On 69th Republic Day of a nation, thousands of years old
– by Ajinkya Navare
The republic day is around the corner and the breeze of patriotism has begun to flow. We would get to see the upsurge of tricolor everywhere. Amidst this worn patriotism, there are clamors of ideological intolerance, religious fanaticism, deteriorating civic sense, etc. which are disrupting the social harmony. However, the long history of this nation tells us a different story. This land is known for Krishna as well as for Buddha. This culture incubated and nourished Buddhism and Jainism though its original thought was Hinduism. Even in recent times, we never had an incidence of Indian people attacking Jewish families residing in the heart of Mumbai city.
On one hand, we see the unrest of intolerance somewhere in the society and on the other hand, our past puts forth ideals of tolerance and universal orientation. It intrigues some crucial questions to ponder on this Republic day week. What is the foundation of this society? How did we manage to digest the diversity and stay united? Do we find a solution to the current situation in our ancient wisdom? This article is a humble attempt of contemplation over the questions and their plausible explications from ancient Indian wisdom.
Indian society is entrenched in its culture which is more than 2500 years old. Principally, Indian culture is duty-oriented than right-oriented. An individual is considered to be born with five types of debts, called as Pañca-Ṛṇa (पंच-ऋण). We bear the debt of nature through which the life is sustained (Bhūta Ṛṇa – भूत ऋण); debt of parents and forefathers through whom we come into physical existence (Pitṛ Ṛṇa – पितृ ऋण); debt of sages through whom we receive knowledge and wisdom (Ṛṣi Ṛṇa –ऋषि ऋण); debt of fellow human beings with whom we co-exist in the societal system (Nṛ Ṛṇa – नर ऋण); and debt of higher consciousness which governs and sustains the larger cosmic system (Deva Ṛṇa – देव ऋण).
We are required to repay these debts by five pious obligations i.e. Pañca-Yajña (पंच-यज्ञ). The three prime objectives behind this Yajña are refinement, restoration, and recreation. The ideal of human life is considered as repayment of these debts through responsible actions. Indian culture is about ‘giving’ than ‘getting’. Instead of enjoying only the rights, discharging one’s duties with complete integrity is upheld by our culture. It signifies the rock-solid foundation and view of life in Indian culture.
Indian culture advocates five ‘great sayings’ (mahāvākyāni – महावाक्यानि) of Upaniṣadas (उपनिषद) characterized by Vedanta philosophy. One of the great sayings is ‘Sarvaṃ Khalvidaṃ Brahma’ (सर्वं खल्विदं ब्रह्म; Chaandogya Upanishad, 3:14:1). It says all that lies in the universe is nothing but the manifestation of pure consciousness (Brahman – ब्रह्मन्). Nothing can be devoid of this Brahman. Thus, I am Brahman (Ahaṃ Brahmāsmi – अहं ब्रह्मास्मि; Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1:4:10), so are you (Tat Tvam Asi – तत् त्वम् असि; Chaandogya Upanishad, 6:8:7).
If you and I are the expression of one Brahman, how can we be different?
This thought is the binding principle of offspring of this culture. The beauty of Indian culture is, it upholds the oneness but acknowledges the diversity as well. The pure consciousness can be manifested in the external world bearing distinct names (नाम) and forms (रूप). It can take a name and form of Rama or Krishna or Mohammad or Jesus or Buddha and so on. The paths to realize the pure consciousness may also differ. One can choose the path of oriented towards service, devotion (prayers, offering to God, etc.), intellectual discernment (meditation).
One ultimate truth can be realized through diverse paths. When these principles are internalized, one can appreciate and respect the diversity without losing the sense of oneness. These principles incubate and bolster the idea of unity in diversity. If my Jesus and your Rama are expressions of the same Truth, what is the rationale left in the scuffle? It would naturally expel all sorts of intolerance and fanaticism.
This is a culture which advocates the idea of ‘Ā No Bhadrāḥ Kratavo Yantu Viśvataḥ’ (आ नो भद्राः क्रतवो यन्तु विश्वतः; Rigved 1:89). Indian culture has always opened its arms to all the noble thoughts and practices coming from discrete traditions. We are open to appreciate and accept all the new ideas that are coming to this culture from its other counterparts.
Then why shall we be unnecessarily anxious about any pretentious threats? The only word of caution would be, be mindful in emulating practices. Understand the principles behind migrant customs and then adopt judiciously.
The core of Indian culture is the idea of Dharma. At an individual level, dharma is the set of principles held by an individual. At a societal level, it is those principles which hold the society. It is a common thread which entwines the elements of a universal system. A seer of modern times, Sri Aurobindo said, “Dharma means that which one lays hold of and which holds things together, the law, the norm, the rule of nature, action, and life” (book: Synthesis of Yoga).
The root cause of social imbalance lies in the deteriorating sense of Dharma. Actions of people at a gross level are directed towards acquiring wealth, recognition, power, etc. We are busy in accomplishing two motives Artha (अर्थ)& Kāma (काम), but largely ignoring the Dharma. We are migrating from ‘giving’ to ‘getting’, so is this chaos and disharmony in the society. In Bhagavadgītā, Krishna says, “svadharmamapi cāvekṣya na vikampitumarhasi” (स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि – 2:31), i.e. one shall not waver from his or her duties. It is high time to recognize our duties and follow them religiously. It is imperative that we shall achieve those Artha and Kāma which are grounded firmly in the principles of Dharma.
What constitutes the nation? Is it a geographical terrain or the government or a flag or an emblem or what else?
In my opinion, it is the spirit of oneness which makes people feel that they belong to the nation. To make the nation great, this spirit needs to be nurtured. One of the brightest scholars of Indian Philosophy, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan points out, “we have to recover the original spirit of Dharma, which has not limited to particular forms, but manifested itself in fresh ones, changing from the old and developing the news”. When this spirit of dharma would be illuminated in the minds of 1.25 billion Indians, what can stop us from being on the path of collective prosperity? That’s what is called ‘Abhyudaya’!
This nation has stood strongly against all forms of invasions till the date. It could survive these incursions because of its strong cultural and philosophical roots. Currently, also, it is fighting against evils of corruption, intolerance, fanaticism, poverty, education quality, etc. It is imperative that we the people of this nation shall ignite our minds with the spirit of Dharma and work towards collective and sustainable development. Putting it in Krishna’s way, we need to follow our ‘Svadharma’ with the purpose of ‘Lokasangraha’ (Lokasangraha means bringing all the people to the path of collective prosperity)!
Ajinkya Navare is a Ph.D scholar from the SJ Mehta School of Management at IIT Bombay. When he is not researching Ajinkya is involved in public discourses and articles on Hinduism and Spirituality. My connection to him is our Alma Mater – Sydenham Institute of Management, Research and Entrepreneurship Education. Ajinkya also has his own Marathi blog where he shares his thoughts on philosophy and spiritualism.