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Monday, January 21, 2008

"Let not the sands of time get in your lunch." - National Lampoon, "Deteriorata"


China and India:

"It is important not to overlook the resistance to Indian - particularly Buddhist — influence that was also widespread in China, The resistance to Buddhism in various periods of Chinese history contained, among other elements, a strong belief in China’s sense of intellectual invulnerability, and in particular the persuasion that ideas generated outside China could not really be very important. Han Yu, an anti-Buddhist intellectual in the ninth century, who would be much championed later on by Confucians, put the issue starkly in his ‘Memorial on Buddhism’ written in 819:

the Buddha was of barbarian origin. His language differed from Chinese speech; his clothes were of a different cut; his mouth did not pronounce the prescribed words of the Former Kings; his body was not clad in garments prescribed by the Former Kings. He did not recognize the relationship between prince and subject, nor the sentiments of father and son.

Han Yu even offered an illustrative proof of the wrongness of Buddhist ways:

[Emperor Wu of the Liang] dedicated himself to the service of the Buddha. He refused to use animals in the sacrifices in his own ancestral temple. His single meal a day was limited to fruits and vegetables. In the end he was driven out and died of hunger. His dynasty likewise came to an untimely end. In serving the Buddha he was seeking good fortune, but the disaster that over took him was only the greater. Viewed in the light of this, it is obvious that the Buddha is not worth serving.

Daoist (or Taoist) opposition to Buddhism also had a strong element of Chinese intellectual nationalism and a sense of superiority of Chinese ways. As it happens, Buddhism and Daoism have many similarities, but that only made the battle even harder, and the issue of temporal priority, too, figured in this conflict...

'[Wang Fu’s] basic thesis is that Lao-tzu, on departing China, traveled across Central Asia into India and there either (1) magically transformed an accompanying disciple into the historic Buddha, (2) converted Buddha to Taoism, or (3)
became Buddha himself, depending on which version of the text one reads. Buddhists fought this Taoist attack primarily by moving the life of the Buddha back to earlier and earlier times, and Taoists responded in kind by reassigning dates to Lao-tzu.'

As Leon Hurvitz and Tsai Heng-Ting have discussed, the question, ‘Why should a Chinese allow himself to be influenced by Indian ways?’ was, in fact, ‘one of the objections most frequently raised by Confucians and Daoists once Buddhism had acquired a foothold on Chinese soil’.’ The loss of the central position of China in the order of things in the world was among the concerns...

'The monks of Nalanda, when they heard of it [Xuanzhang's plan to return to China], begged hum to remain, saying: 'India is the land of Buddha’s birth, and though he has left the world, there are many traces of him. . . . Why then do you wish to leave having come so far? Moreover, China is a country of mlecchas, of unimportant barbarians, who despise the religious and the Faith. That is why Buddha was not born there. The mind of the people is narrow, and their coarseness profound, hence neither saints nor sages go there. The climate is cold and the country rugged — you must think again.'"

Tryst with Destiny:

"[Footnote] We must, however, distinguish between cases of good results brought about by strong political commitment and any expectation that authoritarian leadership would, in general, produce such results. North Korea is authoritarian too, as was the Taliban’s Afghanistan, Idi Amin’s Uganda and Mobutu’s Congo. The central point at issue concerns political vision rather than coercive power."

Indian and the Bomb:

"Whether, or to what extent, powerful weapons empower a nation is not a new question. Indeed, well before the age of nuclear armament began, Rahindranath Tagore had expressed a general doubt about the fortifying effects of military strength. If 'in his eagerness for power', Tagore had argued in 1917, a nation ‘multiplies his weapons at the cost of his soul, then it is he who is in much greater danger than his enemies’... The ‘soul’ to which Tagore referred includes, as he explained, the need for humanity and understanding in international relations.

Tagore was not merely making a moral point, but also one of pragmatic importance, taking into account the responses from others that would be generated by one’s pursuit of military might. His immediate concern in the quoted statement was with Japan and its move toward extensive nationalism. Tagore was a great admirer of Japan and the Japanese, but felt very disturbed by its shift from economic and social development to aggressive militarization...

There is nothing to indicate that the likelihood of conventional war is, in fact, reduced by the nuclearization of India and Pakistan. Indeed, hot on the heels of the nuclear blasts, the two countries did undergo a major military confrontation in the Kargil district in Kashmir. The Kargil conflict, which occurred within a year of the nuclear blasts of India and Pakistan, was in fact the first military conflict between the two in nearly thirty years. Many Indian commentators have argued that the confrontation, which was provoked by separatist guerrillas coming across the line of control from Pakistan (in their view, joined by army regulars), was helped by Pakistan’s understanding that India would not he able to use its massive superiority in conventiona; forces to launch a bigger war in retaliation, precisely because it would fear a nuclear holocaust...

The argument for the balance of terror has been clear enough for a long time, and was most eloquently put by Winston Churchill in his last speech to the House of Commons on 1 March 1955. His ringing words on this ('safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation') have a mesmerizing effect, but Churchill himself did make exceptions to his rule, when he said that the logic of deterrence 'does not cover the case of lunatics or dictators in the mood of Hitler when he found himself in his final dug-out'.

Dictators are not unknown in the world (even in the subcontinent), and at least part-lunatics can be found with some frequency in both the countries judging by what some eloquent commentators seem to be able to write on the nuclear issue itself...

After the 1998 tests, India’s and Pakistan’s positions seem to be much more even, at least in international public perception. As it happens, Pakistan was quite modest in its response. I remember thinking in the middle of May 1998, following the Indian tests, that surely Pakistan would now blast a larger number of bombs than India’s five. I was agreeably impressed by Pakistan’s moderation in blasting only six, which is the smallest whole number larger than five...

As the Human Development Report 1994, prepared under the leadership of that visionary Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, pointed out, not only were the top five arms-exporting countries in the world precisely the five permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, but they were also, together, responsible for 86 per cent of all the conventional weapons exports during 1988—92. Not surprisingly, the Security Council has not been able to take any serious initiative that would really restrain the merchants of death. It is not hard to understand the scepticism in India and Pakistan — and elsewhere — about the responsibility and leadership of the established nuclear powers."

The Reach of Reason:

"The Enlightenment perspective has come under severe attack in recent years, and [Jonathan] Glover adds his own powerful voice to this reproach. He argues that "the Enlightenment view of human psychology" has increasingly looked "thin and mechanical," and "Enlightenment hopes of social progress through the spread of humanitarianism and the scientific outlook" now appear rather "naive." Following an increasingly common tendency, Glover goes on to attribute many of the horrors of the twentieth century to the influence of the Enlightenment. He links modern tyranny with that perspective, noting not only that "Stalin and his heirs were in thrall to the Enlightenment," but also that Pol Pot "was indirectly influenced by it." But since Glover does not wish to seek solutions through the authority of religion or of tradition (in this respect, he notes, "we cannot escape the Enlightenment"), he concentrates his fire on other targets, such as reliance on strongly held beliefs. "The crudity of Stalinism," he argues, "had its origins in the beliefs [Stalin held." This claim is plausible enough, as is Glover's reference to "the role of ideology in Stalinism."

However, why is this a criticism of the Enlightenment perspective? It seems a little unfair to put the blame for the blind beliefs of dictators on the Enlightenment tradition, since so many writers associated with the Enlightenment insisted that reasoned choice was superior to any reliance on blind belief. Surely "the crudity of Stalinism" could be opposed, as it indeed was, through a reasoned demonstration of the huge gap between promise and practice, and by showing its brutality-a brutality that the authorities had to conceal through strict censorship. Indeed, one of the main points in favor of reason is that it helps us to transcend ideology and blind belief. Reason was not, in fact, Pol Pot's main ally. He and his gang of followers were driven by frenzy and badly reasoned belief and did not allow any questioning or scrutiny of their actions. Given the cogency of Glover's other arguments, there is something deeply puzzling about his willingness to join the fashionable chorus of attacks on the Enlightenment...

Indian religious literature such as the Bhagavad-Gita or the Tantrik texts, which are identified as differing from secular writings seen as "Western," elicits much greater interest in the West than do other Indian writings, including India's long history of heterodoxy. Sanskrit and Pali have a larger atheistic and agnostic literature than exists in any other classical tradition. There is a similar neglect of Indian writings on nonreligious subjects, from mathematics, epistemology, and natural science to economics and linguistics. (The exception, I suppose, is the Kama Sutra, in which Western readers have managed to cultivate an interest.) Through selective emphases that point up differences with the West, other civilizations can, in this way, be redefined in alien terms, which can be exotic and charming, or else bizarre and terrifying, or simply strange and engaging. When identity is thus "defined by contrast," divergence with the West becomes central."

The Indian Identity:

"I do not doubt that some Hindus do indeed find, as reported recently in the newspapers, that even Valentine’s Day cards are offensive as being allegedly sexually explicit — a point made with much force by some politically activist Hindus. But Hindus vary in their attitude to issues of this kind, as the sculptors of the temples in Khajuraho could readily explain. I take the liberty of speculating that the greatest Sanskrit poet, Kalidãsa, with his eloquence on the beauty of female forms bathing in the river Sipra in his native Ujjayini, would have found Valentine’s Day cards to be deeply disappointing."

--- In: The argumentative Indian : writings on Indian history, culture and identity / Amartya Sen
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