“Civilization begins to appear when a workable system for living, that is a proper relationship between man and nature, is established in accord with the features of a given region.”Prof. Yasuda Yoshinory
In the above quote, though Prof. Yasuda Yoshinori speaks of the ancient Jomon civilization, he gives us a glimpse into why our ancestors called dharma “sanātana”, and why they conceived of a word such as ‘saṃskṛti’ long before the French conceived ‘civilisé.’ The “proper relationship between man and nature” may well be translated as yuktaḥ bhavati svadharmaḥ ṛtam- ie, it connects directly to an ontical core of Bhāratīya saṃskṛti (more on this Sanskrit phrase below). We are confronted here with the notice of emergence- the origination of new categories, categorial novum- properties or behaviors in a whole that are not found in its parts. Simple examples of emergence are the fractal patterns of a snowflake, or the jagged yet elegant hills of a termite colony. Complex examples of emergence are life and consciousness.
Reducing a wide range of ‘scientific’ opinions on the nature and etiology of consciousness to a generalization, consciousness is what is thought to emerge when information inside a closed system is processed in increasingly complex ways- giving rise to “novel and coherent structures, patterns and properties during the process of self organization.” It is what information “feels like,” to “itself.” Five generally accepted qualities of emergence are:
- Radical novelty,
- Coherence, correlation,
- A global, or macro level- ie, a property of wholeness
- Evolution through dynamic processes
- Ostensibility- ie, can be perceived
We can see that consciousness, at least of the human variety, satisfies these speculated conditions. In fact, some thinkers have seriously contended that property 5 alone is enough as proof and description of consciousness, echoed famously in Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am.” On the matter of civilization, though debates abound, we should take information from Huntington’s definition of civilization as “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have, short of that which distinguishes humans from other species.” This definition is helpful because it facilitates the application of a design principle and the retrieval of a generative insight- yathā piṇḍe tathā brahmāṇḍe, and vice versa. Thus:
If consciousness is what emerges when information inside an individual is processed in increasingly complex ways, then civilization is what emerges when information inside a collective/group is processed in increasingly complex ways.
Among known life forms, the emergent phenomenon finds maximum expression in homo sapiens. Among known collective groups, it finds maximum expression in civilizational super-aggregates.
This is how over a long course of time (itihāsa) a civilization (Bhārata) has come into consciousness (dharma). And this emergence is along four principles, or sūtras. We call these the Caturasūtrāḥ, or Four Aphorisms, and internalizing these is an essential prerequisite to understanding Bhāratīya itihāsa, as the civilization experienced it.
यथा स्मृति: चैतन्यं चैतन्य: जीवं च।तथा इतिहास: संस्कृतिं संस्कृति: समूहं च।।
yathā smṛtiḥ caitanyam caitanyaḥ jīvam ca | tathā itihāsaḥ saṃskṛtim saṃskṛtiḥ samūham ca ||
As memory is to consciousness and consciousness to the individual, so history is to civilization and civilization to the group.
Memory is core to the conscious experience. You feel you because of an unbroken memory chain that goes deep into your childhood. You identify as that same person, through the years, because it is your mind where the chain of imprints resides. This memory underpins your consciousness, which in turn makes you you.
In similar form, history- or more accurately itihāsa- is core to the civilizational experience. A civilization, or a samṣkṛti, emerges because of an unbroken aitihāsika chain that goes indeterminably far back in time- such that it can only be conceptualized as sanātana. We call the samūha’s trajectory over thousands of years an unbroken civilizational chain, because it is in the civilizational psyche where the chain resides. The itihāsa underpins the civilization, which emerges in form of saṃskṛti.
Profound realizations dawn with even this single principle internalized. Broken memories, false memories, implanted memories, subverted memories, contested memories- these are some ways a consciousness can be disturbed, limited and manipulated. Broken histories, false histories, implanted histories, subverted histories, contested histories- these are some ways a civilization can be disturbed, limited and manipulated. To subvert an individual, to make them doubt their sense of self, to bring their self-identity into question, we may toy with their memory. To subvert a civilization, to make it doubt its existence, to bring its self-identity into question- we may toy with its history.
We use the word samūha for collective/group to evoke phonetic kinship with saṃskṛti- it is our collective kṛti. And just like consciousness, though phenomenological, it is a unique felt-experience. Decolonisation is shedding the acquired syntactic-semiotic-semantic memeplex of teṣāṃkṛti – their kṛti- or a foreign civilization.
यथा चैतन्य: उभावस्ति कर्ता कृत्यं स्मृते:।
तथा संस्कृति: उभावस्ति कर्ता कृत्यं इतिहासस्य।।
yathā caitanyaḥ ubhāvasti kartā kṛtyaṃ smṛteḥ | tathā saṃskṛtiḥ ubhāvasti kartā kṛtyaṃ itihāsasya ||
As consciousness is both the observer and the subject of memory, so civilization is both the observer and the subject of history.
We form within our mind’s eye a vision of ourselves- the brain looking at a self-model, the homunculus inside the gray matter. And we are in conversation with it, such that memory and consciousness are in constant interplay. We recollect images and impressions from our memory bank as conscious reflection in the present, and the memory bank is where all conscious experience is stored to create who we are. There is conscious experience even if memory is broken, but it contributes nothing to the sense of self, dissipating ephemerally if not stored in the bank. Similar is itihāsa to the civilisational consciousness, as Prof. Vishwa Adluri writes:
Itihāsa represents the empirical world aesthetically to problematize both being-in-the-world and the relationship of ontology, text, and the world. In other words, itihāsa is history that has overcome historicism: history that has become critical and self-conscious.
Itihāsa is the “mempool” that Indian civilization is in constant conversation with. It can recollect images, memes and impressions for conscious reflection in the present. Indeed, this is what older generations of Indians do on a daily basis. Regular conversations refer to the pledge of Bhīṣma, the vengeance of Karṇa, the greed of Duryodhana or the perseverance of Rāma, and more.
Now, when our access to and traditional engagements with the mempool are broken, our civilization moves forward aimlessly, pulled in the sway of “development, progress and technology” that may land a future Bezos or Musk a lordship over Asteroid X1A21, but we have no vision of where it may land us. What Adluri writes above is in fact the very process these principles highlight- the emergence of self-consciousness through information being processed in complex ways, over a long period of time. When a civilization is in conversation with its past, it generates learnings and ethicality. When a civilization approaches it only as an academic discipline, it may remember the exact date when Columbus landed on a new world, but is bound to repeat the same evils again.
यथा जीव: युक्त:भवति स्वधर्म: ऋतं सचेतं स्मृत्या । तथा संस्कृति: युक्त:भवति सामान्यधर्म: ऋतं सचेतं इतिहासेन।।
yathā jīvaḥ yuktaḥbhavati svadharmaṛtaṃ sacetaṃ smṛtyā | tathā saṃskṛtiḥ yuktaḥbhavati sāmānyadharmaṛtam sacetaṃ itihāsena ||
As an individual yokes self-conduct to the natural order through conscious memory, so too a civilization yokes self-conduct to the natural order through conscious history.
This sūtra highlights the parallelism between individual and collective- vyaṣṭi and the samaṣṭi, or the jīva and the samūha. It brings into focus the emergence of dharma- the imperative to be in consonance with ṛta, and points to the true purpose and benefit of historical memory. Individuals can use memory as a process of conscious reflection and self-correction, ultimately to yoke themselves, via yoga, to the natural order. Such is the purpose of itihāsa as well- to inform the samūha in yoking itself to the natural order. This is why the Indian literature of itihāsa-purāṇa cares less for historia than it does for ethics; less for dates and chronologies than it does for deeds and consequences.
If our date of birth wasn’t recorded by our parents, would we even know it? And if we didn’t know it, would it negate our felt experience and mean that we were never born? If these questions point to the absurd, we must relate the same for civilization as well. Thus is dharma called sanātana, thus are our earliest ṛṣis called mānasaputras, and thus is Brahmā himself known as the svayambhu. We care more for the lessons our ancestors embedded into lore, for the things our history can teach us, than we do for the intricacies of historia. For both individual and collective, the purpose of itihāsa is a rooting to dharma, it is the very means to self-conscious reflection.
यथा चैतन्य: युक्ते ऋतं स्वपूर्णमण्डलयति कश्चितवस्थायाम् । तथा संस्कृति: युक्ते ऋतं संपूर्णमण्डलयति कश्चित्वस्थायाम्।।
yathā caitanyaḥ yukte ṛtaṃ svapūrṇamaṇḍalayati kaścitavasthāyām | tathā saṃskṛtiḥ yukte ṛtam sampūrṇamaṇḍalayati kaścitavasthāyām ||
As a consciousness in yoke to natural rhythm is wholly coherent in any state, so too a civilization in yoke to natural rhythm is wholly coherent in any state.
The final principle represents the end-state, the ideal that is aspired to even in the pauruṣārthika frame of mokṣa. It highlights what Hinduism maintains- a human birth is special, since it provides opportunity for ultimate union. But humans are a social species, there is a samūha beyond the jīva, and we desire for both to be in consonance with ṛta.
Such consonance, this principle asserts, puts individual consciousness in a state of coherence, or what could be called sambodhya. The being is complete in itself, or thus svapūrṇa. Similarly, it puts collective consciousness, one operant on sāmānyadharma, in a state of coherence- yoked to ṛta, as-above-so-below realized at the level of civilisation. Thence does the samūha become sampūrṇa, a samaṣṭi of vyaṣṭis, a fractal maṇḍala.
Emergence is real, but even the farthest reaches of science cannot tell us what the precise laws of emergence are. This is because the emergent can never completely understand the processes preceding it, or underlying it, just like the tree never knows the seed that birthed it. The seed may be gone in corporal form, but what was once materially real is now manifestly so in form of the tree. The best the tree can do, and the best that trees do, is conform to the seeded order- the tree follows its own dharma.
And thus must the jīva and samūha follow their dharma, or the path of consonance. Thus must (kṛta), (smṛta), (dhṛta), (ṛca) and every other phenomenon we can influence- including saṃskṛta, resonate with (ṛta). The unbounded reality allows us to do as we wish of course, but the core and continuing realization of our civilization is that in desire, in play, in profit, in pleasure, in performance, we must aim for the resonance. For freedom, that is mokṣa. For transcending of √bhū and union with √sat.
This is the way.