The Wedding of The Century
Sri Swami Venkatesananda
This article is from the book “The Eternal Religion”.
He who understands the manifest and the unmanifest both together, crosses death through the unmanifest and attains life eternal through the manifest.
How can Light lead to darkness?
Indian religion has often been blamed for the “backwardness” of the country! It is a primitive political technique. To camouflage one’s own complicity in a crime the criminal loudly proclaims of the victim “It is his own fault”. When India was truly religious, she was also economically prosperous and enjoyed a Golden Age of Cultural Pre-eminence.
The religion of India has never tolerated laziness. “You cannot remain idle for a single moment,” declares Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Upanishads command Man to produce abundant food (material wealth). The Smritis (Moral Codes) exalt the householder’s life, and hold out the threat that if a man should die without leaving a son behind him, he would have to spend some time in a special hell, and thus forbid a man to “cut off the family line”.
We have been told that India glorifies poverty! What a lie! It is like an orientalist reading in a medical journal that a person suffering from serious digestive disturbances should drink only whey, and then declaring that in that country people dislike all food.
Renunciation and poverty were prescribed for a certain group of persons, for the seeker after God was, naturally, not interested in worldly wealth. Coupled with this was the fact that these men of God were highly venerated. Ignorant people transferred this veneration to poverty! Poverty thus began to be looked upon as a symbol of holiness–the ideal for all! Not only were many foreign Indologists shortsighted enough to reach this conclusion, but many Indians were themselves guilty of this grave error. All this admirably suited political invaders and proselytising missions.
There can be little doubt that in India religion and spiritual knowledge were greatly valued. They did not then, nor do we now, suggest that it meant exclusion of all material pursuits. They have always pleaded that there should be a healthy union or synthesis of the two. They have always pleaded that the Light of spiritual values should also illumine our path in our material pursuits.
Let us first ask ourselves, “Are the orientals backward? If so, in what ways?” It has been the rule that the conqueror sets the fashion. The colder European climate compelled Europeans to wear woollen socks and leather shoes. It became their habit. When they came to warm South India, theirdress became the fashion, a symbol of culture; those who did not adopt it were at first laughed at and later even frowned upon. With European dress, it became difficult to sit on the floor as was the Indian custom. Chairs and tables moved into “modern” Indian homes. They were the signs of progress. Their absence was “backwardness”. What nonsense! The person who is able to squat on the floor can also use chairs and sofas, but one who is accustomed to chairs and sofas becomes their slave and can not do without them. The man who walks barefoot becomes immune to changes in weather, one whose feet are always covered with socks and shoes “catches a cold” when he goes without them, and suffers from athlete’s foot when he wears them in warm clammy weather! Signs of progress! “Old-fashioned” is perhaps synonymous with “adaptable and hardy”.
The West is industrially more advanced no doubt, but is a non-industrialised peaceful country backward? Is it a praiseworthy civilisation that fought the two devastating World Wars? Where were they fought and who were the originators of the Wars–the civilised West or the backward East? No backward oriental has been found guilty of wholesale massacre of people–and Hitler who had millions of people gassed was not an oriental.
These facts do not minimise the importance of material progress, nor hide the fact that, whatever be the reason, the East and India in particular, took too long a nap from her dharmic vigilance, but her ideal (and who does not fall below his ideal?) has been a balanced synthesis of matter and spirit, science and religion, expressed in the following parable:
A blind man and a lame man were sitting at a street corner, begging. In this age of speed when everyone is rushing about without ever thinking why, who has the time or the inclination to stop and drop a coin in the begging-bowl? Unluckily both of them were unable to pursue their probable benefactors.
One day, the lame man said to the blind one: “Brother, please carry me on your powerful and strong shoulders. We shall be able to pursue these people and get something out of them.” The lame man could not walk, and the blind man could not see. But now the lame man guided the blind man, and the latter carried the former. Their problem was solved.
The truly religious man does not condemn scientific research and progress. He is not averse to material advancement, machines and motor cars, where they are constructive, but what religion does decry is blind pursuit of materialism, which is as dangerous as the blind man’s venture to pursue someone across the road–he might cause a major road accident. Modern prophets of all religions all over the world have reorientated their outlook on life. There is none today who encourages idle fancy and a lame, impractical approach to religion. All want religion to be translated into terms of actual daily life. My own Master, Swami Sivananda’s maxim, therefore, was “Serve, love, give, purify, meditate, realise”.
This century, God willing, will see a stupendous union, the wedding of this Age, the marriage of Science and Religion. Like the blind man, Science must carry Religion on its shoulders, and be guided by its vision. Thus can be brought about unimagined progress in all fields of human activity and aspiration. It will be the revival of the true spirit of the ancient religion.
We speak of “the ancient religion”. Aldous Huxley calls it “The Perennial Philosophy”. “Sanatana Dharma” is yet another name for the same thing, though these noble Sanskrit terms have been used by a clannish religious sect to further its own vested interests. Sanatana means immortal and also immortalising. “Dharma” is that substratum common to all religion. Detailed connotation of these two words is given in “Sanatana Dharma”, a wonderful book by His Holiness Swami Bharati Krishna Tirtha.
He gives the following scriptural definition of the word “Dharma”:–
“that which prevents us from going down ruining ourselves in any manner or respect whatsoever, and makes for our welfare, progress and uplift all-round”.
Of course, the Swami goes on to distinguish it from the word “religion” which he feels is “very small and circumscribed”. However, the root-meaning of the word “religion” is almost a paraphrase of the word Dharma. “Religion” is “to bind again”–to bind mankind together by the cord of love and to bind man once again to the Omnipresent God. If the West has strayed from that ideal, so also has the East strayed from Dharma.
Rightly interpreted and understood, therefore, dharma or religion is the light that enables us to take note of the neighbour (i.e. all living beings) and do our duty by them, and also to become aware of the indwelling divine omnipresence and to realise It.
Dharma or religion demands that the two should be simultaneous, a revelation of the symbolism of the Holy Cross in which the horizontal bar represents Lord Jesus’ commandment, “Love thy neighbour as thyself”, and the vertical beam, the commandment, “Love thy God”, the two to be welded into a single act of loving his Omnipresence.
If, however, either has to be given precedence, during the training period, religion or dharma asks that man should first know his Self, that he should “seek the Kingdom of God first”. That knowledge is the Light, as it were, in which he will be able to perceive himself and the world in the correct perspective. Hence it was that the Lord, according to the Holy Bible, created Light before other beings.