“The Basis of Unity” – Nolini Kanta Gupta

I

A MODERN society or people cannot have religion, that is to say, credal religion, as the basis of its organized collective life. It was mediaeval society and people that were organized on that line. Indeed mediaevalism means nothing more – and nothing less – than that. But whatever the need and justification in the past, the principle is an anachronism under modern conditions. It was needed, perhaps, to keep alive a truth which goes into the very roots of human life and its deepest aspira­tion; and it was needed also for a dynamic application of that truth on a larger scale and in smaller details, on the mass of mankind and in its day to day life. That was the aim of the Church Militant and the Khilafat; that was the spirit, although in a more Sattwic way, behind the Buddhistic evan­gelism or even Hindu colonization.

The truth behind a credal religion is the aspiration towards the realization of the Divine, some ultimate reality that gives a permanent meaning and value to the human life, to the existence lodged in this ‘sphere of sorrow’ here below. Credal paraphernalia were necessary to express or buttress this core of spiritual truth when mankind, in the mass, had not attained a certain level of enlightenment in the mind and a certain degree of development in its life-relations. The modern age is modern precisely because it had attained to a necessary extent this mental enlightenment and this life development. So the scheme or scaffolding that was required in the past is no longer unavoidable and can have either no reality at all or only a modified utility.

A modern people is a composite entity, especially with regard to its religious affiliation. Not religion, but culture is the basis of modern collective life, national or social. Culture includes in its grain that fineness of temperament which appreciates all truths behind all forms, even when there is a personal allegiance to one particular form.

In India, it is well known, the diversity of affiliations is colossal, sui generis. Two major affiliations have today almost cut the country into two; and desperate remedies are suggested which are worse than the malady itself, as they may kill the patient outright. If it is so, it is, I repeat, the mediaeval spirit that is at the bottom of the trouble.

The rise of this spirit in modern times and conditions is a phenomenon that has to be explained and faced: it is a ghost that has come out of the past and has got to be laid and laid for good. First of all, it is a reaction from modernism; it is a reaction from the modernist denial of certain fundamental and eternal truths, of God, soul, and immortality: it is a reaction from the modernist affirmation of the mere economic man. And it is also a defensive gesture of a particular complex of consciousness that has grown and lives powerfully and now apprehends expurgation and elimination.

In Europe such a contingency did not arise, because the religious spirit, rampant in the days of Inquisitions and St. Bartholomews, died away: it died, and (or, because) it was replaced by a spirit that was felt as being equally, if not more, authentic and, which for the moment, suffused the whole consciousness with a large and high afflatus, commensurate with the amplitude of man’s aspiration. I refer, of course, to the spirit of the Renaissance. It was a spirit profane and secular, no doubt, but on that level it brought a catholicity of temper and a richness in varied interest – a humanistic culture, as it is called – which constituted a living and unifying ideal for Europe. That spirit culminated in the great French Revolution which was the final coup de grace to all that still remained of mediaevalism, even in its outer structure, political and economical.

In India the spirit of renascence came very late, late almost by three centuries; and even then it could not flood the whole of the continent in all its nooks and corners, psychological and physical. There were any number of pockets (to use a current military phrase) left behind which guarded the spirit of the past and offered persistent and obdurate resistance. Perhaps, such a dispensation was needed in India and inevitable also; inevitable, because the religious spirit is closest to India’s soul and is its most direct expression and cannot be uprooted so easily; needed, because India’s and the world’s future demands it and depends upon it.

Only, the religious spirit has to be bathed and purified and enlightened by the spirit of the renascence: that is to say, one must learn and understand and realize that Spirit is the thing – the one thing needful – Tamevaikam jānatha; ‘religions’ are its names and forms, appliances and decorations. Let us have by all means the religious spirit, the fundamental experience that is the inmost truth of all religions, that is the matter of our soul; but in our mind and life and body let there be a luminous catholicity, let these organs and instruments be trained to see and compare and appreciate the variety, the numberless facets which the one Spirit naturally presents to the human consciousness. Ekam satviprāh bahudhā vadanti. It is an ancient truth that man discovered even in his earliest seekings; but it still awaits an adequate expression and application in life.

II

India’s historical development is marked by a special characteristic which is at once the expression of her inmost nature and the setting of a problem which she has to solve for herself and for the whole human race. I have spoken of the diversity and divergence of affiliations in a modern social unit. But what distinguishes India from all other peoples is that the diversity and divergence have culminated here in contra­dictoriness and mutual exclusion.

The first extremes that met in India and fought and gradually coalesced to form a single cultural and social whole were, as is well known, the Aryan and the non-Aryan. Indeed, the geologists tell us, the land itself is divided into two parts structurally quite different and distinct, the Deccan plateau and the Himalayan ranges with the Indo-Gangetic plain: the former is formed out of the most ancient and stable and, on the whole, horizontally bedded rocks of the earth, while the latter is of comparatively recent origin, formed out of a more flexible and weaker belt (the Himalayan region consisting of a colossal flexing and crumpling of strata). The disparity is so much that a certain group of geologists hold that the Deccan plateau did not at all form part of the Asiatic continent, but had drifted and dashed into it: in fact the Himalayas are the result of this mighty impact. The usual division of an Aryan and a Dravidian race may be due to a memory of the clash of the two continents and their races.

However, coming to historical times, we see wave after wave of the most heterogeneous and disparate elements – Sakas and Huns and Greeks, each bringing its quota of exotic material ­enter into the oceanic Indian life and culture, lose their separate foreign identity and become part and parcel of the common whole. Even so, – a single unitary body was formed out of such varied and shifting materials – not in the political, but in a socio-religious sense. For a catholic religious spirit, not being solely doctrinal and personal, admitted and embraced in its supple and wide texture almost an infinite variety of approaches to the Divine, of forms and norms of apprehending the Beyond. It has been called Hinduism: it is a vast synthesis of multiple affiliations. It expresses the characteristic genius of India and hence Hinduism and Indianism came to be looked upon as synonymous terms. And the same could be defined also as Vedic religion and culture, for its invariable basis – the bed-rock on which it stood firm and erect – was the Vedas, the Knowledge seen by the sages. But there had already-risen a voice of dissidence and discord – that of Buddha, not so much, perhaps, of Buddha as of Buddhism. The Buddhistic enlightenment and discipline did not admit the supreme authority of the Vedas; it sought other bases of truth and reality. It was a great denial; and it meant and worked for a vital schism. The denial of the Vedas by itself, perhaps, would not be serious, but it became so, as it was symptomatic of a deeper divergence. Denying the Vedas, the Buddhistic spirit denied life. It was quite a new thing in the Indian consciousness and spiritual discipline. And it left such a stamp there that even today it stands as the dominant character of the Indian outlook. However, India’s synthetic genius rose to the occasion and knew how to bridge the chasm, close up the fissure, and present again a body whole and entire. Buddha became one of the Avataras : the discipline of Nirvana and Maya was reserved as the last duty to be performed at the end of life, as the culmination of a full-length span of action and achievement; the way to Moksha lay through Dharma and Artha and Kama, Sannyasa had to be built upon Brahmacharya and Garhasthya. The integral ideal was epitomized by Kalidasa in his famous lines about the character of the Raghus. 

They devoted themselves to study in their boyhood, in youth they pursued the objects of life; when old they took to spiritual austerities, and in the end they died united with the higher consciousness. Only this process of integration was not done in a day, it took some centuries and had to pass through some unpleasant intermediary stages.

And still this was not the last – it could not be the last – antithesis that had to be synthetized. The dialectical movement led to a more serious and fiercer contradiction. The Buddhistic schism was after all a division brought about from within: it could be said that the two terms of the antinomy belonged to the same genus and were commensurable. The idea or experience of Asat and Maya was not unknown to the Upanishads, only it had not there the exclusive stress which the later developments gave it. Hence quite a different, an altogether foreign body was imported into what was or had come to be a homogeneous entity, and in a considerable mass. Unlike the previous irruptions that merged and were lost in the general life and consciousness, Islam entered as a leaven that maintained its integrity and revolutionized Indian life and culture by infusing into its tone a Semitic accent. After the Islamic impact India could not be what she was before – a change became inevitable even in the major note. It was a psychological cataclysm almost on a par with the geological one that formed her body; but the spirit behind which created the body was working automatically, inexorably towards the greater and more difficult synthesis demanded by the situation. Only the thing is to be done now consciously, not through an unconscious process of laissez-faire as on the inferior stages of evolution in the past. And that is the true genesis of the present conflict.

History abounds in instances of racial and cultural im­mixture. Indeed, all major human groupings of today are invariably composite formations. Excepting, perhaps, some primitive – aboriginal tribes there are no pure races existent. The Briton, the Dane, the Anglo-Saxon, and the Norman have combined to form the British; a Frenchman has a Gaul, a Roman, a Frank in him; and a Spaniard’s blood would show an Iberian, a Latin, a Gothic, a Moorish element in it. And much more than a people, a culture in modern times has been a veritable cockpit of multifarious and even incongruous elements. There are instances also in which a perfect fusion could not be accomplished, and one element had to be rejected or crushed out. The complete disappearance of the Aztecs and Mayas in South America, the decadence of the Red Indians in North America, of the Negroes in Africa as a result of a fierce clash with European peoples and European culture illustrate the point.

Nature, on the whole, has solved the problem of blood fusion and mental fusion of different peoples, although on a smaller scale. India today presents the problem on a larger scale and on a higher or deeper level. The demand is for a spiritual fusion and unity. Strange to say, although the Spirit is the true bed-rock of unity – since, at bottom, it means identity – it is on this plane that mankind has not yet been able to really meet and coalesce. India’s genius has been precisely working in the line of a perfect solution of this supreme problem.

Islam comes with a full-fledged spiritual soul and a mental and vital formation commensurable with that inner being and consciousness. It comes with a dynamic spirit, a warrior mood, that aims at conquering the physical world for the Lord, a temperament which Indian spirituality had not, or had lost long before, if she had anything of it. This was, perhaps, what Vivekananda meant when he spoke graphically of a Hindu soul with a Muslim body. The Islamic dispensation, however, brings with it not only something complementary, but also something contradictory, if not for anything else, at least for the strong individuality which does not easily yield to assimilation. Still, in spite of great odds, the process of assimilation was going on slowly and surely. But of late it appears to have come to a dead halt; difficulties have been presented which seem insuperable.

If religious toleration were enough, if that made up man’s highest and largest achievement, then Nature need not have attempted to go beyond cultural fusion; a liberal culture is the surest basis for a catholic religious spirit. But such a spirit of toleration and catholicity, although it bespeaks a widened consciousness, does not always enshrine a profundity of being. Nobody is more tolerant and catholic than a dilettante, but an ardent spiritual soul is different.

To be loyal to one’s line of self-fulfilment, to follow one’s self-law, swadharma, wholly and absolutely – without this no spiritual life is possible – and yet not to come into clash with other lines and loyalties, nay more, to be in positive harmony with them, is a problem which has not been really solved. It was solved, perhaps, in the consciousness of a Ramakrishna, a few individuals here and there, but it has always remained a source of conflict and disharmony in the general mind even in the field of spirituality. The clash of spiritual or religious loyalties has taken such an acute form in India today, they have been carried to the bitter extreme, in order, we venture to say, that the final synthesis might be absolute and irrevocable. This is India’s mission to work it out, and this is the lesson which she brings to the world.

The solution can come, first, by going to the true religion of the Spirit, by being truly spiritual and not merely religious, for, as we have said, real unity lies only in and through the Spirit, since Spirit is one and indivisible; secondly, by bringing down something – a great part, indeed, if not the whole – of this puissant and marvellous Spirit into our life of emotions and sensations and activities.

If it is said that this is an ideal for the few only, not for the mass, our answer to that is the answer of the Gita – Yad yad acharati sreshthah. Let the few then practise and achieve the ideal: the mass will have to follow as far as it is possible and necessary. It is the very character of the evolutionary system of Nature, as expressed in the principle of symbiosis, that any considerable change in one place (in one species) is accompanied by a corresponding change in the same direction in other contiguous places (in other associated species) in order that the poise and balance of the system may be maintained.

It is precisely strong nuclei that are needed (even, perhaps, one strong nucleus is sufficient) where the single and integrated spiritual consciousness is an accomplished and established fact: that acts inevitably as a solvent drawing in and assimilating or transforming and re-creating as much, of the surroundings as its own degree and nature of achievement inevitably demand.

India did not and could not stop at mere cultural fusion – which was a supreme gift of the Moguls. She did not and could not stop at another momentous cultural fusion brought about by the European impact. She aimed at something more. Nature demanded of her that she should discover a greater secret of human unity and through progressive experiments apply and establish it in fact. Christianity did not raise this problem of the greater synthesis, for the Christian peoples were more culture-minded than religious-minded. It was left for an Asiatic people to set the problem and for India to work out the solution.

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