Indians have a strange attitude. They revel in the fact that Westerners take to our culture in a big way, especially in yoga and other spiritual topics. Indians feel proud when people of Indian origin become CEOs or even political leaders. They have dreams of grandeur, thinking of themselves as Vishwaguru. It’s a matter of legitimate pride that others are appreciative of our culture. But how many Indians are really appreciative of their culture and heritage?
I recently returned from the World Yoga Festival in the UK which had about 2000 participants. This has been organised by a wonderful, committed couple of Indian origin in the early 60s. But, when I look at the audience participation, more than 85% are Westerners. Even though it is held in the UK, which has a huge Indian population, only 10 to 15% of the participants are Indians. And this is one of the most authentic yoga festivals, having authentic teachers in yoga and vedanta. Still Indian participation is so low. I find the same in India too.
If a Western speaker or leader comes, a lot of Indians will flock to the event whereas Indian teachers who are more scholarly and authentic will have few numbers. Not that we are complaining about few Indians taking part in it. This is not a matter of competing about who gets more students. The tragedy is that we have this false pride of Westerners appreciating our culture; our yoga, vedanta teachers being popular and having so many followers abroad. We have dreams of being a Vishwaguru. All this, without understanding our own heritage and culture, gives us only a sense of smugness and superiority, and illusion of being a Vishwaguru. Just by being born in this culture, one is not going to understand the heritage, the culture, the philosophy. All these belong to someone who masters it with love and dedication, which is a very small minority in a large country. This has to change. It is not enough just to have pride in the culture, but also an authentic understanding of it.
The writer is the founder of Aarsha Vidya Foundation. You can write to him at [email protected]