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Secularism underpins India's nationhood

Secularism underpins  India
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Secularism cannot be practiced anywhere other than in India because ours is the only country where, paradoxically, secularism is underpinned by...

Secularism cannot be practiced anywhere other than in India because ours is the only country where, paradoxically, secularism is underpinned by religion. That is probably something that is beyond the ken of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who has sought almost to set secularism against the nation! But, then, politicians exploit the masses in the name of religion, and now of nationhood! The Indian masses instinctively understand the fundamental unity underlying all religions and the oneness of the God they all worship, though they call Him by different names, and pay attention to man's inner world, "the kingdom of Heaven", rather than to external trappings of religion, such as temples and mosques. Professor Parrinder said: "The religions of the world today face a completely new situation. Never before have they been in such close contact as they are now. A The one world in which we live, with its close communications, makes nonsense of religious isolation and greater nonsense of religious antagonism." The unity of man must transcend all physical and geographical boundaries and override all man-made barriers. Realization of the unity of man will impart an element of spirituality to human thought and action. This truth is beautifully expressed in a memorable verse in the Upanishad; it can roughly be translated as follows: "Man may try, through his technical advances, to roll up the sky itself as if it were a piece of leather. But, with all that, he will never succeed in achieving peace and the end of his sorrow without realizing the luminous Divine within him." Some decades ago the UNESCO had emphasized the influence of spiritual values on political structure and techniques. The element of spirituality depends upon the correct understanding of the evolution of man in the environment of nature, in a wider sense, and the discovery of the true relationship of man with God or Super-consciousness. Religion is a personal and intimate relationship of man with his Maker. It is a part of one's being and an integral part of one's emotions and feelings. The object of all religious quest is essentially the same, to know the Supreme Truth that pervades all creation. All religions seek to lead man to a common goal. They appear to differ from one another because they were originally preached at different times and in different environments. The promotion of understanding and appreciation of the essential unity of all religions will help people perceive and comprehend the fact that all of them utter the same truth, though in different idioms. While it is perhaps natural that each individual should cherish a special feeling of reverence for his own religion, it is necessary that every Indian appreciate the true meaning and depth of other faiths. This is possible only through a dialogue with one who has personal experience of the particular religious faith that one may try to understand. A religion seen from within is very different from what it looks like from outside. We must experience that feeling which has thrilled the followers of another faith, if we wish to understand it. For instance, the Hindu regards every religion as true if its adherents sincerely and honestly follow it. Sankara had a comprehensive appreciation of different expressions of One Truth even though he spoke of six orthodox systems of religion. Ibn-al-Arabi, the Arab philosopher, said: "My heart has become capable of every form. It is a pasture of gazelles and a convent for Christian monks, a temple of idols and the 'Kaaba' of pilgrims and the book of the Koran. I follow the religion of love whichever way His camels take. My religion and my faith are, therefore, the true religion."A Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who had a simple but firm faith in the oneness of God, himself passed through spiritual experiences peculiar to different religions. The Vedantic dictum can be roughly translated as: "He is one without a second, but sages comprehend Him differently and call Him by different names." Vedantic philosophy illustrates the truth thus: "As different streams, having their sources in different places, all mingle their waters in the sea, so, O Lord, do the different tendencies take. Various though they appear, all lead to Thee." Maulana Rumi, the celebrated Sufi saint, said that 'the lamps are different but the light is the same'. Gandhiji realized the universality of religion and invoked God by the various names by which different religions call Him. Arnold Toynbee, the eminent historian, rightly observed: "The missions of the higher religions are not competitive. They are complementary. We can believe in our own religion without having to feel that it is the sole repository of truth." As the outcome of centuries-old attempts to establish independent knowledge purged of supernatural presuppositions, secularism is a worldwide phenomenon. In the philosophical sphere, it emphasizes truths perceptible by human reason that can operate only in the realm of verifiable experience. It was such an inquiry that prepared the way for development of modern sciences. In the Western world it was first the Renaissance that tried to explain the manifold phenomena of the world of nature and of man, and dimmed the prestige of fideistic outworldliness. The metaphysical system of Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza tried to construct a rational concept of the universe. The 18th century went further, shifting the emphasis from metaphysical terms to more empiric quest for knowledge. As in the philosophical sphere, so in the realm of politics, Renaissance was a distinct stage in secularism. Machiavelli (as perhaps Modi) and his followers recognized the right of the Prince to rule independently in accordance with his own canons. With Montesquieu a new approach of relativism emerged, declaring political maxims as valid only in so far as they took into consideration local variations. But the Age of Enlightenment generally conceived mankind as a unit, and the socialistic theories of the 19th century further reinforced this universalism. At the same time, the theorists of nationalism used the relativist and environmentalist doctrines on disparities. Yet, it was by fusing various elements into an integrated system that there developed a spirit of tolerance which allowed the hitherto antagonistic religious sects to work together peacefully. Here lies the fundamental virtue of secularism. The more the State and religion are defined to mean one and the same thing, the more will there be a need to define what religion, in general terms, is, and what it means in all its manifestations, and hence the more disagreements even among believers of the same religion. There were religious wars in Europe when theology reigned supreme. Likewise there are more dissensions, violence and separatist tendencies in Asia when societies move away from secularism and minimize the distinction between faith and knowledge. Indeed, the power of secularized idealism derives in large part from its close connection with science. This union of social and scientific secularism is the culmination of a world development in the realm of thought, politics and sciences since the Middle Ages. Even the Reformation in Christian history used the notion of purity in the church as a criterion for refashioning what had become inadequate. India is, of course, a deeply religious society. But it has one advantage not available to any other country. Without being untrue to their respective religions, Indians have voluntarily and down the ages exhibited for other religions a respect that no other people anywhere in the world could or did. -MV
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