The Presence of the Past CD set and MP3
"Seems like there's some kind of cosmic Krazy Glue connecting everything to everything. We all time-share the same atoms. 'There is only one sky.' 'That which is above is also in that which is below. "What is there is also here.' So said the Upanishads." Spoken by Trudy [Lily Tomlin] in The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, p. 117
How do you think about time? In your mind do you conceive of time as divided into the past, the present, and the future? If you had to draw your conception of time, what would it look like? Do you think about the past much or are your thoughts usually aimed at the future? What does the phrase "live only for the moment" really imply?
This program reflects on the conception of time and considers the implications of the notion that the past is an integral part of the present. Many Westerners conceive of time as essentially linear. We conceive of ourselves passing from A to B to C and implicit in this perception is the idea of progress. The past is only where we came from and we can't and don't want to go back because life in the past was less evolved, more difficult and less interesting. This perception is especially an American phenomenon.
Most Americans are simply not interested in history except as something quaint to browse through on vacations in Europe, fascinating to be "discovered" in books, or entertaining to be "viewed" on television. It simply does not form an integral part of our daily lives. The idea of finding answers to current problems through historical investigation, personal or societal, is alien to many. Indians don't view the past in the same light. The program you are about to hear suggests that there is an unbroken cultural line going back at least three thousand years to India's classical books-- the Vedas-- and more recently to the Epics. The philosophical underpinnings of Indian behavior and thought are at least this old.
Most Indians view these texts as part of their present and guides to their future. There is no discontinuity, no rejection, no compartmentalization of the past into the "Museums of our Mind." A more tangible example of how Indians interact with their history can be seen in their buildings. Although some buildings are protected and restored, most are left to decay as though Indians simply have no sense of history as something to be preserved It either lives or it doesn't. Another example of how India relates to its past is found in the way it relates to its classical literature. Do you often reflect upon the Iliad or the Odyssey to decide how you should behave each day? Indians constantly cite events from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to justify actions in their lives and these works are between to and three thousand years old!
The Presence of the Past" focuses on the political career of Mahatma Gandhi as an example of India's relationship with the past. Gandhi consciously borrowed models for political action from India's distant past. The evidence suggests that Gandhi was very well aware of what he was doing when he was to set out to identify himself with ordinary Indians. He adopted a public and a private persona that emerged from the Indian tradition of the moral leader who shares hardships of his people as communicated in the Bhagavad-Gita and in teachings of Jainism. Our leaders, of course, also attempt to personify the values that emerge from our past.
Truman, Roosevelt, Lincoln,Jefferson, and Kennedy are often referred to as courageous, compassionate innovators, characteristics valued in American mythology and tradition. In his own way, each spoke often of his vision of a new Jerusalem-- a country unsullied by human sin and the "Fall of Grace"-- which is part and parcel of American mythology. Does this interaction with the past occur in any other arenas of American life besides politics? Are there any stronger parallels between the Indian and American perceptions of time? As you listen to this program perhaps you will find that, surprisingly enough, the similarities found between our concepts of time and the related ideas of tradition and myth outweigh the differences between our two cultures.