Turmoil, Hope and the Swadhyaya
Turmoil, Hope and the Swadhyaya
by T.S. Rukmani, PhD
Presented at the CASA Conference, Montreal 1999
This paper examines the philosophical underpinnings of the Swadhyaya Movement (SM); it also compares and contrasts briefly, the personalities of Mahatma Gandhi and Panduranga Shastri Athavale, the founder of the SM. It concludes with a description of the movie called ‘Antarnad’ made by the well known Director Shyam Benegal on the SM.
There are many kinds of ‘turmoils’ in the world. There are some ‘turmoils’ of a magnitude which are not of one’s own making (at least in a direct manner) and therefore one has no control over them. Under them can come the political and systemic turmoils. But there is another turmoil which has to do with oneself and which is well within one’s own control. This is the turmoil that prevents an individual leading a decent life as a member of his/her immediate family and as a member of the larger society he/she belongs to.
Some of the problems that beset an individual and prevent one from leading a satisfied and contented life are lack of self esteem, lack of self confidence, insecurity, lack of courage to face day to day problems and a host of others. Many of these negative qualities themselves very often are the result of societal and systemic pressures; but it is possible to rectify them in one’s own self so that cumulatively it leads to a healthy society composed of self confident individuals. This is what the Swadhyaya Movement started by Panduranga Shastri Athavale (hereafter called Dadaji in this paper) has done and is still doing in the many villages and towns, particularly amongst the downtrodden and destitute.
Like a number of thinkers Dadaji was pained to see the degradation around him and it set him thinking as to the best way to help humans regain the self respect they have lost in the modern world. He firmly believes that the lack of religious or theistic-thinking is at the root of most of modern day problems. While economic and sensual gratification has their place in a person’s life, in today’s world they seem to be the only way of existence. The worth of an individual is measured in terms of material goods and the human being has no worth by himself/herself. In such a situation only the richest are valued at the top of the rung; are we not familiar with the list of the 10 richest people, 10 best dressed women and so on, publicized regularly in the media where all the indices are pointing towards the possession of the maximum of material wealth? Surely in such a situation there will always be large groups of people who can never get the kind of respect that is reserved only for the richest in society. Thus we are witness to individuals suffering from all kinds of ‘syndromes’ all of which can be traced to a lack of self esteem and self confidence that is subliminally promoted in a culture that is materially oriented.
Swadhyaya and Theistic Thinking
The fulcrum of the SM. is Theistic Thinking (TT). An erudite scholar well versed in both Indian and Western Systems of Thought, Dadaji fervently believes that the dehumanization of large sections of the population is due to forgetting the ‘God within’.
He bases his entire approach on the teachings of the Bhagavadgita which, however, receives a new interpretation at his hands. The god which Dadaji talks about is the antaryamin, the indwelling God in humans (and in everything). God is not in heaven removed from humans, nor is God only in the temples to be worshipped on temple visits. In keeping with the antaryamin concept which is an avatara in some schools like Vaisnavism, (though Dadaji himself does not use this philosophical language), Dadaji poses the question as to whether ‘one can insult the divine person within’ by having a sense of inferiority or by indulging in reprehensible behavior. Moreover, since the same antaryamin is present in all other beings, there is a kinship between all human beings and logically one has to treat all others as part of one’s own family. By an inverse understanding the indwelling divinity also has the obligation to help in the welfare of such a one who has faith in this concept of the indwelling God. In this kind of thinking there is no difference between one person and another, between members of one caste and another, between man and woman, even between all things that inhabit the universe.
Dadaji uses the concept of TT very imaginatively. Echoing the Gita concept of the mind being fickle and leading humans to behave in adharmic ways. Dadaji teaches that TT or spiritual help is needed to steer clear of temptations in society. “It is his conviction that it is only by rooting oneself in religious consciousness that a direction is given to life in the world. He thus comes back to the paramount importance of dharma regulating artha (economic activity) and kama (sensual gratification).”
Swadhyaya and Advaita/Visistadvaita
Dadaji has great respect for Sankaracarya the founder of Advaita Vedanta and uses some of that thought to reinforce his TT. Thus he expands on the concept ‘Tat Tvam Asi‘ (You are That) to include the ideas ‘Tena Tvam Asi‘ (You are living because of It) and ‘Tasya Tvam Asi‘ (You belong to the Divinity within). He straddles between Advaita and Visistadvaita in understanding ‘Tat Tvam Asi‘ in both a ‘non-dualistic’ and ‘qualified-dualistic’ sense. Dadaji, however, never enters into this debate in his talks for as he himself says, he is not concerned with the dialectics of philosophy but with the dynamics of the lived world. In accordance with this approach, while Dadaji subscribes to the notion of the oneness of ‘atman‘ and ‘brahman‘ he does not for a moment trivialize the world and assign it a relative reality (vyavaharika-satta) to be transcended in an ‘absolute reality’ (paramarttika-satta). Dadaji also talks about ‘moksa‘ or liberation being the goal of human existence. Unlike the general understanding of ‘moksa‘ being an escape from the world, in Dadaji’s SM ‘moksa‘ is not running away from the world nor from wealth and desires. Dadaji believes that ‘The ultimate goal of human life is God-realization”. And when it is linked with the very definition of ‘swadhyaya‘ it can be translated as a realization of the (antaryamin) Divinity within oneself.
The word Swadhyaya goes back to at least the age of the Upanisads. The Taittiriya Upanisad warns a student at his ‘samavartana‘ (graduation) not to deviate from the path of ‘swadhyaya‘. This is usually understood as ‘the study of the sacred texts’ and thus can mean ‘maintenance of one’s cultural heritage’. . This would denote the ‘Theistic Thinking’ mentioned earlier. While Dadaji has no quarrel with that understanding, he does not try to even define the word ‘swadhyaya‘ in itself. At one level ‘swadhyaya‘ is linked with TT and at another level it is ‘an attitude of the mind’. By reflection on the nature of the ‘self’ the whole mental attitude of a person changes vis-à-vis oneself as well as society. This will gradually result in the ego-centric behavior changing into a god-centered behavior. That is what is called ‘bhava bhakti‘ (total devotion) in SM. Thus even without advocating measures like vairagya (self-control) and tyaga (renunciation), for the achievement of ‘moksa‘, ‘swadhyaya‘ realizes its goal of ‘moksa‘ in the attitudinal mental transformation of the individual.
The attitudinal changes or ‘bhava-bhakti‘ that comes in the wake of ‘swadhyaya‘ are self esteem, self confidence, acceptance of others as equals, the mind becoming more god-centered than ego-centered and thus in short, it is a character building exercise that is rooted in a spiritual outlook. Dadaji calls this attitudinal change “the art and theory of god realization.” He also uses the words ‘spiritualism’ or ‘adhyatma‘ to define it. Spiritualism “is an effort to know one’s inner powers and develop them. Ultimately all these developed energies can be committed to the Divine work”. In this stress on spiritualism Dadaji is only harking back to the threefold ways of Vedic thinking i.e. the physiological (adhibhautika), divine (adhidaivika) and spiritual (adhyatmika). The paramount importance of an adhyatmika attitude is stressed in Yaska’s Nirukta when he says “Spirit is the whole of what God is”. Thus Swadhyayastands for an attitudinal change and is a programme of self development. It is a character building exercise like Swami Vivekananda’s ‘philosophy of man-making’ and is based on Upanisadic philosophy.
Innovations in Swadhyaya
In the dialectic of maintaining what is good in the culture and getting rid of what has crept in as trimmings, Dadaji has embarked upon reinterpreting the religion and culture in the language of the common person. For instance there is the custom of fasting on the eleventh day (ekadasi) after the full moon and new moon days amongst the Hindus. While this custom is interpreted in many ways, Dadaji has a novel way of explaining this fast. “Fasting means withdrawing the senses from the worldly objects and focusing them on God”. Eleven is the sum of our five sense-organs, five motor-organs and the mind with which we function. On the eleventh day of each fortnight the eleven elements of our personality are to be offered to God. In this sense, fasting means non-feeding the senses, body and mind on worldly pleasures…In this way fasting becomes a spiritual act.” Another noteworthy feature in Dadaji’s talks is its simplicity. He hardly ever uses Sanskrit quotations and his examples are taken from the everyday lives of ordinary people. For too long has Hinduism excluded people from the marginalized sections of society and Dadaji’s SM has no place for inequality amongst human beings. Like the Gita which proclaims the equality of all, based on the immanence of the Divinity within , the SM looks upon all as equals based on the indwelling antaryamin. This, in turn, has led to the teaching of the Vedas and the Gita to all swadhyayees. “It is a common sight in many villages, nowadays, that humble, illiterate fisher-folk and farmers recite from the Geeta while working on their boats and farms.” Dadaji goes further than that. He has given the sacred thread (yajnopavita) to fishermen and other lower caste swadhyayees, a blasphemous act in the eyes of the orthodox”.
Bhava-bhakti and Krti-Bhakti
Thus Swadhyaya results in TT which leads to a changed mental attitude called bhava-bhakti in the SM. Bhava-bhakti is a surrender to the god within but not in the age old fatalistic, resigned kind of surrender but a surrender which is dynamic. As this bhava-bhakti is the result of knowing oneself as enlivened by the divine presence, it can be classified as the highest form of bhakti mentioned in the Gita. Dadaji advises the swadhyayees to be completely self-reliant in the confidence of the divinity within and so there is no attitude of supplication as in the ‘arta‘ and ‘artharthi‘ devotees. The swadhyayee thus fits in with the ‘jnani-bhakta‘ of the Gita. Dadaji himself describes a swadhyayeeas “A devotee who enjoys intellectual love towards God”.
Dadaji’s one unique contribution is perhaps his concept of “krti-bhakti” or “krtisil-bhakti” which comes in the wake of “bhava-bhakti“. ‘Krti-bhakti‘ in simple language means the offering of one’s skills (nipunata) to God as an expression of gratitude to God. Dadaji is never tired of emphasizing the importance of gratitude. “Whatever talents, skills, efficiency, time and money we have, we will willingly and lovingly offer them at the feet of the Lord as an expression of love and gratitude to Him”.
Gratitude harkens back to the pancayajna of the Dharmasutras. These are the five debts or rnas that one owes to society in the Vedic tradition i.e. the debt that an individual owes to the gods (deva-rna), to the spiritual heritage (brahma-rna), to one’s ancestors (pitr-rna), to one’s fellow beings on the earth (manusya-rna) and to all living beings on the earth (bhuta-rna). The SM considers ‘gratitude’ as one of its main character building tools. While the form of that ‘rna‘ has taken a new incarnation as ‘krtisil-bhakti‘ in the SM it is a novel way of interpreting the rna idea in the Hindu tradition.
One is familiar with the concept of ‘lokasangraha‘ or idea of ‘welfare for all’ from the Gita. But the ‘krtisil-bhakti’ that Dadaji advocates has enriched the very concept of ‘lokasangraha‘. Firstly in the Gita, the doer is the focus of attention in ‘lokasangraha‘. The doer chooses the area of action. Thus Sankara and Janaka chose to educate the people in spirituality because they conceived that there was a need for that in society. In ‘krti-bhakti‘ on the other hand, one has to be conscious of what benefits the receiver as well. In both there is an emphasis on ‘niskama-karma‘ (disinterested action) but the Gita ‘lokasangraha‘ is centered more on the giver than on the receiver and also seems to be tied to the ‘jivanmukta‘ (one who is liberated already in life) concept as well. ‘Krti-bhakti‘ can be engaged in by those in whom ‘bhava-bhakti‘ has wrought a complete attitudinal change in which case they are liberated according to SM. ‘Krti-bhakti‘ has the world and those who inhabit it as its reference point. It is done for the sake of personal and social benefit. The benefit again is primarily ‘character building’ though economic well being and material benefits are its bye products. Thus unlike many welfare programmes the SM does not target the economically weak sections of society. A swadhyayee is engaged in awakening the divine qualities latent in every person. That ‘bhava-bhakti‘ together with ‘krti-bhakti‘ has succeeded economically is not because it was planned that way. It is a vindication of Dadaji’s belief that TT will lead to an overall betterment of both the individual and society in every sense of the term. The emphasis in SM is away from social service and SM does not subscribe to the view that ‘Service of man is worship of God’.
Like Gandhi who came upon ‘Satyagraha‘ as ‘Social Force’, Dadaji has discovered the social strength that ‘bhava-bhakti‘ has. Dadaji is quick to add that bhava-bhakti should not be confused with pity for the under dog and compared to the social service programmes which have been popular amongst governments, religious organizations and individuals. Social service carries within itself a ‘giver-receiver’ syndrome which cannot help in engendering a sense of equality between the two. In ‘bhava-bhakti‘ on the other hand the approach is between equals. Thus Dadaji’s standard argument would be “God is seated in every human heart. Therefore, when a man lives a filthy, sensual, beastly life, does not God immanent in man feel offended? Hence to make people aware of this fact, we must meet and enlighten them without an air of superiority, unlike in case of social service”.
Since the SM has succeeded in transforming the lives of millions (more than 20 million in at least 100,000 villages,) it makes one sit up and try to understand how these two bhakti concepts are translated into the everyday lives of the Swadhyayees.
The Swadhyaya message of ‘bhakti‘ is initially spread by a group of swadhyayees going to places (mainly villages), which if the group is small and of short duration of two or three days is called a ‘bhakti pheri‘(journey of bhakti); if the group is large and lasts for a week or ten days it is called a teerthayatra (pilgrimage). It is estimated that “more than two hundred thousand swadhyayees participate in these activities.”
Bhaktipheris and Teerthayatras draw people into the twin concepts of bhava-bhakti and krti- bhakti which result in “purposive collective action for improving socio-economic conditions”. There are many activities that have grown in the ‘swadhyaya parivar‘ (family) and I shall describe briefly two or three of them.
Yogeswar Krsi / Yogeshwar Krishi
The majority of India’s population lives in the villages and its economy are based on agriculture. Thus one of the activities of the ‘swadhyayees‘ revolves around farming and allied areas. The farming itself is called ‘Yogeswar krsi‘ and the ‘swadhyayee‘ farmers offer their skills (nipunata) as farmers for collective benefit. In coining phrases for different activities, Dadaji has dug into the vast treasures of the tradition and united humanity in the SM. Yogeswar is used both in the Gita and the Bhagavata Purana for Sri Krishna. In the SM, Yogeswar-krsi recalls activity based not only on ‘bhava-bhakti‘ but also based on ‘niskama-karma‘ which is at the root of ‘kriti-bhakti‘. In a sense ‘Yogeswar krsi‘ is a tribute to Krishna who advocates so passionately the philosophy of ‘unattached-action’. The ‘swadhyayees‘ buy a plot of land (there are no property rights)and offer ‘krti -bhakti‘ voluntarily based on the philosophy of ‘bhava -bhakti‘. As there are so many farmers willing to donate their labor, it is mentioned that each one is able to get only one or two days to work on the farm during the cropping season. The days they work they are called pujaris (priests), for besides working on the farm they also manage the community temple on those days. Thus Dadaji has also got rid of the traditional priest alone doing duty in the temple. Every person irrespective of caste, creed or gender is taught some prayers and each one, generally a couple, is assigned the task of conducting the puja (worship) in the community temple.
Apauruseya Laksmi / Apaurusheya Lakshmi
Dadaji, by his conviction of the centrality of the temple to the psyche of the people has revived the habit of people gathering at these temples called ‘Amrtalayams’ not only to conduct prayers but also to discuss their mutual problems and also to exchange views in general. Here, superstitious religious behavior centered on rituals which have lost their meaning in present day life is replaced by simple prayer and worship where, at the end, everyone contributes a portion of their earnings as donation. This in turn, is then given to the needy as prasad, but in an inconspicuous manner, thus avoiding the “donor-donee syndrome”. Just as the farming model is called ‘Yogeswar krsi‘ the produce generated is called ‘Apauruseya Laksmi’ i.e. wealth that belongs to no one in particular and to everyone in a sense. The word ‘apauruseya‘ so far has only been heard with reference to the Vedas in the Hindu tradition. At one stroke Dadaji has elevated the idea of ‘apauruseya‘ into the every day context of the lived world. As no single person or even one group collectively owns the land or the produce since everyone has a hand in acquiring the land and in producing the produce, the wealth is truly ‘apauruseya‘. The surplus is deposited in a bank (which offers no interest) called Madhavi Raksha Sankalpa’.
Vrksamandir / Vrikshamandir
In these days of ecological awareness Dadaji’a ‘Vrksamandir‘ experiment (temple of trees, particularly fruit trees) is truly befitting. For this project, swadhyayees from about ten villages and an adjacent city acquire some land which is made fit for planting trees. As R. K. Shrivastava describes it “Finally the day arrives, when at a given time, thousands of swadhyayees…stand with a sapling in their hands to lower them into the pits. In about five minutes, planting of an orchard of, say, forty acres is complete.” But more important is the fact that these saplings are tended throughout the year with devotion and “the survival rate of plants is claimed to be one hundred percent”.
One more activity that needs mention is what is known as ‘Matsyagandha‘; for along with ‘Yogeswar krsi‘ and ‘Vrksamandirs‘ it has changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of fishermen, who are traditionally looked down upon partly because of their occupation but also because of their unruly and aggressive life style. Addicted to drinking, gambling and smuggling they were shunned by society and were also feared. The ‘swadhyayees‘ were able to convert them to their philosophy of ‘bhava-bhakti‘ and ‘krti-bhakti‘ and today they are one of the ardent groups that support the swadhyaya way of life. Called ‘sagaraputras‘, (sons of the ocean), they started by offering a day’s catch of fish each month and it quickly grew into a substantial amount. Dadaji then suggested that they buy ‘motorized boats and more efficient tools’ from this ‘apauruseya Laksmi’. This enterprise was called Matsyagandha and “To date there are seventy five vessels and a few more are added each year”. This involves over a million fishermen” and “over two million rupees are distributed as prasad every year” under this sheme.
The United Nations Development Report on Nations 1996 brings out the disparity that prevails between the rich and the poor. And in today’s global economy there is “more evidence…that the world wide gap between the rich and the poor…has widened faster than ever before. Today the richest 20 percent of the world’s population earn 85 percent of the world’s income.” In such a scenario one can imagine the plight of the poorest of the poor in developing countries like India. Apart from economic inequalities there is the inequality that comes with being born in one of the lower castes. For such people it is that much more difficult to gain respect in society which then impinges on one’s self esteem. And for the untouchable it becomes a task of Herculean proportions.
Swadhyaya and Society
One has to see the inroads that Swadhyaya has made into each of these difficult terrains in order to believe the miraculous transformation that it has wrought in the lives of ordinary people. TT which indeed proclaims the equality of all humans has made such an impact amongst these groups that it is better to hear them in their own words. Pushpa Behn, a harijan woman and a swadhyayee proclaims “Because of my caste I was not allowed to carry the Gita. Now not only have I learnt the Gita, I have a head full of its thoughts.”. The restoration of human dignity and self respect is echoed in Pushpa Behn’s words. She comes from Ahmedabad and lives in one of the poorest slum areas there. Another harijan, Narayan Bhai, a former alcoholic, summed up the Swadhyaya philosophy succinctly when he said “If we leave our shoes outside the temple before going to see God, shouldn’t we keep our bodies pure if God is within us?”
The vaghris numbering about a 100,000 people in Ahmedabad belong to the untouchable group and are associated with gambling, drinking and other vices. Raju Bhai, one of them, a swadhyayee now, says “I have changed with Swadhyaya. I do not gamble or drink. I love and respect my family. I understand that God is within everyone, including me. If I ill treat others or myself I am ill-treating God.” In the face of such evidence it is difficult to ignore the impact of swadhyaya on the lives of a large number of people and in particular from the marginalized groups in Indian society.
Gandhiji and Dadaji
Dadaji’a capacity to draw millions of people to his meetings immediately brings to mind Gandhiji who had a similar impact on humanity at large. One is therefore tempted to study these two charismatic personalities in comparison. While Gandhiji won no international awards Dadaji has been honored with the Magsaysay Award and the Templeton Award as well. Gandhiji’s capacity to draw large crowds could be partly due to his political profile; but Dadaji does not address himself to political issues; in fact he scrupulously avoids any political statement.
Both Gandhiji and Dadaji value deeply the tradition they were born into and the rich cultural values they inherited. For both religion is a spiritual expression and Dadaji’s description of religion as “…a spiritual order to go to God…there may be different kinds of orders, therefore different religions” reminds one of Gandhiji’s statement “Religions are different roads converging upon the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal.” Both these great men believe in action (karma), though their approach to it differs considerably. Gandhiji tries to justify action using moral arguments whereas for Dadaji ‘krti-bhakti‘ will naturally result as a corollary to ‘bhava-bhakti‘.
One cannot but notice the difference between Gandhiji and Dadaji in their approach to God and in their understanding of bhakti itself. For Gandhiji, who was not a Sanskrit scholar, God came in many forms. Truth, Non-violence, Inner Voice, Love, Sat-cit-ananda all figure in Gandhiji’s writings for the description of God. Bhakti in Gandhi is a path to God realization. In Gandhiji, one gets the strong sense of God being out there to be achieved through various means like ahimsa, satya, satyagraha and so on. Though there is a general acknowledgement of the Vedic concept of the Absolute being both transcendent and immanent in the universe and therefore residing in “every human form, indeed in every particle…that is on this earth” in Gandhiji one is always aware of the otherness of God, whom one has to reach through transforming oneself from an impure to a pure state. On the other hand, Dadaji, himself a great Sanskrit scholar, has revolutionized the concepts of the divine presence as well the notion of bhakti. He is perhaps the first person to talk about the presence of God in oneself in such a concrete manner and use the inner presence to instill ideas of cleanliness, self respect, self confidence and surrender for social benefit.
While Gandhiji himself did not believe in the Varnasramadharma (caste system can be the nearest translation), he did not attempt to reinterpret the custom and did not really make any effort to change the perception of caste in society. On the other hand. Dadaji has dared to define the varnasramadharma in an innovative manner. According to him everyone who does God’s work is a brahmin since God resides in him. And an ‘asparsya‘ (untouchable) is one who has been deserted by God. It is such novel ways of looking at society’s evils that is breaking down barriers between the castes in swadhyaya circles. There are only swadhyayees doing God’s work in Dadaji’s eyes and there are no other castes or classes. It is also relevant to mention that as women are also accepted as equals in all works and are also recognized as pujaris, gender differences are also breaking down in swadhyaya. Thus talking about women swadhyayees Paul Elkins says “…women are emerging from the cloisters of their homes to devote themselves to Swadhyaya work. Forbidden earlier from stepping out of their homes, they now perform goodwill tours, visiting neighboring villages to establish bonds of fraternity.” One looks at the violence and discord with which women’s liberation has been achieved in the educated world, and longs for a similar wisdom to enfold the world.”
Antarnada / Antarnad
Shyam Benegal in his film called Antarnada (Inner Voice) tries to depict the way the SM has affected the lives of the common people. He targets three individuals and makes the story of swadhyaya unfold itself. The story revolves around Arjun Seth born in a fisherman’s family and at the start of the film is shown leading the typical life associated with his class. Smuggling is his main activity and he bullies others like Shiva, an untouchable, to do his job. Shiva again personifies the degradation that the untouchable suffers from in society. There are two villages covered in this film; one Nimda, which is the fiefdom of a group of dacoits who live by robbing and terrorizing the community and the other which is ruled by the corrupt smuggler Arjun Bhai, mentioned above.
The aimless routes taken by diverse groups to eke out a day to day existence without any initiative on their parts is brought out by Benegal. The common person is led either by a spirit of vengeance, or is used by a person like Arjun Bhai to do his evil deeds. They do not seem to have a choice and particularly in the scene when a young woman called Hansa fails to prevent her husband from joining the group of dacoits on their mission of theft, the helplessness of women in the social network comes out clearly. This in turn breeds resentment in women and disharmony in the family.
Enter the Swadhyayees headed by Arvind Bhai and his two companions Praveen and Ajit and things start to happen. The initial struggles of the Bhaktipheri group is captured by Benegal and the gradual transformation of each one of the characters is shown in stages. The action covers a little more than a year. One is aware of the fact that this is a true story and the events are not the imagination of the director of the film. When Arjun Bhai traces his wrongdoings to the complexes and resentments built up in his psyche due to being taunted for his fisherman’s background, or when Shiva is attracted by the utterly selfless work done by the swadhyayees or yet again when women come out and express themselves freely and realize the futility of false pride, we come to know how a simple message of love and caring can touch the core of humans and transform them to a better existence. In the last scene when one witnesses Arjun Bhai, Hansa and Ragini address a huge gathering and recount their experiences in the swadhyaya family we feel that we are in the presence of a truly unique experiment being carried out in India.
In a world which has come to devalue religion it is amazing to find that it is the religious appeal of swadhyaya that is changing the lives of many a person from one of turmoil to one of hope. What is the secret of Swadhyaya? Is it different from other reform movements? Will its impact last longer than other movements in the past specially Gandhiji’s Non-violent Movement. We do not know the answers to these questions. But there are a couple of striking features of the Swadhyaya Movement which one notices. One is that when the swadhyayees go on their bhakti pheris they carry whatever they need by way of food and other necessities with them. Except for a place to stay they do not depend on local hospitality for anything. Dadaji was aware of the skepticism that had crept into the minds of the people in the villages who were regularly exploited by social reformers and politicians in particular. It was in order to avoid that syndrome that he insisted that the swadhyayees should be self sufficient and not depend on the villagers during their stay in the village. Swadhyaya is also different because it dares to use reason in the understanding of religious beliefs. Dadaji’s audience is the common man and woman, particularly the vast numbers of Indians living in villages; his approach is that of an elder in the family teaching the values of family life to his large family. When my husband and I met him recently in Bombay and I asked him about the philosophy of swadhyaya he pinpointed its stress on family values. “In a family if one brother is economically weak and another is prosperous do we look down on the weaker one?” he asked. In a similar manner, he seemed to say that we must treat all our brothers and sisters, who are all linked by the same divine presence, as one big family.
Some like Daniel Gold have felt that the SM could succeed only in a predominantly spiritual culture like that of India but perhaps might not do so well elsewhere. We do not know if that is a fact and I do not think that there are less spiritually oriented people elsewhere in the world. If approached in the right manner the Swadhyaya message can still reach large sections of people round the globe and instill hope in them for a better life.
- Swadhyaya web-sites: http://www.Swadhyay.org, http://www.Dadaji.net and http://www.GitaPathshala.org
- Vital Connections: Self, Society and God, perspectives on Swadhyaya, edited by R K Srivastava, Weatherhill Publications, October 2000. Collection of essays by scholars including Daniel Gold (Cornell Univ.), Betty Unterburgar (Univ of Texas A&M), Paul Ekins, Arun Shourie and Vidya Nivas Mishra.
- The course taught in Concordia University on Swadhyaya and Gandhi’s Satyagraha:
From Satyagraha to Swadhyaya: A noteworthy feature of contemporary Hinduism has been the emergence of several original thinkers who have been devising strategies for dialogue, with the aim of promoting mutual tolerance and understanding among religions and of establishing a network of harmonious relations among the people of the world. This course will particularly focus on how the strategies of satyagraha (soul force) proposed by Mahatma Gandhi, and svadhyaya (reflective self-study) proposed by Pandurang Athavale, may facilitate meaningful interreligious dialogue and the realization of the ideals of social progress, human rights, and equality.
T.S. Rukmani, PhD
Chair, Hindu Studies