A comrade attending a conference with me in Budapest somewhat surprised me as he said, “you are coming from India, and you have spirituality in your blood”. I was surely amused, but also amazed at the same time. Then he clarified. He said that out of all the civilizations he had studied, Indian was the richest. India leads the world in spirituality. A flattering comment indeed!
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ruling at the Center is supported by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). For a long period, RSS is striving to reclaim the Akhand Bharat (United India). In an interview, the RSS ideologue and BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav claimed, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan should unify into a super State. He asserted: ‘The RSS still believes that one way these parts which have, for historical reasons separated only 60 years ago, will again through popular goodwill come together and Akhand (United) Bharat will be created.’ Is it practical? Before debating the desirability and feasibility, let us look at the scale of the operation.
An Akhand Bharat of Ram Madhav’s dream would be the largest country on earth with the population of almost 20% more than that of China today. How feasible to govern this huge population would be? India with its second largest population, marginally less than China, is struggling to maintain a decent human development index. Although India could boast of many sterling achievements in various sectors, the human development is sadly low. Its infant mortality is worse than Kenya’s and Botswana’s. There are quite a few more depressing indicators.
The geographical unification of countries, formerly parts of India, is not in the realm of possibility, although none can predict the future. But the spiritual reunification of Akhand Bharat may work out. In the COVID-19 pandemic, people were holding on to any support they could get to move on with their lives. Spirituality was one of them. The ‘ease of living’ replaced the recent emphasis on the ‘ease of doing business’.
Sanatan Dharma (eternal truth) originating in India could reclaim the spirit of unity and essential oneness of humanity across the world. In fact, under Sanatan Dharma, United India is much bigger than the RSS definition. It treats all the eight SAARC countries — India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives, barring Myanmar.
There is a quiet but definite spiritual movement to re-establish Sanatan Dharma. They may have the blessings and patronage of the BJP-run government. Like Beijing is seeking to restore the old ‘Chinese empire’ in the name of Greater China, New Delhi may be toying with the idea of the Bharatavarsha (the land of Bharat). If the strategy is to reclaim the spirituality embedded in Sanatan Dharma, it is a worthwhile effort.
Sanatan Dharma precedes Hinduism. It is timeless, universal, inclusive (non-sectarian), all-embracing. It is an order, code of ethics, providing a coherent and rational view of reality. It teaches human values and touches human lives. It eschews division based on sectarianism.
To elaborate some key elements of Sanatan Dharma includes: a guide to individual human growth, it is experiential rather than belief based, it is inherent in and inclusive of all. It consists of the whole as well as the parts. It can manifest in the form of religion, art or science.
There could be a deep controversy about when exactly Sanatan Dharma originated. But that is immaterial as it is primarily about human values and can provide spiritual answers to the contemporary problems It should be embraced by all. This was the Dharma that pervaded in the nine countries mentioned above. The Sanatan Dharma got split by advent of prophet-based religions by conversion and conquest. Be it Jesus, Prophet Muhammad, Buddha, Rama or Krishna. As Sanatan Dharma was chipped away gradually, the Akhand Bharat also split into several countries– Afghanistan (1876), Myanmar (1937), Pakistan (1947), Bangladesh (1971). Well, that is history and we cannot perhaps undo it.
However, if the people in SAARC countries recall their spiritual history, they would know that they descend from one tradition, i.e. Sanatan Dharma, which is essentially a humanist philosophy. All the religions practiced in Akhand Bharat, now called the SAARC countries plus Myanmar are off-shoots of Sanatan Dharma as reformist religious movements. They are here to stay. No one should disturb people’s beliefs. But, Sanatan Dharma, which is the original and eternal spiritual system, could be reclaimed. This gives us a new World view, a new approach to humanity. None of the other countries in the World has it. This is our USP and exceptionalism. Why not revive and reclaim it?
On the operational front, I asked the head of the group started by Adi Guru (the early teacher) Shankaracharya, “Will you accept in Bangladesh a Muslim, and a Buddhist in Sri Lanka or Myanmar to head the revival of Sanatan Dharma”? He gave me a resounding yes. He was also thinking of spreading Sanatan Dharma beyond the SAARC countries, to places having Hindu influences — countries in South-East Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Laos and so on, and wherever there are big Indian Diasporas. BJP or its associate institutions may have an agenda, but if it is good for the country and humanity, it should be appreciated by all.
A prominent Muslim leader, now, the Governor of Kerala, proudly claims the antecedents of the Sanatan Dharma. He says everyone living in India is a Sanatani. There is no room for hatred and no scope for exclusion in this. If SAARC plus Myanmar is infused with Sanatan Dharma, a spirituality that should heal the sectarian wounds and unite the humanity, that will be a unique contribution of India to world peace, security and harmony.
This could be an apt antidote to the virus of religious terrorism, racism, authoritarianism and exploitation of the poor, weak and the marginalised. Of all these, the religious violence is extreme, disrupting lives and livelihoods. What is being witnessed in Afghanistan, a SAARC member country is beyond any rational explanation. Fresh ideas in reclaiming the golden period and traditions is the need of the hour. | INFA