Remembering Deendayal Upadhyaya: Visionary who advocated ‘Integral Humanism’


By Nithin Sridhar

On this day, 99-years ago, Deendayal Upadhyaya, one of the most important thinkers of modern India who advocated “Integral Humanism” as a national philosophy and doctrine, was born.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

His political philosophy, which is rooted in the firm foundation of the Hindu purusharthas (four fold goals of life), aims to integrate the individual with the collective, and the material with the spiritual. He propounded it as an Indian answer to socio-politico-economic problems. He recognized the shortcomings in both the capitalistic and the socialistic models and realized that they both are alien to Indian society and culture.

Therefore, to address these shortcomings and provide an Indian alternative, he conceptualized the philosophy of “Integral Humanism”, which was later adopted by the Jana Sangha and the BJP as their political doctrine and philosophy.

On his 99th birth anniversary, let us look into some important aspects of Integral Humanism that have become very relevant in current times. Deendayal Upadhyaya gave four lectures on April 22-25, 1965 in Bombay (now Mumbai) elaborating on his vision of “Integral Humanism.”

Neglect of national identity is the root cause of India’s problems

Deendayal Upadhyaya stresses that most of India’s problems are due to a lack of national identity. As without a national identity, there is no direction and only chaos exists. He says: “If we stop to analyze the reasons for the problems facing the country we will find that the confusion about our goal and the direction is mainly responsible for the chaos.”

He adds: “It is essential that we think about our national identity. Without this identity there is no meaning of independence, nor can independence become the instrument of progress and happiness. As long as we are unaware of our national identity, we cannot recognize and develop all our potentialities. Under alien rule this identity is suppressed.

He points out that without national identity, a nation, just like any individual, will become “a prey to numerous ills when its natural instincts are disregarded.”

He further adds that the national identity is essential for national Unity. He says: “Yet there is generally, what is called a more or less common desire of the people of any nation. If this popular longing is made the basis of our aims, the common man feels that the nation is moving in a proper direction, and that his own aspiration is reflected in the efforts of the nation. This also generates the greatest possible feeling of unity.”

He concludes: “The basic cause of the problems facing Bharat is the neglect of its national identity.”

Indian problems require Indian solutions

Deendayal Upadhyaya argues that the problems faced by each nation are unique and hence, no solution can be taken as universal. While nations may adopt certain principles from outside, they must essentially seek their own indigenous solutions.

He says: “Every country has its own peculiar historical, social, and economic situations and its leaders decide the remedies to the ills that beset the country from time to time, taking into consideration its background. It is illogical to believe that remedies which the leaders of one country decided to try for their problems are likely to be applicable as such to all other peoples….. Therefore, it is neither possible nor wise to adopt foreign Isms in our country in the original form in toto. It will not be helpful in achieving happiness and prosperity.”

But, finding a unique solution does not mean turning a blind eye to the society’s that are outside one’s country. Instead, a nation must absorb the best from other nations and discard what is not suitable. Further, the absorbed elements must be adapted according to our own circumstances.

He says: “Therefore to ignore altogether the developments in other societies, past or present is certainly unwise. Whatever truths these developments contain must be taken and accepted. The rest must be scrupulously avoided. While absorbing the wisdom of other societies, it is only proper that we avoid their mistakes or perversities. Even their wisdom should be adapted to our particular circumstances. In brief, we must absorb the knowledge and gains of the entire humanity so far as eternal principles and truths are concerned. Of these the ones that originated in our midst have to be clarified and adapted to changed times and those that we take from other societies have to be adapted to our conditions.”

Regarding the tendency of some people to imitate everything western and discard everything Indian, at another place he says: “However, western science and the western way of life are two different things. Whereas western science is universal and must be absorbed by us if we wish to go forward, the same is not true about the western way of life and values. In fact thoughtless imitation of the West must be scrupulously discarded.”

Therefore, the solution to Indian problems does not lie in simple imitation of the west or in mindless borrowing of western concepts of socialism, capitalism, etc. The solution lies in developing an Indian solution which is also able to absorb, adapt, and assimilate those tenets from outside that are useful to our national life and culture and discard the rest.

Independence is meaningful only if it becomes an instrument of expression for a nation’s culture

In the context of finding solutions to India’s problems and taking India forward, Deendayal Upadhyaya points out that, if India is to be truly independent, then its independence should be based on the foundation of its culture.

He says: “If the culture does not form the basis of independence, then the political movement for independence would reduce simply to a scramble by selfish and power seeking persons. Independence can be meaningful only if it becomes an instrument for the expression of our culture. Such expression will not only contribute to our progress, but the effort required will also give us the experience of joy. Therefore, both from the national as well as human standpoint, it has become essential that we think of the principles of the Bharatiya culture.

The Bharatiya culture is integrated

Deendayal Upadhyaya says that the first characteristic of Bharatiya (India) culture is its integrated worldview. Unlike the west that concentrates on the parts and tries to patch it up to form a whole, the Indian worldview looks upon life as an integrated wholeness. It is this integrated vision that has shaped the unity in diversity that is so unique to Indian society.

He says: “The diversity in life is merely an expression of the internal unity. There is complementary underlying the diversity. The unit of seed finds expression in various forms – the roots, the trunk, the branches the leaves, the flowers, and the fruits of the tree. All these have different forms and colors and even to some extent different properties. Still, we recognize their relation of unity with each other through seed.”

He places this vision of integral wholeness against the western concept of “survival of fittest” which he calls as “the law of the jungles.” He further adds:Unity in diversity and the expression of unity in various forms has remained the central thought of Bharatiya culture. If this truth is wholeheartedly accepted then, there will not exist any cause for conflict among various powers.”

Integration of body, mind, intelligence, and the soul

According to Deendayal Upadhyaya, the integration is present not only with respect to social life, but also with respect to individual life. He says: “Body, mind, intelligence, and the soul- these four make up an individual. But these are integrated. We cannot think of each part separately. The confusion that has arisen in the West is due to the fact that they have treated each of the above aspects of human being separately and without any relation to the rest.”

He continues: Here in Bharat, we have placed before ourselves the ideal of the four fold responsibilities, of catering for the needs of body, mind, intellect, and soul with a view of achieving the integrated progress of man. Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha are the four kinds of human effort. Purushartha means efforts which befit a man. The longings for Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha, are inborn in man, and satisfaction. Of these four efforts too, we have thought in an integrated way.”

Dharma is the basis of national life

Deendayal Upadhyaya defines dharma as laws of life that bring about harmony, peace, and progress in the life of mankind. In another place, he adds that the fundamental principles of Dharma are eternal and universal. Yet their implementation may differ according to time, place, and circumstances.

In the context of a nation and its relationship to the Dharma, he says: “The ideals of the nation constitute ‘Chiti’ (soul of the nation), which is analogous to the soul of an individual. It requires some effort to comprehend Chiti. The laws that help manifest and maintain Chiti of a Nation are termed Dharma of that nation. Hence it is this “Dharma” that is supreme. Dharma is the repository of the nation’s soul. If Dharma is destroyed, the Nation perishes. Anyone who abandons Dharma betrays the nation.”

Hence, Dharma is the very foundation of national life. Hence, no progress of a country is possible without first aligning those activities with Dharma. If a nation indulges in Adharma, then it destroys not only dharma but also itself. Thus, Deendayal says: “We have written constitution, but even this written constitution cannot go contrary to the traditions of this country. In as much as it does go contrary to our traditions, it is not fulfilling Dharma. That constitution, which sustains the nation is in tune with Dharma. Dharma sustains the nation. Hence we have always given primary importance to Dharma, which is considered sovereign. All other entities, institutions or authorities derive their power from Dharma and are subordinate to it.”

He finally stresses that it is not enough that our country practices democracy. It should also align this democracy with the principles of Dharma.

He says: “Let us understand very clearly that Dharma is not necessarily with the majority or with the people. Dharma is eternal. Therefore, in the definition of democracy to say that it is a government of the people is not enough. It has to be for the good of the people. What constitutes the good of the people? Dharma alone can decide. Therefore, a democratic Government “Jana Rajya” must also be rooted in Dharma, i.e. a “Dharma Rajya”. In the definition of ‘Democracy’ viz. “Government of the people, by the people and for the people”, of stands for independence, ‘by’ stands for democracy and ‘for’ Indicates Dharma. Therefore, the true democracy is only where there is freedom as well as Dharma encompasses all these concepts.”

Therefore, Deendayal Upadhyaya through his integral humanism, stressed that Indian identity must be strongly rooted in the Dharma and this Dharma should be the basis for Indian democracy, economy, education, and all other aspects of Indian life.