, besides, these terms good and bad in this connection means nothing definite, give us no help. If I must use them, where they can have only a relative significance, in a matter not of ethics, but of an interchange between life and life, I must fist give them this general significance that whatever helps me to find myself more intimately, nobly, with a greater and sounder possibility of self-expressive creation, is good; whatever weakens and belittles my power, richness, breadth and height of self-being, is bad for my. If the distinction is so understood, it will be evident, I think, that the real point is not the taking over of this or that formal detail, which has only a sigh value, for example widow remarriage, but a dealing with the great effective ideas, such as are the ideas, in the external field of life, of social and political liberty, equality and democracy. If I accept these ideas it is not because they are modern of European, which is in itself no recommendation, but because they are human, because they present fruitful view-points to the spirit, because they are things of the greatest importance in the future development of the life of man. What I mean by acceptance of the effective idea of democracy, – the thing itself, never fully worked out, was present as an element in ancient Indian as in ancient European policy and society, – is that I find its inclusion in our future way of living, in some shape, to be a necessity of our growth. What I mean by assimilation, is that we mast not take it crudely in the European forms,  but must go back to whatever corresponds to it, illumines its sense, justifies its highest purport in our own spiritual conception of life and existence. And in that light work out its extent, degree, form, relation to other ideas, application. To everything I would apply the same principle, to each in its own kind, after its proper dharma, in its right measure of importance, its spiritual, intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, dynamic utility.

The principle of free variation
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 413
On the other hand, there is a revival nowadays, due to the growing subjectivism of the human mind, of the principle of free variation and refusal of uniformity. If this tendency triumphs, the unification of the race will have so to organise itself as to respect the free culture, thought, life of its constituent units.

The desirable aim is the living unity, allowing free development everywhere
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 543
At present, the first great need of the psychological life of humanity is the growth towards a greater unity; but its need is that of a living unity, not in the externals of civilisation, in dress, manners, habits of life, details of political, social and economic order, not a uniformity, which is the unity towards which the mechanical age of civilisation has been driving, but a free development everywhere with a constant friendly interchange, a close understanding, a feeling of our common humanity, its great common ideals and the truths towards which it is driving and a certain unity and correlation of effort in the united human advance.

The place of national cultures in the world-culture: not diffusion, but evolution to the full power
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 545
For the final end is a common world-culture in which each national culture should be, not merged into or fused with some other culture differing from it in principle or temperament, but evolved to its full power and could then profit to that end by all the others as well as give its gains and influences to them, all serving by their separateness and their interaction the common aim and idea of human perfection. This would best be served, not by separateness and isolation, of which there would be no danger, but yet by a certain distinctness and independence of life not subordinated to the mechanising force of an artificial unity. Even within the independent nation itself, there might be with advantage a tendency towards greater local freedom of development and variation, a sort of return to the vivid local and regional life of ancient Greece and India and mediaeval Italy; for the disadvantages of strife, political weakness and precariousness of the nation’s independence would no longer exist in a condition of things from which the old terms of physical conflict had been excluded, while all the cultural and psychological advantages might be recovered. A world secure of its peace and freedom might freely devote itself to the intensification of its real human powers of life by the full encouragement and flowering of the individual, local, regional, national mind and power in the firm frame of a united humanity.

Towards a living oneness; conditions for productive cultural and political unity
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 520
The peace, well-being and settled order of the human world is a thing eminently to be desired as a basis for a great world-culture in which all humanity must be united; but neither of these unities, the outward or inward, ought to be devoid of an element even more important than peace, order and well-being,-freedom and vigour of life, which can only be assured by variation and by the freedom of the group and of the individual. Not then a uniform unity, not a logically simple, a scientifically rigid, a beautifully neat and mechanical sameness, but a living oneness full of healthy freedom and variation is the ideal which we should keep in view and strive to get realised in man’s future.


Our human element as distinguished from the animal element: the endeavor to arrive to harmonized inner and outer perfection at its highest height
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 124
For that endeavour is not only the effort to survive and make a place for ourselves on the earth as the animals do, not only having made to keep it and develop its best vital and egoistic or communal use for the efficiency and enjoyment of the individual, the family or the collective ego, substantially as is done by the animal families and colonies, in bee-hive or ant-hill for example, though in the larger, many-sided way of reasoning animals; it is also, and much more characteristically of our human as distinguished from our animal element, the endeavour to arrive at a harmonised inner and outer perfection, and, as we find in the end, at its highest height, to culminate in the discovery of the divine Reality behind our existence and the complete and ideal Person within us and the shaping of human life in that image. But if that is the truth, then neither the Hellenic ideal of an all-round philosophic, aesthetic, moral and physical culture governed by the enlightened reason of man and led by the wisest minds of a free society, nor the modern ideal of an efficient culture and successful economic civilisation governed by the collective reason and organised knowledge of mankind can be either the highest or the widest goal of social development.

The value of culture cannot be judged by its material success
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 67)
At present it will be enough to say that culture cannot be judged by material success; still less can spirituality be brought to that touchstone. Philosophic, aesthetic, poetic, intellectual Greece failed and fell while drilled and militarist Rome triumphed and conquered, but no one dreams of crediting for that reason the victorious imperial nation with a greater civilization and a higher culture. The religious culture of Judaea is not disproved or lessened by the destruction of the Jewish State, any more than it is proved by and given greater value by the commercial capacity shown by the Jewish race in their dispersion.

Culture and life; culture is guiding life to a spiritual freedom
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 108)
But while it is the generous office of culture to enrich, enlarge and encourage human life, it must also give the vital forces a guiding law, subject them to some moral and rational government and lead them beyond their first natural formulations, until it can find for life the clue to a spiritual freedom, perfection and greatness.

The value of national culture; state culture is an unnatural violence
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 301
A national culture, a national religion, a national education may still be useful things provided they do not interfere with the growth of human solidarity on the one side and individual freedom of thought and conscience and development on the other; for they give form to the communal soul and help it to add its quota to the sum of human advancement; but a State education, a State religion, a State culture are unnatural violences. And the same rule holds good in different ways and to a different extent in other directions of our communal life and its activities.

Certain different lines which culture can take
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 82
This very complexity of his mental being, with the absence of any one principle which can safely dominate the others, the absence of any sure and certain light which can guide and fix in their vacillations the reason and the intelligent will, is man’s great embarrassment and stumbling-block. All the hostile distinctions, oppositions, antagonisms, struggles, conversions, reversions, perversions of his mentality, all the chaotic war of ideas and impulses and tendencies which perplex his efforts, have arisen from the natural misunderstandings and conflicting claims of his many members. His reason is a judge who gives conflicting verdicts and is bribed and influenced by the suitors; his intelligent will is an administrator harassed by the conflicts of the different estates of his realm and by the sense of his own partiality and final incompetence. Still in the midst of it all he has formed certain large ideas of culture and the mental life, and his conflicting notions about them follow certain definite lines determined by the divisions of his nature and shaped into a general system of curves by his many attempts to arrive either at an exclusive standard or an integral harmony.

Ethical and aesthetic lines of culture
Volume: 25 [CWSA] (The Human Cycle), Page: 95
There is in our mentality a side of will, conduct, character which creates the ethical man; there is another side of sensibility to the beautiful,-understanding beauty in no narrow or hyper-artistic sense,-which creates the artistic and aesthetic man. Therefore there can be such a thing as a predominantly or even exclusively ethical culture; there can be too, evidently, a predominantly or even exclusively aesthetic culture.

Contributions of the main cultures
(The Foundations of Indian Culture, p 183)
Greece developed to a high degree the intellectual reason and the sense of form and harmonious beauty, Rome founded strongly strength and power and patriotism and law and order, Modern Europe has raised to enormous proportions practical reason, science and efficiency and economic capacity, India developed the spiritual mind working on the other powers of  man and exceeding them, the intuitive reason, the philosophical harmony of the Dharma, informed by the religious spirit, the sense of the Eternal and the Infinite. The future has to go on to a greater and more comprehensive development of these things and to evolve fresh powers, but we shall not do this rightly by damning the past or damning other cultures than our own in a spirit of arrogant intolerance. We need not only a spirit of calm criticism, but an eye of sympathetic intuition to extract the good from the past and present effort of humanity and make the most of it for our future progress.

On culture in Savitri
Volume: 33-34 [CWSA] (Savitri — A Legend and a Symbol), Page: 359

Earth’s brooding wisdom spoke to her still breast;
Mounting from mind’s last peaks to mate with gods,
Making earth’s brilliant thoughts a springing-board
To dive into the cosmic vastnesses,
The knowledge of the thinker and the seer
Saw the unseen and thought the unthinkable,
Opened the enormous doors of the unknown,
Rent man’s horizons into infinity.
A shoreless sweep was lent to the mortal’s acts,
And art and beauty sprang from the human depths;
Nature and soul vied in nobility.
Ethics the human keyed to imitate heaven;
The harmony of a rich culture’s tones
Refined the sense and magnified its reach
To hear the unheard and glimpse the invisible
And taught the soul to soar beyond things known,
Inspiring life to greaten and break its bounds,
Aspiring to the Immortals’ unseen world.

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