Whether under the rule of capitalism or socialism, Western countries are completely dominated by the bourgeois mentality — in Hindu terms the spirit that motivates the third, or mercantile caste. This is true not only because of the power associated with money but because of the importance of material concerns and, above all, snobbery. This world which, according to some, comes from the Italian snobile (without nobility) characterizes a caste whose interest in intellectual matters is nothing more than a desire for social advancement, power, or profit. In the political world people easily speak of the proletariat and the ruling class, but seem to forget the most powerful group of all, the merchants and the businessmen — useful, but unproductive and parasitical — who control everything connected with money but have long since overstepped the bounds that should exist in a well-balanced society.
Whether one is dealing with literature of the arts, philosophy, politics, or science, it is impossible for an idea or a principle to achieve recognition or success unless it conforms to certain fashionable and ready-made standards that are geared toward commercial interests or ambitions of power in the name of which all other values are sacrificed. In the artificial and pretentious world we live in today, independent spirits who try to find their own truth and live according to their personal ideas and tastes are viewed with suspicion. Snobs go about extolling the artistic fashions of the day as though their merits were absolute. In all artistic domains snobs seem to lead the way, not even realizing that by calling graffiti “sublime” cacophonic jumbles “musical masterpieces” and banal literary forms “works of art” they are only yielding to vulgar commercialism. They have lost all sense of reality, which generates ludicrous, even perverse attitudes in their politics as well as in their personal lives. Their judgement has been so totally conditioned that they cannot think seriously or adopt rational attitudes regarding the world and its problems. It seems as though the links between cosmology and science, art and the sacred no longer existed. Ideologies — even certain diseases — become “the latest thing,” when in fact the problems are deeply vital. Fashionable Communism goes hand in hand with faddish and short-lived musical crazes or feigned enthusiasm for painting styles that are totally devoid of talent, aesthetic interest, or even technique. I was quite astonished by the difference in atmosphere between the avant-garde circles of my youth, when artists flirted with the absurd without taking themselves seriously, and the postwar intellectuals who pondered over it with pedantic solemnity.
Snobs are vain and naive people who are easily used and manipulated by powerful plutocracies and other types of imperialisms. Intellectuals, unfortunately, are often part of the flock.
In the Hindu world, “knowledge” is considered above all a heritage. It is one’s duty to pass it on and, if possible, add a few elements that will serve to develop and keep it up to date. As a result, those who have been deemed worthy of carrying this burden have a heavy moral responsibility, especially in the choice of their disciples. Knowledge is like a calling. Some forms of knowledge must never be transmitted to ambitious or irresponsible people. The greatest problem of a scholar is to find a disciple, a receptacle who will be worthy of this sacred trust.
One of the most astonishing aspects of the evolution of Western society is its total irresponsibility and anonymity regarding the transmission of knowledge. Knowledge has become collective. A learned man or scientist is nothing more than an easily replaceable cogwheel in the machine of “progress.” Nowadays, in the excitement of new discoveries and their applications, the legacy of the past is completely left aside. The keenest minds are taken up by specialized branches of science, their findings immediately thrown into the communal melting pot of all these sorcerers’ apprentices, without a thought for the use that will be made of them. There is no longer any such thing as a responsible individual, only a vast community of brains. The community apparently has no guide, no presiding force, at it seems to drift along aimlessly at the mercy of chance. But it is really a question of chance? Might we not be victims of an evil force goading us along with the promise of a few so-called material advantages, but leading us in fact to the total destruction of our own species? This process is obvious on all levels of society.
Young animals that live in the forests soon learn to make as little noise as possible for fear of attracting the lurking tiger. The children of poor peasants work along with their parents and know that the food on their table comes from the seeds they have sown, and from nothing else. Indian children share the lives of adults. By prolonging childhood to absurd lengths, the Western bourgeois system of education produces a society of shallow minds that have spent too many years living outside reality and are accustomed to functioning in a vacuum, constructing systems not based on experience.
Revolutions, murderous wars, and genocides are created not by artisans or peasants, who from infancy are always in touch with the problems of everyday reality, by the idle classes who have no idea what it means to be hungry. Most of the problems of the modern West have been caused by maladjusted members of the petite bourgeoisie who spend their lives daydreaming instead of trying to learn. Whether one is speaking of Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, Sartre, Aragon, or Adorno, all revolutionary theorists are idealistic bourgeois who drag the popular masses into ill-conceived ventures of which the people, not the initiators, are always the victims.
Jean-Paul Sartre used to inspire me with the same feeling of discomfort and revulsion as Gandhi — another product of a rich bourgeois family — whose sentimental theories, humble facade, and unrealistic ideals of nonviolence led to the division of India and to one of the greatest massacres in history, a massacre not only of human beings but of an ancient civilization.
No true social justice can exist unless it is based on an awareness of the profound inequality between individuals and the diversity of their roles and aptitudes. Social justice consists in putting each individual in his proper place according to his needs and nature. The same thing is true of the different races. Each one has its own reason for being, its own qualities, capacities, and beauty. There is no such thing as an inferior or a superior race. A hunting dog is different from a sheep dog, a Percheron is not a race horse, azaleas do not need the same soil as asparagus. As Ananda Coomaraswamy used to say, a rose per se is no more beautiful than a cabbage; they belong to separate categories, and no conclusions can be drawn unless the different levels of evaluation are strictly defined. A wolf is no better than a lamb, but when kept within the same enclosure, they are certainly not equal. Political systems built on oversimplistic premises can only lead to the elimination of all those who stand in their way, all those who are not sufficiently “equal” to allow this ideology to triumph, whether they are above or below the chosen norm.
This is when egalitarianism leads to bloodshed. All people are supposed to be equal but only according to the model of the average, pseudo-Christian European. No one thinks of being equal to the Pygmies, the Santals of India, or the Amazonian tribes. According to the Hindu tradition, there are four basic human breeds, four distinct races that appeared one after the other, each playing an essential role in the harmony of the world.
According to the Hindu system, the preservation of the species is an essential duty, which is why interracial marriages are strictly forbidden. Whether or not one believes in religion or rituals, the responsibility toward an unborn child is a basic moral duty. Hindus believe that children born of interracial marriages have ambiguous personalities and lose the hereditary qualities of both races, thereby causing the corruption and ruin of any society. Individual freedom is only restricted if it is harmful to a third party. This is true of procreation since it involves the unborn child and the future of the species. If one does not wish to have children, the sacramental aspect of marriage is meaningless.
People have often asked me whether I could suggest a line of conduct, a method, and a “religion” that might bring the Western world out of its predicament or at least help some people to fulfill themselves. But I am neither a master nor a prophet. In a world that is hastening towards its own destruction, man’s only hope, according to the theory of cycles, lies in individual salvation. Hindus believe that we are approaching the last stages of the Kali Yuga, the age of conflicts, which must inevitably end in a cataclysm. Only when the greater part of humanity has been destroyed by an underwater explosion will Kalki, the last “messiah,” appear on his white horse and grant a few individuals a reprieve in this wondrous adventure man has known on Earth.
Alain Danielou was a French convert to Hinduism who spent many years living in India studying traditional music, art, philosophy, and religion. He wrote many books on those subjects including Virtue, Success, Pleasure, and Liberation, a defense of the Hindu caste system. These excerpts are taken from chapter nineteen of his autobiography The Way to the Labyrinth.