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Customs and Culture

Saturday December 4 2004 09:16 IST

By Karmayogi

Customs vary with culture. We evaluate a man by his customs and culture. We think high of an institution where people are polite and low where people are impolite and rude. We value a foreign nation by seeing the behaviour of that national in our own country. Our estimate is based on our customs. To value anothers customs by the standards of our culture is not rational. We do it all the time. When we visit a foreign nation and those people look down on us for our customs, we frown and tell ourselves, Of course, they forget I am an Indian and this is an Indian habit. Still, culture is of great value, maybe the greatest of values. There is a beyond, beyond what we call culture. It is what belongs to each man as he is a man - his value as a human being, how human one is. If one is to be measured, it is best to measure him on the scale of his humanitarian value.

Blackthorne was an Englishman who was looking for the Japanese market in 1600. The Portuguese were already there trading in Japanese silks. Blackthorne had discovered the sea route to Japan that was kept secret from the Englishmen until then. His experiences were many. After untold suffering, the Japanese ruler came to believe him, wanted to learn of the outer world and its possibilities. He was treated well and quartered in a village. The Ruler pronounced that Blackthorne should learn the Japanese language in six months. In the case of his not learning within that time, the village would be burnt down! This strange logic of the ruler annoyed Blackthornes Christian conscience. His translator explained to him that the village was nothing, that death and birth were equal, that one could die in honour happily and it was a privilege to die by the sword of the master whom one had disobeyed.

Blackthorne was bewildered. Imagine the ahimsa-loving Jain hearing the boast of a butcher about his great sales on some day. There was an accident in an English cinema studio. Ninety phone calls came to inquire about the safety of the horses employed in the shooting. Only one caller asked about the welfare of the actors. What would such an animal lover feel when pious devotees at a Kali temple offer chickens and goats for sacrifice and feel ennobled by these acts? What is a pious noble act for one culture may be a poisonous crime in another culture. One custom cannot be measured on the scale of another custom. Still, we value our own culture and custom. When Indira Gandhi opened her speech on the sands of Marina Beach with folded hands and said vanakkam, there was a burst of applause. Culture is valuable, but being humane is the ultimate value. How kind a person is to children, how truthful one is sets the tone of ones real value. It is the value of values.

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