In the Light of ...|Dec 26, 2003 8:16 AM| by:

The Current Hindu Upsurge in Sri Aurobindo’s Light

There is undoubtedly a Hindu upsurge in the country today. But whether we seize the tide at its flood and use it to bring about a spiritual renaissance or let it peter out into a mere religious revival – this will decide the future of this country. There are many who see this upsurge  as a strong mandate for a religious revival which, they hope, will lift the country from its present languid and self-destructive ways and put it on the path to fulfilment and glory. Ranged against them are those who decry the whole phenomenon as a regressive and unhealthy development[1]. Many in this latter group are also convinced that all spirituality is obscurantism and they are  therefore hostile to any attempt to see this as a call for the spiritual renaissance of the country.  My aim in this paper is not so much to take sides with the critics of this upsurge or with its champions as to see the whole phenomenon in a different light  — the light of Sri Aurobindo.

Let me begin by stating my thesis in this paper as briefly as possible and then go on to expatiate on it. A spiritual civilisation like the India’s does not endure and progress  by sticking to or reviving its old forms whether in religion, arts or socio-economic institutions but by breaking their mould and creating  new ones which are appropriate to the changing times and true to its innate trend and genius. What is popularly known as Hinduism today is the religious manifestation of a spiritual civilisation during the last 1100 years or so, generally recognised as the period of decline of this spiritual culture.  Whether as a religion this manifestation is better or worse than other religions is a matter  in which I am not interested at the moment. But why anybody who understands the genius of this culture  would want to revive such an obsolete manifestation is beyond my comprehension. Therefore a Hindu religious revival is to my thinking an absurdity, and the sad thing is that  many of us believe that we are fighting for this absurdity. Those who want to resurrect a particular manifestation of Hinduism, in this case a Medieval one,  lose sight  entirely of the predominantly spiritual nature of this culture. Some of their critics  who cry foul at the phenomenon of this upsurge are those who mistrust spirituality and are convinced that India’s destiny is to be a faithful camp-follower of the grossly commercial, materialistic and insufficient Western civilisation either of the currently buoyant American variety or of the obsolete and moribund communist variety.

There were two important spiritual figures in the Indian renaissance movement – Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. They recognised the spirit as the truth of the Indian civilisation and hoped for a renaissance of Indian spirituality. They  worked for it not only because it is the soul of Indian culture and no true development in India can be based on any other foundation but also because they were convinced that it is the supreme gift India can make to the world to save it from  chaos and destruction.  One of the famous utterances of Sri Aurobindo which is most relevant for the times is the following: “When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall rise, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatana Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists.” But there seems to be among some of us a strange reluctance, if not a feeling of embarrassment, in drawing attention to this statement. This is harmful because if those who understand what Sri Aurobindo meant by it do not speak up, those who do not fully understand it will exploit it to strengthen their agenda. In fact,  Sri Aurobindo himself has explained what he meant by the terms “Hindu”, “Sanatana” and “Dharma”. He has said, “ That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, it is the universal religion which embraces all religions. … This is the one religion that can triumph over materialism  by including and anticipating the discoveries of science and the speculations in philosophy.” It is easy to twist  a statement like this and jump to the conclusion that since Sri  Aurobindo wanted Sanatana Dharma to be the one religion for the whole of mankind, he was a champion of  the Hindu religion, even a Hindu revivalist.  This is absolute nonsense since Sri Aurobindo condemned the very idea of one institutional religion for the whole world as “a grotesque creation of human unreason, the parent of so much intolerance, cruelty, obscurantism and aggressive fanaticism” and said that such an obsession had never been able to take hold of the free and supple mind of India.

Sri Aurobindo regarded Hinduism primarily as the name of a civilisation, of a set of values and not as a credal  religion. As he once put it, “How can Hinduism be called a religion when it admits all beliefs, allowing even a kind of high-reaching atheism and agnosticism and permits all possible spiritual experiences, all kinds of religious adventures.”[2]

In his Foundations of Indian Culture, and also in The Human Cycle, he  makes a clear distinction between two aspects of religion – religion as spirituality, the seeking for oneness with the Supreme Reality and with all one’s fellowmen and religion as creed, dogmas and moral codes, and  this is formal religion. He never states that  things which constitute the formal religion are unnecessary. According to him they too are needed by man because the lower members of his being have to be exalted before they can be spiritualised. Thus an intellectual formula is needed by the thinking and reasoning mind, a ceremony is needed by the aesthetic part of our being, a set of moral codes is needed by man’s vital nature to purify and chasten it. But these things are aids and supports of religion, not its essence. Hinduism  knew the purpose of these aids and never mistook them for the essence of religion. Thus it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the Godward endeavour of the human spirit. It is this spiritual aspect of this religious culture, that Sri Aurobindo refers to as the Sanatana Dharma.

But at the same time Sri Aurobindo never assumed even for a moment, as some of us tend to do, that true spirituality is the exclusive turf of the Hindus. As the Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s collaborator,  once pointed out “Genuine spirituality is found in all religions. In every religion there are some who have evolved  a high spiritual life.”

It is ironical that the Hindu religionist and most of his critics both share in part the same misconception about the Hindu religious culture and fight over it. The Hindu religionist respects the great Rishis and founders of the spiritual culture of India out of deference for his ancestors and not because he understands and appreciates this heritage;  he looks upon himself not so much as the inheritor of his great spiritual legacy but as the defender of  credal Hinduism, its forms, ceremonies and temples, and of the socio-political institutions connected with this identity This is the same part of the Hindu culture which his critics  also see as the essential Hindu religion.

In fact, this is the only aspect of  Hinduism these critics understand because they are of the progressive rationalist  persuasion. For them Hindu spirituality is some kind of folk belief, an irrational fantasy about soul-states and visions – in brief,  gobbledygook of some kind. They are  convinced that  Hindu spirituality has been the bane of this country. Some of these progressive  critics have no high opinion of the ancient culture of this country which has been nothing, as they see it,  but a product of a series of invasions beginning with the Aryan and ending with the British and between these two the series of Islamic invasions about which they feel rather embarrassed. The secularist credo is that India had no civilisation of its own; what she has is a gift of  the Aryans who came from southern Europe, and then of the Mongol, Turkish and Afghan invaders and the final finishing touches were  given, of course, by the British.

Indian nationalism, since the early years of the Indian renaissance,  has undergone various mutations. K. D. Sethna[3], one of the finest scholars and thinkers this country has produced in our life time, has pointed out how the shock of sheer spirituality in the figure of  Sri Ramakrishna, who summed up in his life the whole spiritual history of India, gave birth to Indian nationalism by kindling in the nation a consciousness of its own typical genius. The  second phase of our nationalism was not directly spiritual but charged with indigenous history.  The stress now was more on the collective soul of the country as felt in the traditional ideals and institutions, the characteristic customs and festivals. This nationalism was fostered by the great Bal Gangadhar Tilak. In the third phase, our nationalism became ethical as  Mahatma Gandhi set up certain moral doctrines for the patriot’s guidance, chiefly the doctrines of non-violence and what he called Truth.  Out of this came a fourth kind of nationalism. This brought the rationalism of the West and  cut  the ethical completely off from the mystical. This was the  phase of our nationalism  fostered by Jawaharlal Nehru. It was non-religious, wholly secular. During the early years of independence under Nehru’s patronage, India became a socialist, secular democracy and an intelligentsia favouring Dialectical Materialism and the Economic View of History entrenched themselves in our universities. Thus what started as a spiritual renaissance  ended up as an anti-spiritual establishment controlling the press and the academic institutions.

All these developments have brought us to a point when the traditional defences of Indian culture have almost lost their hold over people. Multinationals and modern technology have encouraged the glut of Western cultural influences in the country. The ubiquitous TV has invaded   the privacy of our bedroom, kitchen and the drawing room.  The mass media is glamourising and glorifying the western lifestyle which has, in the long run, such deleterious effects as the homogenisation of human wants and giving rise to unachievable expectations. What we call globalisation  results in the spread of a single culture – the same wants, the same institutions, the same sets of values everywhere. The culture of money is obliterating all other cultures; even spirituality itself has become a commodity that can be sold and bought and even mass-produced during weekend  retreats in 5-star hotels. This spread of the mono-culture of brand names, blue jeans and stereos is taken as raising ‘living standards’ but this threatens to  devastate  the inner landscape of art, culture and spirituality. This threatens to be a disaster of an even greater magnitude than the destruction of our ecology.

Global business presents a challenge to spirituality everywhere because the mono-culture it promotes is a materialistic culture. With its sponsoring of junk food, movies saturated with sex and violence and a naïve adulation of athletes and movie stars as the most adorable and desirable human types, it  impresses on the minds of people only two of the four purusharthas, namely, kama and artha, enjoyment and the making of money to the total neglect of dharma (righteous living) and moksha (spiritual liberation).

Sri Aurobindo was  never  dazzled by this Western culture. Granted that he lived in the West at a time when the external life had not yet been transformed by technology to the extent it has been since, but he knew the spell of this culture and the direction in which it was moving.  His critique of this culture is worth reading even today, more than nearly 90 years or so after it was written in the Bande Mataram days. He said:
“Was life always so trivial, always so vulgar, always so loveless, pale and awkward as the Europeans have made it? This well-appointed comfort oppresses me. The perfection of machinery will not allow the soul to remember that it is not itself a machine.
Is this then the end of the long march of human civilisation, this spiritual suicide, this quiet petrifaction of soul into matter? Was the successful businessman that grand culmination of manhood toward which evolution was striving? After all, if the scientific view is correct, why not? An evolution which started with the protoplasm and flowered in the ourang-outang and the chimpanzee, may well rest satisfied with having created hat, coat and trousers, the British Aristocrat, the American Capitalist and the Parisian Apache. For these I believe are the chief triumphs of the European enlightenment to which we bow our heads. For these Augustus created Europe, Charlemagne re-founded civilisation, Louis XIV regulated society, Napoleon systematised the French Revolution. For these Goethe thought, Shakespeare imagined and created, St. Francis loved, Christ was crucified. What bankruptcy! What a beggary of things that were rich and noble! …

It is a very pleasant inferno they have created in Europe, a hell not of torments but of pleasures, of lights and carriages, of balls and dances and suppers, of theatres and cafes and music halls, of libraries and clubs and Academies, of National Galleries and Exhibitions, of factories, shops, banks and Stock Exchanges. But it is hell all the same, not the heaven of which the saints and the poets dreamed, the new Jerusalem, the golden city. London and New York are the holy cities of the new religion, Paris its golden Paradise of Pleasure.”[4]

The onslaught of the aggressive Western pop culture that is sweeping all over  the world, has already caused an upsurge in religions, particularly in Islamic and Christian countries. “Christian fundamentalism in America itself,” as David Frawley[5] reports, “ is a pop religion of TV preachers accompanied by Country and Western singers, with instantaneous conversion at football stadiums or even in front of the television, with wild prophecies, and make believe miracles. Its preachers are often found to be involved in financial and sexual improprieties of various types. Such religion is hardly the piety of the Middle Ages and is accompanied by little soul searching. And no real spiritual practices, much less any asceticism.” Frawley also mentions in this context Islamic fundamentalism which he describes as “more militant and traditional, and perhaps more dangerous as it does not hesitate to resort to violence, not only in Islamic countries but all over the world.”

The fundamentalist reaction may have a justifiable cause – the fear that with its lack of spiritual values Western pop culture can change life into a spiritual and moral wasteland. But religious fundamentalism is not a proper answer to the aggressive Western pop culture. Religious fundamentalism is an anti-evolutionary force because it  makes the religious cultures regressive and sterile. In fact, as David Frawley[6] points out, it makes materialism look more human and progressive by countering it with a force of superstition.

The Hindu revivalist movement so far has not become fundamentalist in its main stream. This in itself is a miracle when we consider that very grave provocations abound. Take, for instance, the peculiar role the English language press in India has been playing in this regard. Time and again, it has raised certain issues in a way that provokes and incites the Hindu revivalist; it has at the same time tended to marginalise the influence of the spiritual leaders of the Indian renaissance such as Swami Vivekanand and Sri Aurobindo.  It has thus the peculiar distinction of turning Hindus  into fundamentalists in their own country. Some credit for this should also go to our electoral politics. The magic wand that is used to belabour  the majority community in India is called secularism. The one country in the world that  has been traditionally hospitable to the followers of all religions has now to learn lessons in secularism in its new form.  Secularism that is cherished by our press is the noble concept that denies the majority community even the normal democratic rights of protest. If Hindus protest against a film like “WATER” and agitate to get it banned for the reason that it offends the Hindu psyche by citing certain quotes from the Shastras and giving  them denigrating meaning not supported by the Shastras, this protest is seen to be non-secular because it goes against somebody’s freedom to denigrate Hinduism, goes against the freedom of the press. But the same press doesn’t object to the banning of a book by Salman Rushdie because it offends the sentiments of the minority community. Ideally, no book or film should be banned for such reasons but there should be avenues for protest for the minority community as well as for the majority community. The legitimate interests of no community should be trampled upon.

Any talk of an Indian cultural nationalism or of working towards a Uniform Civil Code is branded as communal while openly religious and caste-based parties that create religious and social divisions are certified as secular. The Government is applauded for its secularism when it diverts Hindu temple funds for its own uses, but any questioning of the accountability of overseas funding to the mosques and churches is fiercely attacked as communal and non-secular. When the supreme court passes a verdict not palatable to a minority community, the secularist Government overturns it by a legislative fiat as seen in the Shah Bano case. The plight of 400,000 Kashmir Hindus rendered refugees in their own country does not disturb our national conscience but any call for a review of the temporary Article 370 is not tolerated.  Pope Paul II chooses India to announce that a “great harvest of faith will be reaped” in Asia in the Third Millennium. Conversions on a large scale go on even today because India is still comparatively a poor country, and there is a liberal flow of funds into the country to support this proselytising activity. One could just go on listing these provocations. But if you are a Hindu, pluralism comes naturally to you, and you cannot hate enough to be a fundamentalist, except when you are caught up in a mass frenzy. Otherwise in a country where dozens of innocent people are killed through bomb explosions every other day by Islamic fundamentalists, the reaction from the Hindu majority community has been so far very mild  – a bandh at the most on most occasions. I would be the last person to suggest we emulate Israel in this respect. I am only trying to show how the majority community in our country feels attacked from all sides and is yet doing its best not to get provoked into taking retaliatory action.

There are of course fringe groups among Hindus who have been clamouring for strong measures of retaliation.  In this connection the recent upheaval in Gujarat comes to mind. No Hindu in his right mind would approve of what happened after the Godhra carnage but I would like to leave with you some words of K.D. Sethna. He was a political analyst with Sri Aurobindo as his mentor[7], and often commented on national and international events in the years immediately after February 1949.  These words have a relevance even today, more than fifty years after they were written.

“People who call themselves progressive look upon all revivalist tendencies as if they were the plague; they understand these tendencies to be pure and unadulterated communalism. Intolerant Hindu sectarianism on the  rampage is their notion of whoever seems to be a revivalist.  It must be admitted that there is a good number of Hindu bigots and we cannot sufficiently emphasise their harmfulness.  But two things must be kept in mind when we condemn them. Most of these bigots are a reaction to the fanaticism that was the father of the Muslim League and therefore the progenitor of Pakistan. They are the unnatural consequences of a most unnatural phenomenon and to a large extent a sort of defence mechanism against a menace that has kept on growing. To discourage them is indeed our duty but if our stand is not equally strong against the root cause of their upsurgence we fail to be realists. To expect that no section of the Hindu community would indulge in reprisals for acts of injustice and brutality committed against the Hindus in Pakistan (and in Godhra in  recent times even in our own country) is simply to be ignorant of human nature: the way to avoid retaliations is not merely to preach Gandhism to the masses  or to punish those who take the law in their own hands but to add to all genuinely preventive or deterrent measures an attempt to stop the occasions for the provocation.”[8] (material in brackets added by the present author)

It can’t be denied that among people in general in the majority Hindu community, a certain religiosity is on the rise. People are becoming more “traditional”, they have become more pilgrimage-minded and perform ritualistic worship with greater fervour and at a greater cost than did people of my generation. The  pomp and show with which certain festivals are observed, such as Ganesh Chaturthi and Diwali,  is another instance of this. Jagarans are held in which playback singers and prominent people from the world of entertainment  are invited to participate. Consider how many TV channels are now dedicated to this religionism. The music market is flooded with renderings of popular devotional songs, chantings of the Gayatri, Mrityunjaya jaap and other mantras. Luxury liners are chartered for holding the recitation of the Ramayan Katha and the Bhagavat Puran on the high seas. The protests launched against beauty contests, fashion shows, against the observance of Valentine’s Day etc. by certain Hindu groups show the fundamentalist  facet of this revival.

These are revivalists who seek to revive old forms of Hinduism that we should really be getting  rid of in haste. Very often there is a tendency to lose sight of the spiritual significance of things and take things literally. Take cow protection, for example.  The Vedas give a most honourable place to the cow but then the popular cow-protection movement has very little to do with the Vedas. The Vedic  cow is not the four-legged animal which we  keep ill-treating all the time.   If there are sound arguments in favour of sparing every cow, let us begin with bullocks and spare them the cruelty of yoking  them to carts. Why be partial to cows? Why not extend the same protection to dogs and other domestic animals? The Vedas revere and worship cows, but then in the Vedas the cow “gou” is  the symbol of illumination in the human mind. The two fruits of the Vedic sacrifice are the wealth of cows and the wealth of horses, symbolising mental illumination and vital energy respectively.[9] It is not enough to be passionate about reviving Hinduism, we must know what part of Hinduism is worth reviving.

Consider how a genuine impulse to go back to the foundations of our traditions peters out as a revivalist gesture. A revealing instance of this is the University Grant Commission’s move to introduce Vedic Astrology as a subject of study in Indian universities and the loud protests raised against this move  by the country’s guardians of rationality. Whether Astrology is an academic discipline or not  is a question I do not wish to discuss now. I merely wish to point out that the UGC should have recommended and strongly supported the study of what may be called the Traditional Systems of Knowledge which includes astrology because there is so much in diverse fields of traditional knowledge that we need to understand. In civil engineering, metal technologies, textiles, shipping and ship building, water harvesting systems, forest management, farming techniques, traditional medicinal systems -–in each one of these subjects India has a fund of traditional knowledge which for long has been dismissed as mere folklore and superstition. We can see from the planning of complex towns of the Saraswati-Sindhu civilisation to Delhi’s Qutab Minar that India’s indigenous technologies were very sophisticated in design, planning, water supply, traffic flow, natural air-conditioning, complex stone work, and construction engineering. Indian textile exports were legendary. Roman archives contain official complaints about massive cash drainage because of imports of fine Indian muslin.  Our navigation system was famous throughout the world because India had a thriving ocean trade system for centuries before the Europeans arrived on the scene. You will be  surprised to know that Vasco da Gama’s ships, which discovered the trade route to India, were captained by a Gujarati sailor.

The argument in favour of taking up seriously the study of our Traditional Knowledge Systems is not patriotism or false pride in being Indian. It is that  these systems are eco-friendly, and allow sustainable growth. The Western life style, as is well-known by now, not only destroys local cultures but gives rise to unachievable expectations. People everywhere want to live like Americans. But it is not realised that the capital required to enable billions of poor humans to live like Americans does not simply exist in the world. Americans can live the way they do because to them ‘cheap labour’ is available somewhere else, and they can buy natural resources cheap from somewhere else. When Gandhiji was asked whether he would like India to develop a lifestyle similar to that of England, he said in reply something to this effect:  The British had to plunder the Earth to achieve their lifestyle. Given India’s much larger population, it would require the plunder of many planets to achieve the same. To return to  our main point,  the argument for returning to the traditional Indic systems of knowledge is not any emotional attachment to our past or any kind of chauvinism but a study of these systems is what we need,  what the world needs for the economic betterment of the world in a holistic manner.

Thus it is unfortunate that on the whole the current Hindu resurgence has not brought about any revival of interest in the great achievements of the Hindu civilisation.   The sophisticated and sublime philosophy of the Upanishads, the mathematics of Pingala or of Brahmagupta, the sophisticated pluralism of Vedanta, the literary achievements of Kalidasa or Sudraka — all these like our traditional knowledge systems have failed to excite us. It has been recognised that ours is a civilisation  that invented games like the chess and produced classics not only on Moksha and Dharma but also on Artha and Kama – political economy and sex-education.  The adoration of Rama and of Hanuman and the exploitation of the spell of these legends on the mass mind for grass-root political work may have something to be said for it. But the entire thrust of the Hindu resurgence must not end with ‘temple-politics’; it should not end up with it being identified with groups of unquestioning idolaters and delirious devotees.

Sri Aurobindo once said,

“There are two Hinduisms; one which takes its stand on the kitchen and seeks its Paradise by cleaning the body; another which seeks God, not through the cooking pot and the social convention, but in the soul.  The latter is also Hinduism and it is a good deal older and more enduring than the other; it is the Hinduism of Bhishma and Sri Krishna, of Shankara and Chaitanya, the Hinduism which exceeds Hindustan, was from old and will be forever, because it grows eternally through the aeons.”[10]

It was in a time of calamity, of contraction, under external pressure that Hinduism fled from the inner temple and hid itself in the kitchen. Do we want to revive the Hinduism of the kitchen or the Hinduism of the soul? That is the question we have to answer today.

But at the same time, I have a word for those in the majority community in the country who hesitate even  to  describe themselves as Hindu for whatever reason. We have seen that Hinduism is not a religion in the Semitic sense but a term descriptive of a spiritual civilisation. Those who were Hindu in their spirit and traditions made this land, built this civilisation which has been wide enough to welcome in terms of equality the Moslem and the Christian, the persecuted Zoroastrian and, in more recent times, the persecuted Bahai’s and the Dalai Lama and his followers. As Sethna once pointed out, a great truth is enshrined in the statement that India is the land of Hinduism. If we forget this truth and seek to create a country with all psychological and metaphysical colour of Hinduism wiped off, we shall seriously thwart India’s growth and make the nation either a mediocrity or a monstrosity instead of a light to the whole world.[11]

Sri Aurobindo not only made this distinction between Hinduism of the kitchen and of the soul, he went even one step beyond this. He said that what we call the truer  and higher Hinduism is also of two kinds, sectarian and unsectarian, disruptive and synthetic, that which seeks one aspect and that which seeks the All. The first is born out of a rajasic or tamasic attachment to an idea, an experience, an opinion, or a set of opinions,  a temperament, an attitude, a particular Guru, a chosen Avatar. This attachment is intolerant, arrogant, proud of little knowledge, scornful of knowledge that is not its own. The higher Hinduism  is the spiritual core of Hinduism which rises beyond theology and scriptures, metaphysical certainties, and cultural determinisms.

The Truth that India has sought to serve through Hinduism is the truth of the presence of the Divine in the human. This it regards as the master-key to human progress and fulfilment. It is unfortunately true, as I have already mentioned above,  that there are grave provocations that surround us which are manifestations of religious fundamentalism in our own country and in some of the neighbouring countries. Many may feel that the path indicated by Sri Aurobindo, the path of higher Hinduism which rises beyond theology, scriptures and temples,  is  too idealistic, too steep a climb  for most of us to manage it.  The ruthless persecution of the Hindus for several centuries during the Islamic rule has traumatised the Hindu psyche. This hurt cannot be healed by suppressing facts. The English language press and certain political parties have not only suppressed Islamic history, but they have also exploited Islamic religious identity and this has had well-known social and political reverberations. The Hindu community feels that on the one hand it is being asked to forget completely the atrocities committed against it by the Islamic regime for nearly a thousand years, which the historian Will Durant has described as the “bloodiest story in human history”, and that on the other, events like the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai are sought to be explained away as acts of revenge for what happened in Gujarat in the aftermath of the Godhra train-burning. The trauma that the Hindu civilisation suffered for nearly a thousand years cannot be easily wished away. It is simply unimaginable what would happen if the majority community too sought its own share of revenge for almost a millennium of persecution. It must be realised that ‘revenge’ is a dangerously ugly motive and journalists must be careful in using it to bail out acts of certain communities only. To say the least,  this is not the way to heal old civilizational wounds.

In the name of preserving  the identity of  the Muslim community,  our secular leaders  have ghettoised the community and given them a mindset suspicious of the majority community. This has prevented them from joining the main stream and therefore deprived them of the economic and political benefits of social integration. The Hindus and the Muslims both have to face together  the depth of degradation and intolerance of the Islamic times in Indian history. Neither Hindus not Muslims benefit from a censorship of any critique of Islam and Islamic rule in India. Muslims should see how most of their ancestors were forcibly converted from Hinduism. If they understand their history and ancestry, it may be easier for them to assimilate into the mainstream of Indian society. They will then realise that their lot is cast in India, and Mother India has taken them to her bosom as much as it has taken the Hindu and the Christian. They might then find it less glamorous to identify themselves with the barbaric Muslim invaders from outside than with their own countrymen with whom their lot is cast.

The Hindus too at the same time  should not lose track of their civilizational goals by giving in to the feelings of vindictiveness and tit for tat. They should face the reality of today. It is true that putting a veil on one’s wounds does not help in healing them. But there is a balm for this hurt and that is to allow themselves to be washed by the purifying waters of their spiritual culture. Hatred is an altogether alien concept for this ancient civilisation. Political adjustments and horse-trading will not eradicate the ill-will among the Hindus and Muslims in our country. An attitude of weakness and cowardice will not conciliate our Muslim brethren. Nor is the nationalism appropriate for the times of Shivaji appropriate for today. We should remember, as Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, that Mother India has given a permanent place to our Muslim brother too, in her bosom. Hinduism must cultivate strength, the strength needed to stop the religious bully and the religious hooligan in his tracks.  But it must also acquire the strength needed to reject the temptations of the religious and cultural ego which seeks retaliation as justification for wounds inflicted on us in our history.  This is a challenge no other religion or culture so far has met successfully but it is my hope and belief that the Hindu has the inner resources to meet this challenge successfully. Only we the descendants of Vasishtha and Yajnavalkya can attempt this almost impossible feat and may even succeed in it.  Vishwamitra, as the Puranic legend goes, was responsible for the death of one hundred sons of Vasishtha, and yet  Vasishtha showed the strength not only to forgive him but also to lift him to the rare heights of a Brahmarshi.

Religion is one of the most attractive masks of the collective ego and it may be the last hurdle the human mind has to transcend to rise to the new age of planetary or supramental consciousness promised by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. It is easy to dump religion and with it all its spiritual commitment, and many in the West have done this successfully. But to remain committed to the spiritual goals while discarding the religious packaging in which it has come to us is very difficult.  For our own sake, and for the sake of the world, we will have to take up this challenge. We don’t have to wait until others are ready for this great leap forward and upward. This is the only way to save the world from nuclear jihads or crusades. India will have to hearken to this call of her destiny.

Do we have the faith in ourselves and in our destiny that Sri Aurobindo tried to instil into his fellowmen? Let me conclude this talk with these inspiring words of his:
“This great and ancient nation was once the fountain of human light, the apex of human civilisation., the exemplar of courage and humanity, the perfection of good Government and settled society, the mother of all religions, the teacher of all wisdom and philosophy. It has suffered much at the hands of inferior civilisations and more savage peoples; it has gone down into the shadow of night and tasted often of the bitterness of death. Its pride has been trampled into the dust and its glory has departed. Hunger and misery and despair have become the masters of this fair soil, these noble hills, these ancient rivers, these cities whose life story goes back into prehistoric night. But do you think that therefore God has utterly abandoned us and given us up for ever to be a mere convenience for the West, the helots of its commerce, and the feeders of its luxury and pride? We are still God’s chosen people and all our calamities have been but a discipline of suffering, because for the great mission before us prosperity was not sufficient, adversity had also its training; to taste the glory of power and beneficence and joy was not sufficient, the knowledge of weakness and torture and humiliation was also needed; it was not enough that we should be able to fill the role of the merciful sage and the beneficent king, we had also to experience in our own persons the feelings of the outcaste and the slave. But now that lesson is learnt and the time for our resurgence is come. And no power shall stay that uprising and no opposing interest shall deny us the right to live, to be ourselves, to set our seal once more upon the world.”[12]

Mangesh Nadkarni

(Mangesh Nadkarni retired as professor of Linguistics a few years ago. He enjoys sharing with as many people as possible what he receives from his study of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.)


[1] I have desisted from labelling these groups because I think the blanket appellations gives to them, “sangh parivar” for the former and “leftist” for the latter are too sweeping and do scant justice to  ideological differences within each of these groups.
[2] Sri Aurobindo: The Foundations of Indian Culture (SABCL Vol. 14)  p. 123
[3] K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran) India and the World Scene  (Sri Aurobindo  Society, Pondicherry, 1997) pp. 54 – 58.
[4] Sri Aurobindo: The Harmony of Virtue (SABCL Vol. 3)  pp. 454 – 55
[5] David Frawley: Hinduism (pp. 33-34) The Voice of India,  New Delhi, 1995
[6] ibid  p. 34
[7] In the Introduction to the book from which the extract is taken, K. D. Sethna writes: “Not only were my editorials under his (Sri Aurobindo’s) inspiration: they were also sent to him for approval. Only when his “Yes” was wired to us did we plunge into publication.”
[8] K. D. Sethna: India and the World Scene, Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, 1997, p. 37
[9] Sri Aurobindo: The Secret of the Veda (SABCL Vol. 10)  p. 41-42
[10] Sri Aurobindo: The Harmony of Virtue, (SABCL Vol. 3) pp. 461-62
[11] K. D. Sethna (Amal Kiran): India and the World Scene,  Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, p. 38
[12] Sri Aurobindo: Bande Mataram (SABCL Vol. 1)  p. 56