Reflections on India and the USA

Hollywood has done its bit about perpetuating the stereotype of the spiritually starved American, travelling to the other side of the globe, seeking true knowledge in the materialistically backward but soulfully rich India. It is natural to expect Americans to be spiritually starved; it is an outcome focused, goal driven, capitalistic society founded by entrepreneurs. No wonder they are unhappy and are seeking shelter in the ageless wisdom of the Hindu sages. Well, it is true that Americans do not come out on top of most happiness surveys, but they may be spiritually on a higher plane than Indians. Let us explore this hypothesis by examining a stereotype strongly associated with Hindu spirituality – the Brahmin.

A Brahmin according to Vedic philosophy is a knowledge or truth seeker (not someone born in a particular higher caste). He respects other knowledgeable truth seeking people and is very meritocratic in that way (he won’t impart his knowledge to his own son, if he feels that son is not worthy). He calls a spade a spade and is straightforward to the point of being blunt. He has a very rational temperament, to the point of being so terribly rational that his own family is a little scared of him. He is honest and transparent in his materialistic transactions. He is fearless and won’t hesitate to point out the follies of his own king. Meritocratic, truth speaking, honest, blunt, fearless and straightforward; are these really the words we associate these days with Indians.

It is actually Americans who have a reputation of being blunt, straightforward and truth speaking. It is the American society which is the most meritocratic in the world. It is also the knowledge and innovation leader which attracts best talent from all over the world. Americans have the chutzpah to openly make fun of their bosses and business titans and Presidents, when they feel the leaders are not worthy of holding their ranks. Indians have only started doing so, when they can hide themselves behind the anonymity of the Internet.

The strongest argument for Indian society’s spiritual backwardness is found in its taste for popular entertainment. Select few Indians are puzzled by the choice of their countrymen when it comes to spending two hours in a cinema theatre. Compared to Hollywood movies, majority of Indian movies are mindless and inane. Bollywood fans defend them by saying they don’t like to think when they are getting entertained. Sure Hollywood also has its share of mindless entertainment. However most western movies engage intellect more than emotions, while Indian movies operate at an emotional level and provide sense gratification. Similarly most Indians do not like their own classical music any more, since it attempts to engage the audience on a dry intellectual level. Path of spiritual enlightenment starts when a person rises above mindless sense gratification and starts developing rational and discriminating thought.
So where did it get all turned upside down? Let’ s explore the history of both societies one by one. America is a country founded by entrepreneurs and immigrants. Founders of America were escaping from the tyrannical feudal set up of rich European nations. When they came to America, they saw a lot of opportunity, where many others would have seen a barren land. They were lucky as America turned out to be abundant in lot of natural resources. America was built by the enterprising grey energy (Rajas according to Sankhya philosophy) of change, movement and dynamism. They did well to set up an ideal of equality and liberty for all in their constitution, because while the Grey energy went about building great government systems, business houses, educational institutions (and even providing financial support to many spiritual organization) the ideal of “all men are created equal” helped to reduce hierarchy consciousness. The unique genetic pool of different races and cultures forces Americans to cultivate tolerance.

But then Americans are not the happiest people in the world (as many America bashers gleefully point out). America as a society unleashed grey energy which created remarkable institutions and structures in a brief history of 200 years, but then Americans have been getting restless. They have the most materialistically abundant society in the world and it has been that way for more than 6o years now; but lot of people in America in the last six decades have been feeling that the structure and dynamism provided by grey energy is not enough for happiness. They are restlessly seeking a higher consciousness and moving towards white energy qualities of wisdom, purity and balance in life. Some of the efforts get misguided (the hippie and flower power generation for example). None the less even a failed quest for spiritual transcendence is better than not trying.

So where does that leave India, with its ancient heritage? Many young Indians today feel about their own country the way American immigrant entrepreneurs felt about Europe. India is a slow, lethargic, corrupt and feudal society. Success in India is still less about merit and more about knowing the right people. Indians do not pass knowledge, wisdom or resources to those who best deserve it, but to those closest to them in blood relations. The dominant energies in India are Tamas and Rajas (Black and Grey), while the ignorant and delusional black energy being most dominant. Indians are running after money (Grey energy) but are untruthful about admitting so. Americans too like making money (Grey energy being dominant energy in that society) but they are truthful about doing so (truthful nature being a white energy trait).

One need not be too harsh on Indians. The majority of the people in India have been without sufficient material resources for centuries and thus the society as a whole has a scarcity mind-set. A recent book (co-authored by an American and an Indian) points out how scarcity mind-set in India has resulted in a narrow perspective or tunnelled vision. (

It will take many decades before Indian society is able to raise the material living standard for its citizens to reduce the deeply entrenched scarcity mind-set. So is it all gloom and doom for those who are born in India. Not necessarily, since scarcity mind-set is after all a condition of the mind. American immigrants focused on what resources the country had to offer, rather than worrying about what it lacks. Similarly Indian entrepreneur should focus on the opportunities that exist in India (and there are plenty), rather than what it lacks and perhaps India would soon start churning out riches as America started doing couple of centuries ago. And then maybe, Indians would rediscover their spiritual heritage.

Post Navigation