IMPERIENCE           DRKCV.ORG           SSS           


What is new

A Handbook of Hindu Religion: Religion and Society


Man is a social creature as well as an individual seeker. He is therefore a person who seeks the four purusārthas as an individual, and as a social creature he participates in the strivings of all the rest of the community. He has social ties which he cannot shake off. There are natural instincts of social activity such as co-operation and working for group unity and welfare. Hinduism recognizes both the individual and the social aspects of each person within the community even as it recognizes the physical and the material and the spiritual aspects of every individual. Just as his efforts are to be for the realisation of himself as spiritual, so also his social activities must be directed towards his realisation of unity or brotherhood with all the members of the community.

Hinduism is most catholic. Its one-pointed effort has always been towards the realisation of social unity amid differences. Through its formulation of the metaphysical principle of one Īśvara who is worshipped in different forms and names, it had kept up the ideal of religion as the realisation in the life of each of its members of the Īśvara so as to create a common or one Humanity. Hinduism does not appeal merely to the heart or to the head but to something more valuable. It appeals to the soul, the spiritual nature in each individual. It appeals to the godhead concealed in the heart of every creature. It teaches the Life Divine, which is the dwelling in God and for God in His world. This is the goal of Hinduism. This promises for each individual the triple aims of the spiritual life, a life of liberty, a life of righteousness or law, and a life of love for all creation that verily belongs to God.

Hinduism is a supreme socialising and divinising force. It is not anti-social or unsocial like some religions. It has meaning for man here in this world. It treats the world as a great field of God's play in which all individuals must take part and act with understanding according to rules or dharma prescribed in the play to each part.

The Hindu religion has carefully analysed the structure of society, its divisions of functions and periods of maturation, growth, development, and ripening of each individual. In other words, its division of castes depends upon the functions and its division of āśramas depends upon the stages of man in a society. It is true that these are given a fuller and profounder significance in some cases, though it is a fact that these divisions cannot be treated to be water-tight compartments. Pure types and pure functions are difficult to find in any society. The individual in religion discovers a new set of values for the terms liberty, law and love, (mokṣa, dharma and kāma), meanings which are impossible to get in the purely political society. A society composed as it is of various degrees of intelligence and capacity and personality, does not grasp the full significance of this discovery of religious consciousness. None the less, religion does help to integrate or unify the triple goals of liberty, law and love. To the lower nature these mean license, power and lust for things. But sublimated by Religion they become wonderful expressions of the nature of the soul or spirit.

The social life of man becomes transfigured and civilised by the sublimated direction given to all the activities of the ordinary man. The teachings and the practices of the masters of Hinduism are directed to the civilising of man, by taming his lower nature which revels in egoism and competition, jealousy and greed, violence and hatred. Religion being a higher power or force of the new dimension of the personal and social life seeks mastery over the past vital life of man. In Hinduism it is sought in fall conformity with the triple principles of liberty, law and love. That it has not been successful in Hinduism in a larger measure than we would like it to be only shows that generally there has been a stepping down of the ideals of religion everywhere. Religions become rigid and tend to repeat the mistakes of passion and greed of the lower levels on the higher levels of social and spiritual action and thus step down the force of the true impulse.

Hinduism unlike other religions which took up the competitive path, has sought to tame even the enthusiasm of the knowers of other religions by its wide catholicity in spirit to the truths expounded by them. It has disarmed them all, both within India and without by means of its peaceful approach. The twin-notes of Hinduism, struck not once only in the history of India, are peace (Sānti) and knowledge (jñāna), peace through knowledge and knowledge through peace. A social life which is based on these two principles or ideals, would tend to exhibit a higher state of civilisedness and culture than one based on comfort or security or even salvation.

The individual must be re-made in the spiritual manner. This requires on the part of every individual the recognition of the world as a divine world, a world not based on chance or chaos but a cosmos. A lawful world is the ideal of a rational creature. As we have seen dharma is the conception of the law behind the world and all actions or karmas which are performed properly and selflessly and without seeking fruits are individually emancipating and socially good. Good performance of actions or karma yoga itself leads to Brahmānubhāva or God-experience. By moral action Hinduism means all such actions as are done without seeking fruits and according to dharma laid down by tradition, spiritual insight and great seers. Such actions have the characteristic of social good, because the socially evil actions are mostly self-seeking and egoistic actions. It is true that Hinduism also pleads for the performance of actions which are neither personally good nor socially good, neither personally evil nor socially evil but only actions which have the sanction of God (dharma), for human individuals and societies have not yet arrived at a knowledge of what is their good or evil. It is above their comprehension. Faith in the Śāstras alone matters in duty, for it leads to the transcendental good which is ultimately both personal and social good.

The political life of a people reflects the moral and social qualities of its members. A society in the full sense of the term is a political society with its State and other organisations which ensure freedom for the members and rights of each. In modern times the State has taken over the organisations which have to cater to the needs of the members. Socialisation and Nationalisation of the organisations which have previously been run by individuals is not a little due to the awakening of men to their social and spiritual needs of liberty and rights and duties. This awakening is really due to the religious teachings of great men, who had taught reverence for life and rights of each member. It is religion in India that taught the triple truths of liberty of the individual as a goal, of law which is administered equally, that is, in the interests of the poor and the rich alike, the high and the low, and love for all, love which is expressed by acts of kindness and protection, in times of disease and distress, famine and drought.

The grand truths of religions alone inspired the great work of social amelioration of the conditions of life. The social dynamics of modern States is inspired, whether in a materialistic or socialistic State, by the spiritual principles of dharma, mokṣa and kāma, law, liberty and love, and karuna or sympathy. The practical idealism of religion in Hinduism would extend this to the animals also. Humanitarianism extends to animals also which form part of the economy of the State. The aim of true religion as Hinduism, is to make individual who would in all their secular activities or even in secular matters bring to bear the triple principles or apply them as standard to conduct. Similarly to apply these principles to social or political legislation is the natural extension of rāja- dharma. Rāja-dharma must improve and make possible the svadharma of its members. It may correct and quicken the pace of transformation of the lower and selfish qualities by socializing man and bring the restraints of law to bear on the unlawful or otherwise not-real nature of the individuals. But it ultimately exists for the realisation of real mokṣa and svarājya.

The modern State endeavours to fulfil all the functions of Religion because it has taken over the ideals of religion as its own ends. But while it may help the conditions for the growth and happiness of all its members, while it may give them a sense of freedom from want and restraint in matters particularly physical and social, it cannot compel men to be good except on pain of punishment. It can instil fear and by this threat many members are likely to be restrained from doing unsocial activities. There is however a great danger in this development. Force hinders rather than helps self-growth. A state taking over the functions of the spiritual evolution may defeat it. Instead of being a hindrance to hindrances it may tend to become a great hindrance. Religion is helpful positively and not merely negatively. It makes for a change of heart. Men of religion are sought after for the solution of personal problems, which are not capable of being attended to by psychiatrists and doctors of medicine. Human problems go beyond the temporary social and personal life. Peace is sought after and spiritual men who have found peace within and comprehended the truths of both the here and the hereafter help to secure peace within. Man is more than a social and physiological creature. His problems of death and life baffle the intellect and no state or its organisations can help to solve these problems. Religion alone promises to solve them and it does it in its own unique way. These problems are not social problems except indirectly. The State must know its limitations in this direction. Any state that attempts to dismiss the connection of these fundamental problems which harass the souls of its members by edicts of the kind that have been

issued in countries dominated by purely national, socialistic or materialistic ideologies, is bound in the long run to break up the State itself. The State or even Society cannot become God or the sole object of loyalty because it cannot satisfy the deepest impulse of the soul for the knowledge of itself completely. Real mokṣa is sought after and it means not liberty for getting goods and satisfactions or the liberty before the eye of law and right to equal opportunity but the liberty to be freed from the cycle of births and deaths and the terror of constant birth and death.

Religion supplies this and it alone can supply this. Spiritual pain is verily different from all other kinds of pain and fear. It cannot be assuaged by any offer of worldly wealth, or divine pleasures of even the rigid life of dharma. Great men have thrown away empires for the sake of freedom from all these. The artha and kāma purusārthas are tuccha. A world dominated by them is a delusion, a snare. Man should seek to get out of them, free himself from them. But such a freedom is difficult without the opening of the soul to real light. Teachers of religion know how to help these men. The preservation of religious texts and institutions facilitates the seeker of liberation on his path. Inner illumination or desire needs the support of the religious literature and methods. The company of the good or knowers of the path of inner discovery shower peace and prepare the conditions for one's own growth.

Freedom becomes meaningless to a soul that has need of solace and peace. This peace is granted by God and one feels free in His presence freed from the pains and struggles and conflicts of his personality and community. Temples and Maths offer this atmosphere, but then these must have men who have devoted themselves and are devoting themselves to their self-discovery and God-realisation. Love or sympathy pervades the atmosphere of the aśramās, the retreats of the good men of spirit. These too serve mankind. Though a Yogin or religious man is one who retires from the world, yet does he serve those who need his company by his very peace, the inward peace which no State can ensure for him. Hinduism realises that all types of men should have freedom for this realisation. It does not believe in one universal panacea for all diseases of the body and brain and heart or soul. The religious man or spiritual saint and mystic is an important person, who, though not of the world lives and moves and has his being in God, casts peace on all mankind, gives to those who can listen the nectar of spiritual peace, and a sanctuary for the haunted soul, afraid and sorrowing. Love begins to be available to all whoever feels that the world is a terrible place to live in. He shows the new way of transformation of a world diseased. Wherever he Is, because of his universal nature, he begins to inspire all with faith and love and hope.

The spiritual activities which are the special province of Religion and religious associations can never be taken over by the State as part of its general functions. A secular State or a welfare State may seek to distribute equitably the goods of the world on the principle of greatest happiness of the greatest number. The qualitative distinction of the spiritual good can indeed never become part of the quantitative goods of the social and economic or hedonistic order (artha and kāma). It is true in these spheres the right distribution which is equitable distribution between all the members of the world society or nation is the legitimate method. Equitableness of the distribution of the goods however, is only part of the right or dharma with which a State is charged. There are and have been other criteria of rightness than equitableness of distribution. Freedom can never be distributed though security can perhaps be. Even a theocratic state (such as Pakistan in modern times) cannot but create conditions of freedom or growth to happen in a particular manner. But in attempting this there happens the socialisation of the religious consciousness which is not always an unmixed good. But it helps the awareness of the need for greater and greater enlightenment in matters pertaining to personal liberty. An ordered or self-disciplined liberty is the aim of liberty, or else mokṣa would become meaningless. There is in every soul an elemental need for the inner discovery of God which has most often been achieved in spite of outside social action and society. This need is other than the peace, the comfort and the security that man gets out of the socialisation of human action. There is great truth in the dictum that the individual is greater than the society to which he belongs, though he is inseparable from it. But he belongs to something greater than humanity itself, namely to God, for the goal of man is the eternal and the immortal sense of existence which nothing less than God can grant. God is the Ultimate goal, transcendent to the goals of the world and the State, and all others have meaning and value only in relation to Him.

The ideal of a secular State does not mean that the state is to be or ought to become anti- religious. It is the affirmation of the principle that the State does not seek to take over the functions of religion, organized or unorganized, institutionalised or non-institutionalised. This does not mean that the Slate permits the religious institutions to do what they please. In those activities which interfere with the sound canons of social life and peace, the State is the authority; in matters of proper administration of religious institutions even the State holds itself free to legislate within the limits of its competence, though this is a difficult pose.

The one truth that we learn from religion and philosophy is that though we can distinguish aspects in human behaviour and can even investigate those aspects and form different sciences, we can never separate them. They are organic to each other. There are people or rather scientists who discovered the economic man, the political man, the religious man, the aesthetic man and so on. On the basis of this, sciences such as economics, sociology, political science, religious science and aesthetics have come into being; very useful within limits, they always tend to apply their laws or hypotheses beyond limits as if man was exhausted by each one of them. This has led in modern times to very lopsided developments. Man has been forgotten by the sciences. Man is more than all that the different sciences have made of him. These several aspects are properties of man's rationality, that quality or dharma or guṇa, which realises itself in the several activities in which he engages. Thus the organization of this personality is the aim of his own life; but it is not possible through any particular mechanism of any social order or the State. The State should remember that the individual is more than the sum of his social and economic and legal life. Religion also should remember that its serious purpose is the discovery of the inward reality in each individual which it must help by giving it freedom and flexibility and the environment necessary for such a great thing as individual realisation, which is also the fulfilment of the society of which he continues to be a member. The State must protect the sanctity of the environments of those who have out of their own will chosen the path of discovery of the self and help them to go on, even as it has striven to keep the theoretical and investigating scientists free from the common gaze. The realisations of saints would not be, as the past history of culture has shown, less influential and beneficent than the contributions of scientists to society. Protection then of the religious spirit, even an ardent effort to keep the seekers from the daily interference in their lives on one plea or other, would greatly help the very nature of the individuals. But its violation ultimately would threaten the solidarity of the society. The greatness of the State lies in its serving the diverse interests of the individuals, and religion is as profound and basic impulse and need for each individual at some period or other as any other.

Hindu Religion is a force that makes for culture and social cohesion based on love and not on brute might or social coercion. It is something that makes life livable. It is not an escapist phenomenon, but a profound influence or tendency which makes man strive to know what he is. Helped by philosophical thought which it sets into action, it seeks clarity and fulness for all. But it is necessary to weed out its extra-religious activities, which could well be attended to by the State. Religion can influence the State only through the lives of its members, or the persons who constitute the Government, who imbued with religions principles would put into practice these principles through the social apparatus and organisation. The State by itself must remain secular, not taking sides with religions which have different loyalties. Herein comes a distinction, which it is necessary to draw, between religion and religions. Mankind is yearning for Religion but not for religions. Institutional religions serve religion but slightly. The goal is the religious spirit. No religion does this so well as Hinduism. It has institutions but not an institution which can speak for Hinduism. Hinduism lives in its members, in and through the practice and tradition of its saints and seekers. The grand catholicism of Hinduism is evidenced by the living interest in the cultivation of all sādhanās and yogas among its people. Śrī Vaiṣṇavism of Śrī Rāmānuja has absorbed the religious and mystic traditions of all the best so that the individuals may grow through the inner tradition of religion and mysticism. It too tried to leaven the life of the society by the eternal assurance of divine presence among men, in the form of the Arcāvatāra of Śrī Veṅkateśvara. All great thinkers and saints have accepted this fact that the world must be made fit for the residence of God, and the Kingdom of God on earth. Reform of the earth life, and the social life of its individuals, if need be a revolution in the ways of social life, were envisaged by St. Śaţhakopa in his divine Hymns, the Tiruvāymoḷi. The goal of religion is the transformation of man from the seeker of wealth and desire without restraint into a man who is the knower of law, liberty or true freedom, and secondly to make the society which is at present competitive and restrictive, into a divine society where all relationships would be based on love that is born out of the wisdom that all are children of the one Supreme Lord and that it is the real expression of one's nature.