• Ramin on Social Network
  •  Follow Ramin
  •  Keep up with Ramin

Ananda. K. Coomaraswamy: A metaphysical critique of modernity

Mon, 10/15/2012 - 22:13 -- razinadmin

By: Ramin Jahanbegloo

Ananda Coomaraswamy left us six decades ago, yet his contributions to the worlds of art, philosophy and religion are more relevant than ever. It is difficult to comment about Coomaraswamy’s extensiveness of knowledge and not to be mesmerized by the profundity and originality of his writings. Overawed by his scholarship and wisdom, one can perhaps give him no greater praise than to say that he made what may well stand as 20th century’s most far-reaching and original contribution to the study of traditions and civilizations. Such a claim might appear extreme when made on behalf of a person who never wrote a particular book on the ideas of tradition and civilization, and who is more often remembered for his collected essays as an art historian and a curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Yet, Coomaraswamy’s impact on the study of human civilization and his metaphysical critique of the modern culture has been of the profoundest order, in large measure due to the legacy of a handful of essays and correspondence on the subject that he wrote in the later years of his life. Commaraswamy’s extensive writings on metaphysics, sacred scriptures, languages and art are well known to specialists of Indian philosophy and Buddhism, but unfortunately the wider reception they deserve, both among Western readers and students of philosophy and art history, has been hampered by their relative inaccessibility in other languages and in updated paperback editions which could be easily found in the bookshops and libraries. How is one to understand this failure of Coomaraswamy’s philosophical and philological writings to gain a wider reception?  For one thing, there is the undeniable challenge of reading the essays of Coomaraswamy: the studies are dense with technical terms and quotations from Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Pali and the thread of discussion is difficult to follow as it flows back and forth between a philological orientation and an aesthetic or rather metaphysical approach to the problem. Indeed, most of Coomaraswamy’s writings that are read and appreciated today by art historians and students of Indian philosophy confirm the image of Coomaraswamy, the “Perennial metaphysician” more than the “scientific” or “ art historian”. It is apparent that Coomaraswamy’s views on arts but also on politics depended entirely on his metaphysical idea of the Perennial School. He believed that without a full grasp of the Perennial Philosophy, it is impossible to study all traditional cultural expressions and images. “ The jargon of the Perennial Philosophy”, wrote Coomaraswamy in his essay Gradation and Evolution II, “ has been called the only perfectly intelligible language; but it must not be overlooked that it is as much a technical language as is the jargon of Chemistry. Whoever would understand Chemistry must learn to think in terms of its formulae and iconography; and in the same way whoever would understand the Perennial Philosophy must learn, or rather relearn, to think in its terms, both verbal and visual. These are, moreover, those of the only universal language of culture, the language that was spoken at the Round Table before the ‘confusion of tongues’, and that of which the ‘ghost’ survive in our daily conversation, which is full of ‘super-stitions’, i.e., figures of speech that were originally figures of thought, but have, like ‘art-forms’, been more or less emptied of meaning on their way down to us. Whoever cannot use this language is excluded from the ancient and common universe of discourse of which it is the lingua franca, and will have to confess that the history of literature and art, and the cultures of innumerable peoples, past and present, must remain for him closed books, however long and patiently he may read in them.” Coomaraswamy’s great confidence in the Perennial Philosophy was for him a means of experiencing truth. In that sense his many-sided appreciation of the works of art was not based on an abstract given idea, but was founded in his comparative method of relating one tradition of thought with another, without missing the view that all religions had a common source. Fundamental to Coomaraswamy’s perennialist approach was not to prove any doctrine of faith, but to exhibit and analyze the Philosophia Perennis which was the common metaphysical ground for all religious traditions of East and West. In one form or another, much of Coomaraswamy’s work on Oriental art and philosophy and on religious texts passed along this route. For Coomaraswamy, art history was the history of spirit -“Kunstgeschichte ist Geistesgeschichte” as he asserted in a letter to Meyer Schapiro in April 30,1932.  Art studies were to him a way to nourish and grow, “as plants are nourished and grow in suitable soils.” After all, Coomaraswamy did not conceal his commitment to traditional philosophy and his adherence to the Philosophia Perennis was exemplified by his studies in art history as that of Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Medieval Christianity, Islam and Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. “Let us tell them (the public) what these works of art are about and not merely tell them things about these works of art”, he wrote in the letter to Schapiro. “ Let us tell them the painful truth, that most of these works of art are about God, whom we never mention in polite society. Let us admit that if we are to offer an education in agreement with the innermost nature and eloquence of the exhibits themselves, that this will not be an education in sensibility, but an education in philosophy, in Plato’s and Aristotle’s sense of the word, for it means ontology and theology and the map of life, and a wisdom to be applied to everyday matters.” That is to say, the world of Tradition represented for Coomaraswamy this “other world” where men’s lives were affected by the experience of Truth. With this in mind Coomaraswamy explained “that if (we) ever really enter into this other world, (we) may not wish to return: (we) may never again be contented with what (we) have been accustomed to think as “progress” and “civilization”.” For Coomaraswamy the concept of human life naturally resulted in the idea that Man had developed through civilization. However, Coomaraswamy saw the rise of modern culture as a total “bankruptcy in all aspects of human life.” “What we call civilization”, wrote Coomaraswamy, “ is nothing but a murderous machine without conscience or ideals…Civilization is an anomaly, not to say a monstrosity.” Coomaraswamy’s complete distrust of the modern culture was accompanied by his profound and uncompromising adherence to the concept of “tradition”. What interested Coomaraswamy was the “traditional” rather than any specific form of tradition. For him, as for the other thinkers of the Perennial School like Frithjof Schuon and Titus Burkhardt  the “traditional” referred to the central idea that all religions derived from a single primordial transcendental source. In a letter to Alfred O. Mendel, Coomaraswamy explained what he clearly understood by the word “tradition”. “ “Tradition” has nothing to do with any “ages”, whether “dark”, “primaeval”, or otherwise. Traditions represents doctrines about first principles, which do not change; and traditional institutions represent the application of these principles in particular environments…” Admitting Guenon’s idea of the supra-rational knowledge of the Divine and subscribing to Schuon’s concept of Religio Perennis as an underlying Truth to all religions, Coomaraswamy defined “tradition” as the only source of the spiritual health of humanity. For Coomaraswamy the traditional was related to the metaphysical and therefore religious in character and divine in origin. “Metaphysics is not a system”, declared Coomaraswamy in his essay on Vedanta and Western Tradition, “but a consistent doctrine; it is not merely concerned with conditioned and quantitative experience, but with universal possibility…”. To Coomaraswamy, metaphysics did not mean a rationalist system or a theological dogma, but a mode of knowing where the “knower” and the “known” became one and the same. Therefore, what Coomaraswamy understood by knowledge was not the process of learning new tricks but the ability to understand, to preserve and to restore what was alive in every tradition. That is the reason why he did not distinguish between culture and religion. In an address given at the end of his life on August 15, 1947 at Philip Brooks House at Harvard Coomaraswamy discussed his understanding of culture. “There is no such opposition of sacred to profane as is taken granted in the modern West; in our experience, culture and religion have been indivisible; and that, in our inheritance, is what we can least of all afford to abandon.” What Coomaraswamy suggested is that culture is a living heritage, not a museum piece. To him, the museum, as an institution, embodied a classification of dead cultures, collected and classified by the very scientific-industrial mind that had forced them into obsolescence. He thus condemned the museums as dead orders resulting from a necrophilic and ethnocidal process and as part of the living ecology of traditions. Coomaraswamy felt that only the metaphysical view of a traditional society could provide the ecological system where dualism of the symbolic and the instrumental did not exist and he cited the case of an Indian woman who refused to buy a washing machine because she was worried about her “washer man’s livelihood”. For Coomaraswamy, the craft models of tradition were ways that must be kept alive to remind science of visions and orders from which science itself stemmed. He considered that craftsmanship as a traditional lifestyle and a true form of artistic experience was being destroyed because it was considered as an impediment to the modern development of science and technology. So, while the tradition of craftsmanship embodied the notion of ritualized reciprocity, modern science was a process towards the vulgar and unaesthetic view of Man. In his essay on Domestic Handicraft and Culture, Coomaraswamy tried to articulate this idea through the example of the gramophone. “No individual ever made a gramophone because he loved music”; asserted Coomaraswamy, “ but the gramophones made in factories are daily destroying the capacity of appreciating real music in the villages.” In other words, the mechanical production of the gramophone, where each part was made by a different man and fitted together by another man, destroyed the craft tradition of individualized works of art. As a result, Coomoraswamy considered the death of tradition craft and the replacement of small workshop conditions by mechanical production under factory conditions as a sign of the death of culture. He suggested that “ everywhere and always the competition between a man and a machine is destructive of culture” and he added, “A civilization which cannot effect between them a reasonable division of labor, does not deserve the name.” As a matter of fact, Coomaraswamy does not evaluate civilization in terms of human wants or comfort and safety, but as a vocation. In an undated letter written to an anonymous receiver Coomaraswamy explained his concept of civilization and elaborated his critique of modern civilization. “The effect of our civilization and of industrialism upon any traditional society is to destroy the basis of hereditary vocation on which such societies are based: and we may say that thus to rob the man of his vocation, even though it be done in the name of “liberty”, is to rob the man of his “living”, not only in an economic sense, but in the sense that “man does not live by bread alone”; since it is precisely in such societies that the professions themselves and for the very reason that the vocation is in every sense of the word natural, provide the solid basis of initiatory teaching.” Coomaraswamy regarded his own work as a vocation and he tried to live it as a craftsman. According to his biographer, Roger Lipsey, he enjoyed the art of gardening and “ His garden was not a place where he “distinguished himself” in any way, but rather a place where he “extinguished himself””. What attracted and astonished him was what he described in a short article on Chinese landscape paintings as the “undivided life or light in all living things”. In other words, for Coomaraswamy the way of life and the way of work were one and the same way and this is what the traditional societies understood well by including the physical in the spiritual. Coomaraswamy defined, therefore, the true artist as a metaphysician who strived to know and to live in the Spirit. Ananda Coomaraswamy found a clear expression of this principle in what he often described as “the doctrine of the two selves”. “Our whole metaphysical tradition, Christian and other, maintains that “there are two in us,” this man and the Man in this man….”, affirmed Coomaraswamy in an essay entitled Who is ‘Satan’ and Where is ‘Hell’?, “ Of these two “selves”, outer and inner man, psycho-physical “personality” and very Person, the human composite of body, soul, and spirit is built up. Of these two, on the one hand body- and-soul (or -mind) and on the other, spirit, one is mutable and mortal, the other constant and immortal; one “becomes” the other “is” and the existence of the one that is not, but becomes, is precisely a “personification” or “postulation” since we cannot say of anything that never remains the same that “it is”. And however necessary it may be to say “I” and “mine” for the practical purposes of everyday life, our Ego in fact is nothing but a name for what is really only a sequence of observed behaviours.” Coomaraswamy was convinced that the “Ego” did not permit the greater Self to live more in the open. He believed in enlarging the inward archetypal experience without destroying the outer phenomenal man by finding a “polar balance of physical and metaphysical”. However, Coomaraswamy saw no remedy for the modern world as long as the Spirit in Man was ignored. With the advent of the modern world, he believed, metaphysics was destroyed, sacred knowledge was nullified, and Man was forced to turn from Revelation to rationalism. Cut off from his transcendental source he turned to his “Ego”. It was Descartes who epitomized this deviation in his Cogito ergo sum. The individual consciousness of the thinking subject was proclaimed to be the source of all reality and truth. Refuting the philosophical foundation of Descarte’s argument, Coomaraswamy explained in a letter dated March 6, 1943 to the New English weekly, “The argument is not cogito ergo sum, but cogito ergo EST, we become because He is.” Echoing Plato, Coomaraswamy considered that the superior metaphysical order of essence preceded the inferior phenomenonal order of existence. He conceived this equation in terms of a metaphysical return to the “first principles”. He developed explicitly this view in a letter dated August 8, 1946 to Gretchen Warren. “ One trouble with men like Collingwood is that they do not start by clearly defining the distinction between existence (ex alio sistens) and essence (in seipso sistens); so that it is not always clear what they mean by ‘existence’. Existence is always in some way and in some time observable, essence never. All existence is summed up in essence, which is “nothing”, i.e., in no one of those ‘things’ that exist and all of which are perishable composites.” Therefore, spirituality, for Coomaraswamy, was essentially about tuning into an Eternal Spirit or a Perennial Truth which was manifested both immanently and transcendentally. It is worth remembering that Coomaraswamy often wrote that, “the man incapable of contemplation cannot be an artist.” Saying this, he was emphasizing on the conception that all art is either consciously or unconsciously symbolic. “Symbolism”, illustrated Coomaraswamy, “ bridges the schism of sacred and profane and that is why meaningless art is fetishisms or idolatry.” Hence, Coomaraswamy believed that modern European culture was incapable of understanding and appreciating Eastern art. “The extreme materialistic character of European thought since Reformation”, declared Coomaraswamy, “has made it impossible for European writers to appreciate the art of India which is subjective, not reproductive.” Making this point was also a way for Coomaraswamy to elucidate and appreciate the ancient values of Indian culture in opposition to the quantitative and materialistic values of the modern West. This is exactly what Romain Rolland had in mind when presenting Ananda Coomaraswamy’s book Dance of Shiva wrote: “ I do not suggest that Europeans should embrace an Asiatic faith, I would merely invite them to taste the delight of this rhythmic philosophy, this deep, slow breath of thought. From it they would learn those virtues which above all others the soul of Europe (and of America) needs to-day: tranquility, patience, manly hope, unruffled joy, “like a lamp in a windless place, that does not flicker.”

Coomaraswamy’s profound grasp of the twin ideals of harmony and truth in Indian art helped him to understand the evolution of Indian culture as a crossing of spiritual tendencies. Yet, he knew well that the fusion of religious and aesthetic experiences was not exclusively Indian. As a Neo-Platonist and a Medievalist, he tried to exhibit examples of this creative unity in the fundamental insights of Western traditions of mysticism. This situation resulted in a dialogue between the chosen spirits of the East and the West. As a matter of fact, Coomaraswamy did not reject Western culture; what he opposed was modern secularism and anti-traditionalism. “I have emphasized before”, he asserted in a letter dated July 21, 1943 to Sidney Gulick, “that I am not contrasting West and East as such, but modern anti-traditional, essentially irreligious cultures with others.”  In other words, Coomaraswamy hoped for a spiritual and aesthetic marriage between the East and the West. For him the meeting of minds was based on the spiritual contact between deep mysteries of truth in the cultures of East and West. Thus Coomaraswamy did not believe in the ontological divisions between the two, as he also saw no opposition between human civilization in ancient and medieval times. This appears clearly in his letter to F.S.C. Northrop, “ As for myself”, wrote Coomaraswamy, “ I will only say that no day passes in which I do not read the Scriptures and the works of the great philosophers of all ages, so far as they are accessible to me in modern languages and in Latin, Greek and Sanskrit. I am wholly convinced that there is one truth that shines through them all in many shapes, a truth greater in glory by far than can be circumscribed by any creed or confined by the walls of any church or temple.” Therefore, as an adept of the Philosophia Perennis , Coomaraswamy considered his task not as a making of Truth, but as a finding of it. The aim of reading and interpreting Scriptures or works of art was, for him, to sink one’s ego in the ocean of the Exegesis. Coomaraswamy protested against “a premature and artificial cosmopolitanism which would destroy a nation, as modern education destroys in individuals, the special genius of each.” For Coomaraswamy the highest ideal of Indian nationalism was the development of Indian culture. Actually, the cultural dimension of Indian nationalism found its most articulate representative in the person of Ananda Coomaraswamy. In his Essays on Indian Nationalism, he declared, “ We believe in India for the Indians; but if we do so, it is not merely because we want our own India for ourselves, but because we believe that every nation has its own part to play in the long tale of human progress, and that nations, which are not free to develop their own individuality and own character, are also unable to make the contribution to the sum of human culture which the world has a right to expect of them.” From this we can see that Coomaraswamy’s advocacy of Indian nationalism was more on cultural grounds than in relation with political structures. He expressly denied that the nationalism he had in view had any basis in inhospitableness towards other cultures. His message put accent on the aesthetic authenticity of Indian culture and not on the political content of a free India. For Coomaraswamy, “Nations (were) created by poets and artists, not by merchants and politicians.” So one can say that Coomaraswamy’s nationalist outlook was neither parochial nor chauvinistic. It had a universal appeal. Nevertheless, he saw a prerequisite for Indian nationalism, which he termed, as the “regeneration of the Indian people through art”. To Coomaraswamy, the real importance of Indian culture lied in the fact that it showed the universality of fundamental ideas. This is why he saw the highest ideal of Indian nationality in cultural and artistic consciousness of Indian citizens. In an essay entitled The Influence of Modern Europe on Indian Art, he developed his unshakable ideal of the Indian culture as a religious and spiritual culture and declared, “Indian art can only revive and flourish if it is beloved by Indians themselves.” For Coomaraswamy, then, the political regeneration of India went hand in hand with the revival of the Indian art, but also with the level of consciousness of Indians on their own cultural heritage. “The fact of foreign rule need not compel the Indian to acquire a foreign mind”, affirmed Coomaraswamy, “and as long as we so carelessly contribute ourselves to the decay of art amongst us, our complaint against others for the same thing loses force.” Coomaraswamy’s heated argumentation against what he entitled in his Ceylon years as an “Anglicization of the East” was reformulated by him in his essay on “The Function of Schools of Art in India”, where he brought to our attention the fact that “The real difficulty at the root of all questions of Indian education is this, that modern education in India, the education which Englishmen are proud of having ‘given’ to India is really based on the general assumption (quite universal in England) that India is a savage country, which it is England’s divine mission to civilize.” Ananda Coomaraswamy was quite aware of the Swadeshi movement that was affecting India during the period when he wrote his essays on Indian nationalism, but he confined himself to a powerful plea for the regeneration of Indian arts and crafts, while condemning the civilization of mass production and stereotyped goods. Actually, to Coomaraswamy, Swadeshi signified more than a movement to encourage local industries. His main concern was the revival of the Indian civilization as a counter-culture to what he considered as a civilization in search of “refinement of human wants and physical well-being” and in “pursuit of world-trade”. His fear was that the idea of “quantitative standard of living” would replace the true efforts of those who tried to preserve what was left of the traditional civilization as a living entity. He considered the American society as a more dangerous enemy to cultural traditions than the European cultures. In a letter to The New English Weekly published on October 4, 1945 he complained that “In a new brave world, the cultural domination of America is even more to be dreaded than that of England: for these United States are not even a bourgeoisie, but a proletarian society fed on “ soft bun bread” (these words are those of a well-known large scale baking company’s advertisement of its product), and thinking soft-bun thoughts.” This critical note on the American mode of thought might sound too severe and unexpected coming from a scholar like Coomaraswamy who found himself rapidly integrated in the American academic community and who decided to settle down and work in Boston as a curator of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. But, even in America Coomaraswamy continued to live like an Indian. He worshipped Shanmukha ceremonially everyday. His forehead was always adorned with sandal paste and a Kumkum mark. And he wore a turban on his head instead of a cap even though he wore western clothes. Therefore, while he was convinced that modern Western civilization was already out of touch with its own traditions, he underlined that “the eastern spirit (was) not dead, but sleeping, and may yet play a great part in the world’s spiritual life.” He believed that civilization was an art of living and therefore as such it should contribute in the refinement of the quality of human desires rather than multiplying them through the production of things. “A nation”, believed Coomaraswamy,  “which sees its goal rather in the production of things than in the lives of men must in the end deservedly perish.” We understand why, Ruskin’s phrase “Industry without art is brutality” was quoted by Coomaraswamy as one of the milestones of his aesthetic and philosophical thoughts. Hand in hand with this went his emphasis on the “figures of thought” in opposition to the “figures of speech”. For Coomaraswamy art was an intellectual virtue rather than an affair of feeling. Therefore he considered art as a figure of thought and he believed that the traditional authors like Plato and others had warned us not to follow the figures of speech, but figures of thought.  According to Coomaraswamy, “Whoever wishes to understand the real meaning of the figures of thought that are not merely figures of speech must have studied the very extensive literature of many countries in which the meanings of symbols are explained, and must himself learn to think in these terms.”

Thinking in terms of symbols is what Coomaraswamy did through his pure and transparent metaphysical approach to art and culture. Describing the practice of art as a “metaphysical rite”, he took his distance from all forms of art history, especially from modern schools of art history which took visual reality as the exclusive reality of art.  As he formulated it clearly, “ Of art itself there can be no more a history than there can be of metaphysics: histories are persons and not principles.” For Coomaraswamy, as he affirmed in a conversation with Dorothy Norman in 1928, “the very term modern art (was) an absurdity.” That is to say, “The notion that one should attempt to be original in art (was considered by him as) sheer nonsense” Coomaraswamy felt close to Meister Eckhart’s view of art which he summarized in an essay by the same title as the approach of “an artist-scholar that prepares all things to return to God, in so far as he sees them intellectually (paroksat) and not merely sensibly (pratyaksena).” What Coomaraswamy condemned in modern art was the “degeneration of meaning” and the degradation of art from a vision of life to a cosmetic and fetishistic product of modern societies. Similarly there was, for him, a degeneration of the iconographic meaning in modern art unlike the traditional art which was related to a metaphysical order and therefore religious in character and divine in origin. For Coomaraswamy, the modern “fine” or “useless art”, unlike Christian or Indian arts which had  “an intelligible meaning and a definite purpose”, were unrelated to life. In other words, from Coomaraswamy’s point of view, modern art, whether representational or non-representational was secularized and aestheticized. Therefore, modern artist was motivated by his own individuality rather than by the idea of divine. Comparing the Buddhist and Hindu images to the individualistic self-images of modern artists, Coomaraswamy in his book The Origin of the Buddha Image declared:  “It must be remembered that Buddhist and Hindu images were not regarded and never have been regarded in India as works of art; they were made as means of edification.” That is to say, in modern art the universal order of the Spirit or the Divine was replaced by the particular order of the personal idiosyncrasy of the modern artist. Hence, Coomaraswamy came to the bitter conclusion that,  “if the artist cannot be interested in something greater than himself or his art, if the patron does not demand of him products well and truly made for the good use of the whole man, there is little prospect that art will ever again affect the lives of more than that infinitesimal fraction of the population that cares about the sort of art we have and no doubt, deserve.” In his lecture at the Royal Asiatic Society in 1910 he described “the greatest art as creative and living” in contrast to modern civilization which was a meaningless universe of thinking and acting. What Coomaraswamy had in mind was that all form of popularization or democratization of art was a way of vulgarizing and degrading it. As a matter of fact, he opposed the individualistic and democratic characters of modern life to the aristocratic feature of the traditional world. For Coomaraswamy, the principle of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” which was made a goal by modern industrial societies exemplified the altruistic foundation of politics in modern times.  “Dissatisfaction with the actual operation of democracy-in effect, free enterprise,”, wrote Coomaraswamy, “ is almost universal except among those who profit by it.”  He rejected democracy in the name of civilization and was critical of the “proselytizing fury” of those who identified civilization and democracy. His thoughtful analysis of the Nietzchean concept of “Will to Power” and his adherence to the notion of “aristocratic virtue” was a manner of opposing the principle of “idealistic individualism” to the idea of “democratic individualism” in Western societies. He developed his readings of Nietzche’s work in an essay entitled: The Cosmopolitan view of Nietzsche, where he came to the conclusion that: “Those who have comprehended the decline and fall of Western civilization will recognize in Nietzsche the reawakening of the conscience of Europe.” But he saw this renaissance as the work of few individuals and not of masses. “Few in any generation are ripe for the attainment of spiritual emancipation”,  Coomaraswamy wrote in his book Yaksa, “and were it otherwise the social order could not survive.” He knew well that cultural border-crossing was not the work of nations but of individual pathfinders whose lives were dedicated to interpreting anew the idea of civilization. In his essay What is Civilization? , Coomaraswamy went back to Greek and Sanskrit roots to discover the macrocosmic and microcosmic foundations of a truly civilized life. Opposing the Augustinian notion of Civitas Dei where civilization flourishes as a divine ideal to the idea of progress in the industrial society, Coomaraswamy described the true civilization as an ideal in which laborare est orare and concludes: “ Whether or not a battle of religion against industrialism and world trade can ever be won is no question for us to consider; our concern is with the task and not with its reward; our business is to be sure that in any conflict we are on the side of Justice.” Nothing could be more uncompromising in the face of the modern world, in which Coomaraswamy lived, than this perennial stance of his. But Coomaraswamy was convinced that a common goal underlied the mutual efforts of the East and the West to fight against the virus of modern civilization. He considered Rudyard Kipling’s Ballad of East and West (“East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet…”) as “ a counsel of despair that can only have been born of the most profound disillusion and the deepest conviction of impotence.” Coomaraswamy believed profoundly that the East and the West could work in harmony because they shared the same metaphysical foundations. “If we leave out the modernistic, individualistic philosophies of today”, said he, “ and consider the greatest traditions of magnanimous philosophers, it will be found that distinctions of East and West are comparable only to differences of dialect while the essential spiritual language remains the same.” This is why he praised individuals like Tagore as “those who (understood) the culture of others (and who) found in it a stimulus not to imitation but to creation.”  Therefore, for Coomaraswamy the fundamental distinction was not between the East and the West, but between wisdom and knowledge. He, like Tagore, saw wisdom as the true end of education. For him, it was in wisdom that resided the greatness of civilization. In his essay Art and Yoga in India, he declared that, “The greatness of men lies in their beliefs, not in the multiplicity of things they disbelieve.” Coomaraswamy believed in the regeneration of India as in the reawakening of the West through art and culture and not by politics and economics. He emphatically stated that culture in traditional societies had been a part of life itself. Therefore, to civilize modern civilization, he suggested a return to the meaning of life where once “to make” and “to make sacred’” were the same thing.  For him the age of the common man was too common to understand the real essence of civilization.  But for Coomaraswamy , there was a common ground of understanding among cultures and traditions beyond the meaningless economic life of the unprincipled common man. This was the cultural contact of East and West. According to Coomaraswamy, there were two different consequences to this contact. One can “become the queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere”, affirmed Coomaraswamy; or, one can learn to find oneself “in place” anywhere and “at home” everywhere, in the true sense a citizen of the world. Of Ananda Coomaraswamy, we can say, here was a man who could “find himself at home everywhere”, having learnt to hear Shiva dancing in heart of the world and in his own heart.



How do you know Ramin?

منشور 91

این منشور تلاشی است برای مستند کردن اصول، منش و ارزشهای اخلاقی انسانی  برای تولدی دیگر در جهت ایجاد حکومتهایی پاسخگو، روادار و مستقل.

به ما بپیوندید

Charter 91

A group of Iranian intellectuals have penned a new document that aims to unite the Iranian people around a common human rights and civic agenda.

Join us and sign

twitter   facebook    google   yahoo