Cultural Exchange & Globalization

The national boundaries lose their importance when technological advancements create conditions to produce surplus goods and commodities. It becomes essential to 'capture the global market' for the growth and survival of economies. Thus, after European retreat from the leadership of the world trade as an aftermath of Second World War, America and the Soviet Union tried to gain superiority in this field. There was an attempt to establish both economic and ideological supremacy of their own. Ultimately, as the historical events testify, the 'free market economy', another name for neo-capitalism, prevailed.

In this process of globalization of economy, it is natural to envisage initial spurt in trade and commerce as far as international interaction is concerned. But sooner than later other cultural aspects also come under its purview. They are grouped under the 'cultural exchange programs'. These include globalization of scientific and technological research, involvement in games and sports, and exchanges in various aspects of art and literature.

Spread of Religious Doctrines

Religious ideas also make their impact by crossing the boundaries of their origin (or dominance) to far off places. Religious faith of economically strong race or the nation tries to dominate the poor and underdeveloped. The mode of penetration and percolation of religious ideas may be through missionary activities in the form of hospitals for the sick, schools for the illiterates, or relief and rescue work during natural or man made calamities. Tactful, but definite, attempts may also be made to derogate the native religious beliefs and customs, and to eulogize the religion of the strong.

Thus, customs and rituals, religious faith and traditions, art and literature, all find free flow from dominant culture to economically weaker one. The resistance of the native people is chiefly through the strength of their own religious principles and traditions. Militarily the native cannot fight back, but the religion of the land is capable of keeping its head afloat if its level of civilization, faith in scriptural tradition, and history are strong.

However, as the economically strong nations can impose their say in trade and commerce, so also a nation with innate superior spiritual strength can impress upon others its own religious ideology and cultural tradition. At least a new interest is created if the principles are powerful and appealing. In rich and dominating society also there are always a few takers of the truth! Globalization already primes the human psyche for free exchange of ideas in all fields of human endeavor. Moreover, democratic freedom for debate and discussion, rising level of literacy, and material comforts (with enough leisure) create necessary broadness of mind to assimilate the truth in the cultures of aliens.

Thus Ayurveda and Chinese medicine find acceptance as alternative or complimentary modes of therapy in USA. Similarly with a section of Western people, values from Eastern religions of non-violence, simplicity, and vegetarianism on the one hand, and concepts like Nirvana, Yoga, and Meditation on the other, find ready acceptance.

Globalization: A Blessing in Disguise

It is believed that globalization leads to exploitation of not only the weaker nation, but of weaker section in a given nation as well. Thus we see both international and intra-national resistance to the attempts at globalization. A strong reaction or backlash of 'nationalism' therefore, may raise its head in certain pockets of the world. Such voices of protectionism are heard mainly in poor and under-developed nations. In India also we hear these dissents from time to time. Malaysia is another nation as an example.

However, even though it may cause initial setbacks, the process of globalization cannot be halted. By its very nature it is a progressive (or ongoing) step in the evolution of human economic dreams. But at the same time, globalization is also responsible for spread of religious ideas and cultural traditions from one place to another. Initially it may appear that economically strong nation dominates and entrusts its religious ideas over the weaker nations, but in the long run globalization will prove to be beneficial; as powerful and true religious ideas find seekers of truth from various places.

Religions of the world are not contradictory to one another, but in fact are supplementary to the progress towards universality of religion. Each religion takes up one aspect of great Universal Truth and strives to bring that truth to the best of its expression. Unfortunately this great message, that every religion contains some truth, is getting diluted in the din and bustle of consumerism. Globalization of information technology and consequent progress in mass communication might actually help revive this Vedantic message of Truth to the far off nations where many people are willing to accept it irrespective of the religion they practice. This is one positive aspect of globalization.

Indian Contribution

India finds a slot in this global cultural exchange through its strength from the knowledge of Upanishads. The major contribution of India, in the world to day, would be in the sphere of spirituality. The rich spiritual heritage of India, as expounded by the Seers in Vedanta and recently in the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, is the only 'thing' which India can offer for global prosperity and welfare.

In the global division of labour this work has come to her lot, and re-evaluation of attitudes, values, belief systems in the light of the development of this spiritual knowledge will bring the needed uniformity and universality to the meaning of modernity.

One hundred years back, Swami Vivekananda initiated the process when he said: "Here in this blessed land, the foundation, the backbone, the life centre is religion and religion alone. Let others talk of politics, of glory of acquisition of immense wealth poured in by trade, of the power and spread of commercialism, of the glorious fountain of physical liberty; but these the Hindu mind does not understand and does not want to understand. Touch him on spirituality, on religion, on God, on the soul, on the Infinite, on spiritual freedom, and I assure you, the lowest peasant in India is better informed on these subjects than many a so-called philosopher in other lands. We have yet something to teach to the world. This the very reason, the raison d'être, that this nation has lived on, in spite of hundreds of years of persecution, in spite of nearly a thousand years of foreign rule and foreign oppression. This nation still lives; the raison d'être is, it still holds to God, to the treasure house of religion and spirituality." 

He maintained that for humanity to survive and progress, it is essential that rishi culture of yesteryears be re-established in India and thence in the whole world. True religion forms the backbone of Indian culture and ethos, and if that is broken it will cause immense loss to India as well as the global civilization.

That every person should be able to put Vedanta in the practice was the sole purpose of Swami Vivekananda's teaching. He realized the Vedantic principles of divinity of each soul and maintained that religion consists in manifestation of this divinity in every aspect of one's life. He was worried that this universal ideal might gradually get diluted under the barbaric onslaught of combined materialism and 'science without spiritual content'. He clearly saw the West 'as almost borne down, half-killed, and degraded by political ambitions and social

Swamiji's plan for educating the masses, emancipation of women, removing the 'blot of untouchability', etc. are a few examples of his love for India so that it could play this role with dignity and poise. Therefore, revival of Indian masses by education, spread of knowledge of physical sciences, and projection of Vedanta as scientific universal religion were a few thoughts uppermost in his mind.

As Swami Ashokananda said, "Behind all his (Swami Vivekananda's) patriotism, deep down there was the spiritual motive. For him India was synonymous with the spirit of religion. 'If India is to die,' he said, 'religion will be wiped off from the face of the earth, and with it the Truth.' He did not want see India as a replica of a Western country. His dream of future India was that along with material prosperity, which would be hers, she would, as the Queen of Nations, extend the hand of peace and blessedness to all peoples of the world."


More by :  Dr. C.S. Shah

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