Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

A Plea for the Humanities

K. Viswanatham

(Reader, Andhra University)

“When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset.”


Increasingly in our country the Government and the people are becoming technology-minded. That is as it should be. To step-up our food production, to make our trains run like greased lightning, to increase our comforts, to raise the standards of our life–merely to live in the modern age–technology is necessary. To build our navy or merchant vessels, to protect our skies, to set going the heavy industries, to keep the enemy at bay, the country should hum with the soft burr of lathes and glow with

“the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine.”

But the Sindris and Kharagpurs at best represent the efficiency of India, never the culture of India. Arnold told the over-confident Victorian England: “What an unsound habit of mind it must be which makes us talk of things like coal or iron as constituting the greatness of England...!” (Culture and Anarchy, p. 51)

To bridle the high-powered colts of passion we require humanistic studies in which man is analysed and studied. A text-book of Physics or Chemistry or Technology does not give us the A. B. C. of a human being in a human situation. In the technological Paradise the Tree of Knowledge flourishes to the detriment of the Tree of Life. We can as well do without certain types ofknowledge: some types lead to death. You do not experiment with your old mother, writes Shaw, to get at the knowledge of the temperature she can stand by pouring boiling water onher body. Milton should have understood such implicates when he forbade the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Otherwise we cannot explain the apparent paradox of the author of Areopagiticacondemning Eve’s hungering after the fruit of knowledge.

If Freedom lies in the Recognition of Necessity and if Science is the Recognition of Necessity in the world of matter, there should be some activity which unclasps Necessity in the world of spirit. That is Art which is the proper study of man.


It is true that men make books: it is truer, as Oscar Wilde put it, that books make men. Brutus in an ill-humor says: “What should the wars do with these jigging fools?” And it was a burning problem of the Renaissance if action was better than knowing. To do things worthy to be written or to write things worthy to be done–was the great question-mark. And a compromise was effected by picturing Alexander carrying Homer with him. In Keats’s spiritual life it is a long march from the Ode on a Grecian Urn to Hyperion.

“ ‘None can usurp this height’ return’d that shade,
‘But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest’ “

constitute a newer feeling than

“ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’,–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Fine writing, he says elsewhere, next to fine doing, is the top thing in the world. Arnold with his child in the arms of death sought consolation in Marcus Aurelius, and, to R. L. Stevenson, reading The Meditations was like touching a loyal hand, looking into brave eyes and making a noble friend. Industrialisation is said to impoverish the human spirit; it has an appalling leveling effect; even Technology should be built on values deep-rooted in a Nation. Art is sensitiveness to Values. It is unwise, writes E.M. Forster, to ignore sensitiveness. You may win the short battle by so doing but you will lose the long one and will be condemned by the tribunal of history. The Sciences of inert matter do not touch the bosoms and businesses of men.

It should however be noted that the true scientist is a true saint: the scientific attitude is an impartial attitude. The activity of the scientific imagination is the same as the activity of the artistic imagination. The essence of both the activities is summed up in Eliot’s lines:

“Music heard so deeply that it is not heard at all
And you are the music while the music lasts.”

The difference is the following: The scientific imagination works on inert matter; the artistic on life. The scientific imagination is confined to the laboratory and the cognitive aspect of man; the artistic brings the whole soul of man into activity and works on the cognitive, the conative and the affective. It is being recognised by the scientists themselves that the poet’s intuitions are no less valid than their analyses and that the poet alone is a sufficiently sensitive instrument to register these intuitions (cp. Urban’s Language and Reality).The electro-magnetic waves which express a sunset to the physicist, says Carrol (Man the Unknown, p. 291), are no more objective than the brilliant colours perceived by the painter. Even a saint like Gandhiji was so powerfully moved by the statue of a woman (in Belur in Mysare) who flings her saree to the ground, to get rid of a scorpion that attempted her chastity, that he wrote an article about her. Even adults eyes get dim with tears when they read that poem in which a small boy leads an old woman across the street, thinking of his own mother needing such help in a distant place.

Art is not morality but it saves morality from itself, from formalism and uniformity (D. G. James, Scepticism and Poetry). Art helps us

(i) by annihilating our separative Ego and widening the circumference of our sympathy,
(ii) by freeing us from a Hindenburg line of beliefs by projecting before us freedom and variety of situations,
(iii) by giving us a peculiar insight into the world, because the hour of artistic enjoyment is the hour of the elimination of emotional-conative activity which ordinarily disturbs our insight.

In our world we are

Distracted from distraction by distraction;

in the world of Art we are

Distracted from distraction by joy.

Art makes us mentally and spiritually supple; poetry is refinement through experience, and refinement attends on us like our guardian angel and hands us a Gabriel-spear to meet the challenge of life.


Humanism was a part of the Renaissance. It was a revolt against the ecclesiastical hegemony of the Middle Ages and looked askance at the supernatural in favour of human affairs. It emphasised the study of the classics. Humanism is a branch or Philosophy and adopts as its motto the ancient maxim: Man is the measure of all things. Humanism underlined the individual because every individual is a new thought of God, a unique experiment, and the individual lives by exercising the God-like reason in him. Otherwise that talent is lodged in vain in him.

But humanistic studies alone will not usher in the ‘re-conditioning’ of man. Books do not teach their own use. We may read the life of the Buddha and injure the nearest live thing. We may ponder the Biblical exhortation to turn the left check if smitten on the right, and smite one in the street on both the cheeks. One swallow does not make the summer. Life is a whole and progress in one direction has to be followed by progress in other directions, economic, political, etc. If we lapse educationally we lapse in other walks of life as well. If cold troubles us, it is not the nose alone that suffers but the whole body. And the doctor who tries to set the nose right is not the proper diagnostician.

Humanism has not been an uncensured commodity. Man is a shame and a disgrace, says Nietzche, and should be transcended. Humanism has been attacked as not being invulnerable. Its deification of Reason is disputed. Mill, the saint of Rationalism, was saved by poetry. The Humanist, as some Catholic writers point out, when resiling from the Hierarchy of Medieval thought, entertained exaggerated notions of his resources. But, weaned from God, exhaustion came too soon. One type of Humanism did not sever itself from God and this is called by Maritain Theocentric Humanism. But these charges are based on the aberration of Humanism: true Humanism is the very negation of these tendencies.

The age of the common man is the age without standards and is a negation of the principle of quality and the theory of the elite. Max Beerbohm In the lecture on Lytton Strachey observes that he is an old man, that old men are not ready converts to a new faith, and that the religion of the common man does not stir him. We question everything, we have adopted the ‘duty of doubt’ (Cf. Haldane) which naturally converts, as Burke cautions, all duties into doubts. Culture is said to be the measure of things taken for granted.

We question everything and are pinnacled in the dim intense Inane or we are caught in the La Brea of Behaviour-patterns. Thought-patterns, and Feeling-patterns. Regimentation has made us into ‘soldiers in uniform’ and a steam-roller has spiritually macadamized us into a dull aching uniformity. Nietzche has devastatingly described the Nation as a people which reads the same newspaper (and he could have added) listens to the same radio-music and sees the same cinema with a strained inanity:

The two greatest dangers in the modern times are said to be:

(i) the individual versus the State
(ii) man versus machine.

What has the latter done? The age of technology or machinery has reduced man himself into a machine and induced in man the idea that anything can be measured and graded and fixed. Technology has given improved means to what?–unimproved ends. There is a virtue in contentment, said a great scientist recently, which we cannot learn from science. Freud traces our dejection to our awareness of technological advance which can wipe us out at one stroke. Modern warfare, wrote Sir Richard Gregory, is a mockery of the highest human values and an insult to the throbbing human heart. The proper study of mankind is man: more proper to him than even the study of beetles, gases and of atoms. Does science tell us, “Whoever gives quickly gives ten times,” or “No one is fully clothed unless he wears a smile”? Mere action is busyness, the movement of hinges and not of wheels. We act like the monkeys in the Jataka tale which, instructed by the gardener to water the roots of the plants while he was away to a fair, pulled up every plant and watered the roots and thus destroyed the garden–all out of a well-meant act but ignorant. Science has so dwarfed the distances in the world that a German submarine can sink a ship in the Atlantic. The ‘press-the-button’ existence has reduced man to an anaemic doll. Applied science can be more appropriately labelled misapplied science. We see life steadily, but do not see it whole. The modern chemist, says Whitehead, is likely to be weak in Zoology, weaker still in his knowledge of the Elizabethan Drama, and completely ignorant of the principles of rhythm in English versification. It is probably safe to ignore his knowledge of ancient history.

All human problems can be categorised into three:

(i) the relation between Man and Nature
(ii) the relation between Man and Men
(iii) the relation between Man and Self.

It is the perfection of the last that gathers the harvest of the first two. The perfection of the first two divorced from the last is but a Dead Sea fruit. The facile principle of mechanisation has destroyed the invaluable properties of man. We know the price of man and not his value. We have neglected thought, moral suffering, sacrifice, beauty, and peace. The moral beauty in man or woman is

“the star to every wandering bark
Whose worth is unknown although his height be taken.”


In humanistic studies we find at least this aspect of the picture. Vasishta’s ‘Satyam putrasatat varam or Dharmaraja’s choice of Nakula for revival to life, Rama’s blameless life and the incredibly valiant devotion of Sita–are thoughts that take us with beauty into a world of values. Man is still the Unknown. As is said, philosophers who sapiently remark that Mind is also Matter have only matter in their minds. In one of the books of The Faerie Queene, when a foolish agitator tries to measure Right and Wrong, etc., Talus shoulders him out to a deserved fate:

“For by no means the false will with the truth be wayd

“But in the mind the doom of right must be.”

The value of humanistic studies is minimised by an unproductive educational system. We have more of Universities, writes Dr. Radhakrishnan, and less of education. Education is no longer a training in values: it is an elaborate examining sieve. Students are taught, not educated; the teacher lectures to audiences, not classes. A harmonious dovetailing of the vocational, the political and the spiritual is a dream. And the increase of knowledge, the necessity of earning one’s livelihood, and applied science are said to be hurdles in the way of a happy integration.

When formed of the decay of France, Napoleon seems to have remarked “Look to the Mothers of France”–indirectly echoing a great remark of Plato that the education of the child began before he was born. Above all, the intimate relationship between the teacher and taught is not possible in the huge modern factories of education turning out finished graduates by the hundred and making them believe that their education was over–when they have been merely taught for a certain period. The Gita lays down a fine ideal to the student:

“Tadviddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya”

Learn it by prostration, enquiry and service. The teacher under the ancient educational set-up in India (Cf. Prof. Altekar and Dr. Kane) treated the student as his son who sometimes became his son-in-law too. The upanayanameans etymologically ‘bringing the child (at the proper age) to a teacher’. Elaborate duties are laid down for the student in the Gautama Dharma Sutras. The snatakais expected to utter only auspicious words: to mention a single instance, he should call adhennas dhenubhavya. Look at the amazing courtesy implied. To talk with a smile on the lips is said to be an ‘arya’ quality: Rama is a smitapurva bhashi. In the Ramayana every speaker is a vagvidamvarah, priyamvadah, etc. Satyam vada; dharmam charasum up the ideal ofeducation. A bright Hellenic perception offacts and playing the game are the two ends: they can even be termed Awareness and Non-attachment. Sage Gautama exhorts every one to cultivate unimpeachably and to perfection these eight atmagunas:

daya, kshanti, anasuya, saucha, anayasa,
mangalam, akarpanyam, aspruha’.

Take ‘mangalam’: being auspicious in mind and talk, etc. It is said that even truth, if offensive, should not be uttered: ‘Satyam apriyam na byuyat’. The Upanishad lays down:

‘Bhadram karnebhih srunuyama devah’.

Compare this with Spenser’s Sir Calidore, the knight ofcourtesy, and Gandhiji’s statuette of three monkeys with the symbolic meaning that we should not see evil, hear evil, speak evil. It is not for lack of knowledge that the world has come to this pass. Man is still a primitive in the world of emotions. Sciences of life alone can help us to have at least some idea of that jungle. lion-passioned and tiger-thoughted. Among the sciences of life Art occupies a fairly high place. Great teachings like ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’, great lines of poetry like ‘Advaitam sukhadukkhayoh anugunam sarvasu avasthasuyah– are bound to leave some trace, however faint, on us and light on our path in life a thousand candles as if from nowhere. There is a Law of Delayed Action in these studies.

Technology should be modified by aesthetic technology. Wordsworth recognised this malaise when he wrote:

“Science advances with gigantic strides:
But are we aught enriched in love and meekness?”

Love and Meekness–without them ourmachine-made civilisation gets the following obituary:

“Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

Indeed man stands above all things. Should he degenerate, writes Carrol, the beauty of civilisation and even the grandeur of the physical universe would vanish.

‘What have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palm turned upwards
In an age which advances progressively wards?’

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