Author Archives: Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra
A Note based on the deliberations and ideas generated in the “BW Higher Education Conclave” held at Bengaluru, on 1st September 2017.
I must congratulate the organizers of “BW Higher Education Conclave” to catch the latest conceptual phrase of ECO-SYSTEM. We have gotten into the habit of thinking in clichés and this one is the latest one. Probably it means ecology of education, Or the interconnections, connectivity and inter-relationships which affect each other at primary, secondary and tertiary levels of all happenings in education in the country. Let me divide this dynamic structure in three parts for the sake of understanding:-
1. Environment that impinges upon higher education;
2. Factors impinging upon the quality of higher education; and,
3. Cultural factors encouraging or retarding the needed change.
As far as the Environment of education is concerned we have the following;
1. UNESCO statistics state that India has enrolment number of 28.6 million students against the US number of 20 million and China number of 34.1 million. A good number indeed. But when you break the Indian number of students you find that of the total enrolment number, 79.87 are enrolled in the Under Graduate classes and 11.45 % in the PG; only 0.34% are enrolled in M.Phil. and 0.10 are in the Ph.D. This is a strong indication of the dismal position of research-led educational degrees in the country which stands always, in every society, in direct proportion to the scientific research being conducted in the country. India shows a big time lag in its educational achievements, and that is where we all have come here to think where to go.
2. What affects economy of the country also affects the education. What the mixed economy did to India in the sixties and the seventies in the context of development; and which perhaps was the most needed thing for a newly independent nation like India to do; it also did to education. As a result, the country rightly has the right to boast about excellent beginning in engineering education, medical education, number of institutions etc. but all under the government investment but with the happy trend of free education. This investment is paying off today in having a vast army of our engineers and scientists nourishing a global economy, which is slowly turning in favourable aspects of the Indian side. But as much as the Indian economy remained under the control of the government, so has the education administration. As a result of this, private education could not be profit-oriented; and to this day remains an area of charity, free social work or an action of altruism. As a result of this, many times professionalism and economy of such ventures suffer.
3. Historic changes and impacts of technology on every aspect of individual, social and national life resulting in:-
a. Overall heightening of aspirations of the dominant population which is constituted of youth. Never ever before in the country’s history has there been so much HOPE; yes, hope of perceived opportunity with which comes a vibrancy in society that constitutes a formidable social capital;
b. Industrial growth, mainly in the small and medium industry- sometimes organized but mostly unorganized sector;
c. Widening of services sector of economy, and of Commerce; not only in their economic aspects but also of the initiatives linked with legal and legislative measures;
d. Changes in Lifestyle with new dimensions in entertainment, expenditure, consumption patterns and informal spread of knowledge and technology-savvy interaction and communication; and,
e. Several connected issues of transformation and change in society that all converge on the need and result of more education, information and knowledge.
4. The great divide. The great Digital divide; Technology divide; Literacy and Education divide; Prosperity divide etc. All these divides show up in widening of disparities in the country resulting in angst living side by side of the great Hope in this great age of Anger today.
5. Changing economic and employment relationships; and,
6. Assertion of the felt need of Quality Assurance, Accreditation, Ranking etc to mark, indicate and create a hot environment of competition, quality assurance and new compulsions to survive in an atmosphere of faster life style. It is also visible quite blatantly in the matter of higher education today.
Factors impinging upon the quality of higher education are too well known;
However it would be useful to revisit them not in a way of what lacks in our universities and higher education by way of measuring lack of quality but by reviewing on factors that lie behind the success of world class universities. Literature on education have mentioned time and again several such factors. However, the most important ones that have a way of providing high inspirational impetus to our institutions are:-
1. Pursuit of excellence; pursuit of the most ideal forms of learning, teaching and doing research. And here by excellence I mean what I said in an interview with Competition and Success Review sometime back:
“…….. excellence in education lies in our ability to elicit students’ quality response to our teaching. And in order to have better student response, the teacher will have to connect himself with students. … The intervening factors between a teacher and a student are not ignorance or lack of information alone, but a lot of other factors like culture, values, methods and above all integration. So the connection, the integration, ought to be complete…”
Student’s response to teaching carries whole gamut of possibilities and norms like questioning the cause, existence, volume of education, extant of possibilities to do more in one’s chosen field; and Research. Education is for the student and the researcher. It is all about making a student capable of crossing the Rubicon of one’s ambition or life goal. This is possible when the STANDARDS ARE VERY HIGH. So comes with “excellence” in education is the standard that our society will set with education. If our standards remain frozen for a long time, and if we do not revise our syllabi, modes of learning, interactional patterns, collaborations with other institutions of excellence and funding structures and methods, then we simply go “out of date”. Nothing in the world is worse than being called outdated! So, the first lesson lies here: GO FOR A NATION-WIDE REVISION OF SYLLABI AND RESEARCH NEEDS.
2. Finding new avenues of research; and being probing and creative in finding leading positions in our Science and Technology research. If we do not have this culture and apparatus of research, then we lag behind. Time, in the manner it is moving in the field of technology, is in utmost shortage today. Any time lag between our knowledge load and the best that has been achieved already, will put your institution down not by the measure of the lag but many multiples of that. Time lag works in its result in geometrical proportion. So, the second lesson is: BE LATEST. Revise the books, collaborate as much as possible; get, import or buy the latest knowledge posts and train our teachers to avoid time lag.
3. An excellent university selects, retains and incentivizes best teachers, researchers and students. Means are important for doing this. Let there be a nation-wide debate about how it is to be done. If there is a shortage of teachers in the country on a subject, we find ways of getting more.
4. Excellent institutions of higher education are not objects or products. They are evolving beings in an ecosystem of mutual benefit and cooperation. They have certain integral system of competence and capability of not only creating knowledge and information but also wealth. Patents, industrial inroads and collaborations, research-for-profit, knowledge production in forms of papers and books are some of the hallmarks of a productive ecosystem of knowledge and wealth. This factor of excellence in education demands a very intelligent policy response from the government and a positive attitude of civil society towards the profession of teaching. Do we rate the teachers high and give them the respect in the manner Germany and Japan does, or we treat them like salaried employees come to teach as the last resort of failures in the job market? Or have we created that situation for them?
5. Excellent institutions stand in a society that gives them full autonomy to work, to plan, to think and to execute their plan.
6. Excellence in higher education also demands excellence in education at primary and secondary levels of schooling. So, by implication, the factor that impinges upon the quality of education is a holistic way of improving education from the beginning.
Cultural factors encouraging or retarding the needed change in quality;
1. Attitude of society to education. This factor can best be dealt with by answering following questions:-
a. How do we rate our teachers? How do we rate them in terms of their salary, respect, autonomy in decision making and pursuing of excellence?
b. How does society- including government-respond to the new investors in education by law, by new legislations and by the proposition of equality in status Vis a vis the pre-established set up of higher education. Do we make the private universities- comprising whopping +31% of the total number of universities- feel at home in status and government rules! Here, while I maintain this question, I am also aware of the fact that excellence of its own has a strength of attraction. Some private universities in the country have begun well in the quality measure of education and standards. So, given the space, private investors in education have been able to create a new environment of excellence in education.
2. No change in any society is possible unless there is a consensus on what we wish to achieve. This consensus is somehow implicit in our democratic set up where legislation is done in the state or in the centre and initiatives are taken by both- the government as well as the people. Nothing works more and better than the collective will of the people which eventually turns into cultural mores. Agreeing with Dr. Mashelkar who in his famous book Re-inventing India gives a wonderful recipe for creating world class Research-led universities and institutions in India, I’ll list out a few cultural imperatives for our society and government to follow:-
a. High Political Will, Ambition and massive Funding like China has done;
b. We have got to agree that India needs still more than 31% investment in education to make education sector as a creative and self-sustaining for-profit sector of economy as well, and not just a matter or part of residual social work. Yes, the matter of plentiful of scholarships can be made a matter of not-for-profit especially for a number of students who do not wish to avail loans. India must be open to the idea of having more university campuses of excellent foreign universities.
3. Innovation is the key of Science and technology research. Society, industry and the University together will make a network of efforts to create demand for this, so that, in turn manufacturing can be augmented. So there will have to be ways of such collaborations as will dovetail our research and development into the industrial output.
4. Quality education demands quality teaching. As I have said earlier, if we do not have enough of quality teachers we should be open to hire from other places in globalized society. No globalization is complete unless the global ethos comes closer to portals of learning.
5. Inclusion of the kind suggested above, excellence of the kind demanded of the time, and expansion of the kind envisaged in the demand of education for the burgeoning youth population in the country—are all possible only if there is collective and political will in our governments, in our administration, and in our economy.
I have come across recently a paper circulated by the Yes Bank that emphasized on the term Glocalisation for quality improvement in education. This term GLOCALISATION, I think means thinking global and doing local simultaneously. You may find any number of votaries on this thought. However, we must be on guard about one thing, that the knowledge in its ultimate and eventual manifestation may not always be euro-centric. It is often said and emphasized on the name of quality excellence in teaching that the teachers are responsible for creating universal values among the students. Some modernists argue that the teaching should be value-neutral and that the teachers should most (and at least) fill the student’s mind with clarification about values while emphasizing that the facts ought to be value-neutral. But we also know that science and technology is value-neutral. Hence the only value that eventually ought to prevail is the value of unity in diversity where the world is one big family: vasudhaiva kutumbakam.
India needs both quality and quantity education. Given 1.25 billion population out of which 400 million are youths, the importance of quantity education is quite obvious but quantity alone can take us only up to a point. Beyond a point, it is the quality of education that makes all the difference. For example, Harvard university of USA has produced more than 80 Nobel Laureates but India (even if we include Non Resident Indians like Amartiya Sen) has not produced even 8 Nobel Laureates.
Modern Indian education started with a subservient role. In 1832, Lord Macaulay told British Parliament that the idea of Indian education system is to produce a class of interpreters between those who govern (British) and those who are governed (Indians). So the idea was not to produce innovators or entrepreneurs or leaders of thought but only interpreters. India has a vast potential. It has 400 million young, educable population which is more than the entire population of USA. The challenge is how to convert this potential into performance. To convert potential into performance, we need certain key skills.
An Oxford research enquired into the question why oldest Universities of the World are still the Top Universities. For example, America’s oldest University Harvard is still top University of the World, followed by Cambridge and Oxford Universities of United Kingdom. The result of the research was that these Universities teach certain ultimate transferable skills which are as relevant today as they were seven centuries ago. They are:
(i) Learning attitude and ability to master new learning quickly and efficiently.
(ii) Confidence in one’s own ability and respect for those of others.
(iii) Communication skills – both written and spoken.
(iv) Ability to form team and be a good player in team.
(v) Power of networking and social skills.
(vi) Critical and constructive thinking and finally,
(vii) Specialization in a given field of enquiry and making significant contribution to the existing fund of knowledge.
We have to recognize that difference between mere information and knowledge, difference between knowledge and skills, difference between skill and mastery. To gain mastery, reconnecting with our own genius, restoring faith in our own independent perceptions, power of respectful but robust discussion and dialogue, institutionalization of research are very important.
Finally, India has great intellects but a poor ecosystem. India has intellects but a poor intellectual property rights system. We must learn and demand fair prices for our intellectual services and be ready to pay fair prices of the intellectual services rendered by others. Time has come when both Laxmi and Saraswati are to be combined only then quality higher education in Indian educational ecosystem will emerge and flourish. As per Indian Ethos, there are four goals of life:
Upnishads say “सा विद्या या विमुक्तया” – means education is one that liberates. For this purpose, our culture says three virtues (competences) are required:
(a) Dharma – Knowledge and practice of right things
(b) Aartha – capacity and power to accomplish things
(c) Kaama – Ability to fulfill desires for yourself, for your family, for your society only then Moksha – the ultimate freedom will emerge. So, right kind of higher education will include creating competence in students and teachers to acquire and practice what is most important for them as individuals, for society, acquiring means and power to accomplish goals, satisfying your highest desires and thus having freedom and fulfillment as the ultimate goal of the education.
This exactly is opposite of what Macaulay prescribed for Indians in 1832. So the challenge is from Macaulay to Moksha.
A Note based on the deliberations and ideas generated in the
“2017 Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Dialogue Summit of Elite Universities & the Presidents’ Forum” held at Chengdu, China, on 10 -12 May.
The educational and cultural relations between India and China can be traced back to very early times. Both India and China are known for ancient tradition of exchange in learning – heavily ethical in orientation. The University of Nalanda, built in the 4th century BC was one of the greatest achievements of ancient India in the field of education. The Chinese scholar and traveler Hiuen Tsang (600-654 AD) stayed at Nalanda University in the 7th century, and in his writings left an elaborate description of the excellence, and purity of monastic life of that time.
The introduction of Buddhism by India is one of the most important events in Chinese history, and since its inception it has been a major factor in Chinese civilization. The expansion of Indian culture into China is a monument to human understanding and cultural cooperation- the outcome of a voluntary quest for learning.
The world is facing unparalleled challenges today. How will we deal with issues like the mounting needs of energy, food, health care, jobs, ageing and a rapidly shifting global economy? How can Higher Education play any role in this? Our joint deliberations here suggest that the key lies in innovation. India and China are world’s two most populous nations. Right since the days of Enlightenment and its following schema of human progress through scientific development, mankind has known the path of probing the truth and mystery of nature. India and China who both entered the world of political and modern scientific age in the middle of the last century, have known the need of innovation as the most rewarding factor of progress and people’s welfare. We recognize the importance of innovation as it envisions a future in which people in all parts of the world can improve their quality of life. The progress that India and China make on higher education and innovation is watched with keen interest by most people around the world. Explosion of inventions and innovations is of importance not only for the inhabitants of our two countries, who constitute nearly two-fifths of the world’s population, but also for the world as a whole.
The relationship of the university with society is in a rapid flux that generates new forces of social and economic dynamism. The university is not only the centre of learning but a hub of the innovation, skill, enterprise and the change as well. What was perceived by the leadership in China and India in the fifties, that is, utmost need to inculcate scientific temper in our respective cultures for the great leap forward, is paying dividend now. We can see all around us how the innovation, technology and its adoption has become culture and habit in today’s China. India too has reached that stage when tenets of new age comfortably ride on the tradition and diffusion becomes a social reality. Having a culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the university is a global imperative today. Stimulating innovative and growth-oriented entrepreneurship is a key economic and societal challenge to which universities have much to contribute. Key to progress in cultural change is to create an innovative ecosystem; a network of activities; individuals, groups, and processes that are interacting, reinforcing, self-sustaining, and growing in scope and density. This ecosystem influences many aspects of the university’s operation and fosters a supportive environment for innovation and entrepreneurial activity. Innovation and Entrepreneurship pave ‘the path from the idea to the impact.’ The university has to convert the fundamental knowledge that grows in it into real things and real actions that have real consequences for real people. The 2015 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Youyou TU, a researcher who spent her entire career researching traditional Chinese medicine, has opened a new perspective of innovation for China and India. Traditional medical knowledge anywhere in the world had not even been on the radar for Noble Prize prospects until now. I welcome Universities from China to come forward and join hands with their Indian counterparts, including Shobhit University, where we are studying and doing research in Ayurveda (oldest science of Life) and Yoga. Our joint efforts to further explore and innovate in this area will benefit the world Health Sector at large, and create jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities.
A word about the political and diplomatic efforts at cooperation becomes necessary and relevant here while we talk about cooperation. This is about the BRICS. Today BRICS represent the new multi-polar world; and collectively, the five BRICS nations account for 42% of world population, 20% of output, and nearly all of current growth in the global economy. India and China are playing a crucial role for a new balance of global power. I wish to propose that universities and institutions from China and India should proactively join the BRICS innovative initiatives. One of such initiative is BRICS – Biomed Consortium. The BRICS Biomed Consortium aims to augment innovation and product development in bio-medical areas. There are global opportunities in Biomed and it will witness an investment of USD 5 billion and USD 50 billion returns are expected between 2015 and 2021. By 2025, BRICS Bio-med Centre in India will be established in four major cities; Kanyakumari, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi. Prof. M. Moni, an Emeritus Professor of Shobhit University is heading the working group of Biomed Informatics. BRICS has about 6573 universities, out of which more than 2000 are from China. I welcome and request universities from China to more actively join these joint innovation efforts. And with this bench of cooperation we might as well think of many more such forums and subjects of shared innovation-cooperation which is the most essential and pivotal element of the Future of mankind.
In India, pitching for greater use of research for boosting the agriculture sector, our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi gave the slogan: ‘Lab-to-Land’, insisting for the use of scientific technologies to help the country raise agricultural production in “less land, less time” as he expressed concern over depleting natural resources along with the challenge of climate change globally. He emphasized upon finding innovative ways to take scientific research to fields. I am happy to share with esteemed audience that Shobhit University, through its specialized Centre for Agricultural Informatics & e-Governance Research Studies, is strengthening this vision along with number of global partners. Better integration of agriculture with technology and services needs more investment and cooperation. I will like to invite our Chinese friends to come forward for improving agricultural productivity, strengthening environmental and resource sustainability. There is ample scope for a shared platform of learning together our experiences in improved agriculture, farming systems, and overall production.
There are as many as 14,000 Indian students studying in China. The country has an abundance of renowned colleges and universities in many different fields, from business and mathematics to philosophy, history and astronomy. But most of the Indian students are studying in medical colleges in China, as studying medicine in China is a relatively lesser expensive option. To promote Entrepreneurship and innovation in higher education, we need more purposeful academic collaborations, scholar exchange programs and synergies. We have been teaching in our business schools the case studies of western origin that take after western cultural constructs of business, ethics and dominance. The best scope today lies in creating new case studies based on Indian, Chinese and more of South East Asian experience that jells naturally and natively in our common, and perceivably closer home, cultural diffusion.
There is also a demographic compulsion of co-operation between China and India waiting to assert itself. Every fifth human on earth is Chinese and every sixth one is Indian. If still there is no working together of the offspring of these two civilizations, then it is only a blockage of a kind that is not natural, or because certain logic in converse prevails in the earth-consciousness that ought to be checked seriously. The commons will have to be determined by such discussions as has been occasioned in the Chengudu summit. Our respective governments have had, in the past ten years, several successful youth-exchange programmes, when both sides learnt nuances and quantum of progress in both countries. Need there is also to begin formal student exchange programmes in numbers. Making a first, Shobhit University would love have students from the universities in China on the internship of one, two, three or several months’ internships.
The old way was to conquer, to dominate, but the new way is to create and cooperate. A great educational revolution is needed for the survival and progress of coming generations. The political world has United Nations (UN) as a platform to promote international co-operation and to create and maintain international order. It’s time to develop a United Knowledge Platform (UKP) for creation, integration and dissemination of inclusive knowledge collectively. The possibility thinkers, attending this summit shall contribute to bring together the creative brains from around the globe for the benefit of the world at large.
Kunwar Shekhar Vijendra, Chancellor, Shobhit University, Meerut, India* was invited to attend “2017 Innovation and Entrepreneurial Colleges and Universities Dialogue Summit (10-12 may 2017)” in Chengdu, the historical capital of Sichuan province of China. As part of the 2017 Chengdu Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fair – this Global summit was organized by Education Forum for Asia and the People’s Government of China Ministry of Higher Education. This global discussion platform was shared by many renowned scholars, including Nobel Laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, along with Chancellors, Presidents, Vice Chancellors, Professors, Academicians, and Thinkers from America, Japan, Ireland, Britain, Australia, Malaysia, Israel, Macau, Pakistan and China.
The 2017 Chengdu Global Innovation and Entrepreneurship Fair (GIEF) was organized in Chengdu from May 10-12 to bring together creative brains from around the globe. Chengdu, the mega central city in southwest China, is developing a great innovation and entrepreneurial centre with international links. To further attract and achieve convergence of top scientists, engineers and leading personnel in innovation and entrepreneurship, and to create a world-class talents pool and the land for business development and rapid growth of scientific and technical incorporation , Chengdu priorities the “human resources development” as its ensuring development goal, pointing out the construction of a talents-oriented city with international level competence and competition.. The event was attended by representatives from innovative organizations and agencies, and also from the universities, startups, sci-tech incubators, venture capital companies and foreign embassies and consulates general in China.
*Shobhit University, India is a young research-intensive university that shares the values of high-quality teaching within an environment of internationally competitive research. It is ranked as one among the top twenty self-financed multi-disciplinary universities in India. It has also been conferred Best University in India Promoting Industry-Academia Interface Award 2017 by ASSOCHAM.
आज महावीर जयंती है… एक सवाल मन में चल रहा था सुबह से ही – एक व्यक्ति जो अहिंसा की बात करता है, जिसने कोई युद्ध नही लड़ा वो महावीर क्यों कहलाया?
पढ़ने बैठा तो ध्यान गया कि नमोकार को जैन परंपरा ने महामंत्र कहा है। नमोकार नमन का सूत्र है, यह पांच चरणों में है। समस्त जगत में जिन्होंने भी कुछ पाया है, जिन्होंने भी कुछ जाना है, जिन्होंने भी कुछ जीया है, जो जीवन के अंतर्तम गूढ़ रहस्य से परिचित हुए हैं, जिन्होंने मृत्यु पर विजय पाई है,जिन्होंने शरीर के पार कुछ पहचाना है- उन सबके प्रति नमस्कार… यहां नमन है पौरुष के प्रति।
महावीर का मार्ग तो साहस का है… एक छोटा बच्चा मां की उंगली छोड़ कर बीहड़, निर्जन मार्ग पर अकेला चल पड़े; आपदाओं, बाधाओं से जूझता हुआ, अंत में गंतव्य तक पहुंच जाए। महावीर ने समस्त सहारे तोड़ दिए, महावीर ने समस्त सहारों की धारणा तोड़ दी और व्यक्ति को पहली दफा उसकी परम गरिमा में और महिमा में स्थापित किया है। और यह मान लिया है कि व्यक्ति अपने ही भीतर इतना समर्थ है, इतना शक्तिवान है कि वो वीर से महावीर बन सकता है…।
पौरुष के अप्रतिम प्रतीक महावीर की अहिंसा में भी स्वनिर्भरता है, निर्भीकता हैै। महावीर स्वामी के ‘अहिंसा परमो धर्मः’ सूत्र के मूल रूप को समझने, आडम्बरपूर्ण पलायनवादी प्रवर्ति से बचने तथा अहिंसा शब्द को अपनी मानसिक कायरता की ढ़ाल न बनाने का राष्ट्रीय संकल्प ही श्री महावीर स्वामी जी के प्रति सच्चा भक्तिभाव हो सकता है।
When the question of “who is a Hindu?” is discussed today, we get a multitude of confused and contradictory answers from both laypersons and from Hindu leaders. That we have such a difficult time understanding the answer to even so fundamental a question as “who is a Hindu?” is a starkly sad indicator of the lack of folk wisdom today.
Some of the common answers generally given to this simple question include: Anyone born in India is automatically a Hindu (the ethnicity fallacy), if your parents are Hindu, then you are Hindu (the clan and ancestry argument), if you are born into a certain caste, then you are Hindu (the genetic-inheritance model), if you believe in reincarnation, then you are Hindu (forgetting that many non-Hindu religions share at least some of the beliefs of Hinduism), if you practice any religion originating from India, then you are a Hindu (the national origin fallacy).
The two primary factors that distinguish the individual uniqueness of the great world religious traditions are:-
- a) the scriptural authority upon which the tradition is based, and,
- b) the fundamental religious tenet(s) that it espouses.
If we ask the question, “who is a Jew?’’ – for example, the answer is: someone who accepts the Torah as their scriptural guide and believes in the monotheistic concept of God espoused in these scriptures. “Who is a Christian?” the answer could be: a person who accepts the Gospels as his scriptural guide and believes that Jesus is the incarnate God who died for their sins. “Who is a Muslim?” – someone who accepts the Qur’an as his scriptural guide, and believes that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.
But can we really define Hinduism by using the parameters as mentioned above?
Shri Aurobindo in ‘India’s Rebirth’ writes;
“Hinduism … gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the God ward endeavor of the human spirit. An immense many-sided and many staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal religion, Santana Dharma…”
Mahatma Gandhi talked many times in direct terms about why he is proud to be a Hindu. He explained his concept of Hinduism or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ – he wrote in an article on Hinduism that;
“I had practiced Hinduism from early childhood. Later on, I had come in contact with Christians, Muslims and others, and after making a fair study of other religions, had stuck to Hinduism. I am as firm in my faith today as in my early childhood. I believe God would make me an instrument of saving the religion that I love, cherish and practice. In any case, one has to have constant practice and acquaintance with the fundamentals of religion before being qualified for becoming God’s instrument. I do not need to live amidst Hindus to know the Hindu mind when every fiber of my being is Hindu. My Hinduism must be a very poor thing if it cannot flourish under influences of the most adverse. My Hinduism is not sectarian. My Hinduism demands no pacts. I am proud to belong to that Hinduism which is all inclusive”.
Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption has been an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma and so it lives at peace with all religions.
Generally, we believe that the words Religion and “Dharma” are synonymous and interchangeable. Religion literally means that which leads one to God. “Dharma” is derived from the root Sanskrit word “dhri” which means “to hold together”. It has a wider meaning than the word “religion” which mostly denotes the Semitic religions, each one with a fixed formula of one God- One avatar- one book and a fixed creed. There is no equivalent word for Dharma either in English or in any other language. In this sense, Hinduism is not a religion; it’s a “Dharma”. Those who profess the Hindu Dharma and seek to follow it, are guided by spiritual, social and moral rules, actions, knowledge and duties which are responsible for holding the human race together. At the individual or the communal levels it is what is given in the above quote from Sri Aurobindo’s writings, that is, “… a continuously enlarging tradition of the God-ward endeavor of the human spirit”, a journey of consciousness, a progression of the divine manifestation in oneself, an achieved sense of evolution within.
According to Swami Sivananda;
“Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. It never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man. Hinduism is freedom, allowing the widest margin of freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom of human reason and heart with regard to such questions as to the nature of God, soul, form of worship, creation, and the goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate”.
Hence all manner of religious faiths, various forms of worship or spiritual practices, diverse rituals and customs have found their place, side by side, within the Great Tradition of Hinduism, and are acculturated and developed in harmony with one another. Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation or liberation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end, and all means that ultimately lead to the final goal are approved of. Hinduism is not bound up with a creed or a book, a prophet or a founder, but it believes in persistent search for truth on the basis of a continuously renewed experience. Hinduism is human thought about God in continuous evolution.
Hinduism is not a religion, but a commonwealth of religions. It is more a way of life than a form of thought…The theist and the atheist, the skeptic and the agnostic may all be Hindus if they accept the Hindu system of culture and life. Hinduism insists not on religious conformity but on a spiritual and ethical outlook of life…Hinduism is not a sect but a fellowship of all who accept the law of right and earnestly seek for the truth.
Religion may be the constitutional necessity of mankind, but Dharma is that which ultimately leads man to his real nature and the Supreme Goal. Believe in your Dharma, believe in truth… be a Hindu before being a follower of any religion. And you will not need religion ultimately, at that stage when you or I have realized our inner self, as the Gita says:
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः ॥
Abandoning all duties, come to Me alone for shelter. Be not grieved for I shall release thee from all evils. (Translation by Dr. Radhakrishnana, Bhagavad Gita Shloka 66 of Chapter 18)
On the eve of Vikram Nav Varsh Samvant 2072. (March 20, 2014)
My dear friends,
I am thankful to the members of Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 for inviting me to attend the inaugural session of International Peace Summit at Beliaghata, Kolkata, a place which symbolizes inter-community harmony and coherence.
To stand and speak in this historical Gandhi Bhawan, where Gandhiji lived during his visits to Kolkata and where he fasted for 25 days from August 13, 1947, during the partition riots, means a lot for me. Thank you once again.
Hope you will agree with me that whenever we talk about Gandhiji, we project non-violence as a weapon against violence. But we forget that if non-violence is a weapon, then it shall not be with individuals, not with common men. Weapons are the tools of violence, all decent men detest them. As a weapon shall be with the government, with the law enforcing agencies only; this is exactly what happened – for us it has become the task of the government, of the law enforcing agencies to ensure non- violence, peace, equality and brotherhood in the society without the contribution of the society at all.
Standing here today, I wish to ponder over Gandhi Ji’s role and his philosophy of non-violence in bringing peace in the riot-affected Kolkata of August 1947. Once the struggle for independence was over, and the nation was preparing to celebrate its first Independence Day, instead of participating in celebrations, Gandhiji went to Kolkata on a new mission – a mission against communalism, a mission against violence, a mission against hatred. Gandhiji’s Kolkata mission and his fast were not meant to activate the government or the law-enforcing agencies, but to convey the message that non-violence, peace, harmony and brotherhood are our Dharma. As Buddha said ‘अहिंसा परमो धर्मः’, the same thing Gandhiji said again and again to all those who were killing fellow Indians in the name of Dharma itself. He knew that what no army could do, the feeling of dharma could. And the miracle happened. The city of hatred became the city of joy. This miracle of Kolkata needs to be propagated, the word “non-violence” needs to be redefined from the perspective of Dharma rather than a weapon. Then only we shall be able to achieve our goal of universal peace and brotherhood.
One more thing I will like to emphasise upon from this platform; we need to understand that no growth is possible in isolation. For growth, for development different factors are required to be there. The government has to realize and understand it. The policies shall be such as will promote interdependence in society. When a seed is put in the ground, and earth and water and air are placed around it, does the seed become the earth, or the air or water? No, it becomes the plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into its own life-material and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. A Hindu is not to become a Muslim, or a Christen, nor a Muslim or Christen has to become a Hindu to live peacefully in today’s world. But each one must assimilate the spirit of the other and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth. Then only peace will prevail in our world.
The Kolkata period of Gandhiji was his best period as a Satyagrahi when at 77 he without any purvagrah (prejudice) was on a mission of peace and love. I personally feel that here in Kolkata, Gandhiji was acting greater than Bhishma Pitamah of Mahabharata. Bhishma was keen to follow his dharma only, but Gandhiji was not only fulfilling his dharma by fasting, by praying but with those actions of his was morally forcing others to follow the dharma. This face of Gandhiji has been neglected by history. Maybe we never wanted to tell the world that Gandhiji was not happy with the blood-soaked partition, and he refused even to participate in the ‘celebrations’. This act of courage, where insistence with love, faith and trust brought peace, needs to be shared with our children.
The time has come when we need to ensure that Gandhiji is not deified to be worshipped as a deity in an alcove but that he was always a teacher, with enormous moral compulsion, and we and our children know him as a teacher of immense persuasion. I wish to request all my friend here to take this magic of Gandhiji to schools, colleges and universities using modern technology. Having Gandhi Centers alone will not serve the purpose, we need to take Gandhiji to the masses again. I believe that this summit will ignite a new spark in the nation, especially in the young generation to understand the meaning of peace and brotherhood, and to rediscover the real Gandhi. I am thankful to Dr Sankar Sanyal and Prof Radhakrishnan and all of you for your sincere efforts that Gandhiji remains alive where it matters most—in our heart and mind, and inaction of love and peace. May this mission be a success, may we shine in unity, and may we live in peace and remain in harmony with each other always!
(Excerpt of the Inaugural address delivered in International Peace Summit organized by Gandhi Peace Mission 2015 at historical Gandhi Bhawan at Beliaghata, Kolkata on 02 February 2015)