Author: Abhisek Kumar Panda.
Editorial Note: Building on vocabulary introduced in the book Being Different , IK Abhisek Panda makes a very compelling case for alternatives to the regressive idea of a nation State. These kinds of ideas rooted in a sense of Sanatana and Dharma, will not provoke any level of intellectual engagement from today’s global thought leaders.This is the sad reality. Those who think and reason in Western Universalist categories and anthropocentric paradigms will find Abhisek’s arguments and reasoning , unfathomable. Though we realize that these ideas will not to come to fruition any time soon – Dharmics will find this a natural progression, built on the undeniable basic reality – the divine nature of all things in the universe .
Keywords: Nation states, global citizen, communism, capitalism, secularism, individual freedom, equality, theocracy, Hindu Rashtra, Vedanta, Atman, Paramatma, identity, acceptance, mutual respect, differences, unity, duality, religion.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the Chinese aggression across the world has exposed the hollowness of our global institutions and role of states and societies in fulfilling its duties. But this should not be seen as a black swan event, rather a continuous build up of our failures which reached a certain threshold.
Wise men should be more concerned with ideas and its conceptualization than diagnosing an event in silos. An opportunity to genuinely introspect our social, political and economic models.
Let us understand the present modern world from the period of European renaissance. The concept of “nation states” germinated in modern age Europe then. A nation state refers to a group of people with common race, language, color or ethnicity etc. coming together to create an institution and bestowing in it certain authority. But why was such an arrangement made? The human mind which was suppressed to think independently in the dark ages under the commandments of church “Thou shalt do this” found expression in this period. The thinking mind relegated religion to private sphere of life and the authority of secular state was created to protect this priceless freedom- the freedom to think freely and promote common good of society over individual greed of few elites.
The German philosopher Hegel in his “Philosophy of Right” opines, that the State is the march of God on Earth. The institution of state is the true form of the God and metaphorically people should pay homage to it rather than the institution of the despotic Church. This broadly is part of the “philosophy of history” which sees history of all societies transitioning from theological nature to secular constitutional state in a single and progressive path. It is the evolution of human freedom and scientific reasoning.
This led to the dichotomy of modernity versus tradition, faith versus inquiry, science versus religion, state versus church, so on and so forth.
Then geographical regions organized themselves on basis of language, ethnicity, color or race to form nation states in Europe. But this congregation of individuals with external similarities soon succumbed to human greed. The greed of territorial expansion, superiority of race and urge for more power found shelter in state authority which earlier was centered on The Church. Thus elites of state dominated the masses of society, like earlier nobles and clergy did in a feudal set up, effectively nullifying any real transformation.
The results being holocaust of the Jews, two world wars, colonies and their exploitation, an unstable equilibrium during cold war with countries engaging in arms race, environmental degradation among many.
The Communist empires which aimed at an utopian system of equality were no less violent, in limiting freedom of expression, eliminating diverse cultures and killing masses, if not more.
The group identity crushed any individual role and man was just a cog in the wheel.
The failure of the European nation state model and the antipathy for nationalism subsequently gave rise to many transnational organizations. The likes of United Nations and many multinational corporations are noteworthy. Thus began the dawn of a new world of global citizenry in a post modern world where identities of race, ethnicity, religiosity and language were supposed to have been vanished. But the individual greed which drives capitalism found it easier to exploit in a system of a global village than in restricted nation states and their colonies. The monopolistic trade practices of big MNCs, shifting of profits to tax havens, pressurizing sovereign governments, interference in electoral politics and using private data for commercial gains are just few of the examples that manifest human greed in the name of capitalism.
But the narrative of “America first”, BREXIT, rise of political Islam, human rights abuses, growth of China, its predatory policy of One Belt One Road, its stealing of intellectual property from USA’s institutions, its interference in democratic functioning of post World War II global institutions and the current Covid-19 crises have once again questioned the universality of western ideas like nation states, global citizen, post modern, post structural world, secularism, capitalism or communism.
These are indeed limited by times when they were conceptualized, space (region where they began) and causation (circumstances that gave birth to them).
The history of different societies need not follow a single path.
The west has grappled to reconcile individual freedom with societal objectives and freedom with equality. We live in times where identity politics like Black Lives Matter campaign or anti CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests are harvesting dividends using society’s fault lines, while individual liberty is at loggerheads with national sovereignty or cultural norms in the digital age. This makes us to look inward to the knowledge of thousands of years old civilization- India for answers to the crises of our times, for any real alternate universal ideas of state and society which are scientific, verifiable, progressive and liberal in the truest sense.
What is a Rashtra?
This brings me to the much hyped but the least understood “Hindu Rashtra”. It is maligned, misunderstood and misinterpreted as a theological state with unequal rights, hierarchical social structure, and exclusive policies but most importantly regressive and anti-modern. So let’s bust these myths by deep diving into its foundational principles.
Rashtra as merely translated to be a Sanskrit word for nation state is incorrect. A nation state as explained above is a mechanical amalgamation of individuals bound together with a uniform criterion of a language, an ethnicity, a color or a religion governed under an authority. On the other hand the notion of Rashtra is much more profound and not merely a political concept. It encompasses the relationship between individuals and their social structure and cultural values, the political institutions and economic arrangements, their natural environment and the entire cosmos. It reflects the condition of a civilization and its pursuit of human evolution. For example, the utilitarian principle which fuels global capitalism and directs the conquering of nature for materialistic happiness of the majority can be said as part of western Rashtra philosophy.
Foundational principles of Hindu Rashtra
Hindu Rashtra is the manifestation of its deep rooted philosophical ideas in its social, economic and political life. Swami Vivekananda is a recent day thinker to understand what a Hindu civilization is and what its aims and objectives are. The vedantic philosophy of Aatman (the true inner self) inside all diverse beings which is a part of Paramatma (the Supreme Consciousness, the Absolute, the Infinite) is at the crux of Hindu Rashtra. The differences of race, color, gender, caste, age, wealth, species and even living and non living we see are temporary, continuously changing, and interdependent and are limitations of sensory organs and the human mind. The differences arise as the nature of cosmos is such, where entities, both subtle and gross, take birth and die every moment. Yet there lies an underlying unity which is absolute, and so everyone is a part of the whole.
The principle of equality is looked at from this perspective rather than assigning value superiority to certain traits, actions and institutions and striving to promote those at the cost of the others. For example, equality of outcome between men and women as advocated by radical feminists is basically assigning value superiority to masculine traits, like muscle strength, and disdain for feminine qualities like caring and affection. This results in working against the fundamental nature of the cosmos where differences co-exist in harmony. Cooperation and mutual acceptance is the law of the nature, not conflict and elimination of differences.
This is also the essence of other Dharmic thoughts like Buddhist, Jain and Sikh. Mention must be made that though each philosophy has variations like Buddhism doesn’t recognizes aatman and paramatma but it recognizes the universe and its attributes as ephemeral and the cause of sufferings of all kinds is the habit pattern of mind. Late Shri S.N. Goenka, the great Vipassana (a Buddhist meditation technique) teacher very candidly explains this through his teachings. Similarly, the community kitchen in Gurudwaras is deep down aimed at breaking the limited selfish identity of a person and breaking various social barriers. The tribal rituals around their sacred groves are basically manifestation of co existence with the environment.
These ideas of the Absolute Truth which form the bedrock of Hindu civilization are realized through various means for individual experiences; else philosophy in itself is meaningless. The contemporary scholar Shri. Rajiv Malhotra in his book “Being Different” defines this individual experience of the Infinite as “Embodied Knowing” where practitioners through techniques of inner sciences and empirical method use body and mind as the tool.
A Rashtra so old has several traditions like Bhakti (devotion) tradition, Karma (duty) tradition, Jnana (knowledge) tradition and Ascetics tradition etc. for different people for gaining this experiential knowledge. Psychologically, the qualities of several human minds being different, naturally the suitable spiritual and cultural methods need to be many and not one. The Rashtra has ingrained this aim of evolution of collective, via individual liberation, in various cultural practices and rituals which may seem superficial to others. The Indian way of greeting another person with “Namaste” (the post-Covid world greeting) with folded hands is about acknowledging the Aatman (the real self) of the other person as both are part of the Infinity.
Now a civilization which rests on such deep roots can never be exclusive to outsiders as the basis of exclusion based on differences like color, ethnicity, language and religious practices are not only understood but experienced as the nature of the entire cosmos. Problem arises when these differences are hierarchically institutionalized by different power structures. For example, theocratic policies of state like Saudi Arabia, ideology behind elimination of many cultures by terrorists or medieval Church, social Darwinism leading to supremacy of white race, practices of untouchability and even doctrine of infallibility of scientific methods while disdain for arts subjects in academia are all inability of human mind to comprehend differences. A Hindu Rashtra will never be hostile to other religious or ethnic groups and allows every discipline to flourish with mutual acceptance and respect. In some phases of our history this was realized to a certain extent.
Religion, Secularism and Science
The real fear and misconception rather lies with the term Hindu and understanding of the term religion in Hindu sense. For this we need to go back to understand the dichotomy of religion and secularism as conceptualized during Renaissance period. The French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed duality between soul and body. Thus immortal God was distinct from mortal human, so laws of religious world need to be separate from that of secular world. The institution of state developed as an authority of secular laws and church remained in charge of religious matters. The nexus of Church and State was to be avoided as religion is private and other worldly and it should not interfere in public sphere and this-worldly matters.
This separation of soul from body or religion and secular world doesn’t make sense in presently “limited” scientific revelations. The Newtonian world of matter existing independently is completely demolished by quantum physics findings. Dr. Bruce Lipton in his research findings “The biology of belief” shows how thoughts influence actions. Thoughts or beliefs(and not the genes) program our subconscious mind which controls nearly 95% of our actions. The beliefs are set by religious and cultural value system. Thus religious values shape one’s subconscious mind which manifest in actions which are supposed to be secular in public sphere. So religious indoctrination and values can’t be limited to private space rather pervades all institutions of the society. But can Hinduism be fit to the criterion of religion defined in western term which by its very nature is sectarian and creates conflicts if it is practiced in public forum in a modern world full of multifold entities. Or is it just a colonial hangover to force fit everything Indian, under a western definition?
Religion is defined by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim as: A unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things i.e. things that are kept apart and forbidden. This set of beliefs and practices unite people who adhere to it into one single moral community called church.
Now, Hinduism has no single central institution that prescribes any set of beliefs, practices or rituals. There are multiple traditions which are diverse and continuously engaged in debates like on the concept on the Ultimate Reality is whether Brahman (The Absolute) or Sunya (Nothingness) between Vedanta and Buddhism, respectively. Many religious practices and institutions are highly localized; some confined to even few villages. The aim of religion in Indic civilization is not primarily binding individuals only externally into a group identity. It aims at realization of true identity and thus works for collective upliftment of mankind. As used in pop descriptions Hinduism is a way of life which guides every breath of one’s life and cannot be restricted to certain sacred things in certain time and space.
The Marxist definition of religion as an oppressive institution for the masses doesn’t hold ground. There is no constraining of freedom or promoting exclusivity due to religion as it encourages to seek, to experience and not to just believe. A certain group does not hold monopoly over masses in disguise of false beliefs. The presence of atheist schools and materialistic charvaka school is the testimony of the limitless freedom once available in this Rashtra. Perhaps, therefore, no period is classified as the Dark Age as seen in Europe. The original Varna order based on karma(deeds) and gunas(qualities) of an individual was a mechanism of separation of power between political, intellectual and economical institutions of the society with social mobility at individual level.
This doesn’t mean not setting right ,downright egregious practices like untouchability, blind beliefs and oppressive practices that have crept in and have been institutionalized in various ways. The loss of the knowledge of science behind many rituals has given them the color of exclusivity and discrimination. The solution lies in critical analysis and purification rather than rejection.
The loss of darsanas including Buddhist and Jain, yoga, scientific rituals, various traditions, ayurveda, astrology, astronomy, mathematics, surgery and medicine, tantra practices, puranic scriptures, numerous shastras(texts) like natyashastras for performing arts and local tribal traditions, is something that would be nothing short of catastrophic.
The continuity of tradition and modernity with a constant reorientation is the nature of the Rashtra.
The social, economical and political institutions of the society can be built upon these eternal principles and not mere limited ideas that come in conflict with each other. The “agency” would lie with the individual- the little man and not with any higher authority, be it state, God, commercial establishments or even artificial machines. But for that, investment in the little man is needed, to let go off his limited identity of body-mind.
India has the necessary templates in its tradition to shape her modernity and in the process address the challenges the world is facing today thereby serving as an alternate model.
Western concepts like nation states, global citizen, communism, capitalism, secularism, equality, freedom are limited by time, space and causation.
They are at loggerheads with each other, as they do not address the fundamental issues and work ONLY at a superficial level.
Rashtra is an all encompassing idea that addresses individual and the collective pursuits in the context of “harmony” of social, economical, political, cultural and environmental states.
Hindu Rashtra is deeply embedded in its philosophy of underlying unity among various differences that help in breaking one’s limited identity.
Abhisek Kumar Panda hails from a rural village, Kurunta, in Balasore district of Odisha, India. He did his B.Tech. from the National Institute of Technology(NIT), Rourkela and then worked as a data analyst for 2 few years. He left his corporate, (View More)
1. “Jnana Yoga” The series of lectures by Swami Vivekananda published by the Ramkrishna Mission
2. “Being Different: An Indian Challenge to western Universalism” by Dr. Rajiv Malhotra.
3. “The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles” by Dr. Bruce Lipton.
4. “S.N. Goenka: The Discourse Summaries” by the Vipassana Research Institute.
5. “The Elementary forms of Religious Life” by Emile Durkheim.
6. “Meditations on First Philosophy” by Rene Descartes.