Continued from Part 1
Hinduism and Secularism in Independent India
However that might be, India recovered its strength and consequently in 1947 India attained independence and formed its own government. We shall not go into the political developments that took place since then. For the specific purpose of this article, we may only note one important development, namely, that for the last 40 years or more, the country has been badly divided between the so-called ‘secularists’ and those who are called the ‘communalists.’ This division which has taken an acute form today and is creating serious political divisions in the country is not a new phenomenon. It was there right from the beginning of the twentieth century and was the root cause for the creation of Pakistan.
The creation of Pakistan has only intensified this unfortunate division within India. It now manifests itself as the clash between the force of secularism and the force which has been branded as communal and is supposed to be represented by the ideology of Hindutva.
One of our aims in this article is to show that this clash is based on a misunderstanding between these two apparently opposing forces. This misunderstanding is in some cases based on ignorance and often on deliberate misinformation due to political reasons.
In this article we are not concerned with the political aspect of the problem; we shall try to get to the true meaning of Hinduism and try to dispel the ignorance that is so rampant in India and abroad. This will help us see that there is no incompatibility between the forces of secularism and Hinduism; on the contrary they complement each other. Such an understanding is important because in it rests the possibility of creating a harmonious and unified political atmosphere in the country.
As pointed out earlier, a people and culture which learns to live consciously not solely in its physical and outward life, but in the soul and spirit behind, may not at all exhaust itself. Another point that must be noted is that India and Hinduism are essentially inseparable. It can not and must not be denied that Indian culture is largely Hindu culture. In an editorial dated 6th November, 1909, Sri Aurobindo wrote this about the spirit of Indian Nationalism:
Our ideal therefore is an Indian Nationalism, largely Hindu in its spirit and traditions, because the Hindu made the land and the people and persists by the greatness of his past, his civilization and his culture and his invincible virility, in holding it, but wide enough also to include the Moslem and his culture and traditions and absorb them into itself.” (CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, p 305)
This is the line we must pursue and in order to do that we must first be clear as to what we mean and understand by Hinduism; we must be able to distinguish the permanent element in Hindu culture and those elements that need to change. As Sri Aurobindo wrote in the earlier part of the twentieth century:
There is behind our imperfect cultural figures a permanent spirit to which we must cling and which will remain permanent even hereafter; there are certain fundamental motives or essential idea-forces which cannot be thrown aside, because they are part of the vital principle of our being and of the aim of Nature in us, our swadharma. But these motives, these idea-forces are, whether for nation or for humanity as a whole, few and simple in their essence and capable of an application always varying and progressive. The rest belongs to the less internal layers of our being and must undergo the changing pressure and satisfy the forward-moving demands of the Time-Spirit. There is this permanent spirit in things and there is this persistent swadharma or law of our nature; but there is too a less binding system of laws of successive formulation,—rhythms of the spirit, forms, turns, habits of the nature, and these endure the mutations of the ages, yugadharma. The race must obey this double principle of persistence and mutation or bear the penalty of a decay and deterioration that may attaint even its living centre. (CWSA, Vol. 20, pp. 86-87, emphasis added)
Let us therefore try to disengage the fundamentals that make up the permanent spirit of Hinduism; next we shall try to see the lesser binding system of laws that belong to the external layers.
The Fundamentals of Hinduism
If we are asked, “But after all what is Hinduism, what does it teach, what are its fundamentals and what does it practise?” we can answer that it is founded upon a few basic ideas or rather fundamentals of a highest and widest spiritual experience. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 193)
These basic ideas are explained below.
The first fundamental is : Ekam Sat, vipra bahudha vadanti. That is the idea of “One Existence of the Veda to whom sages give different names, the One without a second of the Upanishads, the Permanent of the Buddhists, the Absolute of the Illusionists, the supreme God or Purusha of the Theists who holds in his power the soul and Nature,—in a word the Eternal, the Inﬁnite. This is the ﬁrst common foundation; but it can be and is expressed in an endless variety of formulas by the human intelligence. ” (ibid.)
A related characteristic feature of Hinduism is that the highest aim of life and spiritual experience is to discover this Infinite and progressively enter into a unity with the Eternal. To arrive at this unity there are many paths and disciplines.
To discover and closely approach and enter into whatever kind or degree of unity with this Permanent, this Inﬁnite, this Eternal, is the highest height and last effort of its spiritual experience. That is the ﬁrst universal credo of the religious mind of India. (pp. 193-194)
Related to this point is the idea that Hinduism recognises that there are manifold ways of man’s approach to the Eternal and Infinite. One can follow this great spiritual aim by one of the thousands of recognized paths or by even any new path which branches off from them. Such an open acceptance and respect of all religions and approaches to the Highest is one of the core ideas of the Hindu religion.
Another fundamental or essential aspect of Hinduism is that it did not fix a gulf between the highest supreme Existence and our external and material way of being. Hinduism has always been aware that there are other psychological planes of consciousness and experience in between the highest spiritual and the physical-material planes, and the truths of these intermediate planes are as real and tangible as the outward truths of the material universe.
Hinduism recognises that each individual approaches God at first according to his or her psychological nature svabhava, adhikara, and gradually increases his or her capacity for deeper experience. The level of Truth, the plane of consciousness one may reach is determined by one’s inner evolutionary stage. There follows the need for a great variety of religious paths; but these are not imaginary structures, inventions of priests or poets, but truths of a supraphysical existence linking the physical world and the supreme consciousness of the Absolute. Hinduism recognises that here in the limitations of the cosmos, God manifests Itself and fulfils itself in the world in many ways, but each is the way of the Eternal. This is the reason why there are so many gods and goddesses and diverse forms of worship in the Hindu religion.
Thus we have arrived at two fundamental principles of Hinduism: the principle of diverse approaches to the Divine and the principle of graduality, which means that each man grows according to his nature and stage of development.
“The final idea of strongest consequence at the base of Indian religion is the most dynamic for the inner spiritual life.” It is that while the Supreme or the Divine can be approached through a universal consciousness, “He can be met by each individual soul in itself, in its own spiritual part, in the heart, because there is something in it that is intimately one and intimately related with the one divine Existence.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol. 20, p. 195)
The essence of Indian religion is to aim at so growing and so living that we can grow out of the Ignorance which veils this self-knowledge from our mind and life and become aware of the Divinity within us. These things put together are the whole of Hindu religion, its essential sense and, if any credo is needed, its credo.
Once we have seen these fundamentals and grasped them clearly, it becomes evident that Hinduism is wide, extremely tolerant, and more importantly, represents the true practice of secularism. There is really no opposition between true secularism and Hinduism.