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CULTURE OF PEACE
Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram
From ancient, miraculous stones build the steps of the future.
When one considers the problem of peace, immediately we think of its opposites, aggression and war. It is a cornerstone dilemma of many generations: What are the roots of violence? What are the reasons for human impatience and cruelty? What is the way to protect ourselves from violence and preserve peace? Is peace an unfulfilled dream of humanity? In the ancient texts of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Christianity and other world teachings we find very profound considerations and real concern about peace. Presently we would like to suggest that we take a look at the problem of peace through the spectrum of beauty, creativeness and art. We regard beauty and art as the most powerful mediums in the process of mutual understanding of different nations and their peaceful coexistence.
In the recent past noble and lofty ideas of art and beauty were considered idealistic, superficial and abstract conceptions. Human consciousness, narrowed by modern technocratic civilization, moved back the achievements of culture maintaining an idea of its material impracticality. In spite of this in human history we observe another process — everything striving towards cultural constructiveness and unselfish knowledge created brilliant epochs of renaissance, and on the contrary every departure from the foundations of beauty, from culture has always brought destruction and decay. It is also a fact that old, forcible methods do not solve present conflicts and contradictions, they only increase tensions and the threat of war.
It seems to us that the present scientific and technological development took the form of a desert mirage: when it is far it gives the impression of prosperity, stability and development, but when we reach it this disappears and in front of us is the whole range of modern problems. The most serious and crucial amongst them is the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. In this reality all our present achievements, innovations and progress look meaningless unless we approach the real understanding of peace.
One would be able to reach it when the difference between mechanical civilization and the coming culture of the spirit is realized. ‘For man intellectually developed,’ writes Sri Aurobindo, ‘mighty in scientific knowledge and the mastery of gross and subtle nature, using the elements as his servants and the world as his footstool, but undeveloped in heart and spirit, becomes only an inferior kind of asura (demon), using the power of a demigod to satisfy animal nature.’ Observing the historical panorama one may find that civilization is created during a few decades, while culture is based upon achievements of thousands years.
At present we have what painters call mistake in perspective. Instead of going on the vertical level, in other words the change from within, spiritual development and growth, the modern way of progress turns towards the horizontal plane, change from outside, the way of material prosperity and widening of technocratic might. The last does not fulfil the qualitative role in the change of human society. It does not reach the depths of consciousness and spirit of man. It was never said, ‘the hand kills not, but the thought’. It is true that the idea of killing another living being is already its potential realization. As a matter of fact a war is not outward disaster, it is an expression of ignorance and of the absolute absence of the culture of the heart.
The continuous process of man’s isolation from nature, increasing of emotional, personal gaps between people, the loss of cultural and spiritual values of past generations, have reduced the capacity of man in sensitiveness and receptivity. He misses the sense of beauty of being (existence), no more does he consider himself a part of infinite creation. Hermit Zosima in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov contemplates: ‘What is hell? It is inability to love, to feel unity with the world in all its forms.’ Thus the link between different worlds is distorted.
From childhood the sense of unity is a natural feeling for man, there is need, thirst in a child for communication and friendship with the outer world. Slowly his mind impresses on its screen all prejudices, conventional divisions: political, social, religious, national, domestic, all the atavisms of society; he becomes a certain screw in a grandiose machine. In hierarchy, where people are separated between one’s people and strangers, rich and poor, etc., a man completely loses feelings of community and identity with his environment. The serene world of his childhood is revealed to him as strange and hostile.
The profound thinker Tagore wrote that the present ‘civilization expects its great fulfilment and the expression of its soul in beauty’. From Russia the voice of N. Roerich sounds — ‘Realization of beauty will save the world’. They are convinced that realization of this very principle brings the solution to many diseases of human society.
Without exaggeration one may say that the treasures of culture were the strongholds of nations. The entire upbuilding, all enlightenment, all spiritual inspiration, all happiness and salvation will be born upon the foundations of cultural treasures. Likewise, it will not be an exaggeration to say that the language of the heart has many times proved in the history of mankind the most convincing and attractive as well as unifying.
Not only are the names of Rubens, Velazquez, Griboedov and many others immortalized in art, but also for their unforgettable advice in the field of statesmanship. Objects of art themselves very often were the best ambassadors, introducing peace and friendship. It is known that the exchange of art treasures prevented misunderstandings and was ahead of verbal agreements.
The remarkable results of art in education were proved by the experiments of Tagore in his university, Visva Bharati. All the programmes of this institution were based on unity and harmonious relationship with nature and development of the sense of beauty. A great deal of art and creativity is involved in the educational process of Sri Aurobindo Ashram, where it is considered the foundation for the intellectual and spiritual development of man. Here art is part of integral yoga and creativity is the active power in the evolution of man.
Considering the ‘culture of peace’ one should not forget the original experiments in the field of culture conducted by the great peace-builder Nicholas Roerich. At the end of the 1920s he established in the United States an international institute of art named Corona Mundi and a museum which were prototypes of contemporary academies of fine arts. Musicians, painters, poets, writers, architects, scientists were united in these creative communities under Roerich’s slogan ‘peace through culture’. Later this idea was extended in artistic activity in the preservation of cultural monuments and treasures of art. It finally materialized in the international memorandum, the ‘Roerich Pact’, signed by 54 countries in Gaag after World War II. For the first time cultural heritage was recognised not as a luxury, but as a necessary foundation for the spiritual being of mankind. For its humanism contemporaries named this project the ‘Red Cross of Culture’.
In the service of peace and spiritual principles, art and creativeness reach their highest self-expression. For the spiritually alive human being the value of art lies in its beautiful existence, in its great mystery, in its mighty transforming and purifying power (catharsis). Through art one discovers the whole universe of the human spirit, limitless spaces of human thoughts and feelings. At one moment through the charming sounds of music or rhythm of ancient chants one may be united with events going back to thousands and thousands of years ago. Art in its sublime forms and expressions gives us an opportunity of unforgettable experience, it reminds us of a different kind of reality, the origin of existence.
The process of creativity is comparable with the spiritual path (sadhana). In all fields of art meditative disciplines are a normal part of human experience and have a profound effect on artists. The insight born of these disciplines inspires a sense of participation, of identification with all life. In Russia there exists a system of inner discipline of the artist formed during the centuries. Most powerfully it was expressed in the art of icon painting.
Long before starting a painting, artist practises prayer and silence and maintains mental and emotional purity. These helped him to achieve the resonance, like a musical instrument, to be one with the subject of his painting.
There is a certain duty and responsibility of the artist towards his invisible ideal. In icon painting the main stress is on the expression of inner beauty, spiritual power, where they are considered limitless love and compassion. In the instructions to the artist we read: ‘Maintain the unity of your will. Do not listen with your ears but with the mind. Do not listen with the mind, but with the spirit. The spirit is an emptiness ready to receive all things.’
By stilling his heart, that is, shedding thoughts and emotions of his personal life, an individual can reflect on his heart-mind the power of High Consciousness (the holy spirit, tao, atman, etc.). The sense of another reality within allows the artist to find out new artistic and technical solutions. So in some old Chinese paintings one may discover that what seemed to be empty was never vacant. Obviously the artist was able to suggest aliveness in unfilled surfaces and employ empty space in ways which are extremely daring. Poetically it can be illustrated in the following lines:
In art of this subtlety there are qualities that go farther than naturalness or realism. The process of communication between artist and object creates specific relationships between them; the artist is much more attracted to the inner content of the subject than to its external attractiveness.
There is always difference between likeness and truth. ‘Likeness could be obtained by shapes without spirit, but when Truth is reached, spirit and substance are both fully expressed.’ Evidently, beauty does not necessarily spell perfection of form. This has been one of the favourite tricks of artists in Japan and in some Scandinavian countries — to embody beauty in the form of imperfection or even ugliness, or asymmetry. All these methods of creativity served one main desire of the artist — to reveal another nature of the subject, to express its inner cosmos.
Thus in the art of icon painting we are moved first of all by the unspeakable beauty of the artistic image, which is transformed from the personal into universal. We completely agree with the opinion of Nalini Kanta Gupta who wrote on the Upanishads: ‘Art at its highest tends to become also the simplest and the most unconventional; and it is then the highest art, precisely because it does not aim at being artistic. The aesthetic motive is totally absent in the Upanishads; the sense of beauty is there, but it is attendant upon and involved in a deeper strand of consciousness.’ Indeed, at its highest, art does not tolerate any conventionality, nor violence. In the very foundations of being lives the concept of beauty, and where there is beauty, there is peace.
©1999 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi