SPIRITUAL RENEWAL THE HINDU WAY
By Arun Shourie, (Observer, 12/01/96)
But in looking at the ritual, at the idol, at the concept, why not start with the opposite assumption? Why start by assuming that they are empty, that they are the remnants of superstition? They had occurred to, they had been devised by seers, by persons of great insight. Therefore, why not start with the assumption that the rituals, the idols have great significance, that they address an inner need? If you find that a ritual has become mechanical, why condemn ft? Why not find a way to endow it with life? If an idol has become a crutch, an object that induces dependence, why look down on the idol or idolatry? Why not find a way to have it work the potential in it, a way by which people will translate into their lives the virtues they associate with, they have endowed in that idol?
And there is the practical side too. These rituals and idols and legends are in the very blood of our people, in their breathing itself. Once they are given a new meaning, a meaning suited to the needs of the time, would the task not get done that much sooner and better? On the other hand, even if you succeed in condemning and showing up the rituals and idols and concepts, would you not have only demeaned our people in their own eyes, would you not just have made them feel small? And having done that you expect the people to stand up on their own, to do great things !
I summarise, and collate. But that is the point that our reformers have stressed repeatedly - Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and others! Why denounce the ritual, why shatter the idol, why look down on the simple festivals of our people? Why not breathe new meaning into it, why not infuse another life into it?
Prayer may not be mere supplication, petitioning, they have taught. It should be a way to imbibe humility, a way to reflect, to learn about oneself. And engaging in service is the way to know oneself, they have taught: As we serve lepers we see fear well up in us: as we serve the weak we see our mind manufacturing reasons to avoid the trouble - 'They do nothing to help themselves. They are undeserving" - and we see the 'reason' as the excuse it is, and thereby learn - Gandhiji's words - never to sit in judgement over those we shall serve... Sacrifice is vital, but ft does not mean killing an animal, they have taught: the things to be sacrificed are hankering, the base instincts in us, the great sacrifice is that of the ego.
Most cannot contemplate the abstract, they cannot be inspired to higher conduct by it, Swami Vivekananda taught having been awakened to the truth by seeing the veneration of Ramakrishna Paramhamsa for the idol of the Mother. They need a concrete representation, an idol they can see and feel, an idol that embodies an ideal, a confluence of virtues. Instead of denigrating or smashing the idol, why not direct them through the idol to the ideal R embodies? Why not teach them that worship of the idol is complete when we see in each of our fellow-beings that spark of divinity which we associate with the idol? That true worship of that idol is service of the fellow being?...
That has been the way of reformers in India: it is as if an algebraist were to leave the expression within the parentheses unchanged but were to change the sign outside. And these reformers have actually worked revolutions in India - while others have just talked revolution. This way of looking at things was brought home to me some years ago by one of the most innovative and one of the most effective reformers India has had in the last haft-century: Shri Pandurang Shastri Athawale.
Bhakti does not consist in sending petitions to God, he has taught, nor is it rooted in fear. But in loving Him through His creation, His creatures. A ritual is the device to arouse certain attitudes in us, to awaken us to, to inspire us to live certain values. Rituals are important because, after much experimentation and deep contemplation, persons of great insight saw that those attitudes and values would be best awakened in us by those steps. Therefore they are not to be dismissed or circumvented lightly. But ft is the attitude - the bhavana- in the ritual which is important: endow all work with that bhavana and all work is consecrated, all work becomes an instrument for taking us towards those values, all work becomes the means to knowing one's self. And there is the other side to the coin: When we have transformed all our work into a device for knowing our self, we are insulated from the buffetings of 'success' and 'failure' for 'failure' reveals as much of our inner condition to us as 'success'.
In a sense, because of the work and prodigious output of these great reformers, redefinitions of this kind have become familiar in the last hundred years. But these reformers have done more! They have put the reformulation to work. The reformulation, therefore, are not just ideas, they are ideas which have worked.
By contrast, Shri Pandurang Shastri has led farmers to set up Vrikshmandirs. Temples with no walls and domes, temples of trees alone. Land is secured by the village itself. Everyone nurtures the saplings. Each family in the village takes its turn by rotation to take care of the trees, to keep the temple and its land clean.
In the Amrutalayam mandirs which have been set up in tribal areas by Shastriji's movement, there is scarcely a wall: There are two or three-foot high brick pillars - from these rise arches of bamboo, and over them and across them stretches a canopy of creepers. Each couple - husband and wife - in the village are pujaris by turn, each couple for a week. They wake up early, bathe, make their way to the temple, clean the courtyard, light the oil lamps, draw the Swastika, and create an atmosphere in which everyone who comes feels welcome and at peace.
Transformation accrues of its own. All families contribute plants and creepers, all work together to tend them: Such distinctions as there might be are thereby eroded. In the Amrutalayams every couple takes turn at being pujaris. People thus learn that function is important not birth - he among us is the brahmin who is a wayfarer on the path of Brahman, Shastriji teaches them. In the week they are pujaris, the couple forswear liquor as much as lies - temperance is thus imbibed, and the habit of sticking to truth. A Vrikshamandir caters to 20-odd villages. Every day, by rotation, different villages send persons to be pujaris for the day: They work together as a team, as priests tending the temple of trees, caring for the soil, weeding: they sit and labour and eat and pray and sing hymns together. The boons accrue automatically overtime: Animosities between villages, distances between castes are dissolved in the pool of devotional labour and working together.
The western-educated Indian, having made people look down on themselves for their 'primitive', 'animist' beliefs, then tries to teach people to plant trees an utilitarian and, at best, aesthetic grounds. Shastriji's idiom - like that of Swami Vivekananda, of Gandhiji - is religious.
"There is much we can learn from the trees," he teaches the people. "Trees are marvellous entities. They send their roots deep into the soil and seek sustenance there. Trees are charity manifest -they teach, by their own example to give generously. Like the Lord Shiva, they inhale poisonous gases and exhale life-giving oxygen. They give fruit to those who throw stones at them: their roots are used for medicinal purposes, their flowers and leaves are used in worship: their fruits satisfy our hunger: and their dark cool shade invites the weary traveller to rest. Trees do not expect anything in return for the service they render us: they do not expect even thanks from us: it is their very nature to be unchanging in their generosity and compassion. Truly, therefore, there is much we can learn from the trees... God is not hidden in these temples but reveals Himself in the guise of trees. This God is clothed in the magnificent finery of spring. Vayu, the wind-God fuss Him to sleep and brilliant stars in the heavens above send their devotion to Him. He is bathed by the clouds and the birds sing His glory with joy .. Your temple of trees nestles in the loving bosom of Mother Earth. It has neither doors nor windows: it has only the abundance of your devotion. Your temple is the abode of living, growing and flowering idols in the form of trees. When you enter this temple do so with a sense of worship: while watering the trees feel the presence of God. This is your spiritual discipline and your way of life. God exists inside the temple and outside the temple too. In worshipping our deities like Hanuman, Tulsi etc, we worship the divinity which is immanent in all beings, in plants, in trees..."
The least of the advantages is that this idiom goes straight to the heart of the people. The more important point is that the teaching builds on the life of the people, it starts with a deep respect for what the people already know and do: The teaching leads them to see the deep meaning in what they do as a matter of course. As certainly as the idiom of our westernised elite - 'Superstition,' 'Primitive animism' - undermines the self-respect of the people and thereby their ability to help themselves, just as surely the idiom of reformers like Shastriji enhances the self-regard and ability of the people.
There is another point that enhances these: The secret lies in what the followers are urged to put to use. Tribals know how to nurture trees and creepers, that skill is what they are urged to contribute - they see that skill is special, that it is capable of divine work. This is a key concept in Shastriji's Swadhyaya movement.
Ever so often when we feel particularly holy, or grateful, or guilty, or fearful, we console ourselves by giving something in charity, by making a donation to a temple. But the phrase, Shastriji teaches, is to give tan, man, dhan - in that order, one's time and energy, one's mind and devotion, and only then money etc. Persons who encounter the Swadhyaya movement, are moved by the remarkable transformation which ft has brought about in the lives of lakhs, and approach Shastriji with donations of money are politely told that donations cannot be accepted till they have given of their own time, and their particular skill: An accountant must first help look after the accounts of one of the projects, an engineer must first help recharge the well ...
The special skill of fishermen is in catching fish, in making and repairing boats. This skill, this work has been transformed into dharma-work. By contributing their labour and earning from a bit of their catch over time, fishing communities have built and bought a motor-boat each, the matsyagandha, the 'Floating Temple.' It is cared for as a temple should be, fishermen taking turns to man the boat for the day. Earnings from the catch of the matsyagandha belong to the community as a whole. They are used to help those who are in need within the community, to buy medicines for the sick, to help those without jobs set themselves up, and to acquire civic amenities. Communities of farmers have been led in the same way to transform barren land into wealth of the community.
Fasts, festivals, pilgrimages have been similarly transformed. Where the movement has taken hold, on Balipratipada day, the New Year day by the Hindu calendar, all men, women and children from a village visit the neighbouring village. At the outskirts of the latter village they draw lots to determine the house at which they shall have lunch: the hospitality is returned by the first village in the same way. The consequences form as a matter of course: The feeling of community is strengthened, taboos of caste, the distances of income etc. are overcome, families develop bonds.
A pilgrimage is not just a journey to petition a bank-manager, Shastriji has taught Swadhyayees- It means withdrawing one's mind from the pursuits and preoccupations of our daily existence. Swadhyayees, therefore, visit the pilgrimage centres of course - as these have been identified by our seers as specially charged places - but in addition they visit villages on the way to and around those centres to disseminate teaching of the Vedic religion and the Gita.
Indeed, these perigerations in the villages have become a keystone of the movement. They are known as Bhakti-pheris, devotional tours. Every Swadhyayee devotes at least 15 days a year to touring in the villages. His or her sole object is his or her own spiritual growth, he goes merely to learn, to get to know, to make friends. He must accept absolutely nothing from those he visits, he must politely refuse even ordinary hospitality. Benefits accrue in many ways, at many levels. The spiritual growth makes for a better society. The ones he gets to know, see his conduct and are thereby encouraged to improve their own lives. Often the outcomes transcend individuals.
In the Saurashtra region, the hostility of Mers - mainly agriculturists - and Kharwas - mainly fisher folk - had been legendary, it was murderous. All efforts to keep them from assaulting each other had failed. Had the matter gone to one of our modern experts in 'Conflict Resolution' he would have drawn up a list of 'issues', suggested formulae for give-and-take and drawn up a contract, a treaty. But no specific issue was the cause. When the age-old enmity was put to Shastriji, he focussed on changing the atmosphere, the air and water so to say. Swadhyayees began visiting each community. Both communities developed trust in them. Eventually both appealed to Shastriji to bring them together.
Shastriji did not seal that consummation by drawing up a contract. He told them to organise a Satyanarain puja - there must be 1,008 couples from each community: they must sit alternately: a Kharwa couple, a Mer couple, a Kharwa couple: each couple must perform the puja. And to avoid expense, Shastriji simplified the puja so that it could be completed with just a few flowers, water and rice. When the puja had been completed by such large numbers from each community, by such large intermingled numbers, and with Satyanarain as their witness the leaders of both communities forswore hostility to each other ....
As will be evident such experiments of our reformers
are a result of deep reflection and insight. They are innovative ideas.
They are ideas which build on notions and practices which lie embedded deep
in the psyche of our people. For that reason they are Indian ideas. And,
as we shall see, they are ideas that work.
THE BUDDHA'S GARMENT
By Arun Shourie (Observer, 19/01/96)
'It is a miracle... can be likened to the building of the Gothic cathedrals of Europe... There is no doubt that London has acquired a significant new building of traditional Indian beauty and interest... We can be grateful that this has happened in a part of London that needed transforming.'
"By day, London's magnificent Hindu temple is impressive enough, but at night it becomes a truly wondrous sight. It is likely to become one of London's tourist attractions alongside its role as a place of worship..."
"Little short of a genie from a magic lamp could explain how, amid the unremarkable houses and offices that are Neasden in north London, the depressing landscape suddenly explodes upwards into an astonishing temple from the East. Neasden's new mandir looks as if it has been transported on a magic carpet this spectacular temple in such unlikely surroundings."
"If ever a place needed a miracle, however, Wembley is it... The miracle has happened. No non-Christian religious organisation in Britain has built with such confidence in the long-term future. It is a beautiful building that enriches London enormously. A vision that beggars belief - a new Hindu temple of historic stature and beauty, a strange and exotic magnificence."
"Something altogether extraordinary has happened in Neasden. There has been an almighty outbreak of Hindu faith. Its the sort that political parties can only dream of harnessing when they talk of community. Whole families have given months, some years, of their time. Bankers have turned electricians, accountants have laid drains. Some have given up their jobs. Solicitors, doctors and architects have sacrificed annual holidays and been assigned by saints what might be seen as labour. Women cook and organise the festivities. Children play their part".
"The new temple in Neasden is a remarkable building by any aesthetic standard and ft will probably become one of the sights of London. Amongst other things, the temple is a monument to family values. Visitors have been amazed by the exquisite craftsmanship involved. But this is not just an aesthetic treat in the most unlikely of venues: It is a symbol of the coming of age of Britain's Hindu community."
"It would, I think, appear unlikely and wonderful wherever it was. But in Neasden, it is like an epiphany. The profusion of the carving, so startling at first, is even more startling close up".
"A startling sight... The whole project illustrates the possibilities of drawing on India as the crafts workshop of the world. Indian craftsmen can make almost anything... Asian communities deserve the gratitude of all of us for ornamenting our suburban wastes, for providing us with case studies in the architecture of cultural identity and continuity. The Swaminarayan Mandir serves as a point of reference, a miraculous extreme. A warning against bland assumptions about the inevitability of industrialised and commercialised building production, the gleaming shikaras of Neasden will stand witness to what is possible..."
That is how the British press - The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, and others - wrote last August about the new Swaminarayan Temple in London. True to secular commitments, Indian papers were too embarrassed to say anything comparable: It is a Hindu temple after all. As usual The times of India led all the rest - with a carping report entitled, "Britain sees the gentle face of Hinduism". It mocked at L K Advani for claiming "the high moral ground for Hinduism" at the convention held to coincide with the inauguration of the temple, and remarked that "his speech would have been equally applauded at a 'Combat Communalism' meeting". It devoted a paragraph to a "former Shankaracharya" who, it said, "was swayed by his own oratory and evoked violent imagery in his reference to anyone trying to harm Hinduism.
An average Swaminarayan devotee is unlikely to be inspired by militance that seeks to mimic the extreme trends in Islam". It reported the then chief minister of Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel quoting a poet, and added, "Mr. Patel emphasised 'valour', and some got the impression that the 19th century poet was a card-carrying member of the BJP!" Even the attention the temple had received in the British press was put in context, so to say: "The Swamiji's followers projected a gentle face of Hinduism which received considerable publicity in British media," The Times of India report concluded, "Mr. Hinduja found this equally surprising, for, as a long-time resident of London, he has been witnessing New Delhi's inability to properly project India in the British media". In a word, a typical report soaked in the old, familiar secular sickness.
But to get back to the temple. It is located in a 12 acre plot and is made mainly of limestone from Bulgaria and marble from Italy. The limestone and marble were shipped to Kandla and other centres of craftsmen in India. Each piece was carved, shipped to London and eventually the 23,600 pieces were assembled to raise the temple. Adjacent to the temple is a cultural complex covering 100,000 square feet.
The materials alone are estimated to cost anything between £3 million to £10 million. A British architect looking at the architectural plans is reported to have estimated that in the normal course the structures would have cost £50 million - that is, Rs. 300 crore. And yet the building was constructed entirely by voluntary contributions of the followers of the Swaminarayan movement.
Among those who made the most significant contribution were children. An average household in Britain throws away about 500 aluminium cans every year. The children went from house to house, restaurant to restaurant, stadium to stadium and collected the used, discarded cans. In this way, they collected about seven million cans. These were given to a reprocessing plant, and the earnings were given to the temple's fund.
Everything about the project is an Indian statement. That scale of voluntary participation was an astonishment to the British papers - one of them after the other could think of only one parallel: The cathedrals that were constructed, not now but 500 years ago in Europe. The blessing such participation spells will be manifest: Every volunteer worked with his hands and thus learnt the dignity of labour: there was no distinction of wealth, caste or anything else: as every one contributed his mite, every one sees the temple as her and his own: as families have laboured together, family ties have been strengthened: the community has acquired a great symbol.
But there is something else also which is specially Indian: It is evident both in the location of the temple and in that mode of financing it. Recall that the temple has been in a particularly squalid part of London, a part that has been the butt of derision and mockery. And recall that one of the main ways of financing has been to recycle refuse, those discarded aluminium cans.
Both features are Indian symbols: For our texts always point to the lotus - which grows out of and blooms amidst mire. We are taught of the Buddha's garment: By the time he awakened from the path of austerities to the middle path, his garment was in tatters: there was nothing with which to clothe himself: a coarse shroud which had been use to cover corpse lay discarded by the river: the Buddha took the sheet for his garment - and thereby taught us to make holy that which we find repulsive and unclean. That the Swaminarayan temple should come up in blighted surroundings, that its marble and limestone should come of discarded cans: that the Swadhyaya Vrikshmandirs should be "constructed" in barren land: that the followers of Acharya Rajneesh in Pune should convert a filthy, stinking nullah into the most exquisite garden - that is the Indian statement, it is the Buddha making that shroud holy.
That a temple should come up in the very land which had enslaved us, that a temple housing 17 idols should come up in the very land missionaries from which heaped untold calumny on us and our idolatry-that is not just an Indian, it is a historic statement. Just as the British journalists were grateful to the movement for bringing a thing of beauty to a blighted area, I am grateful to it for this ever so-gentle act of retribution!
There is another special feature: Movements such as the Swadhyaya and Swaminarayan movements are led by, they owe their inspiration, their very existence to the most Indian of figures. I remember how surprised I was when I first heard Martin Luther King: I had learnt that he had been influenced by the example of Gandhiji, but his voice was so loud, his words so grandiloquent, his gestures so theatrical that the influence of Gandhiji could only be taken on assumption. Run-of-the-mill Christian evangelists of course appear hysterical, apocalyptic, almost epileptic. By contrast, Shri Pandurang Shastri Athawale is so much an elder in the family, so much a friend: You would never detect from meeting him the reverence in which he is held, you would never hear him mention the sea-change his life and teaching have spelled for lakhs and lakhs, a man who carries his enormous learning as lightly as a feather. Pramukh Swami Maharaj - the current head of the Swaminarayan movement - is similarly venerated by lakhs, the movement has attained enormous expansion and prosperity under his guidance. Yet he is the last word in humility, in self-effacement.
I learnt later that once a brash visitor remarked to Pramukh Swami Maharaj, "Lakhs revere you, because of you the lakhs pour in. Yet none of R shows on you. What is the secret?" "Because I know that I do nothing. Jo hota hai, Bhagwan ki kripa se hota hai - whatever happens, happens because of the grace of God." the truly Indian response.
I was reminded of a exchange that my friend, the scholar Arvind Sharma, had told me about. A poet was famous as much for the generosity with which he helped every one in need as for his profound poetry. Another poet was in dire need. As usual, he was helped. To express his gratitude the latter sent a quatrain:
Aisi deni dekhiye Jo deve din rain,
Tyon tyon neeche nain
Devan har koi aur hai
Who gives day as well as night
The Indian tradition - it is seen to this day in reformers such as Shri Pandurang Shastri Athawale, in Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
And there is the Indian condition too - it too can be seen today in the fact that few of us will be able to recall the name of that fine and Large-hearted poet who was the subject of those lines.
But there is a deeper significance to the work
of these reformers - a significance which transcends them as individuals.
It is to this that I shall turn.
SIGNS OF RENEWAL
By Arun Shourie (Observer, 26/01/96)
The super-speciality hospital which Satya Sai Baba has set up in Putaparti, the water schemes which have been inaugurated in Anantpur district to mark his 70th birthday will, of course, make the difference between life and death to vast numbers. The other point about projects undertaken at the direction of these teachers is their managerial excellence. The projects are invariably completed on schedule: it took just three years from the permission being granted for the temple in London to its being opened for worship. The execution is a model of excellence, the costs are minimal: just three years ago the Swadhyaya began movement recharging wells to help the drought-stricken in Saurashtra and Kutch - the water table there had fallen from 15 feet to 500 feet in places: already they have recharged close to one lakh wells: the cost has been Rs. 500 per well - that figure is one-tenth of the norm prescribed by Nabard.
The congregations that participate in the functions of these movements are enormous-almost three lakh Swadhyayees gathered in Allahabad for the Thirtrajmilan in 1986, lakhs visited the Swaminarayan Amrut mahotsav in Bombay last month: though huge, each gathering is a model of self-discipline and purposefulness. From running kitchens for such vast numbers, from keeping the sites clean to financing the occasion - there is innovation at every step.
For that Thirtrajmilan at Allahabad the cloth alone which was needed for making tents for the Swadhyayees to stay in cost Rs. 40 lakhs. There was no way but to spend the money. There was also no way but to incur a substantial loss on this count: it had, of course, been decided that after the gathering was over and the tents had been carefully dismantled, the cloth would be resold: the resale value of that used cloth, however, was going to be only about a haft of what the cloth had cost. Yet there was no alternative to buying the cloth and making up the loss later. But during the function, participants from a Gujarat village came up with a proposal which saved the day: we have puja places in our homes, they said, we use cloth to sit on while praying what could be better cloth for us than this - cloth which has been part of such an auspicious gathering, cloth which has sheltered us, cloth which we have got at sacred Prayag? Therefore, they said, let the cloth be cut up after the function and sold at the original cost to anyone and everyone who wants it for this purpose. That was eventually done. And the entire cost was recovered.
We were in my study one day when I mentioned this as an example of ingenuity and participation to a modern - and, of course, very secular - friend. He pounced: That is the trouble with your Hindu leaders, he said, making money of poor, ignorant sods. Not one to let go of an opportunity to promote adult literacy, I picked out von Grunebaum's from the book shelf Muhammadan Festivals and pointed to the description to the Kaba and the kiswah, the cloth which covers it: "The kiswah is generally provided by the Egyptian government....... the description read, "It is changed every year and sold in small pieces to the pilgrims..." He could have stuck to the charge and said, "But that too is capitalising on ignorance. "He didn't - to may surprise, should I say ?
But to get back to the projects undertaken by our reform movements. As I mentioned, they are exemplary even on merely managerial criteria. And our management schools would do well to study some of the ideas and techniques they use. Several factors make the difference, but the main factor is faith - Faith in the Guru, in the Swami: faith in the tradition he tells us to live up to: faith in his proclamation that in reviving that tradition we are performing a sacred duty: faith in his exhortation that by participating in and completing these projects and thereby helping our fellow-beings, we are truly doing Dharma-work. But this is the very faith which fifty years of secularism has taught us to be ashamed of.
As will be evident, that faith is kindled by individuals. That such individuals continue to appear from time to time has been the secret of our tradition, and that it lead us to hearken to such individuals is its strength. The Paramcharya of Kanchi - himself one of the great exemplars of the dictum - put the point very precisely. People do not follow a religion because of some abstract doctrine it adumbrates, he said. What happens is that from time to time persons appear whose very life personifies the principles of that religion or tradition: people see these living personifications of the teaching and get convinced that yes, the teaching and tradition are worth following.. Bengal was failing to the missionaries by the day - the missionaries and their cohorts, the scholars had succeeded in making people ashamed of our beliefs and practices, specially of idolatory. And then Ramakrishna Paramhamsa came, with his visions of the Mother. The people saw his veneration for the idol of the Mother, they learnt the deep meaning which was enshrined in the idols in their homes, and thence they learnt that there was no reason to be ashamed of their beliefs and practices. The way of karma and Bhakti were similarly revived by Swami Vivekananda, by Mahatma Gandhi: vast numbers were awakened once again to the way of mysticism and Gyan by Shri. Aurobindo, by Ramana Maharishi. The life and example of the Paramacharya became the great, the unanswerable argument for the teaching and tradition of the Vedas.
That such persons rise from time to time has been the secret: that is why in spite of the state having for a thousand years been in the hands of forces which were out to stamp out our religion and tradition, our religion and way have lived.
But that is just half the secret. The other half is that each of these exemplars has been an uncompromising reformer, many of them like Swami Dayananda, Swami Vivekananada, Gandhiji - have been stern reformers: they have identified what was wrong in our own conduct and told us to first change those ways. Even this would not have been enough. What has made this characteristic of theirs' effective is another feature of our tradition: our religion and tradition have always acknowledged, indeed accepted that persons of their kind - persons of their spiritual insight, persons of their moral conduct-do indeed have the authority to reform, recast, reformulate the tradition. Nor is that feature fortuitous: it comes from the fact that in our tradition ft is direct perception, darshan, direct experience which is the touchstone, not some book or "revelation", or even person. In a word, persons of such insight have continued to appear on the scene, they have focussed on what we needed to do and rectify, and we have not held up a book against them, we have paid heed to them.
Persons like Shri Pandurang Shastri Athawale and Pramukh Swami Maharaj are of that same line. Their reformulations go deep. They insist on reforming and overturning performing rituals as a substitute for serving others... The central point about all these reformers has been and is that they teach us to make demands on ourselves, not on others. When Gandhiji addressed Harijans he asked them to make cleanliness their god, he asked them to give up liquor, to give up eating carrion, to make sure and educate their children. On the other hand, when he addressed Brahmins he told them to live up to the ideals of service and humility and learning and austerity which had been set out for them, he asked them to shed presumption vis a vis other castes. The Swadhyayee is not taught to organise morchas to compel government or someone else to concede a concession. He is taught to after his own conduct- not that government should recharge wells in Saurashtra but that he should, not that government should organise cooperatives for fishermen but that he should help them set up and man the Matsyagandha....
It is because of the same, deep reformist impulse that these leaders do their work not so much through full time social workers but through the lay volunteer - they do not aim so much to build a full time cadre, a sort of posse of knights-errant for attending to the work of others, they cause each person to make service and altered conduct a part of his or her daily life. If the focus had been on the band of full time workers, the rest would get into the habit of leaving the work to them. Similarly, if the focus had been on doing something pious on a particular day - keeping a fast on Tuesday - the person could well go on doing wrong the other six days and "wash ft away' by that pious gesture on the seventh day. The focus of these reformers has thus been the ordinary adherent, the lay volunteer: and on his making those better deeds a part of his day-to-day ordinary life.
Because reform is so intrinsic to these movements, because they work at reforms in this deep sense the consequences of their work are so totally different from the consequences of the "Work," of our "secular" leaders - for instance the traders in unions, and of the work of leaders like Ambedkar.
The former have actually brought about revolutions. The latter have only shouted about revolution.
The legacy of the former is to take us one step further towards self-reliance, towards actually improving ourselves and our society by our own efforts. The legacy of the latter - to adapt words that Maulana Wahiduddin Khan uses to describe what their leaders have led the Muslims into-has been the Denounce-Demonise-Demand-Bully formula.
The former way renews communities. The latter does the opposite: it leads them to blame others, to externalise the problem, and thereby to neglect the task of reforming their own conduct. It thwarts renewal. And ft paralyses the country.
The true sign of renewal, of renaissance, my friend S. Gurumurthy once told me, is not that one great man has appeared again, but that hundreds of persons and groups have spontaneously begun that kind of work in their own little areas. That we have today movements like Swadhyaya, like the Swaminarayan movement, and a number of other organisations all over the country: that they are all drawing inspiration from and reviving our Sanatana Dharma: that they are all reforming and reinvigorating bits and pieces of our life - these are sure signs of renewal.
May these myriad efforts cohere, may they join
up as rivulets into a mighty river.