Text of Inaugural Address at the 1st Indic Thoughts Festival hosted by India Foundation and Indic Academy on December 17-18, 2017 in Goa
Indic thought is the most liberal thought that the world has ever produced. Because, it is the most democratically evolved thought. It was a product of the deep contemplation of great sages and saints; their great dialogues and discourses. A ‘Bhadra Icchha’ – benign wish had originated from their contemplations and conferences, and that benign wish was about Abhyudaya – the progress and prosperity.
Bhadram icchhantah rishiyah
swar vidayah, tapo dikshaamupanshed agre.
tato raashtram, bala, ojasya jaatam
That Bhadra Icchha had led to the evolution of the core Indic Thought several millennia ago. It has explored all dimensions of human existence, and concluded that life is a celebration. ‘Aananda’ is the ultimate objective of this thought.
That is the reason why we called this gathering not a conference or a symposium or a conclave of Indic Thought, but a festival. Indians are ‘Utsav Priya’ – fond of festivals. Life is a celebration for us. Indic Thought teaches us to celebrate life.
Few years ago I was at a conference in China. A Chinese scholar had made a startling comment that the Indians can never compete with the Chinese. I asked him to explain. ‘You Indians are worshippers of poverty’, he insisted saying that Indians worship loin cloth-clad saintly men as heroes, whereas the Chinese civilisation had always worshipped prosperity.
It prompted me to think whether they have understood our worldview wrongly. We are one people who always strived for Aananda – the eternal bliss. Alexander bumps into Diogenes, a half-naked man lying on the banks of a river on his way. He asks the man, ‘who are you?’ The man says he was Diogenes. And then he asks Alexander, ‘Who are you?’. Little surprised and a lot annoyed, Alexander replies, ‘I am Alexander the Great’. Hearing it, Diogenes laughs out loudly. ‘I am seeing a man for the first time who calls himself the Great’, he quips.
They engage in a discussion. At the end, impressed by the philosophy, Alexander promises to become a disciple of Diogenes. ‘Do it today, or it will be too late’, warns Diogenes. Alexander hesitates, ‘I have a mission to conquer the world. I shall come back after that’, he promises. ‘You can never’, dismisses Diogenes. ‘Can I do something for you?’, asks Alexander. ‘Yes! I am enjoying my beautiful sun bath. You are coming in the way. Please get off’, shouts Diogenes.
Alexander was looking for his happiness in wars, conquer and subjugation. Diogenes, a saintly man, finds it in his freedom to lie down by the side of the river and in his sun bath. Freedom, absolute and unmitigated, is the Indic way.
“God is dead; Man is free”, exclaimed Nietzsche. But we said, “No. God is here, and hence man is free”. God is all around. He is in me. I AM the God, the unbound. Hence I am free. We are a society that cherishes freedom.
The Dharma, a view and vision of life, that has evolved out of this thought is the Dharma of happiness and celebration. ‘Sarve api sukhinah santu’, is the daily morning prayer of us all. At one level it is purely a material prayer. It says, ‘Let All be happy; Let All be free from diseases; Let All enjoy goods in life; Let All be free of sorrows’. It is about material happiness.
But the operational word in this prayer is, ‘Sarvepi’ – All. We pray that everybody should be happy. In order for all to be happy, all have to also sacrifice. ‘Tyaga’ – sacrifice is thus made a virtue for the greater Aananda of the society.
Indic Thought is very profound, and yet very humble. It doesn’t ordain any final word and seek the followers to believe in it. We are not ‘believers’, we are ‘seekers’. Indic Thought is man’s journey of unending exploration of the Absolute.
Since we are seekers, we have to be ever open to new ideas. We shouldn’t assume that all the Indic wisdom is residing in this auditorium of scholars. Humility, the quality of accepting our inadequacy to realise the Ultimate Truth, and a constant yearning for it, is best captured in the Indic concept of ‘Neti Neti’. Scholars have interpreted it in many ways – ‘Neither This Nor That’ etc. But Chaturvedi Badrinath’s interpretation, ‘Not Just This Alone’, best captures the Indic spirit. In our seeking we must not forget that what we explore is not the entire truth. We must respect the other; continue to seek for the higher.
The seeker has no boundaries. He can find virtue anywhere in the world. “Hold your own values with one hand, close to your heart. Stretch your other hand into the universe, and collect as much wisdom as you can”, exhorted Swami Vivekananda. The Indic Thought doesn’t discard any idea based on its origin, east or west. It accepts all noble thoughts.
Any effort to restrict it in a framework will be ‘Victorianisation’ of Indic Thought. It will be the death of Indic thought.
The Indic Thought wants a human to evolve in the inner spaces, not just in the outer morals. Semitics and Victorians have emphasised on character. This English word has two equivalent Hindi words – Sheel and Charitra. Charitra is a discipline imposed from outside. Social norms, ethics, societal morals – all of them form your ‘Charitra’. But ‘Sheel’ is the blossoming of the inner self. ‘Sheel’ is not bound by any outer restrictions; it is an innately blossomed virtue. Go to an uneducated and old woman of the poorest household in a remotest village in our country. Listen to her morning prayer. She might not have enough food to eat for the day, or enough cloths to wear. But her prayer will be: ‘Ganga mayya ki jai ho; Gou mata ki jai ho’ – ‘Glory to the Ganges and the revered cow’ etc. And it will end with ‘Lok Kalyan Ho’ – ‘let the whole world be happy’. It was not taught to her; it is the ‘Sheel’ – the innate virtue that makes her say that.
Religions have imposed so called values externally. They wanted the societies to have character. One should never become ‘Dus-charitra’ – man of bad character. But one shouldn’t remain ‘Charitravaan’ – man of external character alone. One should become ‘Sheelvaan’ – man of innate virtue. That is the Indic Thought.
It is this innate virtue, that might sometimes seem going against the societal mores also, which is the real freedom that the Indic Thought accords to the individual. Because, many a times the societal norms that we construct – the ‘Charitra’ – might end up subjecting sections of our people to injustices. The victims are the true minorities. Minority is not numerical; it is those whose voice has been taken away. Discrimination on the basis of sex, caste or race, even in the name of social character is against the Indic Thought.
Draupadi is epitome of ‘Sheel’. She is in a way the first feminist of the world. A woman with five husbands; but fiercely independent as not to obey any of them; and only listen to her dear colleague Krishna – that was Draupadi. She was partly responsible for the epic Maha Bharat War. Yudhisthira, being Dharmaraj, was willing to compromise and settle for five villages. But Krishna turns to Draupadi, and it was she who insists that she wouldn’t settle for anything less, quite rightfully, than the blood of Dusshasana. It was Draupadi’s ‘Sheel’, not Yudhisthira’s ‘Charitra’, of peace and no-war, that had led to the ultimate victory of Dharma. We didn’t call Draupadi an obdurate woman; in stead, we called her ‘Maha Sadhvi’ – epitome of virtue.
Indic Thought is about promoting and respecting that ‘Sheel’, irrespective of whether one’s exterior is that of a man or a woman or even a transgender.
Such a profound and evolved thought has still not occupied its place in the world. It is still regarded as regressive, obscurantist etc. But as Gandhiji rightly used to say, ‘If there is something bad in your society, don’t blame the Dharma; blame yourself, that you have failed to realise it fully’. We have to realise it fully and properly. More importantly we have to articulate it properly.
That is the challenge before this audience of the Indic Thought Festival. I end with another provocative challenge to this group; think of ways to make the Indic Thought chic and fashionable; something that a 21st Century young man would like to wear on the sleeves.