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Why has Asceticism led to the weakening of Bharat

Author: Sanjeev Nayyar 
Publication: eSamskriti.com
Date: April 2001
URL:      https://www.esamskriti.com/e/History/Indian-History/Why-has-Asceticism-led-to-the-weakening-of-Bharat-1.aspx

I was reading a book on Sri Aurobindo where in response to a message “about an Aurobindo Matt” from Shri Motilal Roy of Chandranagore who ran a Pravartak Sangh under the inspiration of Aurobindo, he said, “You must understand that my mission is not to create Matts, ascetics and Sannyasis, but to call back the souls of the strong to the Lila of Krishna and Kali. That is my teaching as you can see from the Review, and my name must never be connected with monastic norms or the monastic ideal. Every ascetic movement since the time of the Buddha has left India weaker and for a obvious reason. Renunciation of life is one thing, to make life itself national, individual, world-life greater and divine is another. You cannot enforce one ideal on the country without weakening of the other. You cannot take away the best souls from life and yet leave life stronger and greater. Renunciation of ego, acceptance of God in life is the Yoga I teach – no other renunciation”.

The essay attempts to understand Sri Aurobindo’s mind. Although said before 1920, the period covered starts from Buddha, Mahavir, Ashoka, Gandhi – Nehru and ends with Vajpayee i.e. from about 500 BC to 2000 AD. This essay is based on inputs from The History and Culture of Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan, Defending India by Shri Jaswant Singh. Special thanks to the late Kulpati K M Munshi whose words I have liberally borrowed. I am most grateful to my email Guru, an exponent on Vedanta, for correcting the manuscript wherever necessary. The essay is dedicated to Lord Krishna, Chandragupta Maurya, Guru Gobind Singh, Sri Aurobindo and soldiers of the Indian armed forces. My job is to read, compile and analyze, period. Oh Ishwar please forgive me if I have not understood Aurobindo’s mind correctly. There are eight chapters.

1. It covers Dharma, Buddha and Mahavir, their teachings and impact on our lives.
2. Asoka – It covers political events during Asoka’s rule, his teachings and concept of Dharma, Post Asoka, reasons for downfall of the Mauryan Empire and impact.
3. Rulers after Asoka – Yavanas, Sakas, Kushanas in brief and their impact.
4. Prosperous India (320 to 750 AD) – Gupta Rule, Arab invasions the myth and impact.
5. 750 to 1000 AD – Rule of Pratiharas, Rashtrakutas, Palas in brief with impact.
6. Gandhian Asceticism: Gandhi’s definition of Satyagraha, Did India get independence because of Ahimsa, Will Ahimsa work everywhere and Was Ahimsa followed by all.
7. Impact of Ahimsa on Independent India, the Nehruvian legacy has left India weaker.
8. What says the Holy Geeta and Solution – have quoted a few slokhas from the Holy Geeta by Swami Chinamayanandji. Can we follow our Islamic, Chinese enemies when non-violence is part of our soul?

Buddhism and Jainism

Pre-Buddha - The Vedic Culture had, for its Central Idea, Rita, the Cosmic Order. The fundamentals flowing from it were Satya, accord between thought, word & deed, Yajna, the complete dedication of one’s cherished things to the Higher powers to fulfill Rita and Tapas, the sublimation of passions and instincts through discipline which brought self-mastery. Sage Kanada says “Dharma is that which gives prosperity in this life and liberation in the next”. There is no higher Dharma than truth. Action without Yajna is bondage says the Bhagwad Gita. Tapas came to comprise, as the Bhagwad Geeta has it, truth and non-violence.

Long before the coming of Buddha, a central idea was becoming clear from the mass of incoherent urges, which went under the generic name of Dharma. Dharma is a way of life based on the eternal truths of life. Man was not a struggling worm but a self with a supraphysical destiny, which can be attained only by the mastery over the misery. This is possible by man being self-disciplined so as to raise the self above the flux of passing sense experience. Simply put, the mind must not be affected the joys and sorrows of life but carry on unaffected. The discipline implied relinquishment of the greed for life and broadening of the personal self into a universal self. The end of this discipline was variously aimed at self-realization (Siddhi), emancipation (Mukti), and freedom (Nirvana), enlightenment (Jnana), and bliss (Ananda) In short it meant absolute integration of the human personality freed from the limitations of attachment and fear.

For such a planned social life stability was essential. It implied protection without slavery. Power was therefore conceived as moving and having its being within the framework of Dharma. Kingship was to be a religious trust. Rajadharma, Smriti and tradition were to be interpreted from the time to time to regulate life. The ambition of kings was controlled by a fundamental law, the basis of which were Smriti, Parishad, the Assembly of the learned. And as the country grew bigger a military overlord was necessary, Rajadhiraja or Chakravartin as the Protector of Dharma.

The Mahabharata (about 1200 BC) that happened centuries before Buddha is all about the victory of Dharma over Adharma. Indian kings, all of whom accepted, the law of the Dharmasastras as unalienable, waged wars according to human rules. Whatever the provocation, the shrine, the Brahman, the cow were sacrosanct to them. Harassment of the civilian population was considered a serious lapse in the code of honor. The Kshatriyas had high regard for women ruled out their abduction as an incident of war.

Essential Features of Buddhism - Gautama alias Siddharta was born at Lumbinivana in 563 BC. His father was the chief of the Sakya clan. Gautama lived a life of easy and luxury, got married, had a son called Rahula. After seeing four persons in four different stages, the idea of renunciation entered his mind. Some say that Siddharta believed that home life was full of hindrances and impurities so he decided to retire from the world. At the age of 29 he left home.

At Vaisali he met Arada Kalama who espoused the Sankhya school of philosophy. Not satisfied with the teachings of this school he moved on to teacher Rudraka Ramaputra’s heritage. He went to Uruvela where he became Buddha, the Enlightened One. After this Buddha traveled to Kosala, Vaisali, Kapilavastu, Kausambhi, Veranja. (these areas are mainly in modern day Bihar and Uttar Pradesh).

Very briefly his teachings are. Buddha’s repeated instructions were to pursue practical methods to arrive at the truth and not to distract themselves with academic speculations about the Beyond and the Ultimate. He propounded four Noble Truths – 1). That worldly existence is full of misery.2) that thirst, attachment are its causes. 3) that worldly misery can be ended with destruction of thirst. 4) there is a Path for destruction of thirst, it is known as the Eight fold way i.e. right speech, action, means of livelihood, exertion, right-mindedness, meditation, resolution and point of view. The first three lead to physical control, the next three to mental control and the last two to intellectual development.

Nirvana is the final result of extinction of desires or thirst for rebirth. The Eightfold Path is said to be Buddha’s first discourse. The second discourse is that the five constituents, which make a being, are without a self, impermanent and are not desirable. There is nothing in this world to make one happy or sad and he, who is free, is perfect. There are reasons to believe that Buddhism like Jainism, was originally a moral code rather than a metaphysical or religious system in the western sense of the term. But a philosophical background became necessary for its propagation and existence. The first sign of this development was the sects of Hinayana and Mahayana. The first school looked at salvation of the individual as the goal whereas the other took the salvation of all beings as its goal. The first took to Prakrit while the second took to Sanskrit.

Without admitting the existence of the soul, the early Buddhists accepted the theory of Karma i.e. the inevitability of the effects of deeds in regulating future births. Sankya, Yoga and the Upanishads were the sources of his inspiration. He was a product of the Aryan order and represented the ascetic orders against the social ideals of those who took life as a whole. He proclaimed the supremacy of Dharma but stressed on universal compassion. It was a Protestant movement within the fold of Dharma with its empathy for the suffering as its biggest attraction.

Sangha – In the earlier stages, Buddha’s disciples led a wandering life, residing in caves and forests, living on alms. They assumed the tile of bhikkhu or beggar. Buddha was not in favor of extreme austerity, he permitted his disciples to live in monasteries esp. built for them, accept food/clothes from the faithful. He framed a set of rules for residents of these monasteries. Monastic institutions were the most remarkable contribution of Buddhism to Indian culture. Their original purpose was give suitable accommodation to the monks for studies and mediation. Later on they developed into academic centers for producing the right types of men, well grounded in religion and philosophy, to propagate the teachings of Buddhism.

Buddha, inspite of his heterodoxy, left a lasting influence on Dharma. First he was revered as an ascetic reformer, in the process of a general acceptance by the masses he became a divinity. On the other hand, Krishna was ‘Sasavata Dharmagopta’, the Protector of Eternal Dharma, Buddha also proclaimed Dharma and asked people to surrender themselves to it. Buddha died in 486 BC.


Jain tradition speaks of 24 Tirthankaras of which, the first 22 seem to be mythical and have no historical foundation. The last two were Parsva and Mahavira. Parsva is believed to have lived some 250 yrs before Mahavir and is always referred as “beloved of men”. He believed in the eternity of matter as Mahavir did. The followers of Parsva preached that self-control results in the cessation of Karma and penance leads to annihilation. With this Mahavir agreed, as with the four vows enunciated by Parsva i.e. life should not be taken, no falsehood spoken, nothing should be received which is not freely given and non-attachment should be practiced. But there was a difference between the two sects, that Parsva followed allowed the use of a white garment by the monks while Mahavir forbade this. Hence the two sects titled Svetambara (white-clad) and Digambara (naked).

Thus unlike Buddha, Mahavir was more of a reformer than a founder of a new religion. He became a monk at the age of 30, left home in the beginning of winter, 13 months later he abandoned his clothing and began to wander in the nude. He attributed life not only to plants and animals but also to earth and water, assumed the real cause of worldly misery to be Karma, engineered by indulgence by sensual pleasure, and the essential misery of life to be due to the endless cycle of life and birth. Mahavir added a few doctrines to this of Parsva; he taught five vows as against four referred to above, in all probability being chastity. He is credited with the systematic arrangement of its philosophical texts.

Jainism showed a close affinity with the Samkhya system. It also developed a kind of logic, which cut at the root of all stable knowledge. It was called Syadvada or the theory of May Be. Jains had a theory of reality. Their logic was a subtle and disguised protest against the dogmatism of the Vedas, and not intended to deny reality. The world according to them was not altogether unknowable, only one must not be cocksure about one’s assertions. The world consisted of two categories the conscious (jiva) and the unconscious (ajiva).

Jiva corresponds to what we call the soul. It suffers by its contact with matter and is born repeatedly and its highest endeavor is to free itself from bondage. And this salvation can be achieved by higher knowledge and meditation upon the great truth. According to some, jiva should be taken to mean life. Ajiva was equivalent to mean the universe minus the jivas. There is no God or Creator and man is the architect of his own destiny. By living an austere life of purity and virtue, he can escape the ills of life. The best life was the life of renunciation. It was the shortest way to salvation.

Jainism is thus a moral code rather than a religion in the western sense of the term. It recognized no Supreme Being but there were a number of deified men who had been spiritually great. It did not encourage dogmatism. When all knowledge is only probable and relative, your opponent’s view as is as true as mine. The result of this spirit of accommodation was that Jainism has survived today while Buddhism vanished from India. The custom of idol worship may be traced back to the Mauryan-Sunga period. Mahavir in 468 BC.

Impact - Buddhism and Jainism emphasized non-injury, compassion for others, suffering, austerity and non-violence. The most important teaching was that of non-violence. Not only had it influenced the minds of people of those times but even today, Indians of all hue and cry reiterate their love for non-violence inspite of the gravest of provocation by our enemies.

Buddha introduced a unique institution of monasteries whereby young men and women gave up ordinary lives and moved into monasteries to achieve higher spiritual goals. Thus the services of these people were permanently lost to society and not available for protection of Dharma. These movements made asceticism popular across the country. These influences increased man’s ability to suffer oppression, made our hearts soft, weakened society and reduced the will to fight for the protection of Dharma. Since Buddha and Mahavir were divine souls and not rulers, it did not lead to an immediate loss of political control by the ruling class.

After the second nuclear test i.e. Pokaran II, influenced by the principle of Ahimsa, a number of Indians were unhappy. What was the need? We are the land of Ahimsa. Amongst our neighbors China conducted its first test in 1964 and Pakistan is known to have achieved nuclear capability in 1987. Many believe that Operation Topac in Jammu and Kashmir was launched in 1989 i.e. after they had achieved nuclear deterrence.

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