I read a facebook post which is an excerpt from a story by Babu Rampuri. In this story Sohan Giri jokingly accuses the narrator of taking ancient knowledge and give nothing in return. The narrator sees that despite being a joke, this is actually true:
Although this was just a joke, which the other young sadhus around the dhuni were enjoying, I had to admit that he was right. I just walk in, and because I’m a white boy, and logic and experience dictate that probably there is some money somewhere, the streets of Am-rika are paved with gold (or at least gold-plated), and because of my privilege, I presume that ten thousand years of secret knowledge should simply be handed over to me just for the asking.
This made me think, we should never cease to be grateful that the tens of thousands of years of wisdom which is encompassed in Hinduism is not secret, and for the most part is handed over just for the asking.
It also made me think about how we repay this. For the most part it is with thanks and respect, but unfortunately it is not always so.
Yoga instructors have been allowed to claim copyright on yoga postures that are thousands of years old. Similarly ayurvedic medicines have been patented. This is not just being ungrateful for what has been given freely, but turning round and using the legal system and international patent agreements to say “now you have to pay us to use it”. Fortunately the Indian government is taking steps to prevent this, forming the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library to document yoga, ayurveda and other local resources and knowledge. This was spurred by one of the most despicable attempts at biopiracy, when the Texan company RiceTec patented Basmati rice. If this had not been overturned by the Indian government it would have prevented exports, and if India adopts the patent laws that the US are pushing for would have meant that Indian farmers would have had to pay the Texan company for the right to grow crops that they had been using for generations.
Making it necessary for the Indian government to spend time, money, and resources on defending traditional knowledge and its plants is completely immoral. Among the gifts of knowledge that are freely given, the West could do with taking a little more satya and asteya (the Hindu yamas, or avoidances of truth and non-stealing).