When Donald Trump, in July 2017 chose Poland to stage his first major speech in Europe, he stated that values of human rights, liberty and freedom of speech are inventions of the Western civilized world and that these values have to be defended at any cost. Is this the same person who almost continuously attacks journalists, who introduced large budget cuts for the arts and overturned the rules on net-neutrality? Amazing how this man keeps contradicting himself on almost everything. But, more important is the question as to whether his statement is true? Are liberty and freedom of speech inventions from the Western world?
Here is a story from ancient India, one of the thousands of stories of knowledge and wisdom, for millennia passed down from mouth to ear and finally written down, about until the 15th century:
…Then the Gods decided to introduce performance art and asked the humans to create a drama piece. And so a play was made, about the war between the divine beings and the demons, telling how Indra used his mighty weapons to defeat the demons. When the play was performed, the demons in the audience were offended by their portrayal. They felt that the play insulted them as demons and they started attacking the actors. Hereupon Indra and Brahma came to the actors’ defence and, while other Gods were positioned at all four corners of the stage Indra declared: “This stage shall be a space where everything can be said and nothing can be prohibited!”
The story comes from the ‘Natya Shastra’ scripture, almost certainly the oldest encyclopedic handbook on the arts in the world. The text consists of 36 chapters with a cumulative total of 6000 poetic verses describing various disciplines in performing art, including detailed guidelines for choreography, stage construction, costume design, art production and management.
Whereas other Vedic scriptures (Veda means “knowledge”) were only accessible for people from the highest social ranks (castes), the Natya Shastra was made available to anyone and written in Shudra, the language of the people from the lowest caste.
‘Natya Shastra’ scripture
This is as profound as it is relevant. It shows that the arts were based on democratic principles and purposely protected from any influence of the caste system.
An interesting example is the chapter about the principle distinction between art and entertainment. Entertainment has a desirable function in art, but it’s not the primary purpose of artistic expressions. The primary purpose is to invite the audience into another realm, another reality where one can experience the deeper essence of one’s own consciousness.
What can be made of these fascinating facts? Freedom of expression, reinforced by divine decree; the arts considered to be a science, available to everyone and independent from political or social systems; entertainment considered to play a less important factor and instead, raising consciousness promoted as the true and only purpose of artistic expressions; passed on from generations to generations, thousands of years before Columbus was going to be visiting India but accidently bumped into a complete different continent… That’s what you call a civilization and a profound role model for every nation proclaiming itself civilized.
Most interesting here is how creativity and freedom of expression play an important role in the development of consciousness. Other Veda scriptures of knowledge and wisdom are no different. In ancient Hinduism, almost everything is aimed at developing consciousness.
On the Island of Bali, homebase for OneDollarForMusic (Yaysana Seni Sana Sini), the Hindu culture – slightly different from Indian Hinduism – has pretty well survived. Despite of being the top tourist destination in the world, attracting large modern companies from everywhere and led by a non-secular, mainly Islamic-based central government, Bali as a culture, thus far has been able to stand, seemingly effortless. The entire economy is mainly depending on tourism and the Balinese people are very strong in adapting to visitors from other cultures without losing their own roots. Creativity is visibly the core factor that drives this culture. The creative potential is incredibly high and most Balinese are proud to be Balinese. Not as an expression of nationalism, but because they know who they are. It’s the level of their consciousness.
Of course, also Bali has troublesome elements, sneaking into its beautiful culture. Some come from foreign sources, brought by modernization, such as plastic waste, drugs abuse, pollution and ground water decrease. These problems spread almost unnoticed among the Balinese society. Other problems have their roots in a more tragic misunderstanding within the country’s education system. It is widely known that children with a creative talent often have difficulties to focus on matters that require thinking from A to B. Creative minds are fueled by intuition and where intuition vibrates there is less space for logic thinking. The ease at how Balinese children perform highly complex tasks within their daily cultural activities, such as preparing dazzling elaborate handmade ‘banten’ (offerings) for ceremonies or mastering extreme complex coordination skills in Balinese music, dance and wood- or stone carving, is quite impressive.
It is obvious that mastering such skills need some pretty advanced pair of brains. However, comparing this with their school results, these same children generally underperform heavily, in almost all subjects. The Indonesian school system is mainly based on examples, adopted from the Western, industrialized world. That could be a possible reason that intuition based learning has been overlooked as a possible key factor for education reform. If an education system is not based on the existing cultural values of a nation, it can never be successful. Furthermore, it is sad to see how schools only offer some cultural activities on the Saturdays, in many cases optional. Such policy basically says: “Be proud of your culture! Be creative! But in your own time, not at school.” This has a confusing effect on identity building, especially in a country whith such a great creative potential. The central government lately started to pay attention to creativity. Unfortunately, the discussion thus far only led to plans and new policies for promoting the “creative industry”, denying the true purpose and meaning of creativity in the context of a developing democracy.
OneDollarForMusic uses a unique approach wherein young participants are challenged to be active, creative and socially engaged, all combined in one task. We let them work in groups, which they are used to, as most of the activities in the traditional villages are mainly community based. This approach, practiced for a decade in Bali and other provinces of Indonesia, has shown some remarkable results. From the hundreds of young artists who found more self-esteem in creating and performing their own work, to dozens of young prisoners, who found inner peace, love and healing through increased consciousness and acknowledgement of their own self.
How would a Vedic version of this approach look like? Maybe something like this:
“When you let creativity be your engine and intuition the fuel, your senses hold the steer and you trust your heart to be your compass… then you’re on the path to a conscious mind.”
In honor and respect of a great ancient civilization. – ॐ