Steven Darian has been to India six times, to follow the Ganges and her inner meaning and to pursue his studies in eastern and western thought. While in India, he also devoted his time to yoga and meditation.
In addition to a Ph.D. in communications, he studied Indian religion and languages at the University of Pennsylvania and has written a dozen articles on Indian culture. Several of these are on Ganga and have been published in journals like Artibus Asiae (Ascona, Switzerland), Asiatische Studien (Zurich), Bhavan's Journal (Bombay), East and West (Rome), Journal of the Social and Economic History of the Orient (Leiden), Journal of the Ganganatha Ilia Research Institute (Allahabad).
I had reached Badrinath, one of the two sources of the Ganges, and was standing at the entrance to the temple, at 10,000 feet. It was a dizzying journey; I had almost lost my life in getting there, but that no longer mattered. All about, 18,000-foot peaks ran to the horizon; behind me the incredible rock cathedrals of Nar and Narayana glittering down from enormous heights, their cones locked forever in ice and snow. With the summits bathed in sunlight, and clouds circling like white-robed pilgrims, it was hard not to believe thatthere was something up there, something alive, immortal, worthy of prayer. In such a place you cannot help wonder at the terrifying beauty of nature, the insignificance of man, yet marvel at his persistence: his roads and dwellings, his machines and lucubrations. But with it all, against the endlesS march of rock and snow and sky, he seemed closer to the ants than to the gods.
I had been drawn to the Ganges-the Ganga as Indians call her-from a long way off, in space and imagination. For some reason-whoever knows the secret fountain of his dreams-the Great River had come to embody the journey of man: its unformed origins in hidden places far from human eyes; nourished into fulness; flowing through the broad and fertile plains where palaces and empires rose to dazzling heights, where people struggled desperately for power and pleasure; and in the end, all disappearing merging with the sea. As the priest Surendra Nath Bhatta told me at the temple in Badrinath: "The gods are mirrors; we see in them reflections of ourselves. Prayer is but a dialog with the soul." So I had long since begun to feel that by following the river-from beginning to end-1 might better come to know the course of man's journeying.
To understand ourselves, we must discover what is not ourselves: the meanings other people far from us in space and in time, find in such words as individuality and freedom, god and death, pleasure and despair.
Despite so much in common, Europeans and Americans differ in many ways, and thus have a -great deal to learn about themselves, from each other. The difference is far greater with a country like India. With the modernization of China and Japan, India remains the final precinct of what we loosely describe as Eastern thought. We differ only by degrees, of course, but America seems more preoccupied with individuality, Europe with society, and India with eternity. At the same time, each of us dwells in a body, we interact with others, we inhabitthe universe; so that these three realms are not complementary-existing side by side-but rather bound one within another. Can we really know ourselves without some felt relationship to society, or to the universe that surrounds us? Thus to be only American, European, or Asian, is to be partial, incomplete. Freedom means knowing there are other answers to almost all the important questions that we raise and being able to choose from those answers, if they serve us better than the ones imposed by our own time and place.
This book began as a journey of the mind and ended as a journey through space. I was driven partly from discontent with some of the answers-European and American-to the deeper problems of existence: the incessant thirst for learning and experience; the need for more and more possessions; the ceaseless dualities of thought, of choice: body and soul, good and evil, male and female, this road or that; and ultimately, where do we belong, in this vast and lonely universe? What has India to offer, of these matters?
I have asked myself the question many times. For one thing, India is the world's largest living museum. It has spawned a dozen races, languages, and religions. All the speculations of the ancient and medieval world-on philosophy and science, art and esthetics, morality and the ends of life-have their counterpart in India. It has been to Asia what Greece was to the West: a common soil from which has sprung at times strange and exotic growths. Along with Greece and China, it stands as one of the three seminal cultures of the world.
As Thoreau once said: There are too many professors of philosophy but too few philosophers. Too much has been written about Eastern wisdom. This was not my purpose. I wanted to experience for myself, to taste, to touch, to discover what role the great traditions and beliefs played in the normal course of people's lives. A chief virtue of Indians is their openness, their eagerness to engage in conversation. During my stay I travelled and talked with, lived and labored with bankers and farmers, bureaucrats and businessmen, engineers, swamis, professors. And through it all came the fancies, the fantasies, and foibles of a people; a richness that shines through the poverty, a dazzling heritage that lies beneath the deadening hand of tradition.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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