Beyond Sutras And Kama: India's Timeless Wisdom in Love, Relationships And Marriage

16/12/2015 4:04 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Carl Jung's affirmation that contemporary theosophical dialectic is, to put it mildly, an oversimplified distillation of Eastern philosophy, conveys an oft-repeated truth about the obscured rationalisation of India's traditions. This reductionism applies not merely to the West, but to English-speaking India itself.

In the absence of a credible dharmic renaissance in independent India--an endeavour clumsily espoused by groups intermittently faithful to the spirit of India's non-formalised and decidedly liberal value-systems--a de-Sanskritised, post-colonial India can seldom access the enlightened ratiocination of her own philosophical genius.

"Vedanta is not (premised upon) preconceived ideas... it possesses absolute liberty... unrivalled courage with regard to facts... is never hampered by priestly order... it never runs counter to scientific laws... scrupulously (considers) reason (so that) both the agnostic and atheist may attain truth in their own way." -- Romain Rolland.

India's, or more precisely, Hindu philosophy's multi-layered rationality turns the obtuseness of binary logic -- wealth vs. welfare, socialism vs. capitalism, work vs. play -- on its head: her historical socio-economic pre-eminence was fuelled by a highly cultivated yet profoundly simple quadridimensional worldview; kama (earthly pleasure) and moksha (detached enlightenment) were not mutually exclusive choices, but correlative sinews of human existence; unfettered critical thinking went hand-in-hand with respect, restraint and ucitatva (appropriateness).

"A love of humanity -- liberated from any form of religious conditionality -- is at the beating heart of the Hindu ethos."

This heightened rationality is central to Indian perspectives in relationships and matters of the heart; intimate awareness of the self and of the other, existential practicality, and the inherent universality of the Hindu worldview form the basis of human interfacing and interpersonal bonds.

Dharma & depersonalised love

A love of humanity -- liberated from any form of religious conditionality -- is at the beating heart of the Hindu ethos. "Vasudhaiva kutumbakam" (the world is one family), more than a mere Sanskrit expression, has long been a civilisational touchstone for individuals and empires; it promotes respect of all belief systems, embraces diversity, and invokes seva (service of mankind). It is based on the ascendant Vedic Puruṣārtha (existential pursuit) of dharma (behavioural goodness and uprightness).

Crucially, seva is never viewed as charity, but as an internalised human rite; equally, it is not to be lavished on one's own clan or community, but specifically on others. One of the primary refrains in a daily prayer in Sikhism, the youngest of India's dharmic faiths, is for "sarbat da bhala" (the well-being of the whole world).

"India will teach us the tolerance and gentleness of a mature mind, understanding spirit and unifying, pacifying love for all human beings." -- William Durant.

This depersonalised notion of love breeds human behaviour rooted in compassion, empathy and higher purpose, as opposed to kinship anchored in parochial, pontifical or personal gratification. That, in turn, fashions less self-indulgent and more outward-looking human bonds, and is a trait most Indians imbibe, wittingly or not; from Africa to America, Britain to Barbados, Indians have a long-established track record of effortlessly assimilating and succeeding in vastly disparate cultural contexts.

Sustenance & temporal compatibility

Intimate self-awareness coupled with an acceptance of the realities of human existence are also central to the practical wisdom of Hindu philosophy; wealth, desire and pleasure, censured by other major faiths, are wholly embraced. As ever, this subsists in harmony -- as opposed to in conflict -- with renunciation, seva and self-control.

A cornerstone of Indian arranged marriages (or more aptly, facilitated marriages) subsequently emphasises temporal compatibility as an essential initiation of the match-making process. Where "love marriages" are generally assumed to be enkindled by some measure of attraction, followed by a period of sometimes challenging day-to-day re-adjustment, Indian marriages reverse that process and place commutual pragmatism first; familial, educational and socio-economic congruence becomes an unabashedly conscious process.

Such is the focus on compatibility, that Indian scientists even calculated the potential effects of various permutations of planetary alignments between prospects; the slight gravitational pull of planets on a newborn's organs and haemoglobin, it is believed for instance, leave physiological imprints which in turn invariably affect bodily function and temperament. Planets are also thought to influence human consciousness, which Hindus, for millennia, have understood to be derived of physical matter, a concept which modern science is still barely coming to terms with; Indian scholars not only determined harmonious astrological pairings, but also provided practical suggestions on how to overcome imperfect physiological unions.

"[P]rioritising compatibility before exploring personal chemistry and attraction... is a key contributor to the resilience of Indian marriages."

Assiduously prioritising compatibility before exploring personal chemistry and attraction, in a culture that matter-of-factly underlines the importance of worldly realities, is a key contributor to the resilience of Indian marriages. "Slow-burning" as opposed to "big-bang" romance also arguably adds to the depth of love over the lifetime of a relationship; the abiding parental advice to marry a suitor who makes one feel "safe, warm and secure" is seemingly embedded in Indian matrimonial foresight.

The system also reflects India's fealty to the notion of sustenance; the mere creation or destruction of wealth, love or relationships is considered relatively unchallenging. Appropriately, of the Trimūrti of Hindu deities, Lord Vishnu is the embodiment of preservation.

Loving is knowing

India's most profound view of love is that it be defined by one's knowledge of the other; the emphasis of Indian treatises on love, including the famously elevated -- and excruciatingly dumbed-down -- Kama Sutra, is about anchoring relationships upon an intimate awareness and respect of a partner's personality, desires, thought process, physicality and even the gentlest of nuance. As ever, in the Indian psyche, playfulness subsists hand-in-hand with sanctity, sensuousness with respect, earthly passion with ethereal divinity.

Attentive communication, application of the mind and emotional discipline are also emphasised in order to sustain healthy and enduring human interfaces, and counter the propensity to take one's position in the life of a loved one for granted -- the anathema of "lazy love".

Hindu dharma teaches us not only to love the creator, but to intelligently and devotedly honour the creation.

As modern India struggles to faithfully consociate with the spirit and science of her own civilisation, perhaps a more conscientious application of her wisdom in love and marriage could be a gateway to the revival of that dormant greatness.

Abhaey is a social investor and founder of The IDU. His work has been acclaimed internationally. Join @abhaey on Twitter & Facebook.

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