Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

by Aravindan Neelakandan - May 6, 2015 09:30 PM +05:30 IST
Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

From the seven rivers—sapta Sindhu—of Vedic lore to the seven chakras of the Hindu flag, Hindutva has been one of the most unique conceptions of nationhood ever. The third part of our series on the history of Hindutva.

In ancient India, remarkable syncretism existed between tribal and Vedic modes of worship forming an integral organic continuum, and there are records to prove this. A second century CE Tamil classic Tirurugarruppadai (A Guide to Auspicious Murgan) describes the deity as having “one face regards the mantric code of the unfailing tradition with its priestly sacrifices which it remembers”, and the deity is offered fat goat’s “blood…mixed with pure white rice…placed in bamboo baskets and sprinkled with fresh turmeric and fragrant mixtures”. The Hindu consciousness under colonial rule was focused on forging egalitarian and organic linkages with tribal societies and was not aimed at destroying the basic pluralism. Often, deeply embedded mythologies of Hinduism were used for the Dalit-tribal empowerment. Ayyankali (1863- 1941), the prominent South Indian Dalit leader, extensively used stage dramas based on Hindu mythologies showing Dalit/tribal Hindu egalitarian relations to fight against social stagnation and untouchability.

There has always been a broad consensus among the Hindu savants regarding the inclusive aspect of Hindu identity. Even Verrier Elwin (1902-1964), the evangelical-missionary-turned-pioneering-anthropologist of Indian tribal communities, joined hands with Veer Savarkar, Gandhian A.V. Thakkar (popularly known as “Thakkar Baba”) to fight against proselytizing of tribal communities. Gandhi himself abhorred categorization such as “animists, aborigines” etc, which he considered as having been “learnt from the English rulers”, and insisted that “tribes have from time immemorial been absorbed in Hinduism…like the indigenous medicine, of the soil…their roots lie deep here.”

From the seven rivers—Sapta Sindhu—of Vedic lore to the seven chakras of the Hindu flag, Hindutva has been one of the most unique conceptions of nationhood ever. The third part of our series on the history of Hindutva.
From the seven rivers—Sapta Sindhu—of Vedic lore to the seven chakras of the Hindu flag, Hindutva has been one of the most unique conceptions of nationhood ever. The third part of our series on the history of Hindutva.


Protest Against Racial Slur

With the Islamic conquest of Persia, the word “Hindu” became a theo-racial stereotype. The word came to be attributed with meanings like “thief”, “slave”, “black” and so on in Persian. During the colonial period, this was used by propagandists of other religions to shame Hindus. However, the Hindu reaction was to defiantly embrace the term—asserting that they refused to be cowed down by such racial demeaning. Swami Vivekananda hinted at the way “Hindu” was being used as a humiliating name, and in response, said:

“We are Hindus. I do not use the word Hindu in any bad sense at all, nor do I agree with those that think there is any bad meaning in it….Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent.”

In the 1910s, the propaganda against Hindus was again taken up by Islamic communal organizations. In the very first issue of a Hindi monthly titled Gyan Shakti published from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, in 1916, its editor Shiv Kumar Shastri wrote:

“One who really desires the welfare (hit) of Bharatvarsha or Hindustan, one who considers its gain to be his own gain, and who regards himself a Hindustani or Bharatiya, he is to be called Hindu. ‘Hindu’ does not signify ‘kafir’ or ‘ghulam’. The Persian lexicons might have given this word whatever meaning they wished, but what has that got to do with us?”

In adapting the term “Hindu” for themselves, the Hindus had made the word a symbol of protest of a colonized people against racial and religious stereotyping by the aggressors.

Hence, the Marxist-Nehruvian claims that pre-modern Hinduism marginalized non-varna communities as “adharma” and that “syndicated Hinduism” is based on so-called “Brahmin/ upper-caste” values, which in turn are claimed to accept human inequality as axiomatic, are essentially without historical basis. On the contrary, the term has been catalytic in the process of social emancipation.

Social Stagnation vs. Social Emancipation

Historically, the Hinduness/Hindutva-based definition has always moved towards Indic-centred, pluralistic and, in a way—if at all this evolution has to have an approximation in terms of Eurocentric categories—unitarian rather than monotheistic. Thus “Hinduness” or Hindutva has come to mean emphatically the holistic historical, social, cultural and spiritual evolution of Indian people, which has preserved a very unique and a very essential feature in the evolution of human consciousness. While Hindutva/Hinduness definitely has a federation of Indic-religious systems in it, it is much more than any of these religions, including the Vedic. Referring to the common confusion of Hinduism with the Vedic stream of Hinduness alone, Savarkar pointed out the folly in his seminal 1923 book Hindutva:

“But if you identify the religion of the Hindus with the religion of the majority only and call it orthodox Hinduism, then the different heterodox communities being Hindus themselves rightly resent this usurpation of Hindutva by the majority as well as their unjustifiable re-exclusion…The religion of the majority of the Hindus could be best denoted by the ancient accepted appellation, the Sanatan Dharma or the Shruti-Smriti-Puranokta Dharma or the Vaidik Dharma; while the religion of the remaining Hindus would continue to be denoted by their respective and accepted names, Sikha Dharma or Arya Dharma or Jain Dharma or Buddha Dharma. Whenever the necessity of denoting these Dharmas as a whole arises then alone we may be justified in denoting them by the generic term Hindu Dharma or Hinduism.”

The same organic theo-diversity has been time and again recognized and reinforced as the defining unique feature of Hinduism by Indian Supreme Court. Its judgment on Hindutva and Hinduism delivered on 11 December 1995, based on earlier observations by the Constitutional benches, stated:

“These Constitution Bench decisions, after a detailed discussion, indicate that no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms ‘Hindu’, ‘Hindutva’ and ‘Hinduism’; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage…the word ‘Hindutva’ is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianization’, i.e, development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures co-existing in the country.”

This is the Constitutional reiteration of Savarkar’s concept that the heterogeneous nature of Hinduism from the very conception of Indian civilization makes the term larger than any religious sect and that it encompasses the entire process of Hindu existence. Whether one accepts or rejects the so-called Aryan invasion/ migration theory becomes irrelevant to the core conception of Hindutva.

The 1995 judgment also quotes approvingly from the verdict delivered by a Constitution bench in 1966 on how the architects of the Constitution were well aware of this unique nature of Hinduness, and made it the basis for including the heterogeneous Indic groups under the term “Hindu”—again a Constitutional reinforcement of the Savarkarian Hindutva:

“The Constitution-makers were fully conscious of this broad and comprehensive character of Hindu religion; and so, while guaranteeing the fundamental right to freedom of religion, Explanation II to Art. 25 has made it clear that in sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”

The 1966 verdict has an additional importance and throws more light into another dimension of the Hindu phenomenon. While the Marxist-Nehruvian narrative claims that the “Hindu” definition as being “artificial” or “colonial” and based on the alleged axiomatic inequality of “Brahminism”, the legal definition of the term “Hindu”, with its roots undeniably in Savarkarian Hindutva, has been highly instrumental in making progressive reforms in the Hindu society.

“Subtle Indescribable Unity”

In 1948, Muldas Vaishya, a Dalit leader, launched both a struggle and a legal battle for the rights of Dalits to enter the Swaminarayan temple at Ahmedabad. The Swaminarayan sect—its members were called Satsangis, who were predominantly upper-caste, under the leadership of one Shastri Yagnapurushdas, went to court asking it to pass an injunction barring non-Satsangi Dalits from entering the sect’s temples. The case ultimately ended up in the Supreme Court. The final verdict, on 14 January 1966, was in favour of temple entry for Dalits, and the judgment by then Chief Justice of India P.B. Gajendragadkar affirmed that the Swaminarayan sect was an integral part of Hinduism. The judgment again provided a panoramic sweep of the evolution of the Hindu identity and underlined a “subtle indescribable unity” that runs through history:

“The development of Hindu religion and philosophy shows that from time to time saints and religious reformers attempted to remove from the Hindu thought and practices elements of corruption and superstition and that led to the formation of different sects. Buddha started Buddhism; Mahavir founded Jainism; Basava became the founder of the Lingayat religion, Dnyaneshwar and Tukaram initiated the Varakari cult; Guru Nanak inspired Sikhism; Dayananda founded Arya Samaj, and Chaitanya began the Bhakti cult; and as a result of the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, Hindu religion flowered into its most attractive, progressive and dynamic form.

“If we study the teachings of these saints and religious reformers, we would notice an amount of divergence in their respective views; but underneath that divergence, there is a kind of subtle indescribable unity which keeps them
within the sweep of the broad and progressive Hindu religion.”

Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

The term “Hindu” has been pivotal in democratizing Hindu society and organizing it on the broadest egalitarian foundations while at the same time preserving the pluralism. The “subtle indescribable unity” identified by Gajendragadkar is what Hindutva is, essentially. Indian nation is its geo-cultural incubator. This indescribable unity was termed by Savarkar as “subtle bonds that, like nerve threads, bind Hindus in One Organic Social Being.”

What makes Hindutva not mere glossed-over nationalism is its embedded universal mission.

Universal Mission

Sri Aurobindo, in his famous Uttarpara speech in 1909, spoke about this universal mission:

“But it is not circumscribed by the confines of a single country, it does not belong peculiarly and forever to a bounded part of the world. That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion, because it is the universal religion which embraces all others. If a religion is not universal, it cannot be eternal.

“A narrow religion, a sectarian religion, an exclusive religion, can live only for a limited time and a limited purpose.”

Earlier, in 1893, in an address to the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, Swami Vivekananda had spoken in detail about the Hindu mission of a universal religion. This he characterized as the socio-cultural and spiritual aim of Hindu society. He unveiled the vision of this mission thus:

“The Hindu may have failed to carry out all his plans, but if there is ever to be a universal religion, it must be one which will have no location in place or time; which will be infinite like the God it will preach, and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ, on saints and sinners alike; which will not be Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its catholicity will embrace in its infinite arms, and find a place for, every human being.”

Vivekananda zeroed in on the phenomenon of religion as an inherent universal trait of human species both collectively and individually.

“There never was my religion or yours, my national religion or your national religion; there never existed many religions, there is only the one. One infinite religion existed all through eternity and will ever exist, and this religion is expressing itself in various countries in various ways. Therefore we must respect all religions and we must try to accept them all as far as we can. Religions manifest themselves not only according to race and geographical position, but according to individual powers.”

Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

This identification of religion as a universal human phenomenon rooted in the individual psyche, as well as a manifestation of the collective socio-cultural activity, is important. Religion as an integral part of the human organism is a vision rooted in Upanishadic thought. Modern scientific attempts to link religious phenomena with neural correlates, including the evolutionary roots and consequences, seem to essentially reinforce the Indic vision of religion. In Principles of Neurotheology, his textbook on this emerging inter-disciplinary science, Andrew Newberg points out the Upanishadic roots of this new understanding of religion:

“The relationship between the mind and human spirituality has been considered for at least several thousand years. For example, this intersection was described in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Upanishads in which it was realized that something within us, particularly within the head, enables us to explore and experience the universe via our cognitive and sensory processes and also to discover our own sense of spirituality.”

After quoting a long passage from the Taittiriya Upanishad, Newberg points out that just as the “Upanishads reveal the importance of the body and the brain in achieving spiritual enlightenment”, neurotheology is “a more recent attempt at discerning how the study of the human mind and brain relate to the pursuit of religions and religious experience”. Almost echoing the “one infinite religion” of Swami Vivekananda, which in turn is derived from the Indic unitary model of consciousness developed through the integration of bicameral mind through the Self (see Swarajya, March 2015), science exploring the neural basis of religious experiences identifies an almost universal experience of an “Absolute Unitary Being” (AUB). The experience of AUB may or may not involve a Deity. It is essentially expansion of the Self. In their book The Neuropsychology of Aesthetic Spiritual and Mystical States, Newberg and Eugene G. d’Aquili explain:

“As one moves into AUB, the Self seems to expand to become the totality of reality without individualized content. This is compatible with the Hindu interpretation and probably underlies Shankara’s observation that the Atman (or soul) and the Brahman (or God) are one. The Christian Unio Mystica is phenomenologically the same, although care is taken by Christian theologians who reflect on this state to preserve the ontological independence of the soul. They would agree that in this state, the union of God and the individual soul is so perfect and so complete that an observer, if such were possible, could not perceive where one ended and the other began.

“Nevertheless, for theological reasons, Christian mystical theologians maintain the ontological integrity of the individual, although they would concede that the individual has, as it were, expanded to a perfect and a simple union with God…When Europeans first came into contact with certain Hindu sects, they were shocked and scandalized when they learned that part of ritual worship required the repeated assertion ‘I am God, I am God, I am God.’What confused the Europeans was that the ‘I’ in the statement did not refer to the individual conscious ego with all its evil proclivities but rather to the Self or Atman, the deepest unconscious core reality of an individual. It is in this sense that every individual can truly state ‘I am God,’ because each individual can potentially expand into a state of AUB. A Hindu who states ‘I am God” is all the while perfectly aware of the shortcomings and failings of his conscious ego in day-to-day life.”

However, in the West, there has been a strong inhibition to openly attribute the discovery of this experience and invention of systematic disciplines for the cultivation of this experience to Hinduism directly. For example philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973), who experimented with LSD-induced altered states of consciousness, conceded in his autobiography In My Own Way, based on his experiences, that “Hindu philosophy was a local form of a sort of undercover wisdom, inconceivably ancient, which everyone knows in the back of his mind but will not admit.”

Neural Basis Of Universal Ethics

The expansion of the Self also has strong ethical implications. In his lecture The Spirit and Influence of Vedanta, delivered at the Twentieth Century Club, Boston, on March 28, 1896, Swami Vivekananda explained the ethical implications of the expanding Self experience:

“There are moments when every man feels that he is one with the universe, and he rushes forth to express it, whether he knows it or not. This expression of oneness is what we call love and sympathy, and it is the basis of all our ethics and morality. This is summed up in the Vedantic philosophy by the celebrated aphorism, Tat Tvam Asi (Thou art That).”

The experience of “the Self being one with the universe”, which is the basis of the “Brahman”, actually has a strong neurobiological basis. In 1995, brain researcher Iaccomo Rizzolati of the University of Parma discovered what are today popularly known as “mirror neurons” or “empathy neurons”. Neurobiologist Dr V.S. Ramachandran explains:

“The mirror neurons, it would seem, dissolve the barrier between the Self and others. I call them ‘empathy neurons’ or ‘Dalai Lama neurons’…Dissolving the ‘Self vs other’ barrier is the basis of many ethical systems, especially eastern philosophical and mystical traditions… The question of whether ‘you’ would continue in multiple parallel brain vats raises issues that come perilously close to the theological notion of souls, but I see no simple way out of the conundrum. Perhaps we need to remain open to the Upanishadic doctrine that the ordinary rules of numerosity and arithmetic, of ‘one vs many’, or indeed of two-valued, binary yes/no logic, simply doesn’t apply to minds—the very notion of a separate ‘you ‘ or ‘I’ is an illusion, like the passage of time itself. We are all merely many reflections in a hall of mirrors of a single cosmic reality (Brahman or ‘paramatman’).”

The Serpent In The Flag

The recognition of this experience of the expanding Self as a universal right of the human being in maximizing his or her genomic potential has been one of the greatest unique and sustained feature of Indian culture.

The kundalini or the coiled serpent with the chakras is representative of this recognition and the development of allied inner disciplines for the recognition of the Self. In a paper published in 1997 in The Indian Journal of the History of Science, Prof Subash Kak , who is both a physicist and a historian of science in ancient India, explains:

“In the tantras, seven, eight, or nine points of primary focus which are called chakras are described. It has been argued by some that the beginnings of this system go right back to the Vedic times, as in Atharvaveda 10.2.31-2, which describes the body as being eight-wheeled and nine-doored. Their positions appear to be areas in the brain which map to different points on the spinal cord…It may be assumed that the stimulation of these chakras in a proper way leads to the development of certain neural structures that allow the I-ness to experience the Self. In other words, the chakras are points of basic focus inside the brain that lead to the explication of the cognitive process.”

Hinduness or Hindutva recognizes this aspect as a phenomenon universal to all humanity. It is this that sets Hindutva apart from narrow nationalism and makes it a validating vanguard of global spiritual pluralism and infinite unity. Savarkar explicitly recognized the kundalini and the chakras as the most important universal aspect of Indic civilization. Hence, in the flag of the Hindu Mahasabha, he introduced the spinal serpentine path of the
chakras. He explained:

Self, Neurons, Chakras, Humankind

“Hindus have perfected a science based on experiment which can be termed as the highest blessing on human life. This shastra is called the Yoga. It is the highest means of the full development of man’s internal powers. It is therefore very necessary that a clear symbol of Yoga which indicates the way to the highest bliss should be fixed on the flag of the Hindu Nation. The symbol is that of the Kundalini. It is not the characteristic of any particular Jati or Varna. It exists in all human beings…To acquire this supreme joy or bliss is the highest ideal of man, be he a Hindu or a non-Hindu (Muslim, Christian or Jew), i.e, believer or non-believer, citizen or foreigner.

“…Therefore, the Kundalini which is the Muladhar Shakti of man’s highest progress and eternally blissful state of superconsciousness which can alone be the symbol of the great ideal which the Abhyudaya (worldly prosperity) of the Hindu Nation aims for. Thus, the Kundalini which represents all the ultimate aspirations, feelings, and powers of mankind.”

Hindutva incorporates another important feature of Indic spirituality and culture. The symbols and forms are just instruments to achieve a goal, after which, clinging to the instruments, however lofty, is not encouraged. Hindutva recognizes that this is true even for the very term “Hindu”. Making an appeal to the then colonized Hindus to unite and make their voice heard amidst the community of nations, Savarkar said, in 1923:

“Oh Hindus! Whether Jain or Samaji or Sanatani or Sikh or any other subsection, afford to cut yourselves off or fall out and destroy the ancient, the natural and organic combination that already exists?

“…Let the minorities remember they would be cutting the very branch on which they stand. Strengthen every tie that binds you to the main organism, whether of blood or language or common festivals and feasts or culture…Thirty crores of people, with India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holyland with such a history behind them, bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture, can dictate their terms to the whole world. A day will come when mankind will have to face the force.”

After making this appeal, which is definitely nationalistic, Savarkar declares:

“Equally certain it is that whenever the Hindus come to hold such a position whence they could dictate terms to the whole world—those terms cannot be very different from the terms which Gita dictates or the Buddha lays down. A Hindu is most intensely so, when he ceases to be a Hindu; and with a Kabir who claims the whole earth for a Benares…or with a Tukaram who exclaims: ‘My country? Oh brothers, the limits of the Universe—there the frontiers of my country lie.’”(Emphasis not in the original)

Thus, from the seven rivers (Sapta Sindhu) of Vedic lore to the seven chakras of the Hindu flag, Hindutva has been one of the most unique conceptions of nationhood in the history of the human species.

Aravindan is a contributing editor at Swarajya.

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