It is neither my patriotism nor my religious affiliations that make me think of the legacy of the land of my birth. By this land, I do not mean the current political boundaries of India, but the region where one of the earliest thoughts of mankind was born in the form of the Vedas, Upanishad and the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is the wisdom and the aura of that legacy, that would have made this world a much better place and even today can help us live in much greater harmony and peace that shape my thought.
When, even in the twenty first century, we are struggling with religious fanaticisms, domination of one political thought over the others, I cannot help wonder the philosophy of assimilation that is so old (more than 5000 years at least) and yet so relevant in the current contemporary context. Swami Vivekananda expressed it so well in his address at the parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. ' I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny... which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.'
Some flash- backs of human history cross my mind: The persecution of Jews by the Romans and the Nazis, the Christian persecution of Jews and crusaders that fought for superiority over Islamic people of the Middle East, the spread of Islamic religion by wars and massacre. Against those images, I see the images of our 'Rishis' and of Gautama Buddha which not only is India the calm, compassion, and wisdom personified but here are they are two great world religions, Hinduism and Buddhism from this land that live in harmony and complement one another. What is more significant is that we are talking about a culture at least 2500 years old that demonstrated such wisdom. One wishes that religions that came later learnt from this land. There are other great religions that were born here, and people of those religions -' Jainism older than Buddhism and Sikhism relatively new, about 500 years old, live in harmony as well.
History calls Alexander, the Great. Courageous I will agree; military strategist, sure. Great, I am not so sure. In India we call Ashoka the Great. Both lived about the same time period 200 ' 300 years BCE. Ashoka is Great, because he gave up wars after a great victory and spread Buddhism not by conquest but as messengers of a faith. We call Akbar the Great, even though he was of Islamic religion but tried to assimilate all religions and did not use political power to spread his faith. It is significant to note that during the times of Akbar, Christianity and Islam was waging unrelenting wars in the Middle East. It is quite an amazing legacy that changed the invaders as well. In this land, people like Aurangzeb, who tormented non-Muslims, were not successful and did not come a million light years close to being called great. In fact, Aurangzeb's rule brought an end to the glorious Mughal era, which had been flourishing in the reign of his more secular ancestors.
It is not just in religion but in the quest of knowledge, commerce and in governance that we see much of the world that has been waging wars or persecuting others like the inquisitions of the Christian world that stopped progress of knowledge in the middle ages or the political domination to spread the western thought and commerce by colonization or the Islamic jihad to spread the word of the prophet. Even today that this tendency is manifested by the American and British administrations in the name of Democracy and Freedom, (no talk of tolerance) called the 'War on Terror', and by the Islamic resistance in pushing back the Jews and the Western influence.
Once again the images of my land that come to me are that of spread of Indian commerce and religion in south-east Asia by assimilation and acceptance. I am currently living in Bangkok and can take some pride in the legacies of Hinduism in neighboring Cambodia's Angkor Vat and Buddhism in Thailand. None of them was a result of conquest.
In 'Amazing Thailand' the amazing legacy is such that Buddhism has merged with Hinduism in their version of Ramayana called 'Ramkien' that has been developed by an essentially Buddhist nation. I am reminded of Mahatma Gandhi, who fought the imperialist by non-violence, and of Pandit Nehru, who in the turbulent times of this region, laid the foundations of democracy and freedom in India. Not surprising that the universal suffrage rights came to India before the USA, where African-American could not vote until sixties. Looking around, I pity for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka where medieval politics of totalitarians or old ethnic conflicts are so overpowering. Once divided from the old India, they have lost the legacy. Even some of our own problems of today can find answers in that legacy.
Religious and political thought has moved around the world largely by domination of one group over the other. However, such is the legacy of India that it cannot be spread by domination. One needs to live it and learn it. May be a few learned Indians or those with understanding of this Indian legacy will be messengers in the UN and other international forums can help to spread the message of tolerance, acceptance and freedom.