Hindu Spirituality and Virtue Politics analyzes the writings of four distinguished thinkers of India: S. Radhakrishnan, Vinoba Bhave, C. Rajagopalachari and A. K. Coomaraswamy. The author argues that there are two distinct visions of how Hindu spirituality is linked to modern liberal politics. The first and more popular vision draws from Vedanta ideals and moves towards a tight fit between spirituality and politics. The second and alternative vision, present in the writings of these four thinkers, is what this book analyzes in detail.
Drawing upon myths, symbols and epics rather than the abstract theology of Vedanta, the book explores a subtler and more realistic fit between spirituality and politics. The book highlights that not all thinkers and statesmen who plumbed Hindu spirituality were fanatics or fundamentalists; some of them were inspired by the desire to theorize from indigenous sources.
Vasanthi Srinivasan is Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia and Yale University. Her publications include Gandhi's Conscience Keeper: C. Rajagopalachari and Indian Politics.
But my watchers are silent as if they knew my truth is in fragments. If they could, I guess they would say, only the first thought Is clear, the second is dim, The third is ignorant. -A. K Ramanujan, 'Connect!'
Ideas explored here were first ignited by the experience of teaching Hindu myths and symbols alongside Western philosophy at the College of Humanities in Ottawa in the late 1990s. Privileged to teach Plato along with parts of the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, I began to read Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy seriously. What struck me was their confidence in the rationality underlying Hindu spiritual ideas and their relevance for modem politics. Over the years, I had the opportunity to examine others, such as Acharya Vinoba Bhave and C. Rajagopalachari who, from an ethico political standpoint, attempted to appropriate Hindu myths and symbols to unleash select political virtues. Neither a narrow desire for a Hindu rashtra (nation) nor the spectre of communalism blinded their vision. Luckily, they were not hampered by the fears of essentialism or orientalism or false consciousness that compel us to stop with mere demystification of spiritual ideas and practices. Though not conventionally devout, they were sensitive to the many 'lived experiences' of religion and spirituality. They would not have been surprised (as I was) to find a domestic help reply, to my query about who she voted for, that she gave one vote to the hand because we work with our hands (hand being the symbol of the Indian National Congress party) and one for the lotus because the lotus is sacred (lotus being the symbol of the main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party). What follows is a sympathetic and critical look at the different Hindu sources that they rely upon and the political implications of their reconciliations.
I am pleased to acknowledge my friends, Professors Ilan Kapoor, Vinit Haksar, Gurpreet Mahajan, Sarah Joseph and Karuna Mantena, who all read the draft and made many useful suggestions for enhancing clarity and coherence. I would like to thank Gurpreet and Karuna for inviting me to present some of the arguments at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and Yale University, New Haven respectively. I am also indebted to two anonymous reviewers for their encouraging comments about the book's 'originality' as well as glaring omissions and obscurities, some of which I have tried to address. Professor I. Ramabrahmam, Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, readily found the funds for manuscript preparation. It is a. pleasure to thank my research students Ms A. Sujana for painstakingly fixing the footnotes and preparing the bibliography and Ms Apama Vincent for promptly finding many references.
I am immensely grateful to Amma for excusing the frequent absences and Giri, Madhu and Jana for freeing me from filial duties on more than one occasion. By clinging doggedly to his rituals even as he improvised them under the most trying circumstances, Appa initiated me into a world of ideas that I only slowly learnt to value; I will always cherish him for showing me the simplicity and beauty of everyday religiosity. I would like to thank Nanda for hosting and cheering me on for a full three weeks while I finished the chapter on Vinoba in Washington, D.C. By summoning me to participate in their 'divine marriage' rituals and receive unmerited .blessings often, the Beeramguda priests made me see the persistence of the elusive ideals that I affirm here.
Parts of Chapters 1 and 3 have been previously published. I am grateful to the following for their kind permission to reproduce some of the material here: Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research, Permanent Black and Oxford University Press.
Lastly, I am delighted to mention the promptness and professionalism of the entire SAGE warn that worked on this project.
Modem political thought has long recognized that religion and spirituality can be a source of moral and civic virtues. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama are only the famous 20th-century figures who consciously tried to relate spirituality and politics in this sense. There were others such as Simone Weil and Martin Buber who relentlessly confronted the rigours of both spirituality and politics. Liberation theologians in Latin America drew upon Biblical doctrines to further social justice. However, the rise of fundamentalism everywhere has dampened theoretical enthusiasm in this regard. But this only deepens the need for philosophical analyses of different spiritual traditions with a view to clarifying whether some aspects of the same can vivify liberal politics.
In popular parlance, spirituality has come to mean a non-dogmatic, non-theistic and experiential approach to the divine and the trans-empirical sources of being. It is distinguished from religion which is .en as theocentric, dogmatic and exclusionary. J. N. Mohanty captures the spirit when he says that it involves an attunement to the sacredness of nature, life, humanity.' Rabindranath Tagore, the visionary poet, portrays the spiritual as an orientation to that which is universal, immanent and holistic. In Sadhana, Tagore clarified that the essence of the spiritual consisted in the realization of the infinite in our everyday experiences of love, action and beauty. More than the term religion, he uses the terms spirit and spiritual to interpret the great truths of the Upanishads. In this sense, many Indian thinkers use the idiom of spirituality to highlight the experiential verification and realization of some revealed truths. Religion, in contrast, was prone to being organized, routinized, ritualistic and divisive. When we probe the form and content of the spiritual, we will see that the line between the spiritual and the religious is fuzzy in many thinkers' minds. And yet, Wilhelm Halbfau notes that the notion of spirituality has served as 'a vehicle of self-understanding, of assimilation and Westernization", but also self-affirmation against the West.
It may be objected that there is no exact equivalent for the term spiritual in Indian languages. Noting similar objections regarding both morality and religion, Bimal Krishna Matilal points out that 'one cannot argue that if a particular term was not used in to particular tradition, then the social or political reality denoted by the term would also not exist in that tradition. He also suggests that the ubiquitous and enigmatic term dharma may be the nearest equivalent for morality. Sometimes, it may be used as an equivalent for religion as well. Margaret Chatterjee opines that the nearest equivalent for spirituality would be sadhana as the path, but the goal of moksha or liberation dampens the transformative character of spirituality.' Ananda Coomaraswamy points out that the Latin spiritus connotes breath as the life force in all beings and the spiritual pertains to the essence or innermost self of humans. In this sense, atman and adhyatmika would be the relevant terms for spiritus and spiritual respectively!'
The search for exact equivalents presupposes that the term spiritual has an exact and fixed meaning in any one context. But this is not so; as Margaret Chatterjee points out, the term spiritual directs us to a 'cluster of concepts which net behavior, attitude, religious style and to lot more besides, all of which, how-ever, center on the person and his world'.' She also adds that the 'wide scatter of usages and analogous terminologies reflect a cross-cultural need to explore the trans-empirical ... one that embodies and points to goodness'. Many Indian thinkers use the idiom of spirituality for it allows them to be eclectic in selecting and emphasizing some aspects of religion while neglecting or even opposing others. They are critical about Hindu religion for its polytheism as well as caste hierarchy. They think ordinary religion was routinized, formal and external and did not have any impact on the larger world. But some ideas such as the sacredness of nature, immanence of the divine, disinterested action offer attractive starting points from which to craft a spiritual vision. The notion of spirituality allows room for individual autonomy and judgement in adapting religious doctrines and practices. It also enables an openness towards modern ideals of scientific progress, universal freedom and equality. Above all, I think that the idiom of spirituality conveys an abiding concern with transforming the world without letting go of the metaphysical quest for the grounds of being.
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