Gently reminding us of who we are: Dharampal

I think that someday all Indians will know about Dharampalji, one of the great scholars of modern India. His collected writings that runs into five volumes has the potential to shift our entrenched perspectives about who we are, to change our self-image built on colonial lies. However, this week I am going to focus on his long essay, Bharatiya Chitta, Manas and Kala, that is part of volume 5 of his collected writings. The full essay is also available for download at the Centre For Policy Studies website here.

Excerpt from the essay:

To solve the problems of life on this earth, and to restore the balance, the divine incarnates, again and again, at different times in different forms. This is the promise that Srikrishna explicitly makes in the Srimadbhagavadgita. And, the people of India seem to have always believed in this promise of divine compassion. It is therefore not surprising that when Mahatma Gandhi arrived in India in 1915 many Indians suddenly began to see him as another Avatara of Vishnu.

The state of India at that time would have seemed to many as being beyond redress through mere human efforts, and the misery of India unbearable. The time, according to the Indian beliefs, was thus ripe for another divine intervention. And it is true that with the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi the state of hopelessness and mute acceptance of misery was relieved almost at once. India was set free in her mind. The passive acceptance of slavery as the fate of India disappeared overnight, as it were. That sudden transformation of India was indeed a miracle, and it had seemed like a divine feat to many outside India too.

But though Mahatma Gandhi awakened the Indian mind from its state of stupor, he was not able to put this awakening on a permanent footing. He was not able to establish a new equilibrium and a secure basis for the re-awakened Indian civilisation. The search for such a secure basis for the resurgence of Indian civilisation in the modern times would have probably required fresh initiatives and a fresh struggle to be waged following the elimination of political enslavement. Unfortunately, Mahatma Gandhi did not remain with us long enough to lead us in this effort, and the effort consequently never began.

It seems that the spirit that Gandhiji had awakened in the people of India was exhausted with the achievement of Independence. Or perhaps those who came to power in independent India had no use for the spirit and determination of an awakened people, and they found such awakening to be a great nuisance. As a result the people began to revert to their earlier state of stupor, and the leaders of India, now put in control of the state machinery created by the British, began to indulge in a slave-like imitation of their British predecessors.

The self-awakening of India is bound to remain similarly elusive and transient till we find a secure basis for a confident expression of Indian civilisation within the modern world and the modern epoch. We must establish a conceptual framework that makes Indian ways and aspirations seem viable in the present, so that we do not feel compelled or tempted to indulge in demeaning imitations of the modern world, and the people of India do not have to suffer the humiliation of seeing their ways and their seekings being despised in their own country. And, this secure basis for the Indian civilisation, this framework for the Indian self-awakening and self-assertion, has to be sought mainly within the Chitta and Kala of India.

Gandhiji had a natural insight into the mind of the Indian people and their sense of time and destiny. We shall probably have to undertake an elaborate intellectual exercise to gain some comprehension of the Indian Chitta and Indian Kala. But we can hardly proceed without that comprehension. Because, before beginning even to talk about the future of India we must know what the people of this country want to make of her. How do they understand the present times? What is the future that they aspire for? What are their priorities? What are their seekings and desires? And, in any case, who are these people on whose behalf and on the strength of whose efforts and resources we wish to plan for a new India? How do they perceive themselves? And, what is their perception of the modern world? What is their perception of the universe? Do they believe in God? If yes, what is their conception of God? And, if they do not believe in God, what do they believe in? Is it Kala that they trust? Or, is it destiny? Or, is it something else altogether?

About Dharampal: (Written for this blog post by Pawan Kumar Gupta, December 10, 2020)

Dharampal jee dropped out of college in 1942 soon after Mahatma Gandhi’s call for “Quit India”. He never went back to formal education after that. But he was a keen observer and in the words of the great Buddhist scholar, philosopher and intellectual in the traditional manner, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, an “original thinker”. So his education continued – he was socially and politically active. He worked closely with Mira Behen, and Jaiprakash Narayan. He wrote a scathing letter, addressed to all Members of Parliament after the debacle of the 1962 war with China, calling Pandit Nehru a traitor. He was arrested and finally had to leave the country.
While living in London he started delving deep into the British archives in the India Office Library, a huge section in the British library. His research was inspired by something Gandhi jee said in London in 1931, when he referred to the amazing educational system that existed in India – covering a large part of the country, completely autonomous and managed by the local community – just before India was colonized and how it got uprooted under the British occupation. Very few in India had any idea about this or believed that any system of education for the common ordinary people even existed in the country before the arrival of the British. But Dharampal jee decided to explore the British records of those times (late 18th and early 19th century), believing Gandhi jee’s words. His painstaking research spread over several years, yielded rich dividends, and revealed to him various facets of our past – from indigenous Science and technology to the agricultural practices to the thriving economy of the country and, of course, the education system. Not just these, but he got a deep understanding of the British ways of doing things, their perspective and the manner in which Indians behaved and looked at life. We need to appreciate the fact that when Dharampal jee was doing his research there were no computers or photocopying machines. He had to read, take extensive hand written notes and then painstakingly type them out. My guess is not even 20% of his research has been published till now and many of the books are out of print.
Many of us believe that “Bhartiya, Chitta, Manas and Kala” came out of his years of tapas – research, observation and trying to understand the Indian mind and swabhava. Indian mind, swabhava, ways of doing things, organizing the world around and perception has been very different from the western mind and now the modern Indian mind. What made India a vibrant society and what has happened to us now? Perhaps this essay gives us a direction in which to ponder and find answers.

Links for further study:
Pawan Gupta talking about Dharampal on YouTube in 3 parts. Part 1 . Part 2 . Part 3 .
Centre of Policy studies Dharampal archival collection (with over 15000 pages)

Sahajta aur samarthya: Ravindra Sharma

About Ravindra Sharmaji and a small story from the video:

Ravindra Sharmaji (known as Guruji by everyone who knew him) was from Adilabad in Telangana, which was part of the Nizam’s Hyderabad and was not much affected by the British destruction machine. Guruji used to say that till the 1980’s the traditional systems that must have operated across India still operated there. Being inclined towards the arts and crafts, Guruji apprenticed himself with craftsmen and learnt many traditional crafts like making statues with clay and stone, pottery, metalwork etc. In this process he also developed a deep understanding of the jatis who have traditionally worked these crafts. What comes across from all the talks that Guruji gave was a picture of the completeness, the poornata, of our traditional society in all its sahajta and samarthya. It is not possible to extract meaningful ‘bullet points’ from the talk linked above but let me give you a single story (from 14:40 minutes) to start a discussion here and to entice you to listen to the full video. Guruji says…

The methodologies of teaching and learning were very diverse and interesting. There were no time constraints. No sitting in this or that way etc. There was a great singer from Adilabad called Narayan Rao. He went to Baroda to become a chela of Fayaz Khan Sahib. He was one of the crowd of chelas and stayed near the Guru for many months. The Guru, of course, was totally oblivious of most of his many chelas including Narayan Rao. And one day when the Guru was singing a new taan, Narayan Rao unthinkingly said, “Wah ustaad.” This was the only voice from the crowd of chelas sitting in front of the Guru. Khan sahib stopped in mid-song and imperiously asked, “Who said that? Who said wah ustad?” When Narayan Rao tentatively put his hand up, he was asked who he was. Narayan Rao told him he was also one of the chelas. “Oh, so you are one of my chelas,” said Fayaz Khan Sahib, “Why did you say wah ustad?” Narayan Rao timidly said that he thought that the new thing the Guru had done was great. Khan Saheb said, “Oh, you understood that it was a new thing. You can now go back and teach using my name.” Narayan Rao’s studies were officially over.

Some more about Ravindra Sharmaji:
This is what I wrote about Guruji in ‘Smriti Jaagran Ke Harkaare’ published by SIDH.

I met Guruji, Ravindra Sharma, for the first time at a Samvaad at SIDH. Set in the quietness and majesty of the Himalayas, the SIDH campus at Kempty was the ideal place to hear Guruji reminisce about his unique experience and worldview. This was around 2 years ago and some 20 people had come together for the samvaad. I had gone through every YouTube video and piece of information about Guruji on the internet and I was awed that I got a chance to be near him for seven days.

What I noticed was the gentleness and unhurriedness of word and action, the grace with which he moved through the spaces, the attention he paid to whoever was talking to him and the humor and sense of fun that was always visible just below the surface. Guruji used to say that our old architecture showed its poornata by not being needy for further decoration. Empty rooms in modern houses shout out to us to fill them with things. Whereas our old houses are poorna and are not needy of things. I like to think that Guruji radiated this type of poornata. In his unselfconsciousness and sense of ease he could be quietly sitting in a crowded room without drawing attention to himself in any way. And yet when he started to tell his stories, informally at the dining table or formally in a lecture hall, all of us listeners would be mesmerized.

Others would have said this before but it struck me that Guruji embodied the sahajta that he talked about. I wish that I had got more time to overcome my natural shyness and become part of his inner circle of students and well-wishers and friends. I wish that I had spent time at Kalashram and had sat and listened to Guruji’s gentle voice tell anecdotes and histories of the land of his experience that has now become a familiar and inspirational land of my dreams.

Links for further study:
Wikipedia page
Channel on YouTube

Education in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition

In the first post in a series on current and past masters who speak from within the Indian tradition, I thought of starting with Samdhong Rinpocheji. The small reason is that I was listening to a YouTube lecture by him today and the more substantial reason is that Pawanji (who I consider one of my Gurus) considers him one of his Gurus. I thought that the format for these posts could be:

  1. A link to a video or text by the master.
  2. A summary or interesting extract from the video or text to start a conversation.
  3. A few words about the master.
  4. Links for further viewing or reading.

So here goes…

A (longish) summary of the main ideas in the talk is given below:

  • Objective of shiksha is to dispel ignorance and awaken wisdom
  • Learning, teaching, arguments, debates, reading etc are all tools towards above
  • The guru word is not used and Kalyanmitra is used in the Buddhist tradition. It assumes a peer relationship and approachability

Three types of purush:
adam, madhyam and uttam purush – need different levels of shiksha

Kalyanmitra’s requirements/ tasks:

  1. Dispel fear from the student. Remove ‘i cannot do this’ from the student.
  2. Imparting teaching.
  3. Remove difficulties of student.

Students qualifications/ requirements:

  1. Non-biased mind
  2. Intelligence
  3. Willingness to learn, Inquisitiveness

Kalyanmitra-vidyarthi relationship is very important and very sacred. Based on a common agreement/ determination to work towards the awakening of wisdom in the student.

Kalyanmitra wisdom cannot be transferred directly to the student. No shaktipath possible. The metaphor used is a lit candle lighting an unlit one (no transfer of material from lit). So the awakened Kalyanmitra through dialogue, teaching etc. inspires manifestation of awakening in student.

Shiksha process. Threefold:

  1. Sheel
  2. Samadhi
  3. Pragya
    The above required to various degrees from learning the simplest tasks to achieving Buddhahood. At lowest level we need discipline, concentration and knowledge to even learn to write the letter ‘ka’.

How to do the process. Three ways:

  1. Shrutpragya – hearing and reading (knowledge)
  2. Chintan-pragya – thinking, analysis, examination (verification)
  3. Bhavanamayi pragya – 2 types contemplative/ concentration (experience)

Four skillful methods adopted by the Kalyanmitra:

  1. Take care of all needs of student (food, cloth, book, teaching etc.).
  2. Skillful conversation.
  3. Observe his or her own behavior. Live the teaching. Be an example.
  4. Wisdom to understand likes/ dislikes of student and to tailor the teaching accordingly.

About Rinpocheji (written by Pawanji):

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, who makes a sharp distinction between shiksha and education, is a very senior buddhist monk, extremely erudite, a scholar, but more than that a person with deep wisdom, insights and endowed with an original mind. He has a very deep understanding of tradition and modernity and is able to live in the modern world with all its contradictions and strife without letting it affect him. He single handedly built the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath. He was its founding Director and later retired from there as the Vice Chancellor. He was chairman of Association of Indian Universities, perhaps the only person ever to head this body who did not come from a formal educational background. He later became the speaker of the parliament of the Tibetan Government in Exile and later its first elected Prime minister.

Links for further study:
Rinpocheji’s website: https://samdhongrinpoche.com/en/

Pawanji talking about Rinpocheji on YouTube

SIDH vision

Namaste, friends! Recently, we were forced to review what initiatives are going on at SIDH. With an online course that participants have liked, a monthly Charcha with Udhbhavaha school, book publishing and all the other ideas that are in the pipeline, it looked like a confusing mix of things. It was only when we started looking a little more closely that the patterns began to reveal themselves. Now, to us, it seems like we are doing many things and they fit together rather well. Take a look and see for yourselves…

What is our goal:

To work towards restoring the swatantrata and sahajta of our people by:
– Drawing their attention to our civilizational groundings
– Correcting the narrative about the sense of our past
– Countering the challenges posed by modernity in this work

Our target audience:
All Indians of age 15 and above.

Our strategy to move towards the goal: (some of it already happening and some to happen when we have the money for it)

Courses and workshops:
There are 3 levels of courses envisaged:
Level 1: Mass market online courses in local languages.
Level 2: Intermediate level online courses of around 1 month duration.
Level 3: Advanced level online courses of 2 months duration and 5-7 day meetings (At the SIDH campus at Kempty or other suitable location)

Alternative learning spaces and teacher orientation:
Pawanji and I already mentor the alternative learning space, Udhbhavaha, in Bangalore. Other initiatives like Udhbhava will be started. The teachers from these learning spaces will work on teacher orientation for new learning spaces.

Research:
Includes 2 broad themes:
a. Challenging the false narratives about us.
b. Building the narratives that strengthen us.
… through primary field research, re-purposing existing material and dissemination of research results.

Publications:

Distribution of existing publications:
– 40 books in Hindi and English.
– Quarterly journal Raibar.
Publishing and distributing new (or out of print) publications:
– Asli Shiksha series of books.
– Series from new research.

Community building:
The people who read our books, join the courses and workshops etc. are our main community. We are planning to hold them together by weekly blog posts, monthly zoom calls, physical meetings in different cities and retreats at SIDH, Kempty etc.

Add your comments and let us know what you think…