Why is Dharampal Ignored?

Question from Pawanji:
It seems like the Indian academic world has not opposed Dharampal but has ignored him. What do you think?

Rinpocheji’s answer:
In this regard, it appears like people have treated Gandhiji and Dharampalji the same way. To be in opposition you need logical arguments. The academic world doesn’t have any. Whatever opposition can arise will be superficial. On a rational ground neither Gandhiji nor Dharampalji can be opposed. They (people who ignore Gandhiji and Dharampalji) only say – but how do we stop development? Development is such a big thing, whether good or bad, and it needs to be allowed in. With such hollow talk they put their ideas forward and ensure their livelihood inside the developmental paradigm. Not having the capacity or the logic to oppose Gandhiji and Dharampalji, they ignore them.

And they do not agree to what Gandhiji and Dharampalji are saying because that is uncomfortable and not acceptable. Nehruji must have surely understood the ideas of Gandhiji. In the beginning he did some minor opposition to Gandhiji but quickly realized that he could not oppose Gandhiji logically. The solution Nehru found was to continue to do the things he wanted to do after putting Gandhiji on a pedestal and making him a Mahatma. It is true that if Nehru had opposed Gandhiji a process of dispute and dialogue would have started and Gandhiji’s ideas would have reached a wider audience.

Gandhiji, Vinobhaji, Dharampalji – people have not opposed them, in fact they have only praised them. They were made Mahapurush. But their ideas were not accepted and were wholly ignored. But how long can they be ignored? A time will surely come, a limit will be reached, beyond which we will not be able to live in the current paradigm. Then, possibly, the ideas of Gandhiji and Dharampalji will be paid attention to. Right now people are all intoxicated, like someone asleep after taking opium, or in an alcoholic stupor. People are dazed, unconscious, in the intoxication of modern civilisation. What opposition can one do then? They will not accept the ideas but will also not be able to oppose them.

Chennakeshava Temple at Belur

“Belur is situated on the banks of Yagachi River and was one of the capitals of the Hoysala Empire. The Chennakeshava Temple (also called Vijaya Narayana Temple) at Belur, built by Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana in 1116 AD, is a star shaped temple believed to have taken around 103 years to build. The temple stands on a platform and has exquisite artwork on its outer walls adorned with bracket figures depicting the Puranas and Epics.”
From the Karnataka tourism website

My civil engineering batchmate who works in a company that makes luxury hotels and apartments has been urging me to go and visit Belur. He has travelled extensively in India and abroad and claims that he has seen nothing as spectacular as the Belur temple. I got a chance to go there recently and the dominant memory is of the densely and intricately carved figures on the temple walls. Figures that depict an unbelievable level of detail covering both earthly and divine themes.

For example:
– There are numerous women figures in various postures, dancing, singing, hunting, combing their wet hair, looking at a mirror etc.
– The women have details like carved necklaces that hang in front of them and, in one figure, a bangle that moves freely on an arm.
– The divine themes include Ravana lifting mount Kailasha, Narasimha killing Hiranyakashyap etc.

The inner sanctum is a large hall with 42 unique, apparently lathe-turned, pillars. The Narasimha pillar and the Mohini pillar are special. There is a story that the Narasimha pillar, covered from top to bottom with carved miniature idols, has stone ball bearings that allowed the pillar to be rotated at some time in the past. The Mohini pillar has a five-foot image of Mohini wearing a crown through which light can pass. The magnificent main statue of Lord Vishnu in black stone is around 14 feet tall from the bottom of the pedestal to the top.

The well-informed local guide who showed us around said two very interesting things:
– That the temple and its figures frozen in time were not only a sacred place of worship but also of education. Walking around and telling stories that were depicted on the walls was a deeply immersive learning experience.
– That the Belur temple was buried under sand by the local people when Islamic invaders were sweeping through breaking temples. The statues are largely intact because of this precaution, the guide said.

I don’t know if the second story above is true or just something that the guides make up to add spice to their stories, but I am glad that so much of this exquisite temple is left untouched, that the temple is still fully functional and that we can go and get a glimpse into the minds of our ancestors who could dream something like this into existence.

There is a lot of information about the temple available online. Here are some links you may find useful:
Karnataka tourism page on Belur is at: https://www.karnatakatourism.org/tour-item/beluru/
The Wikipedia article is at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chennakeshava_Temple,_Belur
A brief video tour of the temple is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfFjuTuIj2g

Samdhong Rinpoche on Paramparagat Shiksha

The main points made in the 3-part video are as follows:

Part 1: Adhunik Vs Paramparagat

Modern education makes us slaves in all respects. It snatches away our swaraj. In particular, today’s education makes us a slave to greed. It makes us lead our lives in the pursuit of the pleasure and convenience of our physical bodies. Even on our deathbed, we die enslaved.

The paramparagat shiksha used to make man swatantra (‘swa ke tantra ke saath chalne waala’ and not ‘independent’ as it is translated today in English). It taught man to minimize his needs. It taught how within limited means one could live a large, rich life.

Part 2: Five Mahavidyas

When the Buddhist parampara started in 600 BCE the categorization of the vidyas (sometimes counted as 64 etc.) was reworked into the five mahavidyas.

  1. Shabd-vidya – This encompasses language and literature.
  2. Nyaya-Vidya – Relates to logic.
  3. Chikitsa-vidya – All medical sciences.
  4. Shilp-vidya – Art, architecture etc.
  5. Adhyatma-vidya – Relating to Dharma and Darshan

Part 3: Details of Paramparagat Shiksha

Going by the 5 mahavidyas, paramparagat shiksha starts with language, the medium to learn all the other mahavidyas. The second step is nyaya – proofs, logic etc. This is to ensure that a student does not get caught in blind assumptions but rather uses rationality/ logic to move towards knowledge. Bhasha and nyaya are considered to be the foundation stones of shiksha. Once this is in place, the student is given some basic grounding in chikitsa, kala, adyatma etc to broaden his perspective. That is the end of the basic education. The student, according to his interests, may then specialize in one of the mahavidyas and go into the depths of a particular subject.

There was no clear demarcation between primary and specialized shiksha. You could spend 10 years doing primary shiksha or you could finish it in one year. When you developed the competency to start on a specialization you would be out of the primary shiksha phase. Moving up one class every year or making one age-group sit together was not a practice that existed in the paramparagat shiksha.

The alienated elites of India

“एक भाग है उन आधे प्रतिशत लोगों का जो अपने सहायक तथा सेवक वर्ग के सहारे, जो कि लगभग १५-२० प्रतिशत बैठता है, भारत के तंत्र और साधन क्षेत्रों को नियंत्रित करते हैं। दूसरा भाग उन ८०-८५ प्रतिशत लोगों का है, जो अपने अति सीमित साधनों और अवशिष्ट बल से ही जी रहे हैं ।. . . . लेकिन बृहत् समाज को हीन मानकर, उनका उद्धार और कल्याण करने की युक्तियां देते हुए, राष्ट्रीय साधनों स्रोतों पर नियंत्रण रखना तो हमें छोड़ना ही होगा। ऐसे न्यायपूर्ण विभाजन, संयोजन और समन्वय द्वारा राष्ट्र में २०-३० वर्षों के लिये दोनों हिस्सों का शक्तिपूर्ण सह अस्तित्व रह सकना सम्भव है। ऐसे सह अस्तित्व की अवधि में, हमें कुछ अधिक साहस और शक्ति मिली तो हम मिलकर आगे का भी सोच सकेंगे और ऐसे रास्ते व व्यवस्थायें बना सकेंगे जिनके द्वारा हमारा यह टूटा बिखरा समाज फिर से एक होकर आगे बढ़ सकेगा।”
– धर्मपाल, ‘हमारे सपनों का भारत?’

I recorded a zoom meeting with Pawanji where we talked about the above quote by Dharampalji and what it meant for people like us – the 15-20% elite class of India. I have edited a relevant video clip and uploaded it on the SIDH Youtube channel.

This is a conversation that we at SIDH are very eager to engage in. I hope that you find it thought-provoking and useful.

An arts and crafts mela

Yesterday, I went and visited a large arts and crafts mela. There were 140+ stalls of craftsmen from 20+ states of India and their work in cloth, wood, metal, terracotta, stone, leather, folk art etc. was being showcased and sold. Yesterday was a Sunday and the mela grounds were very crowded. Also, all my recent reading of Dharampalji’s works has probably undone some circuits in my mind and rewired some new ones.

Let me try to tell you what I noticed:

  • The car parking covered a larger area than the mela. These car owners, well-off people with money to spend, were the target customers.
  • The stalls were mostly being run by English-speaking people. So, it was English-speaking customers interfacing with English-speaking intermediaries.
  • The craftsmen, where seen, were more like animals in a zoo, something to be seen and marvelled at. For example, a potter was running a pottery workshop for children.
  • The crafts on display, cut off from their roots and their utility, were only nice decorative things that money could buy. For example, Kerala mural art that decorates temple walls was drawn on canvas to decorate living rooms.
  • It felt that the craftsmen had no option but to please these people with money and in the process their traditional art and its lineage was cheapened.
  • Another phenomenon seemed to be college-educated, alternative type people who were selling cool things like recycled material, organic food etc.

The feeling I came away with was of deep sadness that our craftsmen and their beautiful work has also been recycled, sanitized, and become neatly packaged into a form that can attract the wavering attention of our modern moneyed class. What do you think?

Another elephant

Middle-class people of my generation (I was born in 1966) have seen constant improvement in our material wealth over our lifetime. We have gone from lower middle-class to upper middle-class and in some cases to the rich. Our children, who are now in their twenties, have grown up pampered. If people of my generation think about it at all, they think the lives of their children will follow the same trajectory of increasing material wealth. All the advice we give our children about the future has this assumption built into it.

Let us examine this assumption with some anecdotes:
– My friend who grew up in a barsati in Delhi today owns a posh 3-bedroom apartment and drives a Jaguar.
– When another friend joined his company in 1994, it had 4 thousand employees. Today I think it is more like 4 lakh, a 100 fold increase. My friend rose to the top of this company and created a lot of wealth for himself.
– When my uncle bought a plot of land around 1970, he paid Rs 4 thousand. Six years ago, a builder bought it and gave my uncle 4 flats out of the 10 he built on the plot. The flats are notionally worth Rs 4 Crores, a 10,000 fold increase.

etc.

You will also have stories like this to tell. Is it reasonable to assume that this kind of growth will also happen in the lives of our children? It seems very unlikely.

Here are some events that can make the upward graph change for our children:
– America having a large economic downturn or a stock market crash and the dollar losing its position as the reserve currency of the world.
– Fossil fuels becoming more difficult to extract and hence costing substantially more. (In other words, the end of the cheap, subsidised energy era)
– Environmental and personal health issues that make us fall out of the mainstream.
– A rearrangement in geo-politics, for example, a multi-polar world with many civilizational centres as opposed to the uni-polar world we live in today.

etc.

You can add to this list or create your own. Some honest contemplation on our experience will tell us that our children will live a different kind of life from ours.

If this is so, should we not be thinking about this now? If education is preparing children for the future, an uncertain future, should we not have a different conception of what we have to do in school? Is the frantic activity that goes on in schools, both mainstream and alternative, perhaps a way to postpone thinking about all this?

The elephant in the room

I was talking to a young man yesterday and we got talking about tradition and modernity. He is a sensitive young man who has got a book of poetry published and his work is in the area of product design. I was telling him about the rootlessness that is at the heart of modernity and he said something like – We should be able to take the best from the West and East and weave together a good way of life for ourselves.

I countered this with the idea that probably all long-lasting social systems come with an invisible background context that allows them to function. In India this context may be that our traditional samaaj was/is based on eternal, sanaatan principles that are aligned with the way things ARE. What this means is that we cannot pick and choose from social systems to create something workable for us as individuals. That project in essence is not an individual project but a saamaajik project in which individuals either fit in or don’t.

My young friend told me that he was reading about the callous mistreatment of some captive elephants in India. His heart was moved by the story and he asked me if we should continue this type of practice just because it was ‘traditional’. He explained that this type of problem with traditional rituals was the reason he was thinking of using a mixed West+East approach.

He had not heard it before and I interrupted him with the Akbar-Birbal elephant story:

Once Akbar said that he was a powerful emperor who could fulfill any wish. Birbal said that he could prove this was not always possible and had Akbar’s young grandson summoned. Birbal told the little boy that Akbar would do whatever the boy wanted. The boy first wanted a golden Kurta with a big golden pocket. This was easily arranged. Then the boy wanted an elephant. Because of Akbar’s greatness this was also easily arranged. The boy next wanted the elephant inside the big pocket of his golden shirt.

I suggested to my young friend that when he talked about West+East he was perhaps asking what Akbar’s grandson wanted – An impossible fantasy. The elephant that suffers and moves the hearts of people is a problem, but I told my young friend that I thought that the big elephant in the room that he was missing was different. We are Indians with roots that go very deep who have been brainwashed/educated into trying to become pale copies of Westerners. I told my young friend that when he and I and many others like us are able to see this painful reality, we would have moved in the direction of becoming comfortable in our own skins. This would acknowledge and engage the big elephant in the room and the problems with the elephant on the road outside would then probably work itself out on its own.

Reading Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala – Report

What: Retreat at SIDH campus at Kempty
When: May 2nd to 6th, 2022
People: Around 20 participants from Bareilly, Chandigarh, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Vizag.
Idea: Reading, contemplation and discussion on ‘Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala’ can perhaps show us a direction to be at peace with ourselves and the world.

How the retreat went:

We were trying this kind of retreat for the first time at SIDH and it was well received by the participants. What we did was loud reading of one or two chapters of the Hindi version of the book every day followed by discussions that tried to connect what we read to our individual lived experience. The discussions ranged from the Shastras and Itihaasa to the problems of modern life.

The book is written in very simple language and talks about the disconnect that we educated Indians feel as we live our lives governed by systems that are misaligned with our Indian identity. For example, Dharampalji asks a simple question – Who does this 20th-21st century belong to? Because, it seems like most of the people of India have another conception of Kaala, they live in some other time-frame. This does not mean that we are backward or need to catch up with the century of the West but that we need to organize our lives in some other way.

Like Gandhiji, Dharampalji also talks about our essential Bharatiyata being preserved and propagated through the ordinary Indians. His recommendation is that if we can understand the Chitta, Manas and Kaala of the ordinary Indian we would perhaps understand the Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala. He goes on to say that this is now difficult because the educated Indian is far removed from the ordinary Indian.

Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala is a book that points to ways in which we can understand who we are and begin the work of coming out of the disconnect of living in somebody else’s world. Looking inwards at what is going wrong in our lives is a painful process and the retreat was helpful in starting a contemplative conversation about it.

Reading Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala

What: Retreat at SIDH campus at Kempty
When: May 2nd to 6th, 2022
Idea: Reading, contemplation and discussion on Dharampal’s visionary book ‘Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kaala’ can perhaps show us a direction to move forward as a conscious Indian who is at peace with himself and the world.

Details:
There are many amongst us who are concerned with the direction which Bharatvarsha has taken since we gained independence in 1947. There is a feeling that by and large we have been following the same path that the Britishers laid down to keep us subjugated. The western powers were very anxious that India remains in the ‘Western orbit’ (Dharampal papers: President Roosevelt in conversation with the British ambassador to the US) even after independence and it looks like they were completely successful in this effort.

Many of us can sense and feel the deep discomfort of something very wrong, but are unable to articulate the problem or pinpoint the cause. Perhaps:

  • Our sense of the past is flawed
  • Our understanding of our traditions and of the Western modernity that we have unthinkingly adopted is unclear
  • A distorted perception is making us lead a life which is alien and not really ours

Is there something we can do? At SIDH we feel that a collective reading of Dharampalji’s ‘Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kala’ , a book of 50 odd pages available in both Hindi and English, can give us some strong clues on not just what is wrong but also where to look. We are proposing a five day retreat of reading, silence and dialogue where we try to get to the deeper meaning, implications and to connect various dots. The retreat could potentially give us clues to connect the macro issues (societal, cultural, civilizational etc.) with the process of sense-making in our individual lives. The participants will be expected to go through the book (in either Hindi or English) at least once, before joining the retreat.

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‘Bharatiya Chitta, Manas aur Kala’: Seminar No. 1

The 3-day seminar on Dharampalji’s ‘Bharatiya Chitta, Manas aur Kala’ that was jointly organized by SIDH and IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts) finished yesterday evening. This was the first part of a series of 4 seminars on various aspects of Dharampalji’s powerful book.

Two SIDH publications were released on the first day of the seminar. ‘Rediscovering India’ by Dharampalji (which had been out of print for some time) and ‘The White Sahibs In India’ a hard-hitting book by a sympathetic Englishman, Reginald Reynolds, that talks about the barbarity of the British rule in India.

The four main speakers included Padma Shri Dr. Kapil Tiwari who has worked extensively in the area of India’s folk traditions and Padma Shri Dr. J.K. Bajaj who translated Bharatiya Chitta Manas aur Kala into English. The 50 participants included many people who had the good fortune of having known Dharampalji and therefore could speak with authority about the various subtleties of the book.

In the closing session of the seminar, Shri Ram Bahadur Rai, Dharampalji’s close friend, author, senior journalist and the current president of IGNCA put forward the radical idea that we should probably consider this book of Dharampalji to be of equal importance as Gandhiji’s ‘Hind Swaraj’. This is perhaps the proper way to honor the precious gift that Dharampalji has given all of us by drawing our attention to Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kala.