Hindu Religion and Nationalism – A Talk by Shankar Sharan
Times have changed, need of the hour has changed, and the new generations that come do not get to decide everything by themselves; they get many things ready-made. There is this keenness for career orientation nowadays, because of which people have stopped taking interest in studying. Everything is available, fast, from Google, from the internet, let’s make-do has become the attitude whoever is accomplished in this is considered successful. But the kind of nationalistic environment that I see in your institution, and the kind of traditions this institute started, I think you will have to exercise even more caution.
Because India is a unique country. From the point of view of its culture it is unique, and the kind of place that India has in the world today, good and tough – you should understand it from both the points of view. Today you are young, tomorrow you will get into some profession, work somewhere, you should have the consciousness in the worldview, about yourself, your country, your society and where your duties lie. This topic is so general that I am finding it difficult to decide how to start – what all I should share with you, because I dont know your backgrounds, what your knowledge is so far. And this is a problem for a teacher – especially for a teacher for higher education – unless he knows the students background – whether he knows the subject or not, then how will he connect ?
So, I will take a guess and try to place before you some things, I hope you will try to think by yourself, try to understand by yourself. In our country – as I said earlier India is in a unique position. From the point of civilization, India is such a unique civilization with a parallel to none other civilizations. If at all we can compare our civilization with anyone, maybe we can compare with China or Egypt, intellectuals say comparison is also not the right word because, there is not a single civilization in the world today whose subsistence, continuity, is as unbroken as India’s. Not even a single civilization. This is the only country in the world where the same literature is read which was read 2500 years ago. Even today the same languages are spoken, the same words used, which were used 2500 years, 3000 years ago. Even today you will find the same art forms, same words, same songs which were found 2500 years – 3000 years – songs which were sung, literature read on this land even 4000 years before.
There is no such civilization in the world. And this continuity despite India being colonised by foreigners for almost a thousand years. We can argue that India was not fully colonised under the Mughals or the Sultans; some even claim that India was not colonised by the Mughals at all, it was home rule and, we became colonized only from the time of the British; this dispute can keep happening, but there is a general consensus that India, Indians as per their understanding, as per their wish, as per their traditions have not been able to administer themselves for atleast a thousand years; some people claim this has not happened even now. And this not rhetorical, lip service. This is true that we are politically free for the past 70 years. But this is also true that, culturally, intellectually, psychologically we are still not free. And its most beautiful and obvious evidence is – our language and our education.
Our education system is the same which the British had made – which they had designed. Our language is still the same for governmental, tactical purposes which the British had made. Even our legal system is the same which the British had made. And you can easily understand that the British had come not only to administer but also to exploit. They used to work for their own benefit, for the benefit of England. And the system they created – the political systems was completely different. You might have seen on the BBC or CNN – Prime Minister of UK lives in 10 Janpath – sorry- 10 Downing Street, it is a street, there is a building, a door opens in the building and the Prime Minister steps out. 50-100 meters from there there is a bus stop. So England’s – ok UK’s Prime Minister lives in a building facing a street – a regular place. And in India – the very same British constructed – forget about the Viceroy’s house, even a Zilla Collectror’s house was around 50 bighas in size. An entire pageantry was created to instill respect for the administration, a feeling of superiority, power amongst the natives.
Britain did not have the kind of serfdom they built here. What this means is that we are still following the same systems, we should realize that we are still not free, we have not made our own systems. This is our problem. Even today we are not reading and writing in our own language, enacting our own laws. Our courts, our Parliament, our law ministry, write all important documents in English, and then somehow manage to translate it. There is not a single major country in the world where the most important person and the lowest person does not work in the same language. Try to think about the kind of problems such a situation creates, it creates a lot of discrimination.
In Russia, Japan, China, America irrespective of whether a person is the President or a film star or a policy maker or a vice chancellor in a university, they all speak in a language which can be heard and comprehended by the lowest population denominator of the country. Here we dont have that and this happens only in our country – a major country. There are many African countries which have been colonised by the British, French, Europeans, wiped out their local languages. People either speak French or English, or as in Latin America everywhere Spanish is spoken. But their erstwhile local language, local culture, erstwhile people, their local literature have been destroyed. India is the only unique country which has the continuity from the Rig Veda to contemporary times. If you read the Rig Veda, the Upanishad, for some time, you will realise that some of the things mentioned in them can still be found around us. There are words and proverbs in them which we use till date. So there is a continuity from the Rig Veda and on the other hand you have an entire political apparatus, entire education system still with the colonial mindset whose only intention was to exploit this country, reduce the people of this country to clerks, make the people subservient, fill the people with an inferiority complex – one objective was – and I dont say that this was their only intention – this is the kind of education system, the kind of political system, the kind of legal system we have today.
So in a sense we are independent as well as dependent, and we are still not free from this dependence, a common example of this is language. And this language has created a different kind of problem in a country like India. And – you should pay attention to this – as a journalist, because you need to intimate journalists, and before you intimate them you need to understand the matter yourself. In other words first you investigate, understand a thing and then report it to others. Now see how language creates so many problems in this situation. Throughout the type of words that are used, in other words as has been told to you in Africa, or Latin America, in America – North America including – all of Americas, the natives of these lands, their native languages, native festivals was wiped out. India is the only country which despite a thousand years of slavery has not lost anything completely.
There were people who had come here with the sole intention of completely destroying the culture, religion, society, language of this country. To convert them. None of them were successful. But, there is a deterioration in our lives – the language that we speak, the words that we use, their meanings have entirely changed. There is a Tibetan professor, Prof. Rinpoche, he has given a very good analogy, I would like to use it explain how the problem of language is a malaise. He said the words that we use – whichever word we use – the words whose root meanings have come from our civilization, our culture have lost their meanings. We have replaced them with European and English meanings. As a result the root meanings are lost.
So he gives the analogy of a glass of milk and says someone gets oil and since there was no other vessel to store the oil he throws the milk and fills it with the oil. So he gives this analogy to say that we have discarded the root meanings like the milk and filled it with European and English meanings. Now take this topic – Religion-Culture. In our culture we do not weave culture separately, if you see usually religion-culture, eating, clothes, language – so culture is not separate from our religion. In fact there is nothing independent from religion here. So take this word religion, so they say – Rinpoche had given an example. In our culture most of the children, I feel nine out of ten children, fifty among hundred children, understand that religion and dharma are the same. When in fact academically, theoretically, in everyday life – these two are different notions. In dharma, in our dharma, faith or worship does not have any meaning. In India dharma has meant duties. Now we call Ravan an irreligious man but he was a great devotee of Shiva. We call Mahabharat a dharma yudh because there was dharma on the one side adharma on the other side. All of them used to worship the same Gods, belonged to the same family, had the same belief systems, both had the same guru, mother – it was one big family. So then why do we call it a dharma yudh?
Similarly we have words like putra dharm (son’s duties), Matr dharm (Mother’s duties), Vidyarthi dharm (student’s duties), it is obvious the word religion does not clarify all this. Religion means faith, in fact for that they have another word – faith. What faith are you? You are Muslim, Jew, Christian – so religion means faith. And dharma means – you might be of any faith – your behaviour. Your behaviour determines your dharma and faith determines your religion. Even the Harvard professors know this. Whosoever has worked on Indology or dharma know that dharma is a different system religion is a different system. But you will find in our country students who believe that dharma and religion are the same word and are the same thing.
People who are not alert – who do not have the ambition to learn, to understand more, to understand correctly they take these two words as synonyms – it is found so in the dictionary. This is not the only word, I have given this just as an example – that religion is not dharma and dharma is not religion – not just the only word. We have many other such words, sanskriti being one of them. Or leela, parv, teertha, sampraday, ritu – there are no equivalent words for these in English. This does not mean that English is a weak language, or that we are stronger than them – both are strong languages. What this means is that whichever society – whatever it’s unique history, whatever are its important traditions words of those language express only those. It does not express some other society’s history, its culture, its experiences it does not express those.
So therefore we have – we too have many opinions for which we do not have equivalent words in English or Russian, and they too have many opinions for which there are no equivalent words in our languages. However, since in our country our education system is essentially in English, policy development is essentially in English, we are finding it difficult to understand our own words, our diverse problems, our many difficulties, because we are trying to understand them through the English language and therefore there is confusion. Neither are we able to understand the European, Russian, German history from which these words have been derived, nor are we able to understand our own history, our own culture because English being the medium of communication it becomes a hindrance.
So this was just an example that when we discuss cultural problems, philosophical problems how language becomes a hindrance and how difficult it puts us in a fix in expressing what you are – other than you i.e besides Indians no other country has similar problems that students or teachers of higher education face. Because our language, our culture has not died – as I mentioned earlier in some countries it has collapsed completely – if it is dead it is bearable. Because once your culture is over – you can cry over it once – in Australia it is dead. But now they have a new language, new culture – new dictionaries, new paradigms entirely – the entire society lives in that. We dont have this here. In our country – our society – a very large number of people follow their unique philosophy. But the education, the policy development, higher studies in these, research, media all this happens in a foreign language, and they use English concepts in these.
The problem that arises with this is that we do not understand anything clearly. I’ll go so far as to say that if our students, our journalists, our intellectuals – even our professors are not vigilant they will end saying one thing meaning something else. And when this is communicated to the students or readers it’s meaning changes entirely. So these are the language problems which are not debated upon properly. I merely gave the example of dharma and religion not being one and the same. In Hinduism you are free to believe anything. There is no faith here. And based on this meaning some of the orthodox missionaries or orthodox Islamists say that Hindus are irreligious people. These Hindus have no faith. Because they have no single Book, no single God, they have no single church, they dont have a priest class to order them on how to worship, how not do something – this is an entirely free-floating society, there is nothing definitive, therefore these people are irreligious – they are non-religious. Therefore it is our duty to give them a religion.
These serious missionaries – belonging to the Catholic Church – if you look at their documents, which can be easily accessed on the internet or their websites. In them they have mentioned that they have to make the whole of India Christian. Why? Because they are drowned in darkness. Christ has not yet reached them, they still dont have The Book, they have not yet received the message of God, and people who believe these are not mad, they are not the lunatic fringe, nor are they fanatics, they are very noble, cultured people who believe in their hearts, calculate how every zilla, every village in India can be Christianised.
And this program is openly going on – not from today but from 200 years, 400 years. But even today they are very seriously involved in this kind work. It’s another matter how successful or unsuccessful they are, in our context we should understand how they consider us irreligious or non-religious. Or they think we are lost in darkness. Because their viewpoint about religion, is completely different from our view point on dharma. Because in our society if a person does not worship all his life, his parents or the society at large does not consider him to be outside the religion. Whether someone follows the rituals or does not follow the rituals it does not matter. Whether someone reads about these rituals or does not read about these rituals it does not matter. It is only based on his behavior that a person is called adhrami or sinner – his actions determine this.
So this – the situation that Hindu dharma is today in the world you should understand this carefully. And that is because in the future this struggle will become even more intense. Because we are citizens of a big country, citizens of a rich nation, rich as in nature, really prosperity of a nation is its natural resources. Whatever nature gives you, your prosperity comes from there and another resource is human resources, i.e how clever are the people, how intelligent, how hardworking from this resource other resources are generated but the most important resource is natural resources. Look at Russia or America, both these nations are rich in natural resources. Added to that their human resources makes them the most richest and influential countries in the world. India too is a nation like that. It is only because of foreign invasions that we are backward, in many many things, but still you will notice that just 70 years of independence has taken India places. When India gained its freedom in 1947 – the advanced nations of the world were worried that these people will kill each other and perish. They will not survive, they are a lost cause.
But despite all the political problems, all the corruption, all the inaction – a hundred other problems which all of us blame our politicians for. Despite all these problems the kind of progress India has made in these seventy years is because there has been no foreign rule. There is so much potential in this country, so many resources – industrious, entrepreneurial, and living in such a country we are stuck with this abusive kind of image.
And when it come to religion and culture let me put in perspective. We are the only country which is outside the international definition of religion. In simple terms India is the only Hindu nation in the world. Nepal was a Hindu nation but they are being secularized and converted. It is a small nation – historically its has been a part of India. So being the only Hindu country also determines the type of misunderstandings other nations have of us. I will give you an example of journalism – I am sure you too may have noted it – if you regularly follow CNN or BBC, or some American journals which are famous internationally – Times or Newsweek – if you follow them regularly then you will find that they never carry any positive news items about India. Always negative news – some strange thing, something repulsive – as if this country is some strange abomination – something quaint, strange, divine, something wrong – from where nothing positive can ever come. They can never have a positive outlook about India.
I want to draw your attention to one thing, there are some people who will tell you that people who say such things are mischievous, they are jealous of India, they are enemies of India, it’s not like this all the time. The problem being, India being a Hindu nation they dont understand many things about this country. They consider some things problematic when in fact they are unique to this country. Like this diversity, religion, like we do not have anything called faith, we do not convert others, we do not have any problem when people of other faiths came here they dont understand such things. Their culture, their civilization, their faith has determined their point of view. And that is why even their educated people, their intelligentsia, their holy men are not able to explain India correctly. And that is why you should note – you see they carry a very negative image about India.
This is a problem on which I want you to focus. I want you – what is known as fair consideration – you will not find that. There is deep perversity behind this. They consider us to be inferior to them. They consider us to be unworthy of them. They consider us to be so different from them that they feel there cannot be any kind of cultural harmony with us. There is also another side to this. The enlightened people amongst them, the seeker types, the inquisitive types, the truly knowledgeable amongst them, its quite the opposite with them. They become kind of devotees of India. They develop a kind of reverence towards India. And then they want to become a part of our culture and religion. There is a small example of this right in front of your eyes. Indians go to America, Europe to earn money, make a career. Have you ever heard of Indians no matter how poor, no matter how many problems they might have, going anywhere for enlightenment, for seeking, for religion or for spiritualism ? No Indian ever goes. Exact opposite happens here, all over the world when people want to learn something, anyone who looks beyond materialism – what is known as career – money, technology, if anyone is looking beyond all these, they all come to India.
Whether it is The Beatles, or founder of Apple, or Hollywood’s Julia Roberts, or what is his name the hero who is 7 foot tall – dozens of people – from the sports world, from the world of arts and culture, people from the film industry, all sorts of people – not one or two but hundred and thousands of people, you will see them coming to India throughout the year.
Not one or two – I will leave out Sri Aurobindo ashram, this Vivekananda ashram, Ramana Maharshi ashram, Shivanand ashram – these which are considered top league, I will leave these out, these smaller league babas, sadhus and saints, you will find dozens of foreigners around them. Why do they come? This is the same thing about which our people are still not aware. And the ones that are aware, or are becoming aware are being termed communal and being cowed down. They are being denigrated. While this is quite evident – very few people know that even Muslims from Arabian nations come here. They come to Shivanand ashram, Chinmay ashram, Vivekanand ashram and stay there for months. They must be getting something from all this.
This is the age of advertisement, so even by that definition – even in that language – you can make out that this not just propaganda. It is true that there are fake sadhus and babas, but such people existed even in Tulsidas’s time. If you read the Ramacharitmanas, even there you will find mention of fake sadhus, charlatans, how they fool people, exploit their blind faith. Be as it may, but genuine, true gurus, true intellectuals, true humanists – they exist even today, and people from all over the world come to meet them.
So this is India’s uniqueness, that we, and unfortunately our education system has delinked us from all this. I have told you that if you read the Vedas, if you read the Rig Veda – you can interpret it as – being the world’s first book, the oldest, existing book, this epithet has been given by the United Nations also, that the oldest, available book with human beings is the Rig Veda. If you read it you will feel as if you are reading something contemporary. If you read the Mahabharat, you will feel as if you are roaming around Harayana, Patliputra of today. You will find both the lifestyles matching. Ravindranath Tagore has written about this. So this continuity, and our spiritual traditions, metaphysical opulence, it is so seamless that foreigners come here and learn from us, but the problem with us is we are not able to fit ourselves in this world view. We are no fitting in politically, nor financially, not even culturally. Because our education system is such that the one important thing, which is our culture, that is outside its purview.
Our scholars, our top students, who are gold medalists, who are into Sociology, dont know that the very first book on Sociology – technically was an Indian book. They dont even know about the book nor who has written the book. Upanishads are being discussed not today, but were discussed from the time of Greek thinkers – from the time of Plato-Aristotle, the word Upanishad, thoughts in the Upanishads continues – I think thanks to internet all this can be found out – if you ever check on the internet – indophile, there is a word called indophile, meaning someone who loves India. Someone has compiled all the examples of some of the world’s biggest spiritualists, intellectuals. Each one greater than the other intellectual. Voltaire, Shopenhire, Plato, Aristotle, this Russo – its not their fault, but I think atleast 50 great thinkers of the world for the past 2500 years have been talking about Indian culture, Indian traditions.
Some people say that they were all Indophile meaning they were so much in love with India that they saw everything within India. If you take a detached point of view, a journalistic point of view, an objective point of view, an investigative point of view, then you will find that the source of this huge knowledge tradition, is cut off from our education system. We start with A, B, C, this was not the case even during the British period. During the British times people used to learn in their own language and English would be added on to it later on. And intellectuals amongst them knew their own language with the same depth that they understood English. They had a deep understanding of English literature also. This has happened in free India that we have been cut off from our own literature.
In Hindi speaking places – supposedly Hindi speaking places, you will find children among them who do not understand the meaning of agyaey, who dont know the meaning of dinkar, never heard of jajo bacchan. This was not the case till 40 years ago. Why ? Because our education was essentially in our own language, English would be introduced afterwards – from 6 or 8 standard onwards, maybe 4 standard – depending on the school, the staff, the school environment it would be introduced. Now right from childhood children are taught A, B, C, D and this has reached each and every village. The harmful thing about this is – the very exact things which have given rise to Indian culture, the values unique to India, the very reasons for which people visit India, the very knowledge and wisdom for which people come to India to learn, we are not even introducing our children to them, they dont even know their names, leave alone learning about them.
In JNU – there is a student in JNU, a topper, I happened to meet him one day, I asked him once – some debate was going on and the word Upanishad was used in it – there was a satirical expression on his face. I asked him have you read the Upanishads ? He said no – what is the need to read it? What could it contain ? I asked him why ? He said it is a religious book. I asked him have you even browsed through it ? He said no. I asked him whether he had any idea whether it was a 1000 page book or a 10 page book ? He said no. And here I am talking about someone who is a genuine student. A topper. He presents excellent papers. Gives excellent lectures. And he has not even seen the Upanishad. He is not even interested in it. Like if someone tells him you are a student of Sociology, you should know what is in it. There is an entire social description. He says really? I thought it was a religious book.
So this is the situation we have brought our country to, in a word it is illiterate. So in this situation you should understand all these terms. Our religion, culture, nationalism. And that is why I say we have a problem, because we do not have background knowledge either the European kind nor our own. This is a curious thing we have a European student is not as cut off from his culture, literature as an Indian student is. The feel our students – he is a professor of English – he has retired from our JNU, a great scholar – whatever it is – he says that when our students go there they telephone from there to ask – what is contained in this, what is contained in that – because they have not read any of this, here it is all about marks learning by rote, these are the only things they know. There people, want to know what about Manusmriti, Narad smriti. And out students dont know about these at all. When they go there they realise that such things are here and they have been indifferent towards them, but they have not been so. They study them. Here we burn the Manusmriti. When it is equal to the Vedas.
So we should understand these terms in the given problems, to understand the problems is very difficult. Because everything cannot be presented in a capsule form or a formula which can then be injected easily. Now let us take this nationalism, as I said earlier – dharma is not religion, similarly in our country nationalism – this word rastravaad is just a Hindi translation of nationalism, just a Hindi equivalent. Realistically speaking nationalism, nation, nation-making is 200-250 years old in even Europe.
Now the irony here is that this culture has been existing unabated for 4000 years. We try to understand this with a European term which for Europe itself in 250 years old. Not only that, even in Europe there is no agreement on the term nationalism. One scholar – in fact many scholars who have studied nationalism, they have found that nation and nationalism do not have any one definition. Russians will have one meaning, Serbians will have one meaning, Chechens will have one meaning, Croats will have one meaning, now take UK, the Scots will have one definition, English will have a different meaning, Welsh will have a third meaning, there is no consensus. So such an assumption, about which even Europe does not have a definite meaning, through such an assumption we are trying to understand our problems, our aspirations, our local emotions – when we try to express these feelings, it becomes a very clumsy situation.
Really speaking rastravaad or nationalism or the truth about India, Indian situation, our problems, to express our distinctiveness there are no sufficient words for them. As I mentioned earlier even there is no clarity. There is only one standard – if a special group – whether small or big – considers itself to be one, then it is one. If they dont consider themselves one then you cannot argue with them about it. For example the Chechen – Chechnya is part of Russia – but if you read Tolstoy, who 150 years ago – 145 years ago wrote, and even then the native Russians and Chechens were constantly at war with each other. And fierce wars were fought. Even today Chechenya is part of them. So do you think there will be one definition of nationalism which both of them agree upon? It is the same with UK also, Scotland, England and this third Ireland – all three of them have histories of war with each other. So this does happen that a man who is a hero for the Irish is considered a villain by the English. What nationalism. Nationalism is not defined even there. And here, where there is an entire civilization, where their definitions, if you look at their definitions you can see, like the Communists say India is not a country – a nation at all. This is a conglomeration of many nationalities which the British by force kept them together. And that is why before 1947 the Indian Communists Party on the right to self-determination had come out with a thesis, in which they had claimed that India has 17 different nationalities, and therefore India should be divided into 17 pieces why only two?
Wow ! If you read the definition of Jinnah, he had said that Hindu and Muslim are two different nations, and he had explained in detail why Muslims are one nation, why? Because for his Pakistan struggle he wanted an intellectual construct. So he said Hindus are one nation and Muslims are another nation. Gandhiji’s definition was something else. Marxists had a different definition, Arya Samaj had a different definition. So this civilization of ours – we can truly only call it a civilization. If you try to fit it into nationalism or some other foreign term you will end up with many problems. There is so much diversity here, so many languages, so much of distinctiveness, if you try to fit it into a European definition then you will feel maybe we should have atleast a thousand countries, a thousand nations. However, there is an opposite point, this country, this civilization, from Vedic times till date has internalized some things, we dont know – where is the source of this unity, but definitely there is a source of unity.
And that is when for example this vande mataram debate, and this debate is not from today, this debate on Vande Matram is from pre-independence times. You might probably know this if any of you have studied this you will note that almost 40 years before 1947 vande matarm has been our national song. And this was so decided, so fixed that there was no scope for disagreement. It is ironical that this did not become the national anthem, but what is the feeling in vande matarm? This song has been taken from a novel, from Bankim Chandra’s Ananda Math – if you read Ananda Math – and this novel is in Bangla – amusing thing about this is it is not even a Hindi song, by the way Jana Gana Mana is also not a Hindi song, both are Bangla songs. Since it is written in Devanagri we feel this is a Hindi song. We find clues to both our language diversity and language unity from this. That if you write in Devanagri then at least a dozen Indian languages will sound like Hindi to you. Since it is written in a different script we cannot make this out.
So our diversity and our unity are inseparable – and we find this in every aspect of our lives. Our proverbs, our stories, the Purana you hear in North India you can see it in Kerala. So Nirmal Varma was a big writer in Hindi, he said we say that we have two epics. Ramayana and Mahabharat. He used say there was a third epic. And that is the Indian society, which is an invisible feeling which is there but no one can concretize it and give it a name.
So even the characters in the Ramayana and Mahabharat, their stories are told in different parts of the country in their own manner, they are not just told, they are even alive. In Himachal – this Uttarakhand – people say this whole area is divided amongst the characters in the Mahabharata. People believe we are their descendants and this area belongs to them. And even today springy rural fairs are held in their honor. Some of them believe they get possessed by them, some claim to be possessed by Bhim, some by Yudhistir. You will find such a tradition in Karnataka also. So what is this thing which keeps the whole country united? The meaning of culture and spirit which unites the people of India with each other and a thousand differences amongst them, there are separateness also and this separateness can be seen in – politics, language, behavior – we see a lot of disconnection in things also, but some people choose to give importance to the differences rather than the unity.
But the core unity is important because it has proved that this is the thing which has kept this nation united for thousands of years. And vande mataram is just a source – an example, whenever there is a controversy on this, you might have noted, or you yourself might indulge in this, there is a response from the whole country. In other words people are not indifferent towards it. I think it was in ’97 or ’98 – a song by A. R. Rehman – Ma tujhe salaam – even that song had vandemataram. Even then many fatwas were issued and even then there was a nationwide reaction to it. In the sense a positive reaction – in favor of vandematarm. So this feeling As Setu Himalaya – from the Himalayas to the setu in Rameshwar – all of this India is one, this feeling cannot be understood through the western definitions of nationalism nor understand it through academic terminologies. Unfortunately since we are cut off from our shastras – not just shastras our knowledge traditions – otherwise this would not be the case. The things we struggle to understand and explain in academic language becomes quite apparent. Since that is not the case we have to necessarily explain that the conditions prevalent in India cannot be understood through nationalism.
Civilization or civilizational state would be a more apt word for it. A Chinese scholar Xian Wai Wai, he wrote a book 5 years ago “The China Wave”. In that he argues – he argues on behalf of China – he says that China should not be considered as a single nation or a single country, it is a civilization. Incidentally he has also discussed India, but in a negative manner. He says no India is not a civilization, we are. China is a civilization. But the arguments he makes to prove China is a civilization are applicable more to India. India should be called civilizational state or a civilization. As this was indeed the case, as I said earlier if you search for Indophile, you will find that from the times of Greek thinkers, from Plato’s times till date you will find the world’s top scholars whose explicit opinion, and expressed in a logical manner that the fountainhead of all our knowledge is the banks of the Ganga. All the spirituality, all the knowledge – all the culture, all the wisdom, philology, language all this has spread to the whole world from India. This is said by serious scholars, topmost scholars not one or two but infinite number of them have said this.
This thread, this origin, it was our responsibility to understand it but we became disconnected from it. And that is why I want to say to you that we should understand nationalism within our own context, the meanings that we derive from our traditions, and the connection with our behaviour that this is our motherland, in the Ramayana also – Ram says everything is ok but ‘janani janma bhoomischa’. So our motherland and our geography – from the Himalayas to the sea – there has been an unexpressed kind of reverence and an expressive reverence towards this and there are many examples.
So we need to understand this nationalism in our terminology, from our own perspective, only then maybe we will understand her problems. Otherwise we – I would argue that we will start using the wrong principles, the wrong proverbs and keep getting entangled in them. We try – there is an inferiority complex also behind this, from the past 250 years ever since English language education has cut us off from our roots, our people are filled with an inferiority complex. That unless something gets certified abroad we will consider it to be of inferior quality. Like yoga. Nowadays yoga is all over the world, but very few people knew about it 70-80 years ago nobody knew about it, although Vivekananda had shown a 100 years ago but a glimmer of it, but it soon ended. Then we were not independent, Vivekananda died all too soon, his work stopped, then a different type of leaders came different kind of people and that work stopped.
But this is what I read about Yoga in Nehru’s biography, Nehru used to practice yoga, in his book the biographer writes that Nehru used to get up in the morning and do some acrobatics. So yoga was not even identified by name. But the kind of progress that yoga has made in the last 50 years, we also have a Yoga Day, and the whole world practices yoga, and yoga is just a small part of our entire knowledge system. Especially this practical yoga – which is called yoga exercises – it has become limited to just that, while that is not the case, there is an entire perspective of understanding, method of analysis, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is pure science. And these exercises are just rudimentary. But if the precursory part itself has astounded the world, then imagine those philosophers who said that their entire method of thinking, our terminologies, conceptual concepts, has been derived from Indian knowledge systems. And this tradition, this entire history which we are trying to fit into the foreign phrases, foreign constructs, in reality we will be unsuccessful. And that is why our problems are also slightly different.
As I had tried to indicate to you at the start, that because India is the only Hindu country in the world people have difficulty in understanding her. And we ourselves face difficulties in understanding her. Many people say that India was such an excellent civilization, such a strong civilization, such a prosperous civilization, and it was not lacking in bravery so what happened that small groups of people would come and conquer them and rule over them – to some extent these people feel that this is a very difficult question. Realistically speaking neither me nor others have a standard answer to this, but there is an answer. And that too since our Upanishadic viewpoint is pacific, not dominance, harmonic, environment friendly, compassionate towards all forms of life. That is why invaders from abroad, who were united, who wanted to destroy and convert us ideologically, we couldn’t identify such people in time and this situation is prevalent even today.
Even today if you see the media discussions, whenever we speak of missionaries we find an anti-Hindu slant in their discourse. Like for example some will say no this is just the nature of business of conversions, if we say the missionaries are converting people they will say no this is harassment of minorities, this is communalism. Now even today our educated people – ok some of them might be cheats, some might be political who say all this deliberately, but a majority of them do not understand this. The real motive of the missionaries to convert the whole of India and their entire structure is not at all noticed. Why dont they do that? Because they are unacquainted with the fact that there are religions in the world who do not recognize the identity of other religions. And from our side we believe, sarvadharma sambhav, all religions are the same, all religions are good, all religions guide us to the one God. This is alright from the point of view of our Upanishadic knowledge system but what we consider dharma is religion the same thing? Is Islam the same dharma? Is Christianity the same dharma? Do they have the same believes which are contained in Hinduism? The we say all religions preach the same thing, every religion takes us in the same direction, and everything is ok, it does not matter, even if they are converting what is the problem with you? This is what you say – this is how children argue. If someone is converting people or getiing converted – they argue that you say that all religion are one, how does it matter if someone becomes a Muslim or a Christian?
So this nescience is from both sides. People of the world do not understand Indian civilization, Indian culture, Indian religion correctly so they have a negative and strange like this Gau pooja – Karl Marx has written what kind of people worship the cow and the monkey? Meaning for him for Karl Marx this was proof for him that other than farm hands and farmers who else would worship cows ? Now where there is such a big difference in our consciousness, where they do not understand our cow worship, tree worship, similarly we too do not comprehend their conversion projects. Their plans for India, which are quite successful, India is not the same country that it was a hundred years ago, forget 100 years even 80 years ago if you see the map of India of then – and the map of India today, then you see the demography of India – whatever is left of India if you see the demography, it has shrunk considerably.
Its alright to say we have always been living here and will continue to live in the future, but there is no guarantee about that happening. If you are not vigilant about you country, you may call it nation, civilization, Bharatvarsh, Bharatmata – is you are not alert about her security whatever did not happen until now will happen – you should not assume it is impossible. As I mentioned earlier Nirmal ji – Nirmal Varma and all the other great litterateurs – who have been so for three generations, two generation, first generation – they say, people who had seen the British era also said that even during the British times there was not as much danger on Indian languages, Indian culture and consciousness as it is in independent India.
Because we are cut off from our own language – our languages are dying. And our culture inhabits our language. Language is not distinguishable from culture. If you try to imagine a day when – in fact you need not image, just go to Latin America, Australia – where an entire native language has been replaced with a foreign language – an entire longstanding culture is destroyed. And this danger is in India also. That is why when we say – when I say that Indian problems cannot be understood fully with terminologies of nationalism, it should be understood in that context, that we have some problems which are unique only to this country.
India, as I mentioned earlier India is the only Hindu nation in the world, and that is why the two biggest religions of the world whose official agenda is conversion, and who openly claim so, they have said this in the Supreme Court also, in 2003 in Orissa there was some case related to conversion, the Christian party in the Supreme Court said it is your problem that you do not convert people to your religion. Hindus do not convert people to their religion. Why should we follow you? Conversion is a part and parcel of our religion. That is why if by hook and crook we convert people, this is part of our fundamental rights. He quoted the Indian Constitution and defended his move to convert Hindus to Christianity by saying this is part of our religion. That we can convert others to Christianity.
For a common Indian, a common Hindu who is not vigilant, this is not easy for him to understand. If you tell him he will place an idol of Jesus Christ. But this not the case with the other side. So what I mean to say is we have many such problems – conversion is one issue – the manner in which the Dalits and other communities are being divided, either on the basis of reservation or in the name of some operation, which is manufactured like this atrocity literature – the real life progress that has happened in the last 100 years instead of showcasing that showing only the bad side, and based on that dividing people of this country, breaking India, showing them to be different, differentiating them from Hindu dharma, separating them from Hindu culture, keeping the Sikhs away, keeping the Buddhists away – and then putting a curtain on the entire historical traditions, as if it were not important. So such problems if we try to understand through the terminology of nationalism then it will not get formulated at all.
The problems which I have mentioned so far, even you are aware about them, you cannot fit it into the term nationalism. Like dravidistan – now it has cooled down – but once upon a time Dravid ideology was put up very strongly and it is quite strong even now. The two dominant parties in Tamil Nadu are Dravidian. DMK and AIADMK. They no longer speak that language. But the Dravidian philosophy and theory was given to them by the missionaries. There was not a single Tamilian who had theorized like this. That the Dravidians are different. And these Aryans are different. And the Aryans had dominated them. They now try to free themselves from this Aryan dominance. This is the same situation in the North East and many other places.
So such problems cannot be understood through the terminology of nationalism, leave alone finding solutions to these problems. That is why I feel if you are reporting about these problems, writing about them, or think about these problems you will have to go to the origins of these problems. Anyways it is the duty of the reporter to find facts. And then transmit these facts. And then explain those facts. So what are these facts? Facts of our country – take caste for instance. What is the reason? Why is it that all sorts of people, who would otherwise be our enemies, these are not hidden from anyone – everyone is against caste and castesim? Is castesim and caste one and the same thing? Is caste and varna vyavastha the same? Is the meaning of varna the same that is given in academia, taught in universities, spoken about in the media, is the same meaning as is given in the Manusmriti? Whatever is written in the Manusmriti about Shudras or claimed to have been said, whatever is authentic and what is real terms comes up in deliberations is it the same thing?
You will find there is a huge difference. So when you encounter such things you should try to do some original research of your own. There is talk of specialization. I will say specialization is not the right word. For some things you should try to do an intense research and intense research does not mean that you will have to read 50-100 books. I think it is sufficient to read a small book seriously on a given topic to understand it properly. Like the topic for today – nationalism. Vivekanand, Rabindranath Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Shraddhanand, books by such people, not just them, any professor who has written a booklet or presented a paper or even a book published by Oxford or Penguin, take them to be secondary source. Read the original. Read lectures of Vivekananda – collection of his lectures – when he came back after working in America and Europe for 3-4 years, he came to Colombo – from Colombo to Almora. His collection of lectures maybe 15-16 lectures, you should read them.
Now I have given the reference of lectures because lectures are communicable. It is not an academic work. Lectures are given to common people. And Vivekanand had given these lectures a 100 years before. He came I think in 1897 and from 1897 to 1901 for about 3-4 years he had given these important lectures. He has spoken about nation, culture, politics, Upanishad, Vedanta, the origin of this countries problems – their resolution and ways towards it resolution – he has given all these clearly in them. Absolutely clear-cut. If you read them sensibly, carefully and try to understand what he is trying to say, then you will not have any difficulty, as I said earlier these are lectures. Vivekanand was giving lectures like I am doing now. So I am trying to see that you understand my point.
So you can imagine that Vivekananda was also trying to say the same thing in the same language. You should read the original. You will find that whatever problems we are discussing today, he too was discussing the same problems. It’s not as if he is talking about archaic things or something old fashioned, something which happened 5 generations ago, a 100 years ago and the world has changed a lot since then – nothing has changed. Everyday there are changes in the world around us. But the world still remains the same. Both of these happen. So many of our problems – language, culture, nation, dominance, independence, problems related to religion, you will still find the same exact problems – if you read Agyey, Nirala, Tagore, Shraddhanand – you will find them tackling the same problems.
So technology changes, financial relationships, financial environment changes, clothes people wear changes, but many things remain the same.
That is why my request to you is, whatever suits you amongst these, not that there is a perspective, I have told you that India is the only civilization in the world whose scriptural knowledge, knowledge systems are so advanced and has been commented and presented upon in so many different ways that, you study the works of our great scholars, our classical books, whichever you find among them interesting, if you find Vivekanand interesting then read him, if you find Sri Aurobindo interesting you read him. Tagore is famous as a poet and rightly so, but he has written numerous social essays. You all know he started a school, then it got converted into a university, for which he wrote from alphabets to books to many other things. So he has written about social issues also. You should read them.
You should read about a particular topic from the originals, I can guarantee you, that there will be a significant growth in your intellectual capacity, your language capacity. It will become very good. And in journalism, language is very important. If you are working in English or Hindi – you should try to read the classics, most important texts written in these languages – the works of best poets and authors or books – even if they are small – please keep reading a small portion of them as per your inclination.
You will start forming your own opinion about these problems and situation. And when you develop your own understanding then you will be able to make out whether what Ram Madhav is saying is accurate or what Ram Guha is saying is accurate. Or both their arguments are flawed. And that should be your objective.
You see Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Tagore – you make a note of this that compared to today’s India, 50 % more Indians were poor. They lived in a more pitiable position. But please make a note – they knew everything about the world around them. They never discussed poverty. they never discussed fiscal changes. They never discussed data, GDP or employment. What does this mean? It means they were aware about all these problems. They recognized them. But they also knew that they were not the solutions to these problems. They wanted to work on these problems from a higher plane. They wanted to arouse our consciousness, our understanding, our independence, our self-confidence.
As has been mentioned in the Upanishads, what is it after knowing which you know about everything? That was the style in which Vivekananda spoke. That was his concern. That was the concern of Tagore, Sri Aurobindo, Shradhanand, Dayanand. That you should, people of this country should get that thing, that power through which they can understand and solve our problems. That is why they did not use the language of today. Progress, development, bridges, roads, employment, unemployment, they did not discuss such things, even when such problems were severe then. They used to talk about our mental and intellectual freedom. Our entire identity – our social, political, financial, spiritual things with a global context – what is our stand today globally and where are we in our personal lives – we should become competent enough to understand these. When you start understanding these things, then definitely whether it is in your daily reporting, or you are into analysis, research, your work will become comparatively easier.
That is why my request to you, please do not think these things do not matter to us. If you take the classical knowledge system of India – right from the Upanishads till date – I will go so far as to say the Jaggi Vasudev and others are taking the same truths mentioned in them and presenting them in new a language and these are very practical things. These are not theoretical. Some people claim they are philosophical. If this were philosophy, if these were not related to our lives, if they did not provide solutions even today to our problems then they would not have survived.
You see whatever loses its relevance, it gets discarded. No matter how much you advertise – no matter how much you advertise in today’s world nobody will buy the typewriter. This is like that. The converse of this is also true. No matter how much you abuse the Manusmriti or the Upanishads their importance does not get diminished. Why? Because you get real solutions from them. And that is why I request you all that no matter which language you report news please put on the habit of self-study. I am not asking you to read big sized books, whatever you read please read the originals. Read the best, read the classics. And read a little. Whether you are interested or even if you dont have interest it is not a problem – we can always make do with these capsules and videos. But people who are interested should read a little of the works of our great men, great scholars, some of whom I have mentioned – but you dont have to limit yourselves to them, I have mentioned the names of people whose works I have read and found them to be useful, perfect. And they are capable of taking you to the solutions for the problems I mentioned. That is why I took those names.
There are many great scholars from South India, we dont know their names also because of the English problem we are stuck and we end up not knowing our own scriptures even the names of our great scholars. But if you put on this habit, then I feel it will benefit your career, your life and your understanding. I think I have crossed my allotted speaking time, and I dont know whether I have met the expectations of the organizers, anyways…