Gift of India to the world
By MV Kamath
India’s Gift To The World Is the Light Spiritual; nderstanding India, It’s Culture & Sanatana Dharma, Swami Jyotirmayananda, Sri Ramkrishna Math, Chennai Pp 344, Rs 250.00
India has come a long way since the 17th century when Europe knew nothing about India and even less about Hinduism. One of the earliest European books about India, Abraham Rogers’ The Open Door, published in 1651 could only write about Indians’ “madness, out-of-control multiplicity and brutal sexuality”. Among the pictures chosen to illustrate the book was one of Hindus swinging from books and the Juggernaut rolling over Hindu bodies in Puri, The vision of India changed slowly and Warren Hastings, the first British Governor General of India (1773-1786) could write, after reading the English translation of the Bhagavat Geeta by Charles Wilkins that “the writers of Indian philosophies will survive when the British domination in India shall have long ceased to exist and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrance”. Prophetic words, but it wasn’t all that easy. Ignorance of Hindu dharma persisted in the white world and it took Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) almost a decade to make a beginning in educating it. In subsequent generations many like Dr S Radhakrishnan have helped to enlighten the world of what Hinduism is all about with comparable success and the latest one to do so is Swami Jyotirmayananda of the Ramakrishna Mission. That he has done an exceedingly good job is self-apparent. Within a few months, his book has gone into a second edition. It is a substantial in-depth introduction to different facets of the Perennial Wisdom (the phrase Sanatana Dharma says it all).
Primarily, it is a compilation of papers presented at Indological conferences held in the U.S. over a period of eight years and a worthy successor to his debut in the sphere of spiritual literature with his book entitled Vivekananda: His Gospel of Man-Making. Inspirational as the present volume is, it also deals with down-to-earth subjects like the role of Mandirs and Religious Institutions and seeks to establish the universality of Hinduism as a way of life, on the sound principle of ‘Unity of Diversity’. Beautiful are the Vedic principles on which Dharma is based such as Aaa no Bhadra kratavo yantu vishvatah (let noble thoughts come to us from all directions), ahimsa paramo dharma (non-violence is the supreme dharma), sarve bhavantu sukhinah sarve santu niramayaah…. (may all the happy, may none suffer), sarve Janaa sukhino bhavantu (may everybody be happy) etc. Sanatana Dharma, the Swamiji holds “is the common ground for the whole humanity to unite irrespective of religious and national differences”. There is a general belief that Hinduism is polytheistic. That isn’t so, the Swamiji avers.
He has interestingly a different understanding of Hinduism which, he claims, is “not polytheistic, monotheistic or pantheistic” and its philosophy should be actually called Panentheism, which posits that “God exists in all things and timelessly extends beyond as well”, immanent, transcendental, relative and absolute”. What is admirable about this work is its total catholicity in dealing not only with pure religion as such, but with the development of the scientific spirit in ancient India. Kapila who lived about 700 BC was the father of the theory of evolution, long before Darwin propagated it. Two centuries before Pythogoras, Hindu scholars had discovered the theorem attributed to him. The Swamiji quotes Prof. E.W. Hopkins as saying that “before the 6th century BC, all the religious-philosophical ideas of Pythogoras were current in India. The world owes the decimal notion to India as well as the concept of zero. Hindus were the first teachers of plane and spherical trigonometry and the first to fix lunar mansions, lunar zodiae and the division of the constellations. In Rasaayana familiarity is shown of metallurgy, acids and alkalis, oxides and sulphates of various metals and the very concept of time.1/50th of a second was even given a name: pratatpara. Why are there all these references to such information in this book? Answers the Swamiji: “The intellectual quest in India is aimed at higher objectives. The objective was to pierce the veil of ignorance that hides the truth and to know the mystery of existence and how to make existence itself an experience of freedom”.
As Swamiji sees it, “today we must pool all the human experiences derived through spiritual striving and scientific explorations and evolve an active philosophy of humanity, instead of frittering our energies in petty squabbles, clinging to mind-narrowing dogmas or enclosing ourselves in the dry shell-bound intellectualism”. Very sound advice indeed. One talks about dharma, often in a very causal way, not realising its full meaning and significance. But Swamiji’s definition of it is worth deeply pondering upon. He writes – and every word is significant: “Dharma is the central core of spirituality and being universal in message, it won’t antagonise any religion. Dharma is inherent in all religions, as sweetness is there is all sweet drinks, but dharma itself can’t be equated with religion. Dharma is not religion, not moral code, not the teachings of personalities and has nothing to do with doctrines and dogmas. Dharma is the art and science of harmonious living and peaceful co-existence…” Swamiji later quotes Swami Ramdas as saying that “Dharma means that which upholds and elevates”. This is a book to read and digest. To feel proud of our heritage, of Aryabhatta, Nagarjuna, Brahamgupta, Vachaspati, Charaka, Sushruta, Shaunakha, Varahamihira, Bharadwaja, Parasara, Angirasa, Bhaskaracharya… the very thinking of them to make us Indians proud of our great heritage. Incidentally, included in the book are articles by two foreigners, Michel Danino, a former Frenchman and Vamsee Juluri that throw new light on what Hinduism means to the searcher after Truth. The young will feel it enlightening and the old will feel a sense of fulfillment, but to all it attempts to show the way to spiritual growth. And what more can one ask of life?
(Swami Jyotirmayananda, Anandashram, PO Anandashram, Kanhangad, Kerala-671531)