In the second part of the interview, Swami Mitrananda ji of Chinmaya Mission, Chennai, talks about recontextualising Vedanta in a contemporary context and reiterates that Vedanta is practical!
(Click here for part one of the interview)
Q. 9) We live in challenging times. Our dharmic eco system is being challenged by Break Bharat forces. As a practising Vedantin, what do you think are some of the challenges facing Hindu dharma today?
I know what you are talking about. The situation is not that challenging now as it was six to seven years ago. Ten to fifteen years ago when I was actually working with the youth, that was when it was really challenging. For example, you wear saffron and walk into a university, you are not accepted easily.
Besides, the projection in the media was completely different. It was very hard because there was an opinion created and you had to challenge that opinion and present yourself. This was where, generally, the monks found it very hard. Because you are not welcome. So, you needed to create somebody who is not a monk but can deliver what a monk can deliver. Because a monk is not considered “cool.” A monk is not somebody seen as “successful,” is regarded as a “failure” in life and made to feel “impractical.” At least this was so for the last 20-30 years. That’s how the Youth Empowerment Programme was created. Hence you could not be in the front and teach. You had to be at the back and have people to drive it forward.
That was the time we were severely affected. But things have changed. For any ideology to reach the people, let’s say to the last person, you need political power. So that education polices can be changed; real content can emerge. Otherwise, the person who decided the education policy, made them anti-Bharat.
Bharatiya history that we’ve read in the last four or five decades is a clear plan of sabotage on Bharat. They destroyed our confidence; our freedom; destroyed our self-worth. History was taught that way. Somebody sat there and decided this is what we will teach and this will be the outcome. So, the people in political power wrote history deliberately to change the status quo. Now, even if you want to change a policy or a curriculum, you need political support.
So, one that shift has happened, as in the present government is very focussed on Bharatiya: what is the essence of Bharat? Now, it is not as challenging as it was before. Even in the midst of challenges, we must understand that our roots are very deep and strong. A movie actor commenting on Hindu dharma should not matter! However, we need to remember that people can be carried away by glamour. People use glamour to attack Hindu values; Hindu festivals; to show Hindu dharma in a poor light. But please remember, a glamorous person is a person without substance. Their impact is only momentary.
However, even at the time when there was widespread government-sponsored Hinduphobia as in textbooks and curriculum, even then we did not panic. Because we have stood the test of time. We were here 50,000 years ago and we are here even now! We’ve seen complete onslaught – we’ve seen our gurukulas being shut; our libraries being burnt; we’ve been burnt in cauldrons (Sikh Gurus)… we’ve seen these tortures.
We stood there and yet we are still there. This is not possible in other cultures. For example, wherever Islamic invaders have conquered people, they have converted them fully and transformed them into Islamic countries. Here, they ruled us for 800 years and we are still there. We are stronger. However, we cannot sit back on that strength. We need to be proactive.
Q. 10) How can we be proactive?
When we had to face challenges, there was no room for us to panic because we have seen harder times and we have stood up. First, we should not get into panic mode. When we express panic or desperation, it shows that we are not table to understand our own strength. Although it can be alarming, it does not call for desperation. When we become desperate, we are seen as weak by our oppressors who now believe that they can control us through fear. If we inspire people through fear, it will not last. We need to inspire people through our strengths.
Being proactive in such a context involves making people understand how scientific we are. We need to brush away cob webs in people’s minds that the British came to our country and educated us! Two thousand years ago we had universities geographically placed across Bharat and people from 60 countries used to come to study there! Britain didn’t even exist at that time!
I come from a civilisation that had well established universities 2000 years ago. I come from a civilization which had the best sea farers. We travelled far and conquered the high seas long before anyone else. We could take armies across, if required. All this brought great GDP. Our Hindu growth rate was so high at 32 percent of the world’s GDP. Even 200 years ago, Bharat accounted for 24 percent of the global GDP, all of which was due to sea trade.
My civilisation is very artistic, aesthetic, adventurous, forward thinking in terms of taking the universe as one family (Vasudaiva kutumbakam). And we conquered space—we know the distance between the earth and the moon, the earth and the sun. We were a civilization that combined materialism and spirituality. The concept of Lakshmi Narayan—Prosperity and Spirituality went hand in hand.
Coming from such a civilizational heritage, being proactive implies that we need to make people understand that their roots are brilliant. We have lost it somewhere in between. Change is possible only when we act collectively. We need to give people the insight that Vedanta, ancient Bharatiya Knowledge Systems, have solutions even for contemporary problems.
If we can reduce the gap between the public and the pandit, that’s being proactive!
Q. 11) How is it possible to lead a dharmic life in a contemporary context?
It depends upon your strength, your conviction, your value system. If all this is strong, it is very easy to lead a dharmic life. If I am weak, then I struggle at every point. Practising values gives me strength. When I am strong, I can face what life offers. When I am weak and my desire is very dominating, I am swayed by my desires. However, when I am grounded in values, to follow my dharma is easy.
Q. 12) Today, when Hindu families are moving away from a dharmic life, how can we address that?
We missed a lot when we moved away from the joint family. The joint family system had wisdom and support, which were easily available! This was an ideal ambience for a person to unfold faster. When the first generation has moved away, where are the second and third generation learning? Life has become a struggle to survive. We should bring back the wisdom and support system. If the support is difficult to begin up, the other option for for the person to increase the support from within. You need to become three times stronger in it the absence of external support. We need to make families understand the importance of such an approach. You have something beautiful, but they don’t know that what you have can solve their problems. Therefore, no takers.
We need to present the multiple facets of Vedanta: Vedantic insights for parenting, Vedanta and stress management, Vedanta for teen troubles. When you make Vedanta contemporary, that wisdom applicable, then people will connect!
Q. 13) Unlike other religions, Hindu dharma doesn’t have one God, book, one prophet and it is non institutionalised. In this context, given the predatory proselytisation and conversion, is that yet another contemporary challenge?
We must understand the concept of freedom. Generation X and Generation Y demand freedom at every level. When people are seeking this kind of freedom, naturally, they will understand which religion provides it. Their quest for freedom, quest for non-interference—you will find which religion gives you that freedom; which religion controls your freedom That’s when they will understand Hindu dharma is like science.
Science has no single founder; no single book. Science is a product of collective thinking. Similarly, Vedas are not founded by one person; they are authorless (Apaurusheya). Hindu dharma, however, is empowered with the freedom to change; much like Science which is constantly evolving. When it is conditioned by One Book; One Man; you cannot change. Even if there is something unscientific within that Book, people will not have the courage to change it.
For example, the notion that the earth was made in six or seven days, cannot even be removed from the Book! Even if it makes no sense, you are unable to take it away because you are depending on one Prophet; one Book. It becomes canonical and has to be followed. Very soon, people will break out of that. The thinking community will not give eternal validation for one person. It has to be collective thinking. Science too (like Vedanta) believes in collective thinking.
The future is ours… I believe we will take it to the world more creatively, innovatively…
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