Speech on “Tradition is an Obstacle to Progress”

Thoughts, ideas and values practised for generations come together to form a culture. The cultural values practised through generations create a tradition. Thoughts of one generation differ from those of the other and so do the values. So, a conflict of two generations is inevitable. Whenever a new idea tries to assert itself at the cost of something that has been followed conventionally, and the new idea claims to be progressive, we say that tradition is becoming an obstacle to progress. The question is whether this is the whole truth.

The traditional Indian father wants to see his son get married in a dhoti and kurta. The son would prefer a western outfit on the day of marriage as it is in harmony with the latest trends in fashion. But is this necessarily a progressive thought? The traditional Indian mother visits a temple in the evening to participate in the devotional songs that celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna. Her daughter prefers to go to a discotheque on the same evening to celebrate Janmashtami. The question is not about being right or wrong. Neither is it a question of being regressive or progressive. It is a matter of individual choice.

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The tragedy lies in the fact that the younger generation usually tend to look down upon the religious and cultural traits of their parents as essentially regressive and even superstitious. They tend to forget that believing in God is not superstition. Moreover, traditional Indian habits like touching the feet of our elders to show respect or visiting the temple with the family on an auspicious occasion are signs of a refined sense of culture, not of backwardness.

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A man who does not respect tradition actually makes a mistake of ignoring the past. It would be myopic to presume that the past is dead. The past is alive and dynamic plays a vital role in shaping the present as well as the future. Of course, we are not talking about being obsessed with the past. We merely intend to assert that one should not learn to forget the right lessons from the past. If our forefathers have put their blood and sweat to evolve an enviable culture with tremendous depth, it would be downright stupid for us to forsake it.

Today, we find the world accepting the power of ayurveda and yoga. There is no gainsaying the fact that ayurveda and yoga are essential parts of the ancient Vedic and Vedanta literature that defined life in Bharat Varsha. The administrative efficiency of Ashoka or Sher Shah is also a part of our culture.

If we adopt ideas from them, is it going to be a hindrance to progress? The Bhagavad Gita or the ‘divine song’ composed about five thousand years ago is at the core of our identity as Indians. Would the act of conveniently forgetting the Gita as a burden of tradition be an act of wisdom? It is doubtful indeed.


Tradition can never be a hindrance to progress because true tradition is open enough to welcome changes. The traditional masters of the past were wise enough to perceive the necessity and inevitability of change. What tradition will oppose is a blind inversion and perversion of the eternal values of life (that do not change with time)—truth, honour, honesty respect towards elders and so on. If Einstein caused a revolution in the field of science with his theory of relativity, a noble concept, he did not do so by disrespecting the traditional wisdom of scientists through generations. He was wise enough to understand that today’s novelty, if good enough, shall become a part of the tradition tomorrow.


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