Return to the basics
Bulbul Roy Mishra , The Pioneer
According to a Parsi lore, when the Persian refugees led by their priest landed in Sanjan, near Surat, in 716, hiding a small Afarghan with the sacred fire, they were asked by king Jadhav Rana, "What is it you want from us, O strangers?" "Sir," beseeched the old priest, "grant us freedom of worship, freedom to bring up our young ones in our tradition and customs and a small piece of land to cultivate."
All the prayers were granted. "In return, what will you do for the country of your adoption?" asked the king. The priest asked for a brass bowl filled with milk, stirred a spoonful of sugar in it, and replied, "Sir, we shall try to be like this insignificant sugar in the milk of your human kindness." Thereupon the Persians in the presence of the Hindu king turned their faces to the sun and recited the Kusti prayers.
The above anecdote is illustrative of the Hindu tradition of acceptance which is distinct from tolerance. For tolerance has an underlying presumption that what is tolerated is otherwise unacceptable. Swami Vivekanand, whom Romain Rolland described as "the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people", told his audience in California on January 28, 1900, "I accept all religions that were in the past, and worship with them all... I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian's church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his law."
Thus when the Sangh talks about 'back to the basics', leaving the 'basics' undefined, the term has to be understood in the light of the basic Hindu philosophy, the essence of which is Vedantic unity that is fundamental to Hindu faith. It is immaterial whether or not a Hindu has read and understood Vedanta. It is also not material that the Sangh itself may have been founded to pursue exclusive Hindutva in response to the stormy phase resulting from partition. When the storm has settled, should it not go back to the 'basics' that the tradition offers?
Viewed philosophically, every religion has an exclusive ethnic dimension and inclusive universal dimension at its higher level. Vedanta, the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita emphasise this universal inclusive dimension as the eternal truth and do not make any distinction between one man and the other, one religion and the other or even between a man and sub-human species (refer verse 18, chapter 5, Gita). The evolution in the phenomenal world, according to Vedanta, is only gradual unfolding of grosser and grosser forms from the single cause lying involute in the universal intelligence called Brahman
Evolution is preceded and succeeded by involution. Evolution belongs to the domain of phenomenal world and is, therefore, transient or impermanent. What is transient is subject to change and cannot form the 'basic' that is unchangeable. The only basic truth, according to Vedanta, lies in unity and acceptance. Thus, any ideology that upholds exclusivity of Hindus is self-contradictory and fundamentally wrong.
The question that arises is whether the apparent distinction among religions is unreal. If so, why should there be a fight over Ram Janmabhoomi and Babri Masjid, or even conversion? The truth is that in our ephemeral existence, every individual or group of individuals has a distinctive identity that is transient and not real. We fight with one another over property, power or ideology which is also transient. Fanaticism, fundamentalism and terrorism are only the logical corollary of the exclusive ethnical dimension. A true Hindu must emphasise universal inclusive dimension that proclaims unity and equality, and should aim at peaceful resolution of all disputes in the phenomenal world.
One may ask if it is possible to fight against injustice, wrong or invasive ideology while residing in universal inclusive dimension. The answer, as provided in Bhagavad Gita, is in the affirmative. It is the lesson of the Gita that fight one must against all kinds of injustices, but without any selfish motive, without any hatred or sense of enmity. Such state of unattached and dutiful mind is difficult to attain, but that is the essence of Hindu philosophy, the very 'basic' of its inclusive spirituality.
Fundamentalism, religious or otherwise, is frictional and anti-growth. Fundamentalists tend to bind co-believers to some ancient or medieval exclusive ideology as the sole truth, condemning non-subscribers either as inferior beings or enemies. "Is God's book finished?" asked Vivekanand. "The Bible, the Vedas, the Quran, and all other sacred books are but so many pages, and an infinite number of pages remain yet to be unfolded," said he. The greatest folly of fundamentalism that has created Islamic suicide squad or dogmatic Maoists, is that it closes the mind to the evolutionary change in ideology.
What message has been handed down to posterity by the Indian tradition? It is, according to Vivekanand, twofold: Selfless service and renunciation. Thus the slogan of 'back to basics', should be raised only to inspire Indians to render selfless service to the nation with a view to uplift the poor, and to renounce self-interest or self-aggrandisement.
If the above two 'basics' are kept in view while rendering service or discharging functions in whatever capacity, be it the head of the government or the party, or a menial labourer or cultivator, all of us will be able to rise above narrow individual, organisational or political considerations in the larger interest of the nation and humanity. India then will set an example for rest of the world.