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Rajaji on Hinduism and Vedanta

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By Nithin Sridhar

C. Rajagopalachari, popularly known as ‘Rajaji’, was the last Governor-General of India. He was a great visionary, statesman, politician, and a freedom fighter who made enormous contributions to Indian politics, culture, and society. On the occasion of his 137th birth anniversary today, here is a collection of his ten quotes on the subject of Hinduism and Vedanta taken from his book ‘Hinduism: Doctrine and Way of Life.’

1. Vedanta is the answer. It is not necessary to build a new religion. In India, we have a religion, and a philosophy attached to it, as old as civilization itself, which is remarkably consistent with science as well as politics.

2. The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita are the source-books of Vedanta. It is a remarkable achievement of intellectual imagination—it would not be incorrect to call it inspiration—that the rule of law in science was anticipated in the ancient Hindu scriptures. The God of Vedanta is not an anthropomorphic creation with human capriciousness—a conception against which the veriest tyro in modern science can launch a successful attack. Divine sovereignty is explained in the Bhagavad Gita in a language which anticipates and meets the difficulties that modern science raises against religious cosmology. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the sovereignty of God is exercised in and through the unchangeable law of cause and effect, that is, through what we, call the laws of nature.

Rajaji with Mahatma Gandhi. Photo: www.mkgandhi.org
Photo: www.mkgandhi.org

3. The way of life taught in this living spring of Hindu ethics is based expressly on the equal dignity and sacredness of every form of labor that falls to one’s lot. All work, it reiterates with solemn emphasis, should be done honestly and disinterestedly for lokasangraha—welfare of the community—and not for the satisfaction of personal desires.

4. The culture in India has been rooted in Vedanta. Whatever courage, heroism, self-sacrifice or greatness is to be found in our history or seen in the lives of our people has sprung from Vedanta which is in our blood and tradition. For Vedanta is undoubtedly a living philosophy of life in India, which is part of the mental structure of our people. The people of India get it not from a study of books but from tradition. It is in the air, so to say, of India and Asia. The foreigner has to get it from books and he necessarily sees so much subtlety in it that he may well swear that it is impossible that such a doctrine could ever be the actual cultural basis or living spiritual principle of the daily life of any people of modern times. Yet this is the fact in India.

Photo: swarajyamag.com
Photo: swarajyamag.com

5. The principal teaching of all the Upanishads is this: Man cannot achieve happiness through mere physical enjoyment obtained through wealth or the goods of the world or even through the pleasures attainable by elevation to the happy realms above through the performance of sacrifices prescribed in the Vedas………… The only happiness worth a wise man’s seeking is permanent happiness as distinguished from fleeting pleasures that are exhausted by enjoyment like a credit account in a bank either here or in the world beyond. Absolute happiness can result only from liberation and it follows therefore that spiritual enlightenment alone, which frees the soul from all illusion, can liberate the soul by breaking the bond of karma, the unending chain of work and results, and unite it again to the Supreme Being, which is moksha (liberation).

6. Vedanta is not mere philosophy. It is both philosophy and religion. Yet there is no controversy in it about forms of worship. Vedanta is the common heritage of the people of India in whatever denomination they may happen to have been brought up. In his treatises, Sankara, the great Vedantin, uses the word Narayana to indicate the Supreme Being. Others in their books give to the Supreme Being the name of Siva. Names and images, whether mental or sculptured, even the sacred and mystic syllable “OM” itself, are but crutches to help the faltering feet of infirm faith on the way to realization—mere aids to concentration, and protection against doubts and distractions. ……………. Pious men of all religions should indeed study the Upanishads and the Gita in that very manner, to whatever faith they may belong, only substituting their accustomed name wherever the Supreme Being is referred to. This really means that the Upanishads contain the quintessence of all faiths in which the divine thirst of the soul for the nectar of immortality has found expression.

Photo: photodivision.gov.in
Photo: photodivision.gov.in

7. The tradition in Hinduism is that it is not open to any Hindu, whatever be the name and mental image of the Supreme Being he uses for his devotional exercises, to deny the existence of the God that others worship. He can raise the name of his choice to that of the highest but he cannot deny the divinity or the truth of the God of other denominations. The fervor of his own piety just gives predominance to the name and form he keeps for his own worship and contemplation, and he treats the others as Gods deriving divinity therefrom. This reduces all controversy to a devotional technique of concentration on a particular name and mental form or concrete symbol as representing the Supreme Being. It makes no difference in the content of Vedanta to which all devotees equally subscribe.

8. Vedanta does demand renunciation, but that is renunciation of attachment, not of work or duties. It wants men to get rid of the desire for pleasurable fruits, for this leads to error, pain, anger and confusion of mind. It demands detachment of spirit while performing one’s task diligently and well. It lays the greatest emphasis on duties in co-operative life and activities in the general interest. Vedanta provides the soul-force to enable us to reduce selfishness, egotism, attachment to pleasure and fear of pain, and helps us to dedicate our lives to the efficient performance of our duties. Out of Vedanta we can develop resolution and fearlessness in service and devotion to truth.

Photo: photodivision.gov.in
Photo: photodivision.gov.in

9. Vedanta is the lesson and the inspiration practically of all the literature of India in a dozen of its languages. It is not a creed of North or South, but of all India and of all castes and all sects. Names made the sects although there was little or no distinction in faith or philosophy. The source book for all of them is the Upanishads. Vedanta has entered into the current of all Indian literature, prose, poetry or drama, lyric or narrative and imparts to it in varying degrees a loftiness of outlook and a faith in eternal verities.

10. If the postulates of Vedanta are accepted, the Vedantic ethic is spiritual eugenics. The object of right living to a Vedantin is twofold: One’s own true happiness and one’s contribution to a better world irrespective of disconnection in memory when we are re-born. The appeal of Vedanta is based on a feeling of oneness with the world and responsibility for its future. Social and civic co-operation permanently benefits the town or village wherein one is a citizen; patriotism benefits the future generations of the country to which one belongs; Vedanta seeks the welfare of the future world of which we are the present builders. If we live detached and dedicated lives as Vedanta lays down, the world will be peopled by better men as time goes on.

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Shankaracharya: A remarkable genius that Hinduism produced (Book Review)

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

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He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita
He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita.

Title: Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker; Author: Pavan K. Varma; Publisher: Tranquebar Press; Pages: 364; Price: Rs 699

This must be one of the greatest tributes ever paid to Shankaracharya, the quintessential “paramarthachintakh”, who wished to search for the ultimate truths behind the mysteries of the universe. His genius lay in building a complete and original philosophical edifice upon the foundational wisdom of the Upanishads.

A gifted writer, Pavan Varma, diplomat-turned-politician and author of several books including one on Lord Krishna, takes us through Shankara’s short but eventful span of life during which, from having been born in what is present-day Kerala, he made unparalleled contributions to Hindu religion that encompassed the entire country. Hinduism has not seen a thinker of his calibre and one with such indefatigable energy, before or since.

Shankara’s real contribution was to cull out a rigorous system of philosophy that was based on the essential thrust of Upanishadic thought but without being constrained by its unstructured presentation and contradictory meanderings.

He was greatly influenced by three basic texts of Hindu philosophy: Upanishads, the Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. He wrote extensive and definitive commentaries on each of them. Of course, the importance he gave to the Mother Goddess, in the form of Shakti or Devi, can be traced to his own attachment to his mother whom he left when he set off, at a young age, in search of a guru and higher learning.

The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara's philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.
Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess.

Against all odds, Shankara created institutions for the preservation and propagation of Vedantic philosophy. He established “mathas” with the specific aim of creating institutions that would develop and project the Advaita doctrine. He spoke against both caste discriminations and social inequality, at a time when large sections of conservative Hindu opinion thought otherwise.

Shankara was both the absolutist Vedantin, uncompromising in his belief in the non-dual Brahman, and a great synthesiser, willing to assimilate within his theoretical canvas several key elements of other schools of philosophy. He revived and restored Hinduism both as a philosophy and a religion that appealed to its followers.

Also Read: Hinduism: The Nine Basic Beliefs that you need to know

Varma rightly says that it must have required great courage of conviction as well as deep spiritual and philosophical insight for Shankaracharya to build on the insights of the Upanishads a structure of thought, over a millennium ago, that saw the universe and our own lives within it with a clairvoyance that is being so amazingly endorsed by science today. The irony is that most leading scientists, particularly outside India but also within, have little knowledge of the structure of Shankara’s philosophy and the transparent interface it has with scientific discoveries today.

Shankara wrote hymns in praise of many deities but his personal preference was the worship of the Mother Goddess. The added value of the book is that it has, in English, a great deal of Shankara’s writings. Unfortunately, most Hindus today are often largely uninformed about the remarkable philosophical foundations of their religion. They are, the author points out, deliberately choosing the shell for the great treasure that lies within. This is indeed a rich book. (IANS)