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Vedic-Hinduism: The Mother of Rationalism Liberalism and Secularism - 1
|by Indrajit Bandyopadhyay|
Some people pretend and propagate that not only the terms Secular, Secularism, Liberal and Liberalism are foreign words, but also those ideologies are ‘imported’ or have to be imported, as if Bharatavarsha and Bharata-India (pre and post 1947) has been living in severe famine and dearth of such ideologies. Another narrative is that Vedic philosophy is Bhavavada (idealistic, non-concerned with material welfare, non-utilitarian) as opposed to Vastavavada (pragmatic, realistic, mundane, and concerned with material welfare) or Vastuvada (materialism).
It is evident from the sway of such narratives that most academicians have not yet learnt to read texts – of Ancient Bharatavarsha in this case.
I shall discuss in this article that such notion has no merit; and forces that try to inculcate such notion are either ignorant, or proselytizers, or have misread Vedic-Hinduism (henceforth to be considered synonyms) or deliberately distort Hinduism with agenda, or are anti-Hindu forces in guise pursuing an agenda of War of Civilization or attempters to subvert Vedic-Hinduism to import foreign political ideologies like Marxism Leninism etc
Bharatavarsha and Vedic-Hinduism has been open to cultural and idea exchanges; so there is no problem to accept foreign ideologies or ideas. Problem is when the same ideas and ideologies are denied in Indian sources – a pitiful case of lack of education.
There can be no denials that like every other religion on earth, and following universal principles of Matsyanyaya (“Law of Fishes”), several regressive customs and practices, which has no Vedic and Dharma sanction, accumulated under the Hindu-umbrella casting shadow on the religion, particularly during the time of Islamic Rulers and British Colonial Rule. The Islamic Rulers kept many of these customs alive with political support with proselytizing motive. These customs were like the mythical Rahu eclipsing the sun or Moon. However, the Vedic-Hindu has an inherent reformist Svabhava to update and upgrade relevant to time, and reject anything that does not pass the test of humanism and rationalism. The central Vedic philosophy is Dynamism as opposed to Concept-Stasis. [See- How Vyasa conveys Truth through RigVedic Signifiers and structure-architecture]
Indeed reform movements have always been from within – starting from the Upanishadik Rshis to Krshnadvaipayana Vyasa and Vasudeva-Krshna, passing through the reform movements of 6th-5th century BCE of mainly Gautama Buddha and Mahavira.
Vyasa’s collect-collate-editing the Vedas was the first such reforms. His giving structure-architecture to the Vedas (= Form-Signifiers) convey that Vedic Dharma is inherently secular and liberal that believes in co-existence of every belief and faith. [See- How Vyasa conveys Truth through RigVedic Signifiers and structure-architecture]
Historically it is obvious, whenever Hinduism oscillated to the orthodox and conservative side, some great men and women were born within Hinduism to make History sway to the other side to restore balance and Dharma. It is for same reason that the nation of Bharata-India born in 1947 chose to remain secular in principle and ideology with a Constitution that incorporates all the secular, liberal and humanitarian ideas of Hinduism, while her truncated part – Pakistan – with Muslim majority was born as an Islamic nation – quite a regressive act. When Bangladesh broke out from Pakistan (Independence Day on 26 March 1971), it was secular after Bangabandhu Muzib’s vision, but later it could not remain secular like Bharata-India owing to Islamic fundamentalist forces. 
Bharata-India chose to explicitly call herself secular, by incorporating the word ‘secular’ in the preamble to her Constitution by parliamentary amendment in 1976. It was redundant, because even without such explicit inclusion of the term, Bharata-India, with Hindu majority would always remain so. One may not be entirely wrong if one detects disrespect for Vedic-Hinduism in that explicit inclusion.
Rationally, we form opinions from facts accessible to Pratyaksha. Pratyaksha-based world experience reveals the fact and clearly indicates that while Hindu majority and Jewish majority Israel can remain secular, most Abrahamic and even Buddhist majority countries cannot.
Undoubtedly, there is, and there might be perceived gap between the ideal and reality; however, it is the declared ideal that forms the basis of identity. The aberration from the ideal, whether real or perceived, should always remain a matter of debate and discourse. Our multi-hued yellow dominant Medias are enough to point out aberrations; so, in this article I shall focus on the ideal only.
Prescribing secularism to Bharata-India and Vedic-Hinduism is like – to use a Bengali proverb – Mayer Kache Mamarbarir Galpa Shonano (Telling tales on mother’s own house to that mother). So long there is pseudo-secularism in India, quite logically there would remain a voice critic of secularism in India. No human system can be beyond the drama of narratives and counter-narratives. If the problem of pseudo-secularism, which is more dangerous than religious fundamentalism, is eradicated, then the name Bharatavarsha alone suffices as symbol of universal values of inclusiveness.
My purpose in this article is not to prefer one narrative or counter-narrative over another, but to mention and discuss on the core secular and liberal values inherent in Vedic-Hinduism that gives the identity ‘Vedic-Hindu’ and concept of Dharma and Bharatavarsha.
1. Secular, Secularism, Religion-Nirapeksha, and Pseudo-Secular
Secular is nowadays taken to connote Dharma-Nirapeksha. A study of etymology shows that the word ‘secular’ first found use in English in c. 1300, with the meaning of ‘living in the world, not belonging to a religious order,’ ‘belonging to the state’; from Old French seculer (Modern French séculier), from Late Latin saecularis ‘worldly, secular, pertaining to a generation or age,’ from Latin saecularis- ‘of an age, occurring once in an age,’ from saeculum - ‘age, span of time, lifetime, generation, breed'.
So, to translate secular as Dharma-Nirapeksha is not only mistranslation but also an agenda-strategy to subvert the meaning, significance and cultural importance of the word ‘Dharma’ in Asia in particular.
Dharma cannot be translated as Religion.
Dharma, stemming from √dhr, in Vedas-Upanishads, Dharmasutras and Dharmashastras, and Ramayana and Mahabharata refers to the Power (Shakti) that holds anything and everything as essence; therefore, the term itself is secular and applies to whole humanity. On the other hand, Religion, the organizational, institutional, the rite-ritual centric activities, and organized-institutionalized belief system – is only a part aspect and lower form and sign-centric aspect of many manifestations of Dharma.
Translating Dharma as religion is like taking part for the whole.
Since to be Nirapeksha is Dharma, since Nirapekshata (impartiality) itself is Dharma, the term Dharma-Nirapeksha renders an absurd and ludicrous connotation like: “Dharma - one-form-of-Dharma-which is impartiality.” That is why, at best, secularism may be translated as Religion-Nirapeksha or Sect-Nirapeksha, but never as Dharma-Nirapeksha.
The appropriate meanings of secular and secularism, when applied to a State, are -
1) Religion-Nirapeksha – neutral to religion – “not belonging to a religious order” - not privileging one religion or sect over another;
2) Worldly – rather this-worldly – “living in the world” - that is, concerned with welfare in this-world, this life, Ihajagat, and not concerned with Svarga (heaven) or Naraka (hell) or whatever post-death Kama-Pravrtti fuelled stories of Apsaras, Houri-Paris and angels that fantasy permits. This-worldly again has the extended sense of humanism.
One would surely note that the second meaning of this-worldly has been almost obscured from public memory and can hardly be found in discourse.
So, we have Secularism here which has a dominant mistranslation as Dharma-Nirapeksha, and then the most important significance of this-worldly is marginalized to obscurity.
First of all, mistranslating Dharma as religion is a strategy to corrupt the Dharma. One can easily check whether I am right by carefully observing how the word Dharma is used in common parlance.
For example, the Leftist-Marxists translate Marx’s famous dictum "Religion is the opium of the people" as “Dharma is opium” etc. (e.g. in Bengali, ‘dharma holo afim’). Now, the German original is: "Die Religion ... ist das Opium des Volkes" and is often rendered as "religion... is the opiate of the masses." Note, the original word is ‘religion’ in German and English rendering. So, substituting Dharma for Religion is actually a propaganda meant to corrupt the significance of Dharma – the obvious target being Vedic-Hinduism whose original name is Dharma.
Again, whenever there is communal tension between religions, whether in India or abroad, the common parlance fuelled by media is “Dharmiya Sampradayikata”. Now Sampradayikata has its own dharma (note: using lower case ‘d’ to suggest ‘nature"  of nonsensical conflict; however, Sampradayikata is not Dharma.
This Translation Game of corrupting Dharma with religion had been long pointed out by Bengal/Indian Renaissance thinkers like Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay,  Svami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo and Rabindranath who were aware of the attempted corruption of meaning and took care to distinguish the two. So, in this matter, I shall be following their Foot-Steps. Dharma is Dharma, nothing else, nor can be.
I reject the coinage Dharma-Nirapeksha; Religion-Nirapeksha or Sect-Nirapeksha is OK.
Bharata-India chose to explicitly call herself secular, so that Bharata-India now is Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. Thus, the word secular read with and in light of the others, and gaining significance from the others, means -
1) Secularism is one Dharma of Bharata-India Rashtra
2) Bharata-India would not sponsor any religion privileging over another
3) Bharata-India would not lighten her exchequer for other-worldly belief
Now, we can easily understand why the meaning of Secular as This-Worldly has almost been obscured. It is indeed sometimes a lapse of state policy owing to political compulsions that sometimes Other-Worldly matters are sponsored by state exchequer though professing secularism.
To me, secular is this-worldly; so I don’t agree with those policies.
2. Liberality inherent to Hinduism
A Hindu saying Vedas are supreme actually remembers collective wisdom is the highest because Vedas have been seen by Rshis and Rshikas. This is most important aspect of Hindu liberality – also marked by absence of any gender hierarchy and absence of notion like bloodline purity. Unlike other Religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, Hinduism is not fixated on a single messiah or prophet or messenger or central organization or male, and does not pivot on him or any particular organization.
In Hinduism one is free to choose one’s own belief – belief in God/Goddess, one or two or hundreds, that is, monotheism or polytheism or pantheism, believe in Nirakara (formless) or Sakara (with form) or both, believe in any Male-God or Female-Goddess or of any Gender or any other Gender, or can even worship animals or animals personified or Trees  and Nature, or abstracts like Jnana  and Shraddha,  and can believe in any philosophy – Dvaita or Advaita or both. Shri Ramakrshna said: “The One who is Shyama is also Brahman. The One who has form is also formless. The Being who has attributes is also without-attributes. Brahman is Shakti and Shakti is Brahman. Inseparable. The male Sachchidananda and the female Sachchidananda.” 
A Vedic-Hindu is even free to not believe in any God/Goddess and be an Atheist or Skeptic  or worship spirit of Query,  or call oneself a Humanist, believing in principles like Ahinsa (Non-Violence), Daya (Compassion) and Seva (Service) for Humanity and Beings with Shraddha (Faith/Respect) and Bhakti (Devotion).
A Vedic-Hindu may perform Yajna or rituals and may not perform rituals at all. A Vedic-Hindu is free to live in understanding inner significance of rituals. For example, Mbh. regards Shraddha as the highest Yajna for all Varnas,  superior to rituals; even mental Yajna suffices for all Varnas.
With Dharma as her essence, Hinduism as a pluralistic Religion represents what SHri Ramakrshna aptly said: “Yata Mat Tata Path” [As Many Opinions, So Many Paths (to Truth)]; and taking his view, even other religions that believe in God or by whatever name called, as much they are ‘Opinions’ or ‘Paths’, are also part of Hinduism in the spirit of Oneness of God – ekan sad vipra bahudha vadanti (That Which Exists is One; Sages call the One by Various Names) [RV. 1.164.46(2)] – or, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The Whole World is One Family) (Maha Upanishad VI.71-73) – or, that the Earth is for coexistence of variety of people with different Dharmas (Atharva Veda-12.1.45)
Hinduism is open to the future and does not accept or admit of any Last Prophet or Messenger or Last Avatara or anything ‘Last’ because of the simple reason that rationally there can be no ‘last’. Time is endless and eternal, and we do not know of our future evolution. So, Hinduism respects all claims, but perceives any claim of finality as illogical and irrational, because the entire future of humanity and beings and the world lies ahead of us, and none can ever predict or control the future which is always open to immense possibilities. Kala-Time is above all, and no human can ever control Kala-Time.
Co-existence with any belief system or faith or ‘path’ is however, no problem for the Hindu, and Bharata-India protects the Right to Religious Beliefs in Constitution.
Svami Vivekananda said: “Let us, therefore, find God not only in Jesus of Nazareth, but in all the great Ones that have preceded him, in all that came after him, and all that are yet to come. Our worship is unbounded and free. They are all manifestations of the same Infinite God. They are all pure and unselfish; they struggled and gave up their lives for us, poor human beings. They each and all suffer vicarious atonement for every one of us, and also for all that are to come hereafter.” 
Hinduism believes that God or God-like person or great men can appear in any Time-Space to establish Dharma over Adharma when it so necessitates (Gita 4.8). 
Yada yada is not bound in any Space-Time and racial and political entity of nation or race or sect. Thus, secularism, in the sense of non-claim of exclusivity of any religion, is inherent to the Hindu belief system of Avatara as said by Krshna and Svami Vivekananda. Even the Puranik ‘fixed number of Avataras’ is deconstructed by mutual opinions. Just as the Puranas narrate Vishnu’s 10 Avataras, Bhagavat Purana narrates Vishnu’s 24 Avataras; and the Sikh Dasham Granth also narrates 24 Avataras. Again, Mudgala Puranam and Ganesha Puranam, narrate Ganesha’s eight and four Avataras respectively.
Liberality is the mark of Hinduism – “Our worship is unbounded and free” – as Svamiji said. Hinduism has no problem in accepting Prophets or Messengers of other Religion as “manifestations of the same Infinite God.”
This liberality is the future of humanity, because it is rational, and in that sense the world is destined to be Hindu and becoming so.
Most Hindu would not even stoop to ask: “If I have no problem in respecting your belief system and no problem in accepting that the name of your God is the name of mine God too, why can’t you too respect my belief system” Most people of most other religions and most other religions would not pass this litmus test of liberality.
3. Secularism inherent to Hinduism
Secular and secularism are no new concept to Hinduism; and in fact, secularism is a part idea possible in Hinduism only, in the sense of: this-worldly and Religion-Nirapeksha. Even the third meaning – “pertaining to age” – is also relevant in discussing Hinduism because Hinduism believes in Rotation of Yugas.
The Rshi says, Earth bears people of many a varied language with different Dharma as suits their dwelling (Atharva Veda-12.1.45). In RgVeda 10.151, the Rshi’s devotion is for Shraddha which is won through yearnings of the Heart. One significance of Bharatavarsha, in its original sense, does not merely refer to the present geographical entity of Bharata-India (post 1947); but to the whole world. The RgVedic Rshi prays for the whole-world: “All children of Immortality shall hear (the inspired prayer for unity and well-being)” (shrnvantu vishve amrtasya putra; RV. 10.13.1c).
Whatever ideology or definition of Dharma, Human has ever conceived of with benign motive cannot be valid without Shraddha for fellow human beings and beings. A religion that professes peace but sanctions free exercise of Pravrtti and Shara Ripus (Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada, Matsyarya) towards other religions or non-believers to that religion is no religion at all because it lacks Shraddha for Praja (all beings and things).
Now, rotation of Yugas does not necessarily mean cyclic chronological order of Krta, Treta, Dvapara, and Kale, but there are alternative concepts in which Satya-Yuga is Good Governance or Rajadharma  and Dynamism. 
The New Bharatavarsha in Bengal/Indian Renaissance, though under British Colonial Rule had the courage to think in similar way. Thus, Svami Vivekananda could declare in America: “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.”
Rabindranath Tagore’s concept of Bharatavarsha also included the world and not mere geographical territory: “I love India, not because I cultivate the idolatry of geography, not because I have had the chance to be born in her soil, but because she has saved through tumultuous ages the living words that have issued from the illuminated consciousness of her great sons— Satyam, Jnanam, Anantam Brahma, Brahma is truth, Brahma is wisdom, Brahma is infinite; Santam, Sivam, Advaitam, peace is in Brahma, goodness is in Brahma, and the unity of all beings.” 
The idea of Multiverse  or aliens in other worlds of the Universe has already been in Hindu thought. The deconstruction of human-centricity in Hinduism makes her the most evolved religion, and this knowledge justifies why Vedas are Apourusheya.
In Hinduism, this concept of ‘whole-world’ is neither land-centric nor human-centric, but Being-centric. The original meaning of Praja is beings, not just human beings. Bharatavarsha and Bharata-India as Prajatantra bears this significance, though the assumed meaning is Republic of human beings. The Indian Constitution in her Directive Principles of the State Policy Article- 48A enjoins “Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life.”
Today, suffering from pandemics like Covid19 and natural disasters, we are learning the hard way that Vedic Rshis and Rshikas have been right in declaring primacy of Nature.
The this-worldly philosophy in Vedic-Hinduism is found in at least four ways/doctrines –
i. Material-Spiritual Balance
iii. Pratyakshaetavas and the Shishta
3.1. Material-Spiritual Balance
In RgVeda, the Rshis give more importance to a fulfilling material life of 100 years for a spiritual journey. Prayers to Devatas or Ishvara always include wishes for material benefit: good food, Artha, conquest over enemies, freedom from disease, freedom from tyrannous or oppressive rules etc. The Vedic prayers reveal pragmatism that material cannot be compromised, and that there should be material-spiritual balance. The Purusharthas (dharma-artha-kama) must be balanced; Moksha is only after the balance is attained.
Svami Vivekananda said Khali Pete Dharma Hay Na (No Dharma with empty stomach) recognizing the primacy of fulfillment of basic needs for individual evolution.
The Upanishadik philosophy regards Anna and Prana (food and life) as the Highest Gods  because survival of Life (Prana) depends on Food (Anna). This also implies the highest honour for Vaishya  and SHudra functional roles in human society. The highest honour is again metaphorically conveyed by the etymological significance of Krshna, associated with √kr and Krshi, and the allegorical significance of Balarama and Yudhishthira  holding plough or Langala.
Parashara tells Janaka that without Bhoga (enjoyment of material pleasure), Karma (of desire) does not decay, that is, the urge for Renunciation is not felt. 
Vyasa declares the supremacy of Jiva Dharma, and laments why Dharma is not courted.  Consciousness is Jiva’s attribute  – implying Body and Soul together is Jiva, and the two are equally important – and Jiva acts and causes everything to live.  Jiva is constant and eternal in the Body of all embodied creatures.  Dharma is eternal, pleasure and pain are not; Jiva is eternal, but the cause of Jiva is transitory. 
The original Vedic significance of Atma is body-self integration; for example, Atma in following Suktas suggests: Body, self and Soul (to ashva; Dirghatama Aucatya: 1.162.20); Body, Soul and existence (to ashva; Dirghatama Aucatya: 1.163.6); Food and drink as Life or Soul (to Indra: Medhatithi Kanva: 8.3.24); Life or Prana (to Various Deities; Kavasha Ailusha: 10.33.9); Body, mind, self and soul; body and Prana; spirit of disease (to oshadhi; Bhishaj Atharvana: 10.97.4, 8, 11); Anna as Life and spirit (to Dakshina; Divya Angiras, Dakshina Prajapatya: 10.107.7) etc.
To be continued …
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