eastFor Europeans and Americans, the Middle East is considered the Orient—part of the East. However, from a mythological point of view, the Middle East, where Islam dominates, is part of the West, for it is rooted in monotheism just like Christian Europe and America. Even atheist, secular, scientific West that believes in liberal democracy follows the same paradigm. They don’t believe in one God. But they do believe in one truth, and mock alternative narratives of the world as “post-truth”. In fact, the way Western intellectuals use the word “post-truth” contemptuously is exactly the way colonisers and missionaries used the word “myth” in the 19th-century to dismiss those they wished to conquer.
Western myth, or the dominant worldview that shapes the long history of the West, remains singular and linear. We live only once. This one life has a destination. For the Greeks and Romans, it was Elysium, a heaven of heroes. For Christians and Muslims, it was God’s Heaven. For the Communists, it is the end of private property. For the Humanist, it is the implementation of Universal Human Rights. For the folklorist, it is happily ever after.
This linear structure is unknown in Indian mythologies. Indian myth, that forms the foundation of Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, has one thing in common: it subscribes to the idea of rebirth; this life is but one of many lives. There is no destination. Here God is no rule-maker or judge. Here there are many heavens and many hells. There is no conclusion. If there has to be a “goal” then it is oblivion of the self: (nirvana) for the Buddhists, universal wisdom (kaivalya) for the Jains, and immersion into the infinite cosmic divine (moksha) for the Hindus.
It assumes everyone, being equal, can eventually become, or at least submit, to the intellectual.
Devdutt Pattanaik is an Indian physician turned leadership consultant, mythologist, author and communicator whose works focus largely on the areas of myth, religion, mythology, and management.