The gospel of Equality is by no means a new one in India. It has been frequently preached ever since the time of Gautama Buddha and has resulted in such large sects as the Buddhists, the Vaishnavas, the Sikhs, the Kabirpanthis, the Satnamis, etc.
However, under Western influence, it is now being preached more widely than ever. What is more, the causes which Western influence has set into operation such as the weakening of the barriers of caste and of its functional basis, are levelling down inequalities more effectively than any amount of preaching.
The result, however, cannot be contemplated with unalloyed satisfaction The gospel of equality, which was preached by our great men in the past had spiritual enfranchisement for its objective. It always had in view the exalted ethical and spiritual ideals which were attained during the highest stage of our civilisation. They endeavoured to remove the barriers of caste only so far as they stood in the way of the ethical and spiritual uplift of the lower classes. The higher castes, especially the highest, with commendable self-abnegation left the money making occupations to the lower ones. So it was only the spiritual disabilities of the latter which weighed upon the conscience of the more sensitive natures among the former, and they preached their gospel of salvation to high and low alike.
As a result of the levelling movements which they initiated and led, we have had, even in comparatively recent times, a large number of universally respected saints and reformers, among whom were women (including penitent prostitutes), tailors, gardeners, potters, goldsmiths and even the outcaste Mahars of Western India.
The great Tamil composition, Tirukkural which enforces the doctrines of the Samkhya philosophy is ascribed to a Pariah poet. To his sister also are ascribed many highly popular compositions of great moral excellence in Southern India. The first Marathi poet of fame was Namadeva, who was a tailor by caste Tukaram, whose spiritual poems record the high watermark of Marathi poetry began life as a petty shopkeeper. In Bengal, a large number of the Vaishnava poets belong to low castes.
The modern gospel of equality differs markedly from the old, inasmuch as its objective is almost exclusively material. Its chief, if not the sole aim, is to secure equality of opportunity to all classes in the struggle for animal existence. The increased sense of equality and individuality under Western influence being divorced from our old ethical and spiritual ideals, and having chiefly material betterment and sensual enjoyment for its goal. It is slowly sapping the foundations of Hindu society and Hindu family by loosening the bonds of benevolence and reverence which bound them together.
The gladiatorial view of life is permeating all classes of our society. The religion of amity which made for concord and happiness is on the wane and the religion of enmity which leads to discord and misery is gradually spreading. There is thus caused not only immensely increased struggle tor existence, and consequent ill-feeling, discord, and misery, but also recourse to dubious, if not positively iniquitous methods of earning one’s livelihood.
The net result of the elevatory movement is not so much to level up the lower classes as to level down the upper ones. It is not so much to make the lower classes as a whole better than before as to make the upper classes as a whole worse than before.
The increased sense of individuality developed under Western influence has certainly led to considerable mental expansion which is reflected in the growing vernacular literature. On the other hand, unrestrained by concomitant spiritual and ethical development, it has caused a distinct diminution of the sentiment of veneration for age and wisdom, which has hitherto formed the centripetal force in the Hindu family. It has to a large extent, been subversive of discipline. It is this veneration and the daily religious and socio-religious services and ceremonies which have hitherto maintained discipline in the Hindu family and cemented it together. Their gradual extinction is tending to seriously disturb the harmony and happiness of the family among those who have advanced most on the Western path. The complaint is becoming general that children no longer obey their parents as they should, and that filial affection can no longer be reckoned as a valuable asset of the family.
Simplicity of living has always been a strong point of our national character. However various the paths commended by our sages for salvation, they all agree in the advisability of suppressing the animal side of man. They have sought happiness by self-denial, not self-indulgence, by curtailing the wants of life, not by increasing them and by suppressing desires, not by gratifying them.
Western civilisation on the other hand, takes but little heed of spiritual life and seeks to accomplish the well-being of man mainly—if not solely—by the gratification of his senses, by adding physical comforts, by multiplying his wants and desires. With us, the death of desire is the birth of happiness. With the Westerns, the satisfaction of desire is the chief, if not the only source of happiness as it is understood by them. Our sages have sought spiritual development at the expense of the animal, the Western scientists seek the expansion of the animal life taking little account of the spiritual.
To be continued
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