10 May 2016

Revivalism and Secularism – by Amal Kiran

[This article was published in the “Mother India” issue of 14 October 1950. How relevant it is even today!]

For a number of days after the election of Purushottamdas Tandon to the Congress Presidentship the talk of the whole nation turned on Congress’s future policy under the direction of the new President. Perhaps feelings ran high more about the issue of the Secular State and the question came to the fore: Should our country, with its huge Hindu majority, be revivalist or, because of its multi-communal character, secular?

If we are to see straight, the confusion which hangs round the terms “revivalism” and “secularism” must be cleared. 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 view 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 are 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 Hindus in Pakistan 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 into their own hands but to add to all genuinely preventive or deterrent measures an attempt to stop the occasions of provocation. The second point to bear in mind about the Hindu sectarians is that in a perverse manner they suggest a truth which should never be neglected. Let us explain this seeming paradox.

The Hindu Sectarians and Essential Hinduism

We catch the key to the paradox the moment we fix our eyes searchingly on the credo of the Hindu sectarians: “India is the land of Hinduism and the Muslims are Hinduism’s enemies and must be kept under Hindu domination.” The perversity here is, of course, the undemocratic idea of domination of one community by another. To discriminate between communities within a country is to sow the seeds of Hitlerism. The fullest equality not only on constitutional paper but also in living practice must be there. Some perversity can be read too in the belief that the Muslims are Hinduism’s enemies. Although unfortunately an anti-Hindu virus has been working in the Muslim community owing to the machinations of fanatics and especially since Jinnah brought forward the two-nation theory and caused the sanguinary commotion that culminated in Pakistan, one cannot tar all Muslims with the same brush. Out of the three and a half crores residing in India many see clearly the folly of the country’s partition and wish to cultivate friendly relations with the Hindus amongst whom they live. The mere fact that the Muslim religion does not see eye to eye with the Hindu religion in several doctrinal matters need not be taken as any direct antagonism between communities. But 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 and spiritual 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.

Let us, however, hasten to declare that by Hinduism we do not mean the present form of the caste system or the old marriage laws or any specific orthodox convention. The giving of central place to cow-preservation as if the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita boiled down to abstention from cow-slaughter is also far from our meaning. If there are sound arguments in favour of sparing every cow, we may certainly practise cow-protection -and in any case we should cease from the cruelty of yoking bullocks to two-wheeled carts that throw extra pressure on the poor animal’s necks - a cruelty which strangely enough is seldom noticed by cow-worshippers. But it is ridiculous to put cow-protection at the very centre of Hinduism: a man may go on protecting cows all his life and yet be a most deplorable Hindu if the far greater elements of the Hindu religion are neglected as perhaps more often than not they are.

Hinduism means essentially to live in constant sense, ultimately rising to a continual realisation of the Divine Being, infinite and eternal, from whom emanates this universe and who dwells within it as well as beyond it as its single yet multifarious Self and Sovereign. Hinduism implies essentially the progressive irradiation of one’s whole life down to the most physical movements by the Divine Being’s supra-intellectual Consciousness and Delight. Not only inner but outer, not only static and peaceful but dynamic and creative regeneration in terms of that Consciousness and that Delight is the aim and goal of Hinduism. A direct all-round turn towards supra-intellectual experience - a concrete mystical and Yogic trend of the widest order - is therefore the final definition of being a Hindu. The phrase “widest order” has importance, for it distinguishes the ideal Hindu God-knower and God-lover from the ideal mystics of other religions in two ways: most religions draw a line between spiritual and secular and feel that God is the business of certain parts of our being and not the be-all and end-all of our entire life, and most religions confine themselves to a particular splendid formula of the deific and fight shy of certain sides of mystical experience - Christianity, for instance, of the pantheistic realisation or the realisation of absolute union between God and man, and Islam not only of these realisations but also of the God with form as well as of the incarnate Godhead, the Avatar. Of course, there are some lines of Christian mysticism that escape here and there from these limits just as the Sufi developments of Islam do, but this is so because overtly or covertly the influence of Hinduism has been felt by them. Hence to be a Hindu, as distinguished from a Christian or Muslim or Jew or Zoroastrian or even Buddhist, is to be steeped in the tradition of a spirituality which, while admitting of various kinds of contact and communion with the Infinite Eternal and so granting the validity of various approaches according to temperament, holds the vision of an experience combining all approaches and all contacts and communions and is able to include and allow every sort of religious experience in even an exclusive form precisely because it holds that wide and comprehensive vision and keeps it at the back of all the differring experiences so that there is mutual understanding among them and a deep tolerance.

The Necessity of Progressive Revivalism

Of Hinduism, thus defined, India is the land and all that is finest and grandest in our history has sprung from it. Not to put the utmost stress possible on this Hinduism is to castrate spiritually a people that has had the unique distinction of being one of the very few who have kept a living continuity with the hoary past and survived unimpoverished in cultural vitality. Try to take away or relegate to the background the wonderful Hindu spirituality and you do your best to render India utterly impotent as a truly cultural force. That spirituality is the greatest historical fact in our country and it is the very core of India. It is also something that opens up the profoundest possibilities of human growth and provides the power for the next step in evolution - the change from mind to what Sri Aurobindo calls supermind as our established and effective status of consciousness. Unless a single Self in all creatures becomes a concrete experience, unless a derivation of every being from the one Divine Creative Person is inherent part of our life-sense, there can be no genuine brotherhood and harmony on earth. Other modes and means of promoting equality and peace are mere patching-up devices, temporary and restricted expedients or at best half-way houses to the basic spiritual unity-in-diversity. If we have any ideal before us of human perfection, individual and collective, the large and liberal and all-permeating Hinduism of which we have spoken is the world’s prime necessity. Not for a moment must we forget or ignore the fact that India by the fundamentals of her Hinduism is the brightest hope of the earth’s future.

To be a revivalist of this vastly transformative power is the duty of every Indian. And if secularism is the enemy of that power, then we must fight secularism tooth and nail. Such secularism is no authentic foe of the communalist mind but a destroyer of India and a destroyer too of the only foundation on which non-communalism can be built with any lasting security. There is a tendency in officialdom to refrain from giving encouragement to anything which breathes markedly of Hinduism. Moral maxims from the Hindu scriptures are culled because they bear a resemblance to ethical aphorisms from other religions, but an openly religious and spiritual song like Bande Mataram - a cry of obeisance to the divine creative Power that is mother of the world and that is visioned as the ultimate being of the National Soul of India the God-intoxicated country - is made to play second fiddle to a much inferior though by no means crude national anthem which never inspired any heroism or sacrifice as the other constantly did during the course of our struggle for freedom. That Bande Mataram should ever have been challenged on the ground that it was too Hindu and not secular enough for a country where there were some millions of Muslims is a sad symptom of national decadence. Perhaps a still sadder one is the lukewarm apologia put up for it at times - namely, that the Goddess invoked should not worry anybody since nobody now believes in the reality of such a being and she can be taken as a harmless poetic metaphor for the motherland. Heaven save us from this kind of secularism! Secularism should mean nothing more than that every citizen of India is free to follow his beliefs, religious or non-religious, and has equal civic rights and that no discrimination will be made against him in any sphere because of his particular creed. It must never signify that India will not be regarded any longer as basically the land of Hinduism and that Hinduism in its essentials will not be allowed to mould increasingly the life of the three hundred million people who have inherited it from the most glorious spiritual past any country can claim.

Here we may enter a caveat. Revivalism in so far as essential Hindu spirituality with its myriad-aspected realisation of both inner and outer truth is revived is a progressive force. But it should keep clear of sticking to past achievements and declaring that the ultima thule has been reached. New discoveries of the Supreme Spirit’s hidden powers are always possible - or at least novel developments of known powers in order to carry further the transformative urge in man and bring it into tune with contemporary modern needs. Surely, it cannot be said that even India has completely found the secret of life’s transformation. An immense inner enlightenment is not enough: the outer mind has to be more than merely purified and made plastic to the inner truth, the outer vitality has to be more than merely inspired by the inner dynamism, the outer physicality has to be more than made a mere medium of the inner stability - they have themselves to grow divine by the direct descent of some perfect counterpart of not only our selfhood but also our instrumental nature. Towards whatever spiritual discipline that would effect this complete change in us we have to move, for the whole many-sidedness of past Hinduism has no meaning if it bars an extension of the spiritual new-birth. Revivalism should never be a magnificent stagnancy.

Hinduism and Foreign Cultural Influences

The point about stagnancy holds also in the matter of foreign cultural influences. We should refrain from shutting our doors to the wide world. Hinduism is the very opposite of a hermetically sealed culture, just as it is the reverse of a rigidly uniform religion. Not only is it many-strained, it is also remarkably assimilative and is even on the alert to draw new tones and rhythms into its harmonising organism. To think that by whittling our life down to indigenous products, whether material or psychological, we shall advance most the spirit of Hinduism is a capital error. Of course, our growth has always to be from within outwards, but our “within” need not be a fenced-off secrecy. There can be an Indian “within” that assimilates the essence of all cultural movements of the world, puts itself in connection with the time-spirit and is significantly modern without sacrificing any creative characteristic of its own. In fact, if Hinduism is to grow more powerful it should welcome the play of the whole world’s thought and activity, enlarge its own scope of earth-knowledge, give to every department of human effort its true Godward drive and by a spiritual intuitiveness lead it to its finest fulfilment, so that at the same time Hinduism may be in the midst of living history and in vibrant touch with mankind as a whole and impart to the contemporary universe the typically Hindu light and colour which are of the deep divine Self of selves.

Amplitude, multiplicity, variety to the utmost on a basis of absolute unity - penetration of the entire world and absorption too of the world in its entirety - these are Hinduism’s natural modes of being. And if these modes are not to be vitiated it is necessary to consider as a vital portion of our national life the English language. We may regard Hindi with a fostering care, we may try to spread it more and more, but let us not commit the blunder of attempting to cut out or atrophy what is now a natural organ of our culture-body and what to our good fortune is the vividest medium of the developing world-mind. When people all over the globe are wishing to make English more and more a part of their education we should not be foolish enough to diminish its actual established presence in our culture. English is now as much a language of India as any of the indigenous tongues. If it is not as well spoken by many of those who employ it as Tamil is by the South Indians or Hindi by the northerners, it is spoken by the south and the north, the west and the east of our sub-continent in a unifying nation-conscious manner as no Indian language is spoken. It is the language by which the political unity of our country has been historically formed, it is the language in which our whole battle for freedom has been fought, it is the language with which we have put India on the map of the world, it is the language of our best journalism and our rarest literature - Nehru has fashioned of it a gleaming mirror of his idealistic personality, Gandhi has effectively used it for straight thrusts of moral force, Radhakrishnan has achieved through it a striking lucidity of versatile intellectual exposition, R. K. Narayan has made by its help the novelist’s art a rare blend of the simple and the subtle, Sarojini Naidu has been enchantingly lyrical in it, Tagore has given with it to his Gitanjali an immortal poignancy, Vivekananda has forged from it a thrilling clarion of the Vedanta calling both the East and the West to God-knowledge, Sri Aurobindo has turned through it philosophy into a magnificent marshalling of spiritual truths and of mystical realisations and poetry into a mighty image of the Eternal, “mountain-lined, crowded with deep prophetic grots”.

Mention of Sri Aurobindo spotlights English as undeniably integral to our growth in greatness. For, if a unique spirituality is the core of India, then the fact that our greatest spiritual figure today creates in the medium of English as if English were his mother-tongue is profoundly significant. It sets the seal on the extraordinary capacity of English to transmit by its highly developed plasticity, its multi-suggestive quickness and its packed power the presence of the Infinite that is India’s special source of life abounding. This is not to deny the spiritual potentialities of our indigenous tongues. This is only to affirm the important role English is meant to play in our culture. To minimise that role is to fall far short of a truly enlightened revivalism.

A revivalism enlightened and progressive, free from superficial orthodox restraints and insularities, moving out from a richened inward centre is our burning need, rather than a neutral secularism ignoring the deep foundation which the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity must seek if they are to become living and spontaneous facts. This revivalism does not imply the entry of terms like Brahman, Atman and Ishwara into our Constitution: it has in that respect no quarrel with the Secular State. But it does imply the resurgence and the furtherance within us of the profound sense India once had of man’s origin from the Eternal, his oneness with the Infinite and his destiny of a Life Divine. 

Amal Kiran, India and the World Scene (1997), pp 37-44

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