This is a fascinating talk by an Indian mythologist, pointing out the differences between the Eastern and Western mindsets:
A few things I appreciate from Pattanaik’s talk:
- He pointed out the inevitable subjectivity each of us possess. This is one of the best insights postmodernism has taught us.
- He pointed out how all our behaviors are ultimately formed by our worldviews, which are in turn made up of stories, symbols, and rituals. This is exactly the model N. T. Wright provides to help understand worldviews (Chapter 8 – Story, Symbol, Praxis: Elements of Israel’s Worldview, The New Testament and the People of God, Fortress Press, 1992)
- He did not endorse either way of thinking (although you can still sense he has a slight bias towards the Eastern way of thinking), but in the end he challenged us to stop thinking in either/or terms, but integrate both in a holistic way. We need both modes of thinking.
A few things I disagree with him:
- He dichotomized things too easily, seeing them in simplistic and dualistic ways. (Isn’t this exactly the Indo-Greco worldview he’s not able to transcend from?)
- He grossly lumped the Jewish and Hellenistic cultures together as one without distinction.
- He used Alexander and a gymnosophist to represent two entire worldviews. But are they truly representative of each worldview or culture? I doubt an average Indian, when faced with day-to-day pain and suffering, is able to see the world with such indifference like the gymnosophists; and an average Westerner, enduring the same frailties of the common life, can live with such bravery and courage like Alexander. Generalization and stereo-typing are always unhelpful.
Nevertheless, I think our world needs more of this kind of discussion and mutual-understanding, so that we can minimize the impact when the civilizations do clash.
As Christians, we also have to be aware of our modernistic ways of thinking, endlessly pursuing after isolated nuggets of so-called “objective and propositional truths” from the Bible, and instead return to the way how God has always instructed and formed His people — through stories, symbols, and rituals. Only by immersing ourselves in the biblical story, its symbols and rituals, can we then know how to think and behave according to God’s redemptive plan in the world.