By Swami Agnivesh


The Arya Samaj reform movement is even more relevant today than it was 125 years ago. The Hindu society has lost its spiritual dynamism and is being hijacked by various vested interests. As a rule, only those who do not respect the sanctity of a religion will seek to exploit it for political or economic advantages. Sub-human consumerism and soulless materialism have arrived in our midst on the wings of an alien culture of mindless indulgence, and now threatens to mortally infect the culture and character of our society. All that we have cherished, the best and noblest in our heritage, are now under risk of being squandered and dissipated. A moral, cultural and social crisis of unprecedented enormity now confronts us.

The memory and example of Syami Dayanand Saraswati inspire the members of the Arya Samaj Movement. We need to remind ourselves of two basic principles.

1. The Arya Samaj was and is a reform movement and not a religious establishment. It is a spiritual renaissance that seeks to awaken and fulfil the soul of India, and to revitalize the Hindu society on the basis of a sound understanding of true religion and the exalted destiny of man.

2. To remember and respect Swami Dayanandji is to ask how he would have responded to the present scenario and what spiritual opportunities and challenges he would have seen today.

From a spiritual prospective, a time of anarchy is also a time for a spiritual breakthrough. Crisis results from the long-term denial and denigration of the sacred foundations of life. It calls for a willingness to read the writings on the wall, and revitalize our religion and society so as to regain the lost ground. It is a basic principle in our religious outlook that God intervenes in times of anarchy to set matters right. But traditionally we have expected God to do everything and excused ourselves from the duty of work towards reform. Swami Dayanand Saraswati was a glorious exception to this. His religiosity expressed through various initiatives to rid religion and society of their various aberrations. Gandhiji felt himself called to be an agent of the divine to lead India to freedom. These are the role models by which we are inspired.

From all available indicators, it is excitingly clear that the time is right and ripe for a major reform initiative. By its history and nature, the Arya Samaj is a reform movement and it can retain its vitality only so long as it remains true to its basic character. The need for reform is not confined to a particular age. Reform is a spiritual response to aberrations, and no age is free from them. A reform movement forfeits its relevance as soon as it loses its vigilance and genius for reformation. It is a contradiction in terms for a reform movement to get domesticated as a religious establishment.

In order to maximize our effectiveness in today's context, we have to concentrate our efforts on two areas simultaneously. The first is that of renewing the Arya Samaj movement itself. The second is that of understanding the sickness of our society so as to intervene appropriately and effectively.

Basics of true revival

The key to renewal is a deeper understanding of the nature and scope of true spirituality. Admittedly this has been our traditional weak spot. The Vedic vision signified a spiritual breakthrough which, over a period of time, has been superseded by a set of obscurantist rituals and dogmas. In this process, spirituality was turned into its opposite: an escape from the world of realities, rather than a dynamic and transforming engagement with it.

The second major aspect of renewal is the re-appropriation and re-interpretation of the original vision. This is necessary because every religion and ideology tends to move away from the original vision over a period of time. More over, societies and cultures change making it necessary for an inherited vision to be re-interpreted with contextual specificity. Only when Arya Samajists become spiritually proactive vis-\'e0-vis their own age and context will they become true Aryas who honour and fulfil Swamiji's vision. We also need to become missionaries who, deriving inspiration from the past, seek to transform the given context with an eye to the future, in profound reverence to the human and the divine.

Back to the Vedas

Renewing the vision that Swamiji has given to the Arya Samaj Movement involves returning to the Vedas, which are the sole foundation for our Aryan culture and spirituality. Indisputably, the Vedas give us a noble vision of what our society and our personal destiny should be. They are the repository of the values and ideals that help build a sane and dynamic society within which our spiritual destiny can be fulfilled. Over the centuries we have drifted away from our fidelity to this spiritual heritage. The original Vedic vision has been corrupted by fabricating the deplorable caste system that allocates birth-based advantages and disabilities to individuals. Such an arrangement cannot be spiritually legitimate. It does not agree with rudimentary justice or even common sense. It was for this reason that the enlightened Swamiji issued a war cry against it. And we are obliged to continue his struggle against the caste system so as to create a just and dynamic society.

The third aspect of renewal is an uncompromising approach to all that distort and subvert human wellbeing in the material and religious spheres of their life. Those who compromise with the spirit of age will have nothing to give to renew their religion, culture and society. At all times, reform has been a risky vocation. The spirit of compromise overtakes those who cannot give the price of such a commitment, and are tempted by the material and immediate advantages of conformity. Today for all practical purposes, the Arya Samaj Movement has lost its distinctiveness. The Arya Swamijists allow themselves to be used by the forces of caste domination and oppression. We put up with social injustice, and are unmindful of the suffocation of our fellow human beings in the name of religion and politics. It is because the passion for justice and truth has died down in our midst that the Arya Samaj movement has got stuck.

Effective Action Programme

The fourth aspect of renewal is that we discover an effective and relevant action programme through which we embody our spiritual vision and realize our goals. The alternative is to regress to the past and idolize its heroes. But we insult rather than respect their dynamic role models by paying lip service to them, instead of emulating their example. They became our heroes by engaging the world around them with a spiritual vision and fighting the evils and injustice of their times. They did not waste their time escaping to some escapist haven or obscurantist agenda. Syami Dayanand Saraswai was excited about fulfilling the glorious destiny of India. He was obsessed with the greatness of human nobility and so felt obliged to fight all that distorted the glory and greatness of our species. It was from this perspective that he criticized all religions as well as launched a crusade against the caste system. Swamiji's mission continues to beckon us today. To the extent that we give ourselves to fulfilling this great dream, the Arya Samaj Movement will be renewed, and Bharat would one again become a land of Aryas (Noble men).

Renewal calls for a spirit of courage and commitment! Such a vocation is not meant for the faint-hearted. The spirit of compromise is incompatible with the fire of reform. No faith community can be renewed by airing a few nice sentiments. We must be willing to address the hard task of casting out from our midst the forces and practices that contradict our spiritual vision and values. In this process, it is necessary to be realistic and reckon that change, no matter how valuable and positive, strikes most people as painful and undesirable. They feel threatened in their vested interests. Nothing new and noble can emerge unless there is the willingness to suffer and struggle. Renewal involves the willingness on the part of the people to give up whatever unjust and unspiritual advantages they have come to enjoy. The test of our sincerity of purpose is that we are willing to forego our social advantages in order to usher in a new era of spiritual vitality. As a rule, nothing can be for nothing. Anything worthwhile must be paid for. In course of time, we shall recognize that the unfair advantages based on caste superiority were indeed the substance of our collective bankruptcy.

Religious renewal calls for the identification of the bare essentials of true religion. This is an area of widespread and lamentable ignorance, especially in our community. One of the sound practices in the Christian community is the regular expounding of the scriptures, as part of their Sunday services. This ensures that the faithful are kept routinely reminded of scriptural role models, values and ideals. Renewal takes place when people return to the source of their spiritual inspiration, which empowers them to shift from their mean selves (almpatman) to their nobler selves (mahatman). This parallels the goal of the Arya Samaj, which aims at transforming all Indians into Aryas, or noble people (mahatman). So it is necessary that we ask as to what constitutes the essence of true religiosity.

God is the beginning and end of our spiritual quest, the very foundation of creation and all human life. Our understanding of God determines, therefore, the very flavour of our being, our character and culture. It is important, therefore, that we have a spiritually valid and scripturally informed understanding of the nature of God, being aware that all human attempts, since the revelation in the Vedas, to describe God are tainted with vested interests in one form or another.

Concern for others

This is the second major aspect of religious dynamism. The key factor in this context is respect for life, which found its expression as ahimsa in the teachings of Gandhiji. Swami Dayanand affirmed it by showing exemplary concern for the life of the cook who poisoned him to death. Commitment to life is a necessary aspect of practising true religion.

Concern for others, born out of the spiritual value of respect for life, enjoins on us to struggle against every form of exploitation and enslavement. It should make us intolerant of all avoidable disabilities and suffering. Instead, the spiritually unenlightened hold on to their advantages, no matter how irrational and unjust they are. The willingness to compromise the claims of the self (especially when they are irrational) to make room for the growth and fulfillment of others is the authentic mark of spiritual renewal. This is also the secret of personal greatness. Such nobility of character is possible only for human beings, and it is necessary that this precious part of our human heritage is not wasted.

Religious ethics.

Our ethical sense is born at the meeting point between the human and the divine. The kind of ethical ideals we have, and how faithfully we practise them are both a pointer to our understanding of, and respect for, God. The essence of ethics is the willingness to limit the desires and covetousness of the self to make room for others. This can be done only if we are ruled by a sense of accountability to God, from whom alone we can derive the strength to overcome the pulls of the self.

Social Justice

Commitment to justice is the practical expression of ethics. Justice involves honouring the requirements of all relationships. In our culture, we have a reasonably well-developed family consciousness. Doing justice to one's family commitment comes naturally to us (though the coming of western cultural values is now undermining this part of our traditional strength). But we have been traditionally weak on the social front. Our commitment to social justice remains under-developed. And it is in this area that our spirituality is being put to the sternest test. An escapist religiosity encourages us to close our eyes on the massive and avoidable suffering of the people all around us. Religious leaders live with their eyes closed on the millions of human beings who live in slavery in this supposedly free country. They are unconcerned about the many frontiers of systemic atrocities and injustice that have gone for ages. This is the most glaring denial of spirituality in the Indian context, and it needs to be challenged by the Arya Samaj that is committed to turning our society into an abode of noble people (Aryas), rather than of slaves and under-developed people.

Basic to the religious ethics is the spirit of service. Human nature, uninfluenced by spirituality, would make us want to be served rather than serve others. Service involves overcoming the spirit of selfishness. The spirit of service is essential to create a dynamic social ethos. The role models that scriptures give to us all uphold this ideal. It is necessary that we re-appropriate this value and incorporate into our social culture.

Seen from a cosmic perspective, the most important aspect of creation is its oneness, its coherence that lends meaning to its diversity. The need for harmony, the duty to live peaceably with all aspects of creation, and to respect its underlying integrity, arises out of this vision. But when the spiritual perspective declines, society and nature become aggregates of various constituents that can be exploited at will. It does not matter then if we exploit human beings or nature as mere means to attain our ends. Admittedly, this is the attitude that governs us today, and is a major pointer to the need for spiritual renewal.

The World Around Us

The world around us has changed a great deal. And spirituality, as against ritualistic religiosity, cannot remain indifferent to it. The goal of spirituality is to empower people to cope with their life and destiny meaningfully and effectively. This makes it necessary to address the forces of corruption injustice that prevail from time to time. The ethical task is to minimize evil and to reinforce what is good. Both have to be addressed simultaneously. It is important that a religious community as a whole is inspired with this sense of purpose. It is foolish to assume that either politicians or the governments of the day can be, on their own, expected to do this for us.

The urgency in working towards a spiritual renewal of our society arises because of the rise of an aggressive and soulless materialistic culture in our midst. Two major facets mark this new ethos. In the first place, it aggravates social and economic inequalities. This is going to push millions more below the poverty line. There is likely to be in the near future a dramatic decline in quality of life for millions of people. This is not only a question of economics or even of 'good governance'. It is, essentially, a spiritual issue that none who cares for his religious values can ignore. The second aspect of the emerging scenario is increasing exploitation and rising levels of injustice. This will work at two levels.

(1) The traditional forces of caste oppression, to the extent that they have so far enjoyed a virtual monopoly over educational and systemic resources, could become more and more oppressive, when their vested interests are threatened. This is already evident at present. Liberalization and the shift of focus from the public sector to the private, cannot but have the effect of strengthening the hands of the already powerful and privileged. The dalits and economically disadvantaged will be excluded from the new opportunities. People's participation in public affairs is already diluted. Economic forces are becoming autonomous, neutralizing the advantages and opportunities of democracy. It is important that in such a context extreme spiritual vigilance is exercised over the process of social engineering to ensure that the society we build is hospitable to the aspirations of all people, which is the hallmark of a just society. The larger task of true religion is to build a healthy society and dynamic culture.

(2) The emergence of the global order complicates this picture even further. Now the poorer peoples of the world are going to be the victims of a double exploitation. They will be bled not only by their own elite but also become the victims of the general bleeding of their countries at the hands of the global players. It seems to be part of the logic of history that a society that flouts the basic norms of justice within itself will eventually succumb to the forces of injustice from beyond its own borders. If we are to face the emerging challenges, it is necessary that we build a model society where justice and equity are honoured, and top priority is given to empowering all people. It is not unlikely that globalization does to our country as a whole what we have been doing for centuries to our own dalits and tribals. The creation of a society free from the leprosy of injustice, exploitation and aggression should be deemed as an urgent patriotic task for the Arya Samj.

The scandal of the caste system

In this context, it becomes imperative to launch an all-out war against the caste system. It is high time for the truth to be spoken, even if it hurts. The Vedic faith is indeed in danger. But the painful truth is that the real danger is not from an external enemy, like Christianity or Islam. As a rule, the enemy within is far more dangerous than all external enemies put together. The Vedic faith has been in danger ever since the birth-based caste order has been invented by the ingenuity of the Brahminical order to perpetuate their arbitrary advantages, consigning the lower castes to a sub-human existence. The Vedic faith as it was converted into Hinduism was, ironically, corrupted from a noble, dynamic and just social vision into an oppressive mechanism. This was done at an enormous cost to the Sanatan Dharma, turning it virtually into its opposite. Brahminical Hinduism is a contradiction and caricature, as Swami Dayanand Sarawati made bold to say, of its Vedic ancestor.

When the early challenges to the caste order began to emerge, the keepers of the system issued the call to 'semiticize' or Islamize Hinduism! This itself should have proved, if proof indeed was necessary, that the agenda was a barely camouflaged project to protect the caste system. Rather than return to the Vedic vision, it was found more palatable to turn Hinduism into a replica of Islam or Christianity! The strange logic was that Hinduism could be protected by making it a counterfeit copy of its enemies!

The fact that the oppressed people in their thousands, Ambedkar and his followers being an example, have been forced to leave this oppressive system should have awakened us to the need for reform. It did not. Instead, attempts have been made all along to tighten the chains of caste oppression and to arrest the process of social regeneration. Even when we do not approve all that the Christian missionaries have done in the past, we still overlook the fact that high caste protectionism was not at work in portraying them as the enemies of Hinduism. Today, as an Arya Samjist, I deem it immoral, and a betrayal of the mission of the Movement, to boster caste Hinduism that opposes the awakening of the oppressed. The spiritual destiny of India will be fulfilled only when the passion for justice and equality that underlies the Vedic faith is translated into a social reality in the path of which the caste order is the major stumbling block.

Condemning or rewarding anybody simply on the basis of birth is simply incompatible with true religion. That being the case, the need of the hour is not to re-convert a few dalit Christians or Muslims, but to re-convert Hinduism back to the Vedic faith. The Arya Samaj is duty bound to work towards this noble goal as long as it remains faithful to the spirit and mission of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. This is the most important frontier for the mission of the Arya Samaj at the present time.

As against the absolutization of birth within the caste order, the Varna Vyavastha that the Vedas envisage base itself on action, talent and aptitude (Karma, Guna, Swabhava). This is clearly expounded by Lord Krishna in the Gita. Vedic faith envisages a dynamic social order in which every individual is free to exercise himself fully and attain maximum growth and fulfillment. It is a society characterized by equality of opportunity which is incompatible with birth-based privileges.

The most important choice that every human being must have is the right to choose his temporal and eternal destiny. Once gunas rather than birth become the basis for evaluation, an individual becomes free to be a Brahmin or a Shudra. Turning Brahmanism into a label of birth has emptied it of all significance. The caste system has robbed the Indian society of its dynamism and has been mainly responsible for our successive subjugation by external forces. Like the license Raj that protected the monopoly of a few at the expense of many, the caste order, further crippled by fatalism, has kept our life and society paralyzed for centuries. A better alternative, from the perspective of social dynamism, is to liberalize conversions, which is inevitable after having liberalized everything else! Why shouldn't religions compete among themselves in wooing the poor and the neglected sections of our society on equal terms to prove and improve their worth by deepening their social consciousness and commitment to justice? It is a cheaper alternative to keep other religions in casts just because the majority religion prefers to remain in caste.

All faithful Arya Samajists, can only feel betrayed by the treacherous collusion between the protagonist of the caste order and certain sections in the Arya Samaj, as in the reconversion hoax reported for Dindoli recently. The Arya Samaj priests are being used to reconvert ex-Hindus only because Brahmanical Hinduism has no place for converts. It is a way of neutralizing Christians and Muslims without compromising the caste order! Patronizing such a project amounts to a betrayal of the true legacy of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. Swamiji's zeal for bringing back relapsed Hindus was matched by his revulsion for the caste order, which he sought to dismantle. This cost him his life. No Arya Samijist therefore can lend himself to anything that makes a mockery of Swamiji's call "Back to the Vedas!" and his passion for reform. The more violence is practised to defend the caste system, the more Hinduism will get discredited in the eyes especially of the coming generation. In the days ahead we can no longer count on old loyalties and blind faith. An age of free choice, symbolized by the super market where people push trolleys of personal tastes, has already come upon us. We better improve the quality of our brand rather than cry wolf against other brands. If the Tatas had to do it in the field of automobiles, we may be unavoidable for us to address this urgent task in the religious sphere. At any rate, the rationale for conversion cannot be honestly abolished unless birth-based caste system is abolished. Concentrating on the aberrations of conversions and refusing at the same time to recognizing the extent to which caste oppression aids and abets conversions, is both unrealistic and dishonest.

The challenge of globalization

At any rate, the foremost need today is not to fight dishonest battles to protect caste system. The real need of the hour is to strengthen the nation and revitalize the society to face the challenges of the emerging global order. All internal contradictions, every institution of discrimination and injustice, will only weaken us in our ability to address the challenges of external forces. This is why we need to recognize that the days of caste discrimination are over. Today we have to choose between our faithfulness to caste and our commitment to the very integrity of our country, and its future within the comity of nations.

The emerging global scenario is also going to awaken new spiritual needs and thirst. So far the illogicality of Hinduism as a territorial faith was not all that apparent. But in the days ahead, this idea of religion will be patently anachronistic. We will have to return to the true vision of the Vedas which is not territorial but earth-centred. Its vision, in other words, embraces the world as a whole. Obviously, this alone will be able to cope with the dynamics of the global order. Every living religion has had to continue to evolve in relation to the challenges that emerged from time to time. Judaism was, like Hinduism today, very much a territorial faith. Christianity was a protest against this. It had a future only because of the universality of the vision underlying it. It is noteworthy that all our thinkers who were persuaded of the universal validity of the Vedic vision also emphasized its universal character, rather than its territorial confinement. The irony of our times is that even that which claims to be universal in the name of Hinduism (as in the case of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad) pushes only a territorial version of Hinduism. This is a glaring contradiction in terms. This may excite the unenlightened for a while, but such a vision has no scope or future in the global arena.

We also need to rethink the model of conflict for inter-religious relationships that has been imported into this country. It does not have to be argued that religious tolerance is basic to the Indian ethos and it is well-founded on the Vedic insight that all religions are different paths to the Ultimate Reality. Faithfulness to this enlightened insight rules our religious intolerance. Historically, religious intolerance has been imported into this country by Islamic and Christian models. But both of them have been deeply influenced and tamed by the spirit of tolerance, which is the genius of the sub-continent. But in this process, we seem to have imbibed something of the poison that they carried. Today some of the defenders of Hinduism seem to be animated by the Semitic spirit of intolerance rather than by the all-embracing vision of the Vedas. It is more inappropriate for true Hinduism to practise religious intolerance than it is for either Islam and Christianity, as long as we subscribe to the Vedic insight that all faiths lead to the same final goal.

Moreover, religious diversity is a means for religious revival. It is only when a religious tradition is challenged by a different one that the need for its revival becomes evident. The beginning of the Arya Samaj Movement is an instance of this. The challenge of Christianity in the last century was one of the stimulants for this movement. But to respond constructively to external stimuli, the given religious radition has to be in some state of health. Total negativity to what is different and alien is a sign of spiritual decadence and the reluctance to be renewed about which we need to be seriously alarmed. The Inter-Faith Movement all over the world has the main goal of deepening the spirituality of particular religions. Evolution takes place within the model of "challenge-and-response". To ward off all challenges is to avoid the need to improve and grow.

Spiritual Foundations of Nation-Building

Afro-Asian nations continue to be cradles of human suffering. Avoidable plagues of violence, poverty, disease and deprivation continue to harass millions. Since the Second World War, the war fought to end all wars, more than 150 armed conflicts have taken place. The majority of them have been in this region. More than 10 million children have been either killed, or orphaned or uprooted in the last decade alone. African nations that are blessed with natural resources continue to paralyzed in their progress. The well being of millions has been subverted for whatever reasons. This is wholly a man-made and avoidable tragedy, and it needs to be recognized and engaged as such.

The curse is that 'nation' equated with a flag, a territory or an ideology. The fact that people are its supreme wealth is being increasingly ignored. It is the people who shape a nation's character and culture. Good governance rests on an uncompromising commitment to the welfare of the people. None will debate this in theory. But this is consistently flouted in practice. In the cynical calculations and strategic manoeuvers that flourish, human beings have become mere pawns in the ongoing game on the political chessboard. Governance and development are seen as impersonal and value-neutral processes dictated by cupidity and the lust for power. The withering irony of people's insignificance in democracy (definitionally, the government of the people, by the people, and for the people) stares us in the face.

Given the diabolic turn that life and history are taking, and the massive suffering that this has created, it is obvious that a spiritual foundation is essential for nation-building. It is na\'efve to assume that all that is needed to build a strong and prosperous nations are a gigantic effort and massive planning. We need to pay attention to the foundation, lest what we build collapse over our heads, as it now threatens to. It is in this respect that materialism has amounted to practical blindness. Since this approach to life attaches importance and reality only to the tangible and material dimensions of life, it tends to devalue the invisible and subtle resources of life, such as values and a sense of accountability to God. This suicidal mistake needs to be corrected, if we are to achieve any breakthrough in the present scenario.

The hallmark of a spiritually valid political vision is the priority of people, especially the poor and the powerless, over everything else. As Gandhiji insisted, every economic policy, every political strategy, every system in the country, must justify itself with reference to the well being of the common man, and not merely the elite and the powerful. From a spiritual perspective, the meeting point between healthy politics and true religion is the commitment to total human well being. Everything in a spiritual vision -the emphasis on peace, the focus on unity and healthy relationships, accountability in resource management, justice and equity in distributing resources, and so on- is based on this. Politics needs to be redeemed by true spirituality. Instead, we politicize religion and communalize politics, undermining the health of the nation and endangering the wellbeing of the people.

Spirituality and the healing of a nation

Integral to the spiritual vision is the insight that nations, not less than individuals, become sick and stand in need of healing and renewal. A spiritually vibrant religion is marked by its commitment to safeguard the wholeness of life in the nation as a whole. A religion that remains blind to this task condemns itself. A spiritually committed person will be ready to engage every issue and every force that has a bearing on human well being.

The sickness of our existence expresses itself broadly as the contradiction between what we intend to achieve and what we end up doing. This turns our dreams into nightmares. The State, for example, is envisaged to be the foremost instrument of human well being. It is mandated to secure human development and fulfillment. It is an instrument of care, and a standard-bearer of values. The weak and the vulnerable are to be especially protected and promoted. These are the goals. But they are rarely the net results. "We create the State," said Sigmund Freud, "to oppress us". How come that the State, which is meant to be a caring institution, acquires an oppressive character?

Beware of false expectations

It is not the business of religion to give us a comprehensive plan of political action, contextually specific and eternally valid. It is in vain that we turn to the Vedas or any other scriptural text, to find a well-defined political agenda. The spiritual task is not to supersede the political domain, but to be a catalyst and guardian of human well being within the economic and political processes. What is needed is the integration of the spiritual vision and discipline into the total processes that shape the affairs of a nation. This is different from a magical approach to religion in which religion is seen as a short cut to solving human problems but as isolated from the dynamic of day-to-day life, from the larger questions of politics and economics. It is different, on the other hand, from a secular approach to these spheres that sees both as autonomous activities to which spirituality is extraneous and irrelevant. The distinctive mark of a spiritual vision is its integration of the various facets of human life: the economic, political, social and cultural. Spirituality is, essentially, a force of integration. It is indeed the only enduring force of integration, without which all that we build up collapse into confusion.

People turn to religion to find magical solutions for their problems, without having to reform themselves. They think that God's business is to solve the problems they create. This is an insult to the majesty of God. God's business is more radical than we care to admit: it is to solve the problem that we are. God is not partial to this economic system or that political ideology. He may not be more excited about the Market Economy than He is about the crude barter system. His primary concern is with the people who operate both. More specifically, He is concerned about the contradiction between human nature and human well being. The truth that stares us in the face is that human nature, in its unredeemed state, is subversive of human welfare. The fundamental spiritual quest is, therefore, not for a newer system or ideology, though both may be necessary. It is, instead, to set man free from the dungeon that he is: to liberate every human being from the distortions of human nature that he may be free and able to do what is conducive to his own wellbeing and the welfare of others. It does not matter whether we are under monarchy or democracy, as long as we do not have the capacity to love our neighbours as ourselves, and to do to others what we would that they should do to us.

A paradigm-shift

The fundamental spiritual task is to bring about a radical change in human nature: from its unjust, exploitative orientation to the spiritual, self-transcending orientation. The Vedas urge us to imbibe such a transformed, noble spiritual ethos. Until that happens, individuals and groups will pursue their vested interests with murderous intensity and practice maximum possible violence (unless checked by fear of consequences) on those who are seen as threats. This turns life and society into battlegrounds. Human self-centredness will not want to grant even survival space to others. Everything is seen as the means to promote one's own interest. It is this orientation that is at work in the caste system.

In contrast, the essence of spirituality is the sacrificial orientation. It is only from such an outlook that human wellbeing can be prioritized in practice, not less than in theory. The essence of human self-centredness is the absolutization of power. Worldly power becomes the idol, which is loved passionately and absolutely. This inhibits and corrupts our love for God, our respect for the divine. It is in the nature of power, especially when divorced from the spirituality of responsibility and accountability, to exploit and oppress. Creating and perpetuating conflicts and destruction are integral to its strategies. Power is essentially hegemonic. It has no patience with ideals like justice, equality and truth. The more ungodly a generation is, the more these ideals tend to be violated.

Towards healing a nation

Religion is worthless if it is indifferent to the suffering of the people it is meant to serve. Spirituality is a dynamic and transforming engagement with the world around us, and it has no room for apathy or escapism. It can empower peoples and nations alike. Spirituality must have something to offer vis-\'e0-vis the problems that afflict a people. Here we need to examine only a few illustrative areas.

(1) Disunity. Political schism and disunity plague most societies in the world in Africa and Asia. It is na\'efve to assume that the problem is only in the armed conflicts that take place. The problem is in our minds and hearts. We allow our minds to be filled with hate. We see others as threats and stumbling blocks. We want to pursue our interests at the expense of the well being of others. All these are double-edged swords. When it begins to cut our own throat we also talk about need for unity and harmony. It should be kindergarten wisdom that disunity will persist as long as our minds are not detoxified. The spiritual goal is to cultivate a spiritual mental culture. From a spiritual perspective, unity is of utmost importance. But unity has to be seen as part of the commitment to truth, sanctity of life and a sense of mission aimed at maximizing human wellbeing. Disunity is inevitable as long as vested interests reign. And the task of true spirituality is to transcend selfish goals.

(2) Violence and disharmony. It is too obvious to escape anyone's notice that even as spiritual discipline declines, violence and destruction mount in a society. This endangers life and liberty. Violence results from two major sources: hate and the inability to cope creatively with differences, both of which are inevitable in the power-orientation. The spiritual strategy to heal this situation is to replace the love of power with the power of love. Love unites; whereas hate divides and scatters. It is of utmost importance to see spirituality as the power to relate to what is different and even seemingly contrary, which is the essence of genuine freedom. Those who are spiritually enlightened transcend stereotypical distinctions and categories that divide people. They work in terms of the essential and endangered humanity of all people. A nation is not safe unless its people are equipped to live with differences. Differences are real and important, and it is dishonest to suggest that they do not exist. But the recognition of differences is not an invitation to be alienated from each other. It is the unspiritual mind that feels insecure in the presence of what is different. But, in coping creatively with differences, we must not abandon the commitment to truth. But truth needs to be enlivened with love.

(3) Development and justice. Ungodly developmentalism is the root cause of our economic disarray and endemic destitution. On the one hand, it idolizes wealth at the expense of human welfare. On the other, it aggravates inequalities of every kind. It is axiomatic that a society of aggravating disparities between the rich and the poor (that is to say, a society that dilutes justice in the context of development) digs its own grave. It does so by patronizing human covetousness with kills compassion and turns the public space into a jungle of consumerism and self-indulgence. Our people suffer not necessarily because we do not have enough resources to meet their needs. Most of the Afro-Asian nations are potentially rich counties inhabited by starving people. What we lack is an unwavering commitment to people's well-being, and a collective pledge to tame the dogs of corruption and covetousness. As Gandhiji used to say, the earth has enough to meet everyone's needs, but not enough to satisfy anyone's greed.

Justice needs to be seen as a divine concern. Practising justice has to be a spiritual, not legal, commitment. Injustice is inseparable from corruption and untruth. Falsehood is the most universal form of violence. A peaceful and sane society can be built only on the foundation of truth and sanctity. Wherever justice is denied, violence results. This problem will not be solved by increasing the police or para-military forces. Not even by using the army against one's own people. This malady can be healed only with the anti-dotes of love, truth and justice.

Violence needs to be seen not only as a series of events, but as being generated within an outlook that makes its outbreak unavoidable. It is like the heat generated by two parts of a machine that are in friction. That friction is written into the logic of selfish human nature. The solution for this problem, hence, can only be a radical one; the transformation of human nature and, consequently, the spiritual regeneration of our society.

It is at this level that the spiritual agenda for building a healthy nation has to be worked out. But the problem is that those who pride themselves on their pragmatism tend to be impatient with the long-term agenda involved in this approach. People are everywhere looking for short cuts and quick-fix solutions, in this age of fast-food and instant nirvana. The truth is that all short-cuts are necessarily deceptive, and turn out in the end to be avenues of deception and corruption.

The corner stones of a sane society

(a) Essential to the health and dynamism of every society are: (a) Resource Management. Spirituality touches our attitude to the material world and the way we manage resources. We are in a state of trusteeship as far as the resources of this world are concerned. Everything is God-given. Our spirituality in the political and economic spheres of our national life involves the responsibility for ensuring the wellbeing of all people in managing the resources of the nation. Increasing productivity needs to be matched by the willingness to share the fruits thereof with all in need. The sinfulness of contemporary approaches and systems manifests itself in the exclusion of the people in need from the fruits of development. Till recently this used to happen mainly at the national level. Now, in the wake of globalism, this could become an international reality, unless we are spiritually vigilant.

(b) Stewardship also involves being responsible for the total wellbeing of the people. It is tragic that in the midst of our political and economic projects and enterprises, we lose sight of the weaker sections of our society. People are getting increasingly alienated from each other. Those who were once neighbours are becoming enemies. The State cannot any longer continue to see its role, in this context, as that of a policeman who keeps people from fighting. The State has to become an active agent for the propagation of life-friendly values. Enabling people to love one another, rather than preventing them from fighting and killing each other, needs to be the emphasis.

(c) Human worth. Essential to the spiritual outlook on life is the affirmation of the supreme worth of human life. If this is recognised, we shall fight against injustice, poverty and oppression, rather than our fellow human beings. The agenda common to healthy religion and constructive politics is the commitment to affirm human worth and to maximize the well being of all people. All spiritually enlightened initiatives are singularly devoted to this goal. In contrast, it is heart-breakingly ironic that for most people in the world a flag, territory, and an ideology are more important than the life and wellbeing of millions of people. Over 120 million human beings would not have died of man-made violence in this century otherwise. Look at the millions that continue to die either through conflicts or through avoidable famine and starvation. No nation can be healthy and dynamic unless it is committed to honouring human worth and protecting human life. It is necessary to recognize the synergy between development and human worth. The impetus to develop will continue to be absent, if a nation is not challenged by this spiritual ideal. Also, if a nation does not develop, it will never discover the full scope of the ideal of human worth. The value attached to a human life varies from one society to another, depending on the extent of their development.

(d) Development with equity and compassion. Ironically material development of a certain kind, not less than underdevelopment, could be a source of national disarray. While underdevelopment devalues human life, development understood only as increase in the material circumstances of life soon degenerates into covetousness, consumerism and criminality. The materialistic society, for one thing, will always and everywhere have a criminal fringe. Besides this, it unleashes a spirit of competition, which makes people mistake their neighbours for their enemies. Many of the communal and ethnic conflicts are, essentially, economic conflicts to secure a disproportionate part of the national cake and to disable, if possible, others from sharing national resources. Even where this does not happen in a naked fashion, development that neglects the spiritual and moral aspects of the human situation brings about the impoverishment of human life.

True development must harmonize the material and spiritual nourishment of the human being. It is this wholesome balance that we need to insist on, especially in the wake of globalization. This needs to be seen in the light of the uniqueness of our being as a body-soul continuum. The body cannot be fattened by famishing the soul, and vice versa. As a matter of fact, one of the major reasons for the growing violence in advanced societies is the exuberance of physical energy (due to enhanced food intake) unmatched and unbridled by moral and spiritual stamina. Violence is often a phenomenon of imbalance. It may seem positive, but is essentially negative.

(e) Work culture vs. corruption. No society can continue to remain healthy and dynamic if it does not evolve and sustain a wholesome work culture. While this is universally recognized, the role of spirituality in this sphere often goes unacknowledged. A healthy work culture is based on two major factors: (1) the commitment to uphold dharma in the pursuit of one's vocation, and (2) compassion for one's neighbours that makes one want to care and to share. In cultures where this sense of social responsibility is underdeveloped, work culture also remains embryonic. More seriously, the erosion of work culture fuels corruption in every society. Work involves spiritual discipline, through which one grows and matures. The alternative is to resort to short-cuts through which the discipline of work is diluted. Corruption is the alternative to work in a spiritually and morally depraved society. Corruption is, more accurately, an anti-work culture in which wealth is idolized. A corrupt society cannot but disintegrate into violence sooner or later; for it must violate love, justice and accountability.

(f) The attitude to the other. A nation is basically a vast human family. Relationships between people are of decisive importance for its character and destiny. What shapes this is people's attitude to each other. It is here that spirituality can and must play a constructive role. From a worldly and materialistic standpoint that promotes self-centredness, others are seen as threats to one's own interests. The spiritual vision celebrates our sense of community and human inter-dependence. It opens our eyes to the suicidal folly of wanting to thrive at the expense of others. A nation is like a ship afloat on a perilous sea. We shall survive or perish together. Security or well-being can never be selective. Either we are all safe, or we are all at risk. This is the practical wisdom in the practice of love and compassion. To love is to progress together; for love is constructive and active in the service of what is good. The opposite of this is the spirit of hegemony that seeks to oppress others and reserve all advantages to oneself. It is natural that such an outlook perpetuates and escalates conflicts, and cripples the nation.

Powerful vested interests are at work in the global arena to foment internal and regional hostilities. One such network is the global arms Mafia. It is a pity that Afro-Asian nations that cannot afford to feed their people and educate their children are spending a lion's share of their scarce resources on buying and stockpiling arms. This is aided and abetted by the vested interests within a country. But if the people of this region are to have any quality life, a radical breakthrough in this area must be achieved.

(g) A culture of ahimsa (peace). This calls for the creation of a culture of peace. The strategic, as against the spiritual, approach to peace-making is riddled with contradictions. It is, in deed, an aspect of war-mongering. That is why the nations of the world clamour for peace and prepare for war at the same time! The outlook that governs the world is based on the paradigm of power. Creating peace on an enduring foundation involves a paradigm shift from power to love. People must be challenged and trained to love one another, rather than hate each other. Hate costs a nation dear. Love is more profitable than hate!

But hate will seem a more practical and effective strategy to those who are worldly. That is because hate takes less energy than love, though hate results in colossal instances of destruction. It has no energy for anything positive. Hate is a corollary to power. Power has a native genius for the superficial. Power can operate only on the surface of things. Power is powerless in the depth, where spirituality belongs. The only power that works at this level is the power of love. Those who base their life's vision on power, exile themselves from the depth of things. They become perforce superficial. What can be controlled and manipulated is the surface. At the depth, one can only function in faith and wonder. Awareness of the divine and bhakti are depth-experiences. Materialism and consumerism are allergic to this culture of depth. They are the play on the surface. Surface is also a domain of restlessness and conflict where peace is a mirage.

This may seem too mystical a strategy for establishing peace in our world of grubby materialism. Exactly! It is foolish to imagine that we can secure the cause of peace by remaining on the foundation of conflict and restlessness. That is where we are today. Spirituality comes with an invitation to shift from this foundation. This does not involve any indifference to things worldly. Rather this enhances the duty to develop everything entrusted to us. But what this outlook changes is the significance we attach to the fruits of our labour and, more importantly, our sense of exclusive ownership as far as the fruits of our labour are concerned. The lust for grasping and grabbing will be replaced by the joy of sharing. The craving for indulgence will give way to the concern for the well being of all people. Cooperation and kinship will supersede conflict. Without this spiritual revolution, the supreme enterprise of nation building can only rest on fragile foundations. The destiny of a nation rests, in the final analysis, on the character of its people. And human character can be noble and creative only when shaped and nourished by true spirituality.

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