Indian Philosophy of Vedantic Advaita: Concepts of Peace, Equality, Duty, Harmony, Freedom
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 20 May 2019
20 May 2019 – All human beings look for peace, harmony and justice in their lives. These features are enshrined in the human rights charter of the United Nations and most governments try to abide by the charter that provides basic needs to their people irrespective of their creed, colour, caste, culture and language of the people.
There are many entities or components of peace and justice. Most fundamentally people require food, water, shelter, education, healthcare as their basic needs and these needs to be available to all. Harmony suggests living together with other communities or peoples without conflict, a feeling of sharing resources and a feeling of brotherhood.
Justice again has several components — legal and social; equality of all people despite outward differences of caste, creed or colour. It also requires that laws apply equally to all, despite differences; there should be least amount of hierarchy between people. Of course people perform different tasks and have different responsibilities even in one community but despite this we should have a feeling of equality between people or between sexes and absence of domination by powerful elements over those people who are outwardly weak.
In a well-knit government, Presidents, or Prime Ministers or Ministers have obviously more responsibilities and powers but this does not entitle them to treat their subjects (people) in a discriminatory manner.
The Advaitic system of the Indian philosophy of Vedas recognises these differences in the social order. The system recognises that in any society or social order there are differences in attitudes, values, abilities, powers that lead to disparities, hierarchies and absence of equality and justice. A powerful person tries to grab most of his requirements and more by dominating over weaker sections of people. This results in greed and ostentatious life on one side and destitution and misery on the other. Such a system may be termed as material social order.
The Advaitic/Vedic principles recognise the infirmities of our material social order but urge us to rise to a spiritual order that transcends over these limitations and promotes equality, justice and harmony of all living beings — not only among human beings but other forms of life also. Such a spiritual approach not only promotes equality and justice in society but also leads to curtailment of desire for material goods and thereby avoids domination of powerful sections of society over weaker sections and transcends a hierarchical order prevalent in the material social order.
Scholars feel that the Advaitic theory of the Vedas has the principle of equality, justice and harmony enshrined in it. This suggests that all people have the same spirit or Atman — so there are no spiritual differences in people. There are differences but these are not of spiritual nature. We are familiar with differences in human beings in the temporal world; ignorance of spiritual identity and sameness prevents us from recognizing that these differences melt away in the spiritual domain.
Another essential element of our spiritual being is the concept of freedom. This is an important aspect of life not only in the temporal world but also in the spiritual domain of Advaita. However people generally ignore this aspect of freedom since we are part of the infinite cosmos — generally termed as Brahman in Indian philosophy. Emphasizing the aspect of freedom, Swami Vivekananda wrote:
“I am free, not bound. If you think that you are bound you make your own bondage. If you think you are free, then you get freedom. Freedom is the goal of all nature.”
From spiritual freedom we obtain freedom in the social world. Social, political freedom is founded on the deeper metaphysical aspect of freedom of man as suggested by Advaita. Thus social order is based on the spiritual freedom of man in society. In such a society, there is ‘Already a system involved in which human beings are treated as manifestation of Divine Reality’. In other words, there exists a metaphysical harmony between man and society, between man and nature. Harmony in the human world is a manifestation of harmony in the cosmic world.
The well-known Indian epic Bhagwad Gita tells us not to covet material objects, not to be attached to the material wealth. All of us require material goods but we should not over emphasize this aspect. Gandhi reiterated this maxim in his commentary on Gita that he called anasakti yoga (Yoga of non-attachment). The fundamental theme of this epic is that people should overcome a tendency to be attracted and attached to material objects – to the material world. This is indispensable in our lives as also envisaged in the Vedantic tradition – to find peace, harmony, amity, brotherhood, freedom.
Thus Advaita provides the basis of a community of spiritual people governed by social, moral ideals of equality, justice, freedom and harmony. In other words, Advaita is the philosophy of supreme equality of human beings and all forms of life.
According to Advaita, the Atman (internal self) is the innermost feature of all human beings. If one wishes and is sincere in in one’s efforts, the ideals of Atman can be experientially realised in one’s life. Even if one is in a debased state, the person can rise above this state and reach a higher state of being by means of Advaita. Thus the method prescribed by Advaita is very significant and essential part of the individual in society.
Although Advaita urges non-attachment and renunciation, this does not mean that one must shirk one’s responsibility in the real (temporal) world. One must do one’s duty without being overly concerned about its rewards. This leads to the twin goals of Advaita – happiness, serenity and elimination of misery.
According to Max Mueller, a Vedantist would hold that the whole phenomenal world is real both objectively and subjectively. It is no emptiness as some Buddhists maintain. Advaita infuses hope into despair by rejecting the nihilistic approach of life as some Buddhists claim.
Another feature of Advaita is pragmatism towards phenomenal — this is achieved by observation. Conflicts in life can be resolved by going above the conflicts themselves – not by making small adjustments here and there. According to Advaita individual morality leads to social morality. Modern life is complex, full of tension and conflicts. How to overcome this situation? Not by ignoring our responsibilities but by judicious application of Advaita. Again citing Vivekananda ‘knowledge of Advaita has been hidden too long in caves and forests. It has been given to me to rescue it from its seclusion to carry it in the minds of family and social life. The drum of Advaita should be sounded in all places.’
From the above simple explanation of the Vedantic philosophy of Advaita, scholars and seers have tried to demonstrate that this philosophy is both individually and socially relevant to our complex world. Individually it helps us to search for our innermost self or Atman and at the same time teaches us to be pragmatic towards the material world and continue to perform our duty without caring for reward. This ensures that in our own limited way we are helping the society to promote peace, happiness and harmony.
Socially, the Advaitic philosophy has been instrumental in transforming some enlightened personalities such as Vivekananda, Mueller and Gandhi to rise above their individual Atmans to show the path of peace and tranquillity to ordinary individuals, to steer them to rise above their individual selves and to work for the emancipation of the society that they are part of.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. His new book, A Garland of Ideas—Gandhian, Religious, Educational, Environmental was published recently in Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org
Tags: Culture of Peace, India, Literature, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality, Vedas
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 20 May 2019.
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