Upanishads and Our Culture

Without understanding the Upanishads, it is impossible to get an insight into Indian history and culture. Every subsequent development of philosophy and religion in India has drawn heavily on the Upanishads. The path of bhakti or devotion to a personal God, the path of karma or detached action, and the synthesis of all spiritual paths in a comprehensive spirituality, expounded by the Gila, arc all derived from the Upanishads. The Gila is described as Brahmavidyantargata Yogasastra-- 'the science (and technique) of yoga derived from the science of Brahman.'

To the Upanishads India owes almost all the brighter sides of her life and culture. To them she owes her Impressive record of active toleration within her borders and the uniformly peaceful and benevolent nature of her foreign relations in the field of religion. To them she Owes the singular absence of aggressive political and military policies and programmes on her part towards other nations during her millennia of history. To them she owes the periodical renewal of her national springs of life when they seem all but choked and about to dry up.

To them al so she owes the absence of the heavy hand of an all-powerful church and the tentacles of an inescapable dogma on the national life and mind, allowing for the emergence and unhampered functioning, in succeeding periods, of free, creative, and universal spirits who came to purify and reactivate the dormant spirit of the people, who were received by the Indian people and given divine honours, unlike the hostility and persecution with which spiritual innovators were, and still arc, receive in all Semitic religions in the absence of the blessing of the Impersonal background which the Upanishads had provided for the Indian religions, and whose procession down the ages is an impressive feature of lndia's long history.

Meaning of Indian Secularism:

The freedoms granted and guaranteed by the Indian state are meant to ensure the all-round growth of the Indian people through stimulation of their thinking and initiative. They seek to convert

Follow Reason

In the passionate words which he uttered in the course of his lectures on 'Practical Vedanta' delivered in London in 1896 Swami Vivekananda says:

We should, therefore, follow reason and also sympathise with those who do not come to any sort of belief, following reason. For, it is better that mankind should become atheist by following reason than blindly believe' --on the authority of anybody. What we want is progress, development, realisation. No theories ever made men higher. No amount of books can help us to become purer.

'The only power is ill realisation and that lies in ourselves and comes from thinking. Let men think. A clod of earth never thinks; but it remains only a lump of earth. The glory of man is that he is a thinking being. It is the nature of man to think and therein he differs from animals. I believe in reason and follow reason having seen enough of the evils of authority, for I was born in a country where they have gone to the extreme of authority.'

India into a vast laboratory of human development for a seventh of the human race, in a milieu of freedom and equality and the sacredness of the human personality.

This is the meaning of Indiab declaring herself a secular state. The vast majority of those who met in the Constituent Assembly in Delhi and voted the Indian Constitution in 1949 were religious and not irreligious. And yet, they adopted the principles and policies of a secular constitution for their deeply religious country.

'A secular state so conceived, one that is not wedded either to religious indifference or antireligious atheism, but impartially promotes all religions, believing In the spiritual dimension of the human personality over and above his sensate nature, is a unique phenomenon with a prophetic role to play,' as remarked by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. It is mote appropriately termed the Vedantic state, for the inspiration behind it is the tolerant all-embracing Upanishadic tradition.

No such secular state has existed in history, ancient or modern, either in the East or in the West, including India. In Indian history, we come across great states dedicated, no doubt, to toleration and inter-religious fellowship, but also committed to one particular faith. In western history, on the other hand, we come across states which hold the scales even between its diverse faiths, itself uninterested In all of them, except politically.

The Ideological Struggles

The modern world is in the grip of various ideologies, of which the most effective ones are those which are most narrow and exclusive. Up to the modern period, religion, especially those of the Semitic family--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--were the nurseries of these exclusive and narrow ideologies. But in the modem period, as religions are wisely shedding this vice of narrowness and exclusiveness, it has moved over to the socia political fields.

The eclipse of liberal ideologies in these fields IS one of the more glaring features of the twentieth century. Calm and clear reason has all but disappeared from vast segments of man's socio-political ideologies; they seem to be under the grip of the blind attachments, fears, and hatreds of his collective unconscious. It is a heartening sign of the second half 0'£ this century that man's collective reason, organised in international groups and associations, IS waging a slow but successful struggle to tame the blind forces of his collective unreason in these fields.