Former President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to the RSS last week was a refreshing break from the political version of ‘secularism’ as is practised by politically ‘correct’ outfits in the country. He has talked of “one national identity” which is above “all other identities”. He has pointed to universalism, which is the Holy Grail of all Vedantists. This identity flows from the quintessence of Vedanta – India’s best philosophical and spiritual gift to the world. There is no room for any Western version of secularism here because Vedanta is intrinsically about absolute oneness, which is real secularism. No wonder, when the founding fathers of our Constitution were drafting it, they did not think it necessary to include the world secular even in the preamble; it came later on when Indira Gandhi suddenly woke up to pseudo-secular imperatives to accentuate appeasement politics as though in the service of Muslims without doing anything tangible and meaningful for their uplift and empowerment. The rest is a history of vote-bank politics – of divisions that have played havoc with this pristine land of ours.
Nonetheless, the Ram temple issue continues to dominate the BJP’s political discourse, regardless of whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is implicit or explicit about it. These days, he is implicit, a reforms man that he has been trying to incarnate into. But it does not matter. What matters is the BJP’s umbilical cord with an ideology premised on the concept of India being a nation so rich as to give birth to such a rich and wide-ranging religion as Hinduism assaulted time and again and yet so resilient to keep sustaining amid the wounds inflicted by the most diabolic kinds of invaders. Hinduism must be rescued, this is the clear BJP agenda. But there is nothing wrong in this in a country that is a Hindu-majority secular democratic republic, which is the land of birth of Hinduism as a way of life, and to which the Hindus the world over look up to for succour.
There is another big reason why Hinduism must be rescued. As a way of life not introduced to the world by one individual – unlike faiths like Islam or Christianity – but shaped philosophically over the ages by the meditative contemplation of a gamut of sages of intuitive wisdom that has stood the test of the most sophisticated theories of physics too, Hinduism as a spiritual discipline has a lot to offer across the world. Yoga – Hinduism’s best export to the world – is a classic case in point.
But as one points to “Hinduism’s best export to the world”, there would be no dearth of ‘secularists’ to call it an attempt to ‘communalize’ yoga. The rebut would be simple: Yoga is very much an export of Hinduism to the world because it is the spirituality of Hinduism at its transcendental glory that has given rise to yoga in all its forms – Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga – to which the West, in modern times since the times of the Beatles, has gravitated to realize the potential of the human spirit beyond the world of senses. Realization of the true nature of man and liberation from the confines of the ordinary world of divisions – this is what Hinduism seeks. And this is what yoga lays the path to. What better export India can have for the rest of the world to benefit from? Therefore, Hinduism must be rescued. It is needed for the world to live in love, beauty and peace – beyond all man-made divides, including national boundaries at the extreme end of the emancipation of human consciousness.
This brings us to Vedanta and its brilliant elucidation by Swami Vivekananda, the profoundest Hinduism exporter to the West beginning his celebrated address at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. He was one among the sharpest of minds of his time to have studied extensively the core of Hinduism from the Vedantic viewpoint and render it a universal hue beyond the mundane rites and rituals that people generally associate Hinduism with due solely to their ignorance and rock-hard coinditioning.
Let us then hear some excerpts of Vivekananda’s lecture titled “Is Vedanta the Future Religion?” delivered in San Francisco on 8 April 1900: “Those of you who are students of Vedanta – by Vedanta is always meant the Upanishads – know that this is the only religion that does not cling to any person. Not one man or woman has ever become the object of worship among the Vedantins. It cannot be. A man is no more worthy of worship than any bird, any worm. We all are brothers. The difference is only in degree… No book, no man to worship, nothing… It is the democratic God that Vedanta teaches… You are all Gods, says Vedanta. This makes Vedanta very difficult. It does not teach the old idea of God at all. In place of that God who sat above the clouds and managed the affairs of the world without asking our permission, who created us out of nothing just because He liked it and made us undergo all this misery just because He liked it, Vedanta teaches that God is in everyone, has become everyone and everything. His majesty the king has gone from this country (America the democratic country); the Kingdom of Heaven went from Vedanta hundreds of years ago” (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 8)
Then he goes ahead and asks: “Why are people so afraid?” This is a very valid question. It is fear that has driven humanity to everything that goes against love and compassion. Fear which arises out of helplessness and dependence. Fear of the future. Fear of the mystery that existence seems to be. Fear of being dominated. Fear of loss. Fear of so many uncertainties all around.
But why is man so helpless? The answer is found in Vedantic philosophy, and explains Vivekananda thus: “The answer is that they (people) have made themselves helpless and dependent on others. We are so lazy, we do not want to do anything for ourselves. We want a Personal God, a saviour or a prophet to do everything for us… All this running after help is foolishness.”
And then he throws light on the ultimate in Vedanta: “Worship everything as God – every form is his temple. All else is delusion (emphasis added). Always look within, not without. Such is the God that Vedanta teaches, and such is His worship. Naturally there is no sect, no creed, no caste in Vedanta (emphasis added). How can this religion be the national religion of India?”
These are pearls of wisdom that bring to the fore what India as the spiritual capital of the world has to offer to every single human being crying for strength and hope in a world trapped in a deepening quagmire of hate and violence due mainly to man’s indulgence in divisions – especially brought about by religion detached from spirituality – and perpetuation of a political discourse in the name of My God and Your God that cannot converge because politics, and the violence it helps sustain, must define our courses of action based on total ignorance and inability to rise above such cataclysmic divisions despite such richness as Vedanta that is our unique spiritual gift to the whole of humanity.
It is in this context of the reality of India as an ancient land that gave birth to such an ennobling and empowering religion as Vedanta – here the word religion is used in the strictly spiritual sense – that both the RSS and the BJP need to tread a radically different thought and action trajectory beyond the idea of religion per se (Hinduism) as a mere, and futile, political instrument (Hindutva) to arrive at what can indeed be India’s national religion, Vedanta. This is one being a true Hindu. And India is in dire need of such proud Hindus.