Category Archives: dharma

Ramachandra Guha and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

UNPUBLISHED

Ramachandra Guha represents the typical Indian intellectual: brilliant, totally westernized – and who looks down on anything Hindu – because he has inherited from the British colonization a gigantic inferiority complex about his own culture and spirituality. And like many of his brothers and sisters of India’s intelligentsia, he feels nowhere better than in the West. This can be gathered from his Oslo diary published in the Outlook magazine of 20th October, where he says, and I quote : “…After two weeks in Oslo, my hosts send me off to Svalbard, deep into the Arctic Circle … I spend four enchanting days in and around the little town of Longybein, located at 78° N. I have the privilege of sampling the northernmost bar, the northernmost cafe, the northernmost supermarket, and the northernmost souvenir store in the world “… Then he adds – and this shows that this Macaulayan fixation is transmitted since many generations from father to children: “The person most envious of my trip is my daughter, who has read evocative descriptions of Svalbard in the novels of Philip Pullman”.  Wow: I am a born Frenchman, brought up in some of the best European schools, I vaguely known of Philipp Pullman (do you?), but have never heard of that he wrote about the archipelago of Svalbard” (have you?).

Once he has proved his credentials of a connoisseur of western literature and lover of western atmospheres, Guha, because he is in Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, chooses to attack Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, who has been the most nominated Indian in the last three years: “After my talk, a lady comes up and introduces herself as a doctor, and an advisor to the Peace Institute. The names I had mentioned were all very good, she said, but surely it was time that the peace prize went to an Indian? She mentions the name of a fellow townsman of mine (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar), a man who has grown long hair, given himself four fancy initials (HH/SS), and whose name is also that of a very great exponent of the sitar”. And of course, Guha tells her gleefully: “I suggested to the doctor that if not giving Gandhi the prize was a scandal, awarding it to my fellow townsman would be an even bigger scandal”. How typical of these Indian intellectuals, who are always spitting on their own culture, specially if it is Hindu-related.

Yet, there is no doubt that Guruji, as he is known to his followers, qualifies for the NPP – in fact he does tenfold time the work of a Mother Teresa or a R.K Pachauri: he not only performs charity work in many of India’s villages, he also promotes pesticide and fertilizer free farming, takes orphans from Kashmir or the North-East in his ashram, and his volunteers do relief work, both at the physical and psychological level, whether in Bihar during the floods, in  Iraq or in the US during the recent cyclone. Sri Sri is also trying to revive single handed, the ancient Vedic tradition by training young priests in a Gurukkul which blends ancient knowledge, with modern thought, while promoting Ayurveda as the medicine of the 21st century. He is attempting as well to mediate in many conflicts, in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, or between the Christians and Hindus. And lastly he has revived and modernized the ancient science of pranayama.

Of course, Guha is an unabashed admirer of the Norwegian Peace Committee: “The Nobel Peace Prize is itself a splendid example of Norwegian internationalism, in keeping with the country’s ethos of generous aid to poorer countries, not to mention its efforts to resolve ethnic conflicts around the world”. But not everybody in Europe would agree with him : Norwegians have sometimes the reputation of being staunch, left-leaning Protestants, who often have a condescending view of Asia. Thus, when they award prizes, they are necessarily influenced by a Christian vision of the world and an idealistic left-leaning sympathy. For, as most Europeans, they have been brought-up in the belief that democracy and philosophy started with Greece and that a Humane civilization, began with Jesus Christ. And of course, they have a covert – or at  best unconscious – suspicion, if not of India, at least of Hindus, who for them remain the heathen, the pagans which the missionaries of yesteryears, and unfortunately those of today too, have created in the minds of many westerners.

They can only agree with Mr Guha: how can they then, give their Peace Prize to a Hindu?

François Gautier

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When war becomes dharma

When war becomes dharma

In the Bhagvad Gita, Arjuna once throws down his bow and tells Krishna, “I will not fight.” Many scholars consider this an exhortation to an inner war instead of a physical one, against one’s own ego and weaknesses. While the Gita is essentially a divine message of yoga — of transforming one’s own nature while reaching for the absolute — it reconciles war with the notion of duty and dharma. Since the beginning of times, war has been an integral part of man’s quest.

Yet, war is the most misunderstood factor of human history. Sri Aurobindo in his remarkable Essays on the Gita writes: “Man’s natural tendency is to worship nature as love and life and beauty and good and to turn away from her grim mask of death.” War has always repelled man: Ashoka turned Buddhist after the battle of Kalinga, American youngsters refused to participate in the Vietnam war, and we are witnessing today massive protests against the atom bomb.

Yet, the Gita says that while protecting one’s borders, wives, children and culture, and when all other means have failed, war can become dharma. War is a universal principle of our life as Sri Aurobindo argues: “it is evident that the actual life of man can take no real step forward without a struggle between what exists and what seeks to exist”. And that humanity periodically experience time in which great forces clash together, resulting in destruction and reconstruction, intellectual, social, moral, religious, andpolitical.

According to the Gita, there exists a struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness, between the self affirming law of good and the forces that oppose its progression. Its message is, therefore, addressed to people whose duty in life is to protect those who are at the mercy of the strong and the violent. “It is only a few religions,” writes Sri Aurobindo, “which have had the courage, like the Indian, to lift up the image of the force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but also of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction.”

Has India understood this great nationalist message of the Gita? Yes and no. On the one hand, you have had a Shivaji, a Rani of Jhansi, and a Sri Aurobindo, who, let us remember, gave a call as early as 1906 for the eviction of the British — by force if need be — at a time when the Congress was not even considering independence. On the other hand, the Indian masses seem never to have resisted invasions for centuries. Wave after wave of Muslims intruders were able to loot, rape, kill, raze temples and govern India, because Hindu chieftains kept betraying each other and nonational uprising occurred against them; the British got India for a song, bled it dry (20 millions Indians died of famine during British rule), because except for the Great (misguided) Mutiny, there was no wave ofnationalism opposed to them until very late.

We witnessed how in 1962 the Indian army was routed because Nehru had refused to heed the warnings posed by the Chinese. Just a year ago, we also witnessed how India reacted during the hijack of the IC flight from Kathmandu: instead of storming the plane when it was in Amritsar, India’s leaders got cowed down by the prospect of human casualties from their own side and surrendered to terrorism. But in the process India’s image and self-esteem suffered a lot and the liberated separatists are now spitting even more venom and terror.

Why is this nationalistic message of the Gita forgotten? There are two main reasons: Buddhism and Mahatma Gandhi. Buddhism made of non-violence an uncompromising, inflexible dogma. Thus it was literally wiped-off the face of India within a few centuries. Buddhism indirectly influenced Hinduism and Mahatma Gandhi, whose sincere but rigid adherence to non-violence may have indirectly precipitated the 1947 Partition.

Today, well-meaning “secular” Indians intellectuals still borrow from th Buddhist and Gandhian creed of non-violence to demonstrate why India should not have the bomb and get wiped-out by Pakistan or China, countries which have no such qualms.

There is, however, a lining in the sky: the Kargil war has shown that Hindu, Muslim and Christian soldiers can put their country above their religion and fight alongside each other. Today, we see a new wave of nationalism, both in India, as well as amongst its influential expatriate.