Mar 28, 2023
Mar 28, 2023
Understanding Bharatvarsha should have been a constant imperative since1947. Yet better late than never. This duty assumes special importance now because India's Constitution is being reviewed comprehensively. Swami Vivekananda had once advised the formulation of a new Smriti for changed times. Nonetheless, it would have to be firmly anchored in the eternalShruti, he said. Constitution is the modern equivalent of Smriti. Therefore, without devoted appreciation of deep-structure Shruti, the current effort to rework the super-structure Smriti or Constitution of India may again achieve little.
Let us first listen to some of the great Western `thinkers' (not mere scholars or researchers) who have attempted to assess India `affectively', `subjectively' from the deep-structure Shruti angle. We shall then turn to some great Indian `realizers' who have done this homework for us in contemporary times. Intellectual research or critical scholarship is unlikely to meet the bill because of its tutored dogmatism. It usually misses the vibrant woods for some withered leaves or dead trees.
Mircea Eliade, who had studied Indian thought in Calcutta under the tutelage of Surendranath Dasgupta during the 1930's and later became Chairman of the Dept. of History of Religions at the Chicago University, had asserted: `it is essential that we know and understand a thought that has held a place of the first importance in the history of universal spirituality' (Yoga : Immortality and Freedom).
Daisaku Ikeda, referring to the Upanishadic aphorism Tat Tvam Asi, remarks that these words can be regarded as one of the greatest contributions to mankind by the Indian people (Choose Life). Bede Griffiths observes that the Vedic understanding of the integrality of the three worlds - physical, psychological and spiritual - is a profoundly holistic vision. It is since the Renaissance that this integral awareness of the ancient ethos has been torn asunder (New Vision of Reality). David Frawley affirms the same message when he characterizes the Vedic heritage of Bharatvarsha as the `Yogic Culture' ' a culture of holistic integration. By contrast, he argues, modern culture is not the product of yoga or integration, but of inner fragmentation. Further, he adds, that Vedic religion is a broad culture embracing all life, not a creed seeking converts (Gods, Sages and Kings).
A.L. Basham feels that of the four main cradles of civilization, the Indian sub-continent deserves a larger share of the credit than she is usually given. No land on earth has such a long cultural continuity as India where, even to this day, the Brahmin sings the same Vedic hymns which were composed more than 3000 years ago. His final words are arresting : `The Indian quest for Moksha goes on, and there is no reason why it should not remain the aim of India of the future' (A Cultural History of India).
While writing the Foreword for a book on Sri Ramakrishna, Arnold Toynbee had declared that `In the Atomic Age the whole human race has a utilitarian motive for following the Indian way i.e., for sheer physical survival'. Yet this is only a secondary reason. The primary reason, he goes on to declare, `is because this teaching is right, flowing from a true vision of Spiritual Reality' (World Thinkers on Ramakrishna - Vivekananda).
Max Mueller was the venerable editor of the 49-volume Sacred Books of The East. Of these 49 volumes, 33 are from Bharatvarsha, and just 16 have been enough to cover the rest of the stretch from China to Arabia and Persia. No wonder Max Mueller could not scornfully dismiss this enormous creative output in the realm of ideals and realizations from India. So in an address to a new group of ICS recruits in 1882, on the eve of their departure for India, he had said: 'if I were to ask myself from what literature we here in Europe ' may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, ' more universal, in fact more truly human ' I should point to India'.
The re-makers of the 21st century Smriti (Constitution) for Bharatvarsha shall hopefully derive enough courage and inspiration from the above thoughts. Efforts are essential to create Constitutional conditions which will preserve and strengthen, and not in anyway nullify or stifle, the most precious and saving contributions to humanity by our culture.
The biggest task would be to resolve the mess created by the childish cant of secularism in India. Secularism today, in effect, boils down to a denigration and denial of much that is held, by even the above Western authorities, as the very essence of Bharatvarsha. Flowing from this is the continual beating received by Hinduism, which is nothing but the practical application of the Shruti keynotes in the daily life of the majority of Indians. Yoga - Vedanta Hinduism, organically complemented by the indigenous trio of Buddhism - Jainism - Sikhism, is the baseline, the foundation for recreating the Indian Constitution.
Recent discussions in Holland, USA, UK, Canada, Malaysia, Sweden, etc. have clearly shown that while the government of each country professes to be secular, the citizens do not. It is one thing to argue that the State is secular, and quite another to declare that India, of all cultures, is secular and so are its citizens. Secularism can never mean irreligiousness in society. The May 1998 guidelines from the U.S. Secretary of State for Education to all school educators guarantee freedom of 'religious expression' to all students. The State schools themselves, however, may not espouse or denigrate any religion. This is said to be in conformity with the spirit of the First Amendment to the US Constitution which permits neither fostering nor precluding religion.
Chapter - 3 of the Education Act 1996 of the UK elaborates at length various means of conducting 'Religious Education and Worship' by local education authorities in Great Britain. Thus, the UK goes beyond mere 'religious expression' to 'religious education'. It is significant also that section 375(3) of the UK Act stipulates this : 'Every agreed syllabus shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions in GB'. The US Guidelines mentioned above, read between the lines, also suggest the primacy of Christianity. The lesson for India from all this is self-evident.
Honest and transparent decisions on three aspects are called for in India:
Religion being the most enduring project of the human race itself, no nation or its people can ever underrate its own indigenous varieties;
In a pluralistic society it should be natural that the original mainstream religion cannot be hamstrung. Other religions should cultivate commonsense and courtesy to accept this. In Malaysia, where just about 55% are Muslims, only the Koran is recited before commencement of programs in public enterprises;
Seats of higher learning must be free to open up and develop centers/departments for serious study of Spiritual Religion.
Obfuscation and hypocrisy have marred independent India's track record on this supremely important issue.
In the USA and UK almost all the famous universities have separate departments and centers for the study of theology, divinity or religion e.g., Harvard, Oxford, Chicago, Stanford, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge etc. The Yale Divinity School, for instance, aims at 'fostering the knowledge and love of God ' through the traditions of Christian Churches'. At Oxford the Theology Faculty is concerned only with Christianity. At Cambridge too the primary focus is on Biblical Studies and the Christian tradition, although other religions do get some scope. These departments/centers cover all stages of learning from undergraduate to PhD levels. India's revised Constitution should legitimize such academic pursuit under the more sensible label of 'School/Center/Department of SPIRITUALITY' flowing from the key insight : 'Many Religions, One Spirituality'. It will be a matter of eternal shame if this is not facilitated in India ' a country which, on UNESCO's own admission, had nurtured the first universities of the world.
It was flabbergasting for us in August 1999 to see that bang on the entrance of Red Square in Moscow stood audaciously a small new church full of pictures, images, and candle-lights. Crowds of Russians were praying or kneeling before the icons, or just watching them silently. Thank God they have realized the futility of disowning the religious instinct of humanity.
The threat of fundamentalism in Yoga-Vedanta Hinduism is imaginary. It is not identifiable with any single prophet or son of God; it is not dependent solely on a single holy text; nor does it swear by historicity. Moreover, there is endless diversity within Hinduism itself. These factors make fundamentalism in Hinduism a non-starter. The intrinsic non-fundamentalism of Hinduism is eloquently borne out by these words of Vivekananda : 'Our salutations go to all past prophets whose teachings and lives we have inherited, whatever might have been their race, clime or creed !' It is hard to contemplate such words flowing from a leading figure of any other religion.
It is he who had inspired the celebration of Christmas in the Ramakrishna Mission centers a century ago. The practice still goes on with utter devotion and simplicity. Any parallels please? Samuel Huntington reveals in his The Clash of Civilizations that it is the two major Semitic religions of the world which have expanded, and continue to do so, by population growth and/or conversion. Hinduism never proselytizes. But strangely enough, when it comes to Hinduism, none seems to remember that sometimes even a worm can also turn in reaction! So the revised Constitution of Bharatvarsha should shed all complexes and adequately recognize and safeguard the development of Hinduism in its traditional natural, gentle way. Of course other religions will also have their place of honor - but not on an identical footing. From Malaysia to Moscow to Britain to America this is the uniform practice - explicit or implicit.
We may now turn briefly to some of the modern seer - realizers of India who had 'not only thought but also lived their thoughts'. In his 1919 lecture on 'The Center of Indian Civilization' Tagore had reminded his audience that India has a culture, and it is one which is worthy of being imparted to others; that it is criminal to be insularly modern and to regard the past as bankrupt, as only a legacy of debts; and that the pseudo-freedom to imitate - not only foreign institutions but also their standards of judgment is fatal. In an earlier (1913) essay on 'Vision of India's History' he had highlighted the distinctive cultural keynote of karma in India : to perform all work in the presence of the Eternal with pure spiritual consciousness. In practical terms this means that the Indian culture is essentially duties-oriented, not rights-driven. The revised Constitution should give due regard to this central feature. Duties are the cause, rights are their effect - let this supreme wisdom permeate the new Smriti.
Vivekananda had clearly identified the two indispensable regenerative forces for India : 'service' and 'renunciation', Tyag and Seva (CW V). Had the 1950 Constitution of India honored these key insights and tried to intensify them in the minds of post - 1947 Indian leaders in particular, and the population in general, the script of Indian history till 2000 could have been exemplary. That was not to be : we got caught in the intricate maze of pseudoism landing us nowhere! Stern too was his warning : 'But mark you, if you give up that spirituality, leaving it aside to go after the materialistic civilization of the West, the result will be that in three generations, you will be an extinct race' (CW III).
When Gandhi was asserting that 'politics bereft of religion is all dirt', he had definitely in mind intrinsic religion or spirituality. This, in turn, in practice, means ego-reduction through Tyag and Seva (SW - 6). He had in fact spelled out a detailed code of conduct on these lines for future holders of political office in independent India (SW - 6). Besides, though he was a Vaishya by caste, he was all praise for the Varnashrama institution of India. Varna, in his estimation, was discovered by the ancient Rishis through 'stern austerity'; that it is a 'universal law of life', that the world 'will have to accept it in time to come'; and that India's failure to follow this law has been 'largely responsible for our economic and spiritual ruin'. He desired the revival of the 'ashrama' system through rejuvenation of 'Varna' (SW - 6). Nothing illustrates more powerfully than these words the terrible gulf in the evaluations of Bharatvarsha's traditional institutions by 'livers - realizers' on the one hand and `researchers - scholars' on the other.
Aurobindo, who had drunk so deeply and vastly of the best of Western thought for fourteen years, has these stirring words for Bharatvarsha : 'Materially you are nothing, spiritually you are everything. 'Recover the Vedanta, the Gita, the Yoga. Recover them not only in intellect or sentiment but in your lives' (The Ideal of theKarmayogin). He goes on to say that India's leaders and followers both require 'deeper Sadhana', and that 'it is the Yogin' who must manifest within and through the political leader.
Such then is the categorical convergence on the essential genius of Bharatvarsha evident not only among her own golden-quartet but also among the deep-structure-oriented Western thinkers on India: her proven record and perennial destiny to weave everything around the core of Spiritual unfoldment, both individually and collectively. The revised Constitution has the sacred duty of furthering this over-riding Spiritual mission of India in all possible ways. It must not be forgotten:Swadharme Nidhanam Shreya, Parodharma Bhayavaha.
Many secularist fundamentalists, will be vociferous against the above ideas. They may be reminded that while the golden-quartet had consecrated every breath of theirs to the cause of the Motherland by living its truths, most of the champions of secularism are no more than political or intellectual birds of passage either fishing in troubled waters or splashing their wings on the surface. If there is growing religious fundamentalism today in Egypt, Israel and USA, as Karen Armstrong's latest book The Battle For God shows, it is often a reaction to the excesses of secularists. There is no need in the revised Constitution to retain the pompous untruth of 'secular' India. This word should go - the republic of Indian people can never be secular i.e., non-religious. Even the US Constitution does not trumpet from the top of Capitol Hill that that country is secular. The preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins thus : "whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God'. The word secularism appears nowhere.
Cultural and religions pluralism in Bharatvarsha has been as old as the hills. Like the Parsees in the past, even today the persecuted Bahais, the Tibetan Buddhists or the Chakmas find safe haven here. Despite the fact that after August 1947 I had to draw maps of India in school classes with two of her arms amputated as it were, I have also witnessed Presidents, Vice Presidents, Supreme Court Chief Justices, sports captains and many more being appointed from amongst those brothers who had originated the two-nation theory. These grand examples should continue. Again, any parallels please?
The key issue is: Does plurality preclude priority?
True, the human body is a plural system. Yet are not the heart and head of much greater relevance to the living person than his/her hands or feet? A recent communication from a Canadian professor tells us that in Canada today 'the Catholic and Protestant versions of (religion) are still entrenched and privileged, despite all the babble about multiculturalism'. To us this is but natural. Besides, if it is Hinduism which has the unique distinction to have non-Hindus occupy topmost positions and honors in the country, it deserves thanks and gratitude ' and also priority. Vote-catching, expediency, including tacit approval of growing infiltration across eastern borders, can foster neither understanding nor peace.
Hinduism continues to be chastised into meek silence, while aggressive globalizing religions continue their organized expansionism (Huntington), a long-term strategic scenario could be extrapolated: the Hindus tend to become a minority in Bharatvarsha itself. Can they then hope to have a second country in the world to settle or head (witness Fiji)? Will the world create another Israel for Hindus? Apprehensions regarding Hinduism in this global dynamics are well-founded. It is not easy to ignore some of the papal pronouncements in India in 1999, or the happenings in some of our immediate neighboring countries.
We feel the soul of India - Bharatama - is athirst for a Smriti forged from yogic insight into the past, yogic transparency about the present, and yogic vision regarding the future.
More by : S. K. Chakraborty