31 December 2007

RSS, Part 5

This post was prompted by questions about the Sangh from several friends. I had tried to describe the RSS and its work earlier. But it looks like further elaboration is needed.

The basic question that people have is "What is the RSS?" or "What does the RSS do?". The answer is that the RSS runs shakhas. The RSS is nothing but the sum total of its shakhas. The RSS begins with the shakha, and ends with the shakha. Other than the shakha, there is nothing more to the RSS. This centrality of the shakha is the key to understanding the Sangh. It is also the biggest stumbling block. Outsiders have great difficulty in understanding how such a vast and influential organisation can be just about a bunch of boys/men exercising and playing in a field. Indeed it is just that.

Another stumbling block in understanding the RSS is labels. The two labels most commonly (mis)used for the RSS are 'political' and 'religious'. The first label is completely wrong. The RSS is NOT a political organisation. It does not do any political work. The confusion is mainly due to the existence of the BJP. The BJP may have swayamsevaks as members, but is a separate organisation. The second label is also problematic. The response to it depends on the speaker’s understanding of Hinduism (since the 'religion' meant here is Hinduism). If by Hinduism he means our inclusive way of life, our culture and our civilisation, he is correct. But the word 'religion' typically means a narrow, rigid and exclusive dogma – and hence is best avoided.

However labels cannot be done away with completely. Especially in this age of soundbites. So what labels would be right for the RSS? Sometimes the RSS is described as a 'social' and/or 'cultural' organisation. These are better than the previous two labels. But they are too general. Another word is 'nationalist' which is absolutely correct, but gives no hint of exactly what the organisation does. The RSS's own leaders have described its mission as 'character building' or 'man making'. So these terms can be used as labels for the RSS. This 'man making' is not an end in itself, but the means to an end – the end being a strong nation. Hence the RSS can best be described as a 'nation-building' organisation.

26 December 2007

Hindutva 2.0

Varghese George on the Gujarat elections:

"Sunday's win announced loudly that Narendra Modi has arrived on the national scene. So has Hindutva 2.0. Advani's original Rath Yatra started from Gujarat and spread the message of Hindu pride and cultural nationalism. Advani tried to link suraj - good governance - to Hindutva in 2004, but failed. In Modi's regional version, Hindu and Gujarati pride blend with economic prosperity. The core of the pan-Indian Hindutva philosophy of the Sangh Parivar is retained: that a united, Hindu upsurge is the necessary and sufficient condition for material progress."

"Hindutva 2.0 is not driven by trishul-wielding sadhus, but by professionals and the middle class."

21 December 2007

THE Question

What is the meaning of life? Does life have a meaning? If yes, what is it? What does it all mean?

Searching for the Truth 'within' is futile. It is like peeling an onion. You peel away layer after layer, and finally you find there is nothing inside. It is empty. Hollow. If there is Truth, it is to be found 'without' - in the real world, among real people. They say the world is false, an illusion. I don't know. As far as I am concerned, this world is my only reality. I do not know any reality other than it, or beyond it.

It is possible that the journey without will also lead to nothing. But, as they say, the journey is more important than the destination. Or, as someone else said, play the game as if it matters.

"The only way to find yourself is to lose destroy yourself in the service of others." - Mahatma Gandhi

17 December 2007

Three Questions

An artist is painting a picture. He is so busy painting that it takes up all his time. He is so engrossed in the details of his painting that they fill his mind completely. He has neither the time nor the mind-space to think about anything else. But every now and then he should step back, look at his painting, and ask himself,"Am I painting correctly?" or "Is my painting turning out the way I want it to?". Even more fundamentally, he should ask himself,"Am I painting the right picture?" or "Should I be painting some other picture?". And sometimes, he should ask himself,"Should I be painting at all?".

A man is travelling to a certain place. Every now and then, he should stop and ask himself,"Will this road take me to my destination?". Sometimes, he should sit down and ask himself,"Have I chosen the right place as my destination?". Even more fundamentally, he should ask himself,"Should I be travelling at all?".

12 December 2007

What Is Hinduism?

This question has long been bugging me. Let us look at the possible answers:

1. "Hinduism refers to the beliefs and practices of the Hindus" – This is the standard textbook/dictionary answer. It is correct, but not of much help.

2. We can list these "beliefs and practices of the Hindus". In brief: our key beliefs or concepts are Atma, Brahman, Samsara, Karma, Moksha, Purushartha, Ashrama, Varna, etc (Any religion’s chief purpose is to help man understand the inter-relationship between himself, the world and God). And our practices are the multitude of rituals and ceremonies that we follow.

This is an improvement over the first answer. But it still leaves us unsatisfied. The question "What is the core/essence of Hinduism?" remains. My previous post was an attempt to find an answer to this question.

Thus the essence of Hinduism is two-fold: universality and tolerance. Hinduism believes that:
a) There are many paths to the Truth.
b) You are free to take whichever path you like.
The paths may be different. But they all lead to the same Truth.

Whereas any other religion believes that:
a) There is only one path to the Truth: its own.
b) Those who do not follow the path (infidels) are doomed to eternal hell.

Every religion says,"I am right, and you are wrong". Hinduism is the only religion that says,"I am right, and you are also right".

07 December 2007

The Essence of Hinduism

The Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia has a brilliant article on Hinduism, by Arvind Sharma. Some excerpts:

"The Hindu tradition encourages Hindus to seek spiritual and moral truth wherever it might be found, while acknowledging that no creed can contain such truth in its fullness and that each individual must realise this truth through his or her own systematic effort. Our experience, our reason, and our dialogue with others - especially with enlightened individuals - provide various means of testing our understanding of spiritual and moral truth. And Hindu scripture, based on the insights of Hindu sages and seers, serves primarily as a guidebook. But ultimately truth comes to us through direct consciousness of the divine or the ultimate reality (Brahman).

"In many religions truth is delivered or revealed from a divine source and enters the world through a single agent: for example, Abraham in Judaism, Jesus in Christianity, and Muhammad in Islam. These truths are then recorded in scriptures that serve as a source of knowledge of divine wisdom: the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran. In the Hindu tradition, by contrast, there is no single revelation or orthodoxy (established doctrine) by which people may achieve knowledge of the divine or lead a life backed by religious law. The Hindu tradition acknowledges that there are many paths by which people may seek and experience religious understanding and direction. It also claims that every individual has the potential to achieve enlightenment.

"The difficulty of defining Hinduism arises from its universal world-view and its willingness to accept and celebrate diverse philosophies, deities, symbols, and practices. A religion that emphasises similarities and shared characteristics rather than differences has a difficult time setting itself apart - unless this very quality is considered its defining feature. This is not to say that there are no beliefs and practices that may be identified as Hindu, but rather that the Hindu tradition has concerned itself largely with the human situation rather than the Hindu situation. Instead of basing its identity on separating Hindu from non-Hindu or believer from nonbeliever, Hinduism has sought to recognise principles and practices that would lead any individual to become a better human being and understand and live in harmony with dharma.

"The distinction of dharma from the Western sense of religion is crucial to understanding Hindu religious identity. To the extent that Hinduism carries with it the Western meaning of being a religion the words distort Indian reality. In the West a religion is understood to be conclusive - that is, it is the one and only true religion. Second, a religion is generally exclusionary - that is, those who do not follow it are excluded from salvation. Finally, a religion is separative - that is, to belong to it, one must not belong to another. Dharma, however, does not necessarily imply any of these."

04 December 2007

Is Islam Anti-National?

The question is inflammatory. Let me explain what I am saying.

The relationship between a nation and its people involves two things: loyalty and identity.
a) Loyalty – The nation demands absolute loyalty from its people. A person's first and last loyalty must be to his country and his fellow countrymen, not to any other country/organisation/entity.
b) Identity – The nation demands that its people identify first with the nation. A citizen of XYZ nation, when asked "Who are you?" is expected to first say,"I am an XYZian". Other answers must follow - not precede - this answer.

Now anything that comes in the way of a person's absolute loyalty to his country or absolute identification with his country can be considered anti-national. It is in this sense that I am using the word "anti-national" here.

This absolute loyalty and identification is found in most people of the world. With one prominent exception: Muslims. Not because they are bad people or traitors, but because it is what their religion demands of them.

To understand this, we must first understand the concept of Ummah - a central concept in Islam. 'Ummah' is the Arabic word for 'community'. When Muhammad founded Islam, he founded it primarily as a social reform movement, not as a personal quest for Truth. Hence the Muslim community or Ummah is of paramount importance in Islam. And this Ummah must be united. Why? Because Islam is a fiercely monotheistic religion. It believes that God is One and Indivisible (it regards the Christian doctrine of Trinity as unacceptable). This unity of God must be reflected in the unity of the Ummah. Hence the obsession with the Ummah's unity.

Thus all the Muslims of the world - regardless of which country they live in - form the Ummah. And their first allegiance is to this Ummah, not to their respective countries. This is true not just in India and America, but also in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. So a Saudi Muslim is a Muslim first, and then a Saudi. He is not being a bad Saudi; he is just being a good Muslim. If a Muslim of XYZ country thinks he is an XYZian first, and then a Muslim, it only means that his Islam has been 'diluted'.

So we see there is a conflict between the demands of nations and the demands of Islam. This conflict is at the root of much suspicion and mistrust in the world today. Will this conflict ever be resolved? If yes, how? These are interesting, and important, questions.

PS: The United States, surprisingly, seems to be another exception to this rule. With the recent increase in Christian fundamentalism, many Americans think of themselves as Christians first, and Americans second.