Dialogue  January - March, 2008 , Volume 9  No. 3

Consciousness Value Culture

C. D. Sebastian*

This review addresses a reading of the collection of essays by Professor Govind Chandra Pande in Consciousness Value Culture, and in doing so offers an evaluation. The leitmotiv of the volume is a defense of the philosophy of history, as the author himself states at the outset itself: “I am arguing in defense of the philosophy of history which alone can illumine the meaning of history and culture” (p. xii).  The author was a Professor of History and is a learned scholar, thinker and writer. He has held very high and responsible positions in academia, like at the Universities of Allahabad, Rajasthan, Gorakhpur, and Banaras Hindu University, and also at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla.

The book in discussion begins with ‘Preface’ where the author explicates the raison d’ etre of the volume: “to explore the nature of culture as a tradition of value seeking” (p. vii). He does not limit himself to the modern anthropological use of the term ‘culture’, but goes beyond and brings in the traditional word and states: “The traditional word which corresponds to culture is dharma, mnya, gama, or pramparya. Vidy sampradya, ±iăæasampradya or puruărthasdhana also express parallel ideas” (p. vii).

The volume has thirty essays in three sections: Section one under the head ‘The Meaning and Process of Culture’ (pages 1 – 85) deals with seven essays on consciousness, meaning of culture, culture and the historical process, culture, categories and patterns, essential and  accidental history, ‘root’ culture, civilization and progress, and tradition and modernity.

Section two entitled ‘Culture and Cultures’ comprises eleven essays (pages 87 – 244). These essays unravel the subtle nuances of culture as understood or envisaged by the author. Here in this section one finds the ‘problem of identity’, ‘culture and cultures’, ‘nature of social categories’, ‘historiography of civilization and cultural presuppositions’, ethical notions of both east and west, sense of time and history, interpretation of Indian culture, Indian social tradition, impact of religion on Indian social life, ‘Nature, God and Form’ in the western tradition, and ‘contemporary traditions and problem of coherence’ discussed in detail.

Section three on ‘Dimensions of Culture’ furthers the discussion, which the author has set on motion, in a philosophical manner in twelve essays (pages 245 – 434). The issues taken up for examination and contemplation in this section are ‘culture, secularization and religion’, ‘human quest and philosophical reflection,’ religion and spiritual life, religion and historicity, idea of God and historical tradition, life and death of languages, ‘imagination, creativity, aesthetic and social transformation’, art and appreciation, formalization and mathematics, sense of space and cosmography, and archeology and culture.

Professor G. C. Pande’s book is a timely and discerning assessment and exposition of the state of recent and historical concerns for culture in general, Indian culture in particular.  The strength of the book consists in:

In his first essay entitled “Consciousness” the author clearly explains nature of consciousness from his point of view, highlighting the empiricist and positivist bias of modern psychology. He writes: “Behaviourists from Watson to Skinner questioned the very reality of anything like mind and consciousness” (p.3). But contemporary research in neuroscience has brought back the nature of consciousness and its relation to brain as an important topic for investigation. The author is not in favour of a physicalist interpretation of consciousness as he writes, “the nature of consciousness can be properly explored only in and through consciousness” (p. 5), and “what distinguishes man from machines is consciousness and self-consciousness and what distinguishes him from animal is moral reason” (p. 5). Thus, the author asserts that reality is not empirical alone. Consciousness is not empirical alone. idhyjtma-vidyj) is the phenomenology of the self as the author writes, “as phenomenology of the spirit (jdhyjtmavidyj) it deals with the moral, religious and cultural; phenomena which may be described as Man writ large” (p. 6).

Culture and value, according to the author, have the metaphysical nuance. The author’s philosophical acumen is evident in this volume. He writes: “I find it difficult to think of values as just historically given facts. Systems of morality are not simply conventional nor are aesthetic values just matter of irrational tastes” (p. vii). Human actions have a deep meaning. “Actions are not simply natural events specifiable in terms of space, time, and cause. They are primarily expressions of the human-will and their essence lies not in their seeking to produce a change in nature, but in an affirmation and transformation of Self” (p. x). Further he writes that the Indian term “Sanskr or sanskÙti has an inevitable transcendental aspect” (p. vii). Culture is not ethnic specific, but universal argues the author: “Culture in this sense is not ethnic but universal. This universal culture is discovered in time, even as the truth of mathematics or metaphysics” (p. viii). That is why, “moral maxims like ‘Do not injure living being’ or ‘hatred does not end hatred’ are also expressions of timeless truth” (p. viii). It is interesting to note the definition of culture which the author makes: “I should like to define culture as the tradition of values of self-realization” (p. 12).

According to the author, relation between history and culture is reciprocal. History and Culture are ever present, and the author writes: “History is not the dead past, not its barren narrative. Nor is any account of culture a mere anthropographic gazetteer” (p. viii). Further the author notes that history could be characterized in three ways as he writes: “History may be characterized in three ways, viz., as impermanence, as casual determination, and as tradition” (p. 306). There is a piece of advice from the author for the readers and thinkers: “We must not think of history and culture as merely the succession or simultaneity of events in natural space-time” (p. viii). He makes a distinction between a historian and a scientist, “for the historian does not seek to alter but to understand events” (p. viii) and his “concern is more with meaning than with fact strictly so-called” (p. ix).        

One of the serious philosophical reflections of the author is his “The Idea of God and the Historical Tradition”, the twenty-third essay in the volume (Pp. 305 – 330). In this article, the author discusses the idea of God derived from the experiences of worship which form a tradition. He writes: “The deity is revealed in the process of worship and being infinite in nature is called the Lord. (Contrary to history). He is eternal and beyond application of causality; but by His free grace He is the ultimate sources of tradition of spiritual wisdom. Tradition and God are invariably connected by the relation of ‘manifestation’” (p. 306). In this paper, the Indian point of view of God is discussed, particularly that of Trikya of Buddhism and Trim?rti of Hinduism, in comparison with Trinity of Christianity (p. 317). This discussion looks like an apologetic.1

In order to sum up, one could say that the volume in discussion is primarily a treatise on culture, but lurking beneath the cultural are unmistakable philosophical and value factors. Essay headings suggest the scope of the volume. Attractively written, the book is the result of serious thinking undertaken by the author over many years, for G. C. Pande is a professor of history and a philosopher in perception.

The author is particularly severe when he compares east and west. He sees a wide gap when it comes to culture and value of the east and west.  A difficulty with the book may be that much of reference material are of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s (see the notes given in Pp. 437 – 473, and the bibliography from 477 – 499). One wonders why there is a long description about the author under note 11 (of the first section), in page 438, and one might think that there is some lapse in the editing work/proof reading. However, these small and minor things a reviewer sees, do not affect the greatness of this volume.

There is much more, of course, to be said about this book, and all other things the book employs. This is a great book for a discussion group. A short review cannot do Professor G. C. Pande’s scholarship justice. This is more than a book about Culture and Value. The author deserves appreciation for this marvelous work. The publisher Raka Prakashan, Allahabad has brought out the volume beautifully in very clear and readable print. Teachers, researches and students, and other readers will gain from this work. The author and publisher of the volume warrant approbation from serious minds so that more weighty works like this would come out in this direction.

Reference

       1    Apologists are authors and leaders known for taking on the points in arguments, conflicts or positions that are placed under popular scrutiny. The term comes from the Greek apologia (apologia), meaning ‘a speaking in defense.’ Here I use the term apologetic in this traditional sense.

 

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