A culture is developed only when a group of people living in a certain geographical area follow a set of common practices and values to be in harmony with each other. A nation has a particular culture, a society has a culture, our workplace has a culture and the effect of culture is seen even at an individual level.
We can easily distinguish the cultured from the uncultured at a bus queue for example, where one patiently waits for their turn to board the bus whereas the other breaks the line and barges in disrespectfully.
Samskriti (Culture in Sanskrit), means that which is purified or that which purifies! The values and practices of a culture are meant to purify one’s mind and improve their thinking so that they can lead a healthy life of joy, growth and harmony.
Hence, a culture has many aspects which are meant to purify both the individual and the society. The first two aspects are reflected in the social living, whilst the last two intimately affects the individual and makes them stronger from within. A culture can be defined based on its purpose into 4 main aspects:
i. Customs & Practices
iii. Values and;
The social benefit of a culture is that it brings people together. It binds the society as one unit. A good culture is where every individual thinks of the other over himself or herself. This is done through sharing common goals, values, customs, traditions, etc. Please note, even people of different religions can share the same culture and live socially as one.
The majority who are sincere in their devotion to their values do it. It is only when driven by selfishness and shallowness, is where the disharmony between religions/cultures arise.
While the practices of the culture are meant to bind people together and give them an identity with each other thus reducing selfishness, its philosophy is meant to provide wisdom and greater understanding leading to growth whenever challenges beset our lives. It is the beacon of light in dark places during our journey in life. At an individual level, a cultured individual defines his needs selflessly and his goal more universally. Without culture, only greed and selfishness defines our need where every intense desire we have, appears as a need.
How can we stand by our culture?
The most effective way to stand by our own culture is to go deeper into its roots and understanding its philosophy. By sincerely and not arrogantly questioning its practices, traditions and by understanding its values and philosophy, we come to gain a true appreciation of the culture we have been following.
Having understood the above, by living its values uncompromisingly, we become rooted in it and can’t be shaken by any external factor. As a famous saying goes, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for everything”. Only when we are steady in our philosophy of our culture, can we truly appreciate the beauty of another.
In the modern day, when we live in a multi-cultural society, combined with the complication of families where two generations have been brought up in different cultural environments, this challenge of standing by my culture becomes quite hard especially for the younger generation. Ironically enough, even though the challenge of maintaining one’s culture is the hardest for our younger generation, it is only when we are younger, can we really establish the right culture through correct enquiry.
So let’s try and start new and not repeat the mistakes and misconceptions of the past but only take the best from it by questioning sincerely and seeking good counsel. By keeping noble company and seeking good counsel one can find it easier to maintain their culture.
Bottom-line of a culture is in the very word Samskriti – Is it purifying us or causing disharmony and harm? Every culture is meant to take us to a higher purer state of selflessness. Animals don’t need culture as they are slave to their instincts and have no choice, whereas to the human there is choice hence a need for culture.
Bramhachari Adarsh Chaitanya serves as the Resident Acharya of Chinmaya Mission Auckland and conducts weekly spiritual classes for children, youth and adults. For more information about the Chinmaya Mission and Bramhachari Adarsh Chaitanya please follow this link: www.chinmaya.org.nz or contact him at 2756954