Definition of Culture : Defining Culture

Definition of Culture : Defining Culture

Swami Tejomayananda

The word “culture” is very well known to all of us. But when it comes to defining this word we find that it is not very easy. Swami Chinmayananda has explained that when a group of people live together for a long time in a particular geographical area, living certain values, the special individuality or fragrance that emanates from that group is said to be their culture.

In this definition of culture the four important factors are: that a group of people must exist, that they must live together in a particular area, that they must live there for a long period of time, and that they respect certain common values of life. Only in such a situation will the unique characteristics of those people be created. If the individuals are spread out – one living here, another one there – or if they are constantly roaming about with no values in common, then you will not find any recognizable culture emerging from them.

The special mark or characteristic that develops under the above circumstances is called Culture, which is not characteristic of only one individual, but of the group as a whole.

There is a difference between the community’s and individual’s nature, which I would like to explain. When a certain individual behaves in a particular way, we generally say, “that is his nature“. But when a community responds to different situations in a particular way, we say “it is its culture“. The difference is that with respect to one person’s mode of behavior we call it nature; and with respect to a community, we call it culture. They influence each other, no doubt, for the individual will influence the total, and the total also affects the behavior of the individual. But let us first understand the meaning and significance of each term by itself.

In Sanskrit, we call the individual’s nature samskara. In a family with three or four children, though each is born into the same culture, we find that each individual behaves differently. Then we ask : if they are all born in the same family, the same culture, and in the same country, then why does each person behaves differently? We answer that it is his nature (samskara, svabhava); and his actions are in accordance with those particular tendencies. When it comes to a group, however, we say that the group’s mode of behavior and its response is its culture .

Cultures differ very much from place to place. Even in the Eastern hemisphere, for instance, the Middle Eastern countries are different from the Far Eastern countries, and India is again different from both. When we come to the Western countries, we also find that the European culture is different from the American culture; thus even though we may say “Western culture”, many differences are contained within this generalization.

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