Lord Krishna and Spiritual Secularism

Lord Krishna and Spiritual Secularism
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Secular spirituality is the adherence to a spiritual philosophy without adherence to a religion. Secular spirituality emphasizes the personal growth and inner peace of the individual, rather than a relationship with the divine.

The entire world is tremendously disturbed today, predominantly due to religious intolerance, ignorance, fanaticism, dogmatism and exhibitionism of a misplaced religious superiority complex.

Interestingly, Sri Krishna addressed all these problems and established the true spirit of spiritual secularism long ago. Solutions to present problems can neither be found in non-religious atheism nor in any particular religion, but in genuine secularism and spirituality that Krishna promoted. 

Amid the sectarian celebration of Janmashtami, we tend to miss the most important point made by Krishna, to “Leave aside diverse religious rituals and seek refuge only in the supreme Self.” This indeed is a clarion call to all of humanity, on this occasion, to celebrate synthesis of religions.

Krishna never spread any sectarian religious concept; he promoted an all-embracing and all-confirming concept of spirituality beyond religious faiths. Yet he did not discard any religious faith or ritual, confirming that all these invariably reach the supreme Spirit worshipped through various ways and modes, through the paths of wisdom, devotion, psychophysical practices and selfless service.

The idea of spiritual was repeatedly invoked by the wide range of modern Indian thinkers, like Swami Vivekananda, Dayananda Saraswati, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and others. It was repeatedly used to articulate anti-colonial politics, the idea of service, love for others, nationalist agenda, identity of Indian culture and civilization and so forth. Thinkers like Tilak, Gandhi and Radhakrishnan often appealed to spiritualize politics. Along with repeated usage of the spiritual for temporal goods, it was also used to enunciate higher goods beyond ordinary material existence.

What was this recurrent idea of spiritual in the writings of key Indian thinkers? Why was it frequently invoked in the socio-political realm and what were its diverse predicaments?

To address this, let’s explore writings of three key thinkers-Vivekananda, Gandhi and Radhakrishnan.

On one hand, they were attracted towards religious good and wished to pursue them and, on the other hand, they also felt the pressure of demands of their age and wished to live by them. The religious aim was realization of moksha (liberation or salvation), and the demands of their age were to address social and political issues.

Thus, their life was fundamentally marked by the search for the solution which addressed both the demands. In search for a solution, they argued for the spiritual way of life, sensitive to both religious and temporal demands. Though defined differently, they wished to fulfil both the demands through it and gave different reasons for the integration of spiritual way of life with the secular activities such as social service and politics.

What was distinctive about this frequent usage of the spiritual was its usage to articulate both the secular and the religious and the otherworldly goals. In this light, the article further avers that none of the thinkers explored are strictly secular, if it means differentiation of social and political domains from religion on the one hand and rise of ‘exclusive humanism’ and ‘immanent frame’ on the other hand, as is central to modern Western secularity.

Aldous Huxley found the clearest and most comprehensive human philosophy in the non-sectarian teachings of the Gita, which are meant not only for Indians but for all of humankind. He found it to be the most systematic spiritual statement of the perennial philosophy ever to have been made. Identically, Christopher Isherwood said in this context, “God’s light dwells in the Self and nowhere else.  It shines alike in everything and one can see it with one’s mind steadied.” Any narrow ideology needs to be replaced by a broader ideology. In the Gita, Krishna spreads the message of eternal wisdom of unity of soul in diversity.

The genesis of secularism, as we understand the term, rooted in Gita teachings has been explained by S Radhakrishnan:

“When India is said to be a secular state, it does not mean that we reject the reality of an unseen Spirit or the relevance of religion to life or that we exalt irreligion.  It does not mean that secularism itself becomes a positive religion or that the state assumes divine prerogatives.  We hold that no one religion should be given preferential status.  This view of religious impartiality or comprehension and forbearance has a prophetic role to play within national and international life.”

Eight central attributes of secular spirituality can be identified:

eclecticism, self-growth, relevance to life, self-direction, openness to wonder, authenticity beyond churches, metaphysical explanations, and communal and ecological morality.

Krishna did not advocate any particular religion.  Interestingly, he himself did not belong to the Brahmin class as the synthesis of the whole gamut of human spirituality was to be spread by him. Predominantly, he taught yoga, the art of right action and attainment of equanimity, which paves the way for union with the supreme Self through selfless service, divine wisdom, intense devotion and certain psychological practices.

According to Krishna, there are only two major aspects of religions, samkhya and yoga- the path of wisdom of pure awareness and the path of right action in view of the indivisible oneness of existence. Krishna made a synthesis of the two as the progress of consciousness is dialectical.

Right action is inactivity amid action and wisdom is awareness of the flow of happenings or action. Finality lies in surrendering to the Absolute, beyond relative wisdom or action.

Krishna taught us to be truly secular, rising above all religions and becoming intensely spiritual for ultimate realisation.

Muslim Artisans of Vrindavan

This is a epitome of communal harmony!

Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, is a centre for making dresses for him and his consort Radha and most of them are made by Muslims.

If you enter the Jama Masjid near Mathura Gate in the town on any given day, you will see Iqram Quraishi, 42, busy giving directions to workers embroidering dresses for Radha and Krishna.

"Don't touch any item without washing your hands and feet well," Quraishi reminds them. Around 800 of the 1,000 workers engaged in the business of embroidering outfits for Krishna in Vrindavan are Muslims. And they respect the Hindu deities as much as they revere their own God.

The city has become the main exporter of dresses of Radha-Krishna in India and the business from embroidered dresses alone fetched Rs 2 crore last year.

Over 50 shops in Vrindavan and 40 in Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna which is located nearby, are engaged in making outfits which are exported to the US, the UK and many other countries, especially those which have ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) temples.

The exported dresses cost anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1.5 lakh. The mini-industry provides a modest livelihood for the workers. Raisuddin, 27, who has been making dresses for 12 years, earns more than Rs 3,000 per month for his work.

Vrindavan was always a centre for making dresses of Hindu deities. The activity picked up even more in the 1970s when artisans migrated to the town from Agra and other places. Gradually the designs were diversified to cater to international tastes and Italian, Chinese and Victorian styles were introduced. Most of the demand for embroidered dresses is from overseas.

The idea of spiritual secularism has been in our roots for ages, the time is now for embracing it entirely! Traditional religiosity persists in economically advanced nations. Those who have abandoned religious affiliations, continue to hold various kinds of religious belief. In addition, forms of contemporary religiosity often embrace most of secularism’s basic premises.

The persistence of both traditional and non-traditional forms of religiosity and spirituality should adjust the current popular views of secularism.