Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inner cry

Statutory warning :-)  It is a rather long post with lots of quotations; may not be fit for reading at one go!!

Was in a dilemma for sometime. Didn't take much time to shrug it off. The decision was to attend the workshop on 'After Partition' at the Humanities and Social Science Dept. Seminar Room. It was pre-lunch session of 18th August. Took a short time out though to listen to the Chief Guest of the parallel, IIT Kharagpur 'Foundation Day' program at Netaji Auditorium. On entering the workshop venue, there was the question, gently asked, so much so that one could not miss the empathy-filled undertone - if my family was affected by partition in anyway. That touches a tender nerve somewhere, prompts a time travel through the silhouette of flash backs (partly here).

Prof. Amritjit Singh of Ohio University in his keynote speech told how difficult it is to look back at partition dispassionately, specially for the people to the west and east of India. The decision to divide the nation remains the most painful part of our history. The acceptance of hastily drawn boundaries by Radcliffe took the tragedy, the death, destruction, displacement, to its worst possible level. Radcliffe was kind of parachuted in the partition scene, was supplied with incomplete information and he hardly had any knowledge of ground reality.

If the partition (and the massacre that followed) happened due to religious differences of two communities, religion becomes the easy-pick villain. It is like Sherlock Holmes saying, "Elementary, my dear Watson." One expert in the workshop made a hint to that by quoting often-used Marx remark, "Religion is the opium of the people." The story-telling session of young students however, had an interesting take. In this session, students who interned in the summer, shared their experiences of interviewing people. These people were from both western and eastern part of the country, who were directly affected by partition. It was a mixed bag of experience for them. While all faced difficult times post migration, the common man in general tried their best to protect their neighbours of other community with their small might.

It may make sense to introduce a simple question here. Who is more religious? A common man who feels the pain of his neighbour facing mayhem or the one powerful enough to cause mayhem? In an 1894 letter (Link), Vivekananda explains his brother disciple, "In every country the evils exist not with, but against, religion. Religion therefore is not to blame, but men." Is that so? Let's move to the next segment.


There is a special characteristic in man which is not there in other animals. That is, man can change his characteristic! The man can become a brute. He can become a saint, too. Life, as defined by Vivekananda, is the unfoldment and development of a being under circumstances tending to press it down. In the lecture, "The Necessity of Religion", Vivekananda says, "Man is man so long as he is struggling to rise above nature, and this nature is both internal and external. ... It is grand and good to know the laws that govern the stars and planets; it is infinitely grander and better to know the laws that govern the passions, the feelings, the will, of mankind. (Link)"

This struggle, this striving, come from one's right of attaining a superior self and that is the fun of being human. Else, how are we different from animal? Bhartrihari put it this way in Nitishataka. येषां न विद्या न तपो न दानं ज्ञानं न शीलं न गुणो न धर्मः। /ते मर्त्यलोके भुवि भारभूता मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति॥ For lack of striving to reach one's superior self (through education, penance, charity, knowledge, good conduct, noble qualities, dharma) there is मनुष्यरूपेण मृगाश्चरन्ति - animals move around in human form. (Link)

With any special power, comes a great responsibility to use that power properly. That is why we used to hear elderly people blessing us till sometime back, "Be a man." The human form is not enough. A cat or dog need not be told - Be a cat or dog. Browning writes, "Progress, man's distinctive mark alone. / Not God's, and not the beasts: God is, they are; / Man partly is, and wholly hopes to be."(Link) There are challenges on the way. That is why in Swadeshmantra, taken from the article, 'Modern India' (Link), we find Vivekananda praying, "O Thou Mother of Strength, take away my weakness, take away my unmanliness, and make me a Man!"


What is the role of religion here? It is there in the direction an individual takes. Again referring to Vivekananda, "Religion is the manifestation of divinity already in man. It is the idea which is raising the brute unto man, and man unto God. (Link)" In a letter to Dr. Nanjunda Rao, Vivekananda writes, "Throughout the history of the world you find great men make great sacrifices and the mass of mankind enjoy the benefit. If you want to give up everything for your own salvation, it is nothing. Do you want to forgo even your own salvation for the good of the world? (Then) You are God, think of that. ... Purity, patience, and perseverance are the three essentials to success and, above all, love."(Link)

Heard one Ramakrishna order monk coming up with the following classification that defines three different manifestations of man.
Beast: Thinks of his own good only, even at the cost of others.
Man: Thinks of his own good as well as good of others (doesn't want own good at the cost of others).
God: Thinks of good of others only and doesn't bother about his own good.

Every religion has three distinct parts: Philosophy, Mythology and Ritual. Philosophy is the essence. Mythology is appreciation of the philosophy through exalted characters that man can connect to. Rituals are to link our everyday life with the highest philosophy, a routine that does not let us forget our goal, attaining of our superior self. Mythology and rituals are to differ across the religions and within a religion due to difference in the evolutionary process undergone by a community in a specific time and space. Their objectives are to take us closer to the philosophy, the essence - the manifestation of divinity remaining the end goal. If there is no manifestation of divinity, there is no religion. "Religion is being and becoming," simply put by Vivekananda.


Coming back to the issue of 'After Partition' devastation and if religion or lack of it is the cause, let us hear what Vivekananda said exactly fifty years before this partition (1897) in a lecture delivered at Triplicane Society, Madras which was titled, 'The Work before Us'. "You must open your heart. Religion is not going to church, or putting marks on the forehead, or dressing in a peculiar fashion; you may paint yourselves in all the colours of the rainbow, but if the heart has not been opened, if you have not realised God, it is all vain." (Link)

In a letter written in 1895, Vivekananda says, "My master (Shri Ramakrishna) used to say that these names, as Hindu, Christian, etc., stand as great bars to all brotherly feelings between man and man. We must try to break them down first. They have lost all their good powers and now only stand as baneful influences under whose black magic even the best of us behave like demons. ... Those that want to help mankind must take their own pleasure and pain, name and fame, and all sorts of interests, and make a bundle of them and throw them into the sea, and then come to the Lord. This is what all the Masters said and did. (Link)"

In the lecture, 'The Methods and Purpose of Religion', Vivekananda says, "The persons appeal to our emotions; and the principles, to something higher, to our calm judgement. Principles must conquer in the long run, for that is the manhood of man. Emotions many times drag us down to the level of animals. Emotions have more connection with the senses than with the faculty of reason; and, therefore, when principles are entirely lost sight of and emotions prevail, religions degenerate into fanaticism and sectarianism." (Link)


On 11th September, 1893 at the World Parliament of Religions, Chicago, Vivekananda uttered (Link),
I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: 
रुचीनां वैचित्र्यादृजुकुटिलनानापथजुषाम। नृणामेको गम्यस्त्वमसि पयसामर्णव इव।।
As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.” Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisation and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.


The far too many references of a 'Patriot-Prophet' in this post is because of the immense clarity ushered in by his speeches and writings,  because his 39 years of life (1863 - 1902) stood for what he said, "My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is: to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life."(Link) Or, it could be something more subtle, the sub-conscious playing out from my soccer-playing days, "Be strong, my young friends; that is my advice to you. You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita. These are bold words; but I have to say them, for I love you. I know where the shoe pinches. I have gained a little experience. You will understand the Gita better with your biceps, your muscles, a little stronger. You will understand the mighty genius and the mighty strength of Krishna better with a little of strong blood in you. You will understand the Upanishads better and the glory of the Atman when your body stands firm upon your feet, and you feel yourselves as men."(Link)

I read little outside Vivekananda literature. But, I read the following. While equating religion with opium, Marx uttered in the same breath, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." (Link)

It is our inner cry. We better listen to it and give it the right direction.

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