The Illuminations Workshop

‘Illuminations’ is the name of a book by Professor A.K. Saran, a critic of modernity and one of the great scholars of modern India. The byline of the book ‘A School for the Regeneration of Man’s Experience, Imagination and Intellectual Integrity’ gives us an idea about the book. The book is based on the insight that we have to break out of the trap of modernity if we are to live a full life. The technique the book advocates is to read, contemplate and discuss short paragraphs taken from the works of some insightful modern philosophers. The contemplation and discussion about the paragraphs that catch our attention can potentially help us see through the veil of modernity.

In the workshop on ‘Illuminations’ participants will read through the abridged text of the book and discuss the short paragraphs (that we shall provide) among themselves and with the facilitators. We invite you to a 4-day retreat to engage in this contemplative conversation.

The following excerpt from the book will shine a light on the context of the workshop:

“The idea of this School originates from the conviction that modern higher education in India has totally failed in all important ways and the universities and all other wings of the educational establishment are working towards the perpetuation and reinforcement of a deadening of the mind and imagination of those who go through them. . . . Further, there is the conviction that the ruling elite of independent India inherited from its former Masters the task of strengthening inertia and promoting intellectual degeneration and it clings to this alien heritage with a vengeance; it is clear, therefore, that no matter how loud and persistent our talk of radically changing the inherited educational structure, there is no prospect whatsoever of any real transformation being effected by the ruling political and cultural elite. In fact, it is strange and depressing to find that behind the scene all political parties in India reveal an ominous unanimity with regard to this negative conservatism in educational theory, policy and practice.

If any effort towards the regeneration of Man’s experience, imagination and intellect is to be made, it has to begin and continue outside and independently of the present educational, political and cultural establishments. The universities are dead today. . . . The worship of the dead that rules our academic establishments today is closely allied to the neo-colonial politics that dominates our country, and naturally draws its strength and prestige from the State and the political parties. And yet we hope and pray that there will arise an intellectual group, particularly from among the youth, that will slowly and steadily become deeply aware of our wretchedness as a people and the necessity of a dignified and courageous response to it. The School proposed here is a form of this hope and prayer. Perhaps it would assist in the birth of such a group. It is a big need today.”

Workshop details:

Venue: SIDH campus at Kempty near Mussoorie (See the video below for the campus tour)
Dates: 2nd November, 2022 (arrival by evening) to 6th November, 2022 (Departure after lunch).
Contact: arun@sidhsri.org (Write to me if you want to know more or to register)

Hinduism in Contemporary India

This week’s post has some excerpts from a very interesting book ‘Hinduism in contemporary India’ by A.K. Saran.

Excerpt 1:

“One, a sacred or traditional society, say, the Hindu society, cannot be understood in a non-traditional frame of reference; and, two, the sacred and the secular are not two types of social systems in some order of succession or co-existence. Even more mistaken is the view that the sacred-secular or the traditional-modern represents a kind of continuum. In truth, the sacred (the traditional) constitutes and affirms, while the secular (the modern), insofar as it denies the Sacred or the Tradition, undermines and denies society.”
From the chapter titled ‘Religion and Society: The Hindu View’

Excerpt 2:

“Hinduism’s starting point is neither God nor the Creation (the universe, the world). It is the simple but inexhaustible question: Who am I?… The question is possible only from a plane on which knowledge and life, theory and practice, thought and action, form a unity. Hinduism does not require anyone to ask this question, but if I do ask it and it makes sense to me, I am bound to go on asking it until I find the answer or fail to find one; it is, however, not a question which I can drop at any time of my life. An analysis of this question will lead us into practically all the essential principles of society.”
From the chapter titled ‘Religion and Society: The Hindu View’

Excerpt 3:

“It is in Gandhi that we find the most uncompromising Indian opponent of modern technological society. This is of crucial importance in the present context; for the core of values of the Indian tradition cannot survive in a technology-centred society. Gandhi realized this with unfaltering clarity. This is vastly more important than his attempts to reform and modernize many aspects of the surviving Hindu orthodoxy. For he was not only against the domination of modern technology; he was also, and equally vehemently, opposed to consumption-centred competitive society. It should not be difficult for anyone to see that if his vision of a village-centred, aparigraha-minded society had been realized, or were to be realized, this would be nothing less than the restoration of the traditional values; for in traditional thought there is no room for revivalism, no going back to the past—the tradition can be only renewed through the reaffirmation of first principles, and not through any resuscitation of old institutional forms. Soon after its independence, India repudiated Gandhi completely and formally.”
From the chapter titled ‘British Rule and the Indian Value-System’

Excerpt 4:

“Today there is no living Hindu society in India. The process of decay of Hindu society and religion, which must be distinguished from Hindu spirituality, began very long ago. It reached a decisive phase during India’s encounter with Islam and continued in a different form throughout the comparatively brief but radically significant period of British rule. It has taken another form in Independent India. So far, I, for one, have seen no signs of a genuine renewal. And the future is dark; more so because our vision is obscured by a false light.”
From the chapter titled ‘The Crisis of Hinduism’

I am still processing the insights that this book opened up for me. I will probably read it through once more. If you found the excerpts interesting, you can buy the book here. There is also an interesting YouTube video about Saran saab’s work here.

A radical spokesman of Tradition: A.K. Saran

“Knowledge is, paradoxically, a knowledge of the Unknowable, a thought of the Unthinkable, a vision of Things unseen, an audition of Sound unproduced. It is ultimately knowledge of That which shines forth when we see or hear or think, and is then alive in us, being the only seer, hearer, thinker – itself unseen, unheard, unthought within us. All formulations of traditional knowledge are thus indirect and symbolic, all learning a remembering and all education a rekindling. Traditional methods of education accordingly are graduated forms of indirect communication.”
– From ‘Illuminations’ by A.K. Saran

Of the 500 copies of ‘Illuminations’ printed by Central Institute Of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS) in 1996, I could still find copies to buy in 2018. That, and the fact that most people in India have never heard of A.K. Saran, is a sad commentary on how we treat our wisest men. I was so inspired by reading Illuminations that I bought many more books in the series. All of them written in luminous, inspired, difficult-but-addictive prose (and some poetry), moved me deeply.

In this post I want to talk about ‘Illuminations’ which I consider a very important book for people with an interest in education. But, I can provide no links to it as there is practically nothing about A.K. Saran or his work available online. What I will do instead is to copy passages from the book as answers to hypothetical questions from a reader. I hope you get the flavour of A.K. Saran’s wisdom.

Reader question: Illuminations is a proposal for a new type of school that awakens us from the unconsciousness induced by our schools. Is my understanding correct?
A.K. Saran: Indeed, it is unbelievable but true that our entire academic and educational establishment – schools, colleges, universities, institutes of advanced learning, research centres, research projects, seminars, conferences – is working incessantly, formally and informally, to keep us etherized upon the table, trying to ensure that we may never have the scorching but maybe the cathartic experience of the flames. Excess of chloroform is our fate.

Reader question: How will the school work?
A.K. Saran: The plan for this school is simple. A small group consisting of postgraduate students and young teachers from different universities (and also from outside them) and a few scholars (both from and outside academia) with varying degrees of familiarity and intellectual affinity with the aims (and the doctrines) of the school will be invited to live together at a carefully selected place for a period of two to four weeks or so. The idea of living together is important. What we have in mind is something deeper and richer than just the requirement that the participants should not be scattered but lodged at one place and should breakfast, lunch and dine together. We envisage not only a gathering but an in-gathering of the participants. There should be a general feeling for the goodness of living a shared life, the intellectual deepening and enrichment being an integral part of it.

An anthology of passages and sentences from diverse sources has been made. This will serve as a kind of sourcebook which will be circulated to members of the school in the hope that each one of them according to his or her mental level and habit will be hit hard by one or the other passage. The community setting and the presence of scholars of different levels and types of intellectuality are then expected to provide help to the participants in delving deep.

Reader question: How is it possible to get through to minds conditioned and saturated by modernity?
A.K. Saran: The first requirement of such a situation is to get out of the tradition-modernity antithesis or dichotomy. Education aims at truth, and not at desired types of mentality. The second requirement is to create a free, uncluttered intellectual space so that there can grow genuine receptivity in the minds shaped and equipped by the present educational system for gullibility of one sort or another. The third requirement of our present pedagogical situation is to restore the internal relation between knowledge and action, theory and praxis, thinking and living; a relationship that modern education completely disrupts.

Reader question: There are many ideologies and we are taught that truth is relative. What do you think?
A.K. Saran: A crucial first step towards intellectual and political freedom is to realize that freedom of thought is defined by love of truth, not by intellectual philandering, by mastery of passions, not by passion for opinions, by the ability to think originally and upstream, not by a sort of monomaniac search for and pursuit of the novel and the exotic. Intellectual and political freedom is constituted by the opportunity to pursue the ultimate good, not by the liberty to ‘think’ what one likes and do what one wants to do.

About Professor A.K. Saran:

Professor A. K. Saran (1922-2003) is known as one of the most radical spokesmen of Tradition in today’s world. Following contemporary exponents of the Perennial Philosophy such as Ananda Coomaraswamy, Rene Guenon, Marco Pallis and Frithjof Schuon, Saran especially took on the negative side of the task as his vocation – i.e., breaking of the “spell” by which modern man has been deluded into the suicidal pursuit of a mirage, becoming utterly forgetful of who he is and of the eternal truths that Tradition embodies.

Serving for a long time as a teacher in the fields of social sciences at various universities, both at home and abroad, Saran’s consistent endeavour was, thus, to work out thorough internal critique of those pseudo thought systems of modernity. This internal critique – critique proceeding dialectically from within the very system that is being critiqued – is of a quite unique kind; in spite of certain seeming similarities, Saran’s critique of modernity is totally distinct from fashionable discourses like that of “alternative outlook”, “new age”, “postmodern”, or “postcolonialism” – all of which, for Saran, are simply new devices for masking the truth.
From the blurb on the dust jacket of one of A.K. Saran’s books

Links for further study:
A.K. Saran at the ‘Studies in contemporary religion’ website here.
The Coomaraswamy Foundation set up by students of Professor Saran has a website available here.