Upanishads and Our Culture

Setbacks there may be; but nothing can thwart permanently the onward march of this struggle; for it is the manifestation of the time spirit. Behind it is the dynamic energy of that scientific reason and enlightenment of the modern age whose impact is already evident in the field of religion, for which it provided the milieu and the stimulus to struggle to liberate itself from the blind forces of man's collective unreason, and make it function in the light of reason.

Scientific deliberations are generally conducted in a calm atmosphere, and differences of opinion are tolerated. This was absent in the field of religion due to the very initial divorce of reason from religion. Thus is changing fast. Encounters between religions are increasingly taking place today in an atmosphere of decreasing emotional temperatures.

A Great Preacher of Karma

Highlighting Vedanta’s unifying vision, Sister Nivedita (Miss Margaret Noble) writes:

'The many and the One are the same Reality, perceived by the mind at different times and in different attitudes.

'It is this which adds its crowning significance to our Master's life, for here he becomes the meeting-point, not only of East and West, but also of past and future. If the many and the One be indeed the same Reality, then it is not all modes of worship alone, but equally all modes of work, all modes of struggle, all modes of creation, which are paths of realisation. No distinction, henceforth, between sacred and secular. To labour is to pray. To conquer is to renounce. Life itself is religion. To have and to hold is as stern a trust as to quit and to avoid.

'This is the realisation which makes Vivekananda the great preacher of karma (detached action); not as divorced from, but as expressing jnana (Self-knowledge) and bhakti Gove of God). To him, the workshop, the study, the farmyard, and the field are as true and fit scenes for the meeting of God with man as tl1e cell of the monk or the door of the temple. To him, there is no difference between service of man and worship of God, between manliness and faith, between true righteousness and spirituality.'

This dawn of sanity in inter-religious relationships is a priceless gift of reason as expressed in Vedanta and modem thought. It is reasonable to expect that this light of reason will eventually succeed in conquering unreason, and in introducing sanity, in the socio-political fields as well. It may take longer, as these fields are the arenas of man's search for power and pleasure, largely at the dictates of the blind forces at his lower sensate nature.

When reason succeeds in establishing a measure of sanity ill this field, democracy, which upholds human dignity and equality and which has been under constant threat from these underground forces of human nature, will become firmly established as the best political and social value and technique. The struggle for sanity will continue till the position with respect to ideologies will become reversed, so that, unlike now, the most effective ones will be those which are most broad and inclusive.

But this needs the ministrations not only of scientific reason, but also of Vedantic reason; for, the latter alone has the capacity to purify the emotional springs of man's energies, centred in his worldly and religious aspirations, of all their narrowness and exclusiveness, retaining intact, at the same time, their intensity and dynamism. This, our scientific reason is unable to do by itself; when it eliminates narrowness, it tends to destroy also the energy of the emotions in the process.

Hence the contribution of the Upanishads in bringing about this great consummation is going to be vital and pervasive. Ideals and ideologies are vital to human life and achievement; they give direction to powerful human emotions. Without their help, man becomes flabby and ineffective, and often blunders all along. If a man with an ideal commits a thousand mistakes, says Vivekananda, a man without an ideal commits fifty thousand.

Hence the dictum of Vivekananda: Let sects multiply; but sectarianism must go'. Narrowly conceived ideals have done as much harm as good III religion and politics. Intensity was obtained at the cost of extensity; extensity, on the other hand, has always resulted in a reduction of intensity. The current flows fast in a narrow stream. When the river broadens, the current loses in Intensity.

This has been the dual choice before man with respect to ideologies. The modern age is in search of ideologies which yield the fruit of maximum character. This signifies, according to Vedanta, the simultaneous presence of intensity and extensity. Vivekananda presented Vedanta as a fearless philosophy of life Which helps man to frame ideologies" for himself combining 'the intensity of the fanatic with the extensity of the materialist'. It derives its intensity from its inward spiritual penetration and its extensity from its outward human concern, ill both of which it upholds reason as the guide.

Such an ideology gives, in the words of Vivekananda, a character 'deep as the ocean and broad as the skies'. Vedanta considers this as the true line of human evolutionary advance. And it has given to the modem age the example of such a character in Sri Ramakrishna, who was not only the very personi-fication of the intensity of religion, but also encompassed, in his infinite sympathy, atheists and agnostics along with believers belonging to the world's diverse and often mutually hostile religions.