20 August 2007

Why Advaita?

[A friend asked me for my view of Vedanta. So here we go]

This theory (of the unity of all creation) can be known as a fact only by those who have realised Brahman. What about the rest of us? We can either accept it as true (based on faith) or reject it (based on reason/doubt/whatever). Religious/spiritual people can do the former; while rationalists, skeptics and materialists will do the latter.

What about me? I am a fence sitter. I am also a pragmatist ("What is true? That which works"). I am more interested in the ethical implications of an idea than its metaphysical truth. In the case of Advaita, as I have already pointed out, the ethical implications are too good to ignore. A philosophy that preaches the essential oneness of all men is the only cure for the ills of today's world.

Some will criticise me for taking such a gross instrumentalist view of such a sublime philosophy - arguably the greatest achievement of the human mind. It is like drinking amrita to slake one's thirst (something that can be achieved by drinking tap water). Well, what to do? I am like this only.

08 August 2007

Rape Of Temples

Apropos the point made by Naipaul, here is a list of the major temples plundered and/or demolished by Turks and Mughals.
PlaceYearAttacked By
Mathura1018Mahmud of Ghazni
Kanauj1018Mahmud of Ghazni
Somnath1025Mahmud of Ghazni
Varanasi1192Muhammad of Ghor
Varanasi1194Qutb-ud-din Aibak
Devagiri1296Alauddin Khalji
Somnath1299Alauddin Khalji
Devagiri1307Alauddin Khalji
Warangal1309Malik Kafur
Madurai1311Malik Kafur
Srirangam1311Malik Kafur
Chidambaram1311Malik Kafur
Puri1361Feroze Shah Tughlaq
Ayodhya1528Mir Baki
Hampi1565Bahmanid Sultans

The data is from John Keay's 'India: A History'. Keay, a British writer, isn't exactly an RSS supporter. But facts are facts. The remarkable thing is none of this was mentioned in our school history textbooks. Why? In the interest of 'communal harmony'? It is nobody's case that today's Indian Muslims be held responsible for these atrocities. But a nation that buries inconvenient parts of its history is asking for trouble. It is only by confronting and coming to terms with our painful past that we can move forward and build a new tomorrow - one that is based on honesty, not on denial. As Santayana said,"Those who forget their history are condemned to relive it".

Why make such a fuss over a few broken temples? It is important to remember that in traditional India, temples were not just places of worship. They were social, cultural and educational centres as well. Thus the attacks on them were an attempt to destroy our very civilisational fabric.

07 August 2007

Naipaul On India

V S Naipaul gave an interview to Outlook in 1999. Here are some excerpts.

On India's history
"The millennium began with the Muslim invasions and the grinding down of the Hindu-Buddhist culture of the north. This is such a big and bad event that people still have to find polite, destiny-defying ways of speaking about it. In art books and history books, people write of the Muslims 'arriving' in India, as though the Muslims came on a tourist bus and went away again. The Muslim view of their conquest of India is a truer one. They speak of the triumph of the faith, the destruction of idols and temples, the loot, the carting away of the local people as slaves, so cheap and numerous that they were being sold for a few rupees. The architectural evidence - the absence of Hindu monuments in the north - is convincing enough."

On Hindutva
"You say that Hindu militancy is dangerous. Dangerous or not, it is a necessary corrective to the history I have been talking about. It is a creative force and it will prove to be so."

06 August 2007

Spirituality, Revisited

I had rejected Indian spirituality as a negative philosophy, on the grounds that it is only about escaping from the cycle of births and deaths. However, other interpretations are available.

1. The aim of life is to realise the oneness of the universe, the essential unity of all creation. Advaita Vedanta teaches us that everything that exists is nothing but a manifestation of Brahman (Ultimate Truth, or Absolute Reality). [Vedanta, the last of the six orthodox schools, is generally considered to be the culmination of Hindu thought. In particular Advaita, which is Shankara's version of Vedanta] Once a man attains this realisation he will continue working for the welfare of mankind, knowing that other men are not separate from him, but merely sparks from the same Fire that he is also a spark from. He is them, and they are him. This is a more positive, more life- and world-affirming view.

2. The aim of life is to be happy. But if we seek happiness in material objects and sense enjoyment, we are bound to be disappointed. Because such happiness does not last forever. Once it is over, we are left wanting more. We are thus caught in an endless cycle of acquisition and consumption, without finding lasting happiness. Real and enduring happiness lies within, not without. It lies in contentment and a balanced mind. As Krishna says in the Geeta, "Samatvam Yoga uchyate" (Evenness of mind is called Yoga). However this does not mean a lazy life devoid of ambition. The happiest man is he who combines an active, dynamic life with a calm, serene mind. Sanjaya expresses this beautifully: "Yatra Yogeshwara Krishno yatra Partho dhanurdhara..." (Where there is Krishna, the Lord of Yoga, and the archer Arjuna...). Only here the ambition is for a larger cause, and not one's own petty material desires and comforts. This is also a more practical and worldly view.

3. The aim of life is to live in accordance with Dharma. This will result in the welfare of both the individual and society. What is Dharma? I won't go into that here. I hope to take it up some other day.

So we see that viewed in the right light, Indian spirituality is a positive and optimistic philosophy. Incidentally, I got these ideas from the first few chapters of "Bunch of Thoughts", a compilation of M S Golwalkar's speeches. Golwalkar ('Guruji') was the second, and longest serving, chief of the RSS - from 1940 to 1973.

[It also helps to keep in mind the definition of spirituality.
Spirituality = the state of being spiritual
Spiritual = relating to the human spirit, as opposed to material things]

03 August 2007

Media And The Sangh

Of late I have been thinking a bit about the media's coverage of the RSS. This is an important issue because most people form their opinion about the RSS based on what they read, see and hear in the media. The RSS's membership is estimated to be 45 lakhs. If we include the families and friends of these swayamsevaks, the number may go up to 5 crores (roughly). That is only 5% of the country. The remaining 95% depend on the media to give them a correct picture of the RSS.

So the question is how well is the media living up to its responsibility of portraying the RSS accurately? (The responsibility here is to the readers/viewers/listeners, not to the RSS) Not very well, according to me. The portrayal is mostly negative and unfair. [My comments here are mainly about the English language media - with which I am most familiar. I believe the situation is slightly better in the case of the Indian languages media]

Most newspapers and magazines depict the RSS as a communal, fundamentalist, casteist and fascist organisation (I have responded to some of these allegations here and here). Prominent examples are Frontline, Hindu, Outlook and Times of India.
  • Frontline - Perhaps the worst offender; mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China; helmed by the notorious Mr N Ram.
  • Hindu - Should be renamed as Anti-Hindu; from the same publishing house as Frontline; another platform for leftist views; amazing how it is considered as one of India's most respected newspapers despite its espousal of a failed ideology.
  • Outlook - Edited by Mr Vinod Mehta, one of India's chief pseudo-secularists; a good example of how otherwise intelligent people can be knuckle-headed in certain matters.
  • Times of India - The less said, the better.
There are no 'pro-RSS' publications. But there are a few which are less biased than the rest. Two I can think of are India Today and Indian Express. These are not entirely free of RSS-baiting, but at least they are not fundamentally opposed to Hindu nationalism.