One makes us weak. The other makes us strong.
Dear Reader, we are told that ?India is a soft state?, that ?it is a weak state.?
Do you know why? Perhaps you do not. Do I know why? I am not sure. But I?m determined to enquire.
A thousand years of slavery and a thousand years of bhakti?these have made us what we are today?a nation in constant wail.
There was a time when we were weak. Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism were all in a state of decline. False doctrines were in the ascendant. Meaningless rituals were rampant.
And then Shankara appeared on the scene. He was the son of Shiva, they said. He lived for 32 years. In those 32 years, he changed India'sdestiny.
How? By playing the God-man? By living in an ashram? By giving discourses? No. he was a karma yogi, a bhakti yogi, a jnana yogi. In him was combined all the powers of Man: Action, Thought and Grace. He could have remained a karma yogi and taken to social work. He could have taken to bhakti and attained spiritual grace. And he could have opted for jnana and become a philosopher. But the times called for a man with all these powers and more. Such a man was Shankara. There lived a similar man nearer to our own times. He was Mahatma Gandhi. He combined all the three powers of man.
Shankara travelled around the country on foot (no helicopter was available in those days), defeated his opponents in debates, set up four mutts in the four corners of India as sentinels of Hinduism and created akharas and armed forces to protect the Hindus.
He was truly a man with a mission. But it was not all action. He was the greatest philosopher of India. He propounded the Advaita. He told us to take to jnana as the royal road to salvation. He wrote immortal commentaries on the three canons of the Vedanta?the Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Gita. Perhaps these were beyond the ken of even the educated classes. So he wrote prakaranas-manuals like Viveka Chudamani, Atmabodha and others.
In a world of dualism, Shankara propounded his unique doctrine of Advaita?the theory of non-dualism. Was he then against bhakti? He was not. In fact, Shankara gave all his support to the bhakti movement, although it expounded dualism. He wrote two classics to promote bhakti-Shivananda Lahiri and Saundarya Lahari, which continue to inspire readers even to this day.
Bhakti is natural, he says. How? Because it alone suits the lower orders of society. But it went against the quintessence of Hindu philosophy?namely Advaita.
Advaita (non-dualism) is the final glimpse of the mystic Shankara of what is the Final Reality. In fact, advaita, says Vivekananda, ?is the last formulation one can arrive at. One cannot go beyond it, he says.
Was bhakti, then, a stage in the evolution of India? It was. Bhakti was born when India was in chains. It was the cry of a helpless people. We Hindus could not even pursue our studies then without inviting the wrath of our rulers.
Be that, as it may there is no alternative to bhakti to a large segment of our masses. Shankara realised this problem. Which is why he accepted bhakti and created a personal god?Ishwara, for the masses. But after having created an Ishwara, he left it to the masses to choose their ishtadevata, the deity of their desire.
Today bhakti is an escapist'sroute. It keeps the poor and the weak in hope of a better day. It promotes dependence on god. In contrast, jnana makes one self-reliant. What is more, we live in a knowledge society today. Knowledge gives power and strength. Vivekananda says: ?I believe in becoming entirely free from the holy teachers?pay all reverence to them, but look at religion as an independent research. I have to find my light just as they have found theirs.? This explains why he opted for jnana marga.
India is a soft state. Its people are softer. It is time we cast aside this abject dependence on god.
Bhakti was a need at the time of Nanak. His beads were his only weapon. And faith in God. But when Guru Govind Singh took up the sword, our helplessness was gone. The feeling of self-reliance took hold of us. It coursed through the blood of the Hindus.
Today we need less of the sword. And more of jnana. It can give us greater strength?both mental and material. Vivekananda says: ?Anything that makes you weak physically, intellectually and spiritually reject it as poison. It cannot be true.? If our bhakti is making us a weak nation, let us have less of it. I say less because the weak will always be with us.