05 / 1993
Swami Agnivesh, a well-known Hindu religious leader and social activist gave the following message in an interview with Network Cultures :
"At the outset, I have to make it clear that I am the least authentic voice of the Hindu tradition. I was born in a very orthodox Hindy family, in a South Indian high Brahmin family, but I dropped all this. At the age of 16, I was introduced to a protest movement which was born out of Hinduism but which was definitely not Hindu in the essence. I tried to assimilate good things from different religions and different thoughts. I had also maintained distance from the obscurantisms and fundamentalisms found in each one of the world religions. (...)I became a full-fledged swami in 1970. We were some forty new swamis, all well-educated and dedicated. By this time, we had developed our own Vedic socialism. We were convinced and I am still convinced that socialism and spirituality are two sides of the same coin. One cannot bring about real socialism without a scientific spiritual process and one cannot remain in the pursuit of spirituality without being a socialist in your outlook. We went back to the Vedas and Upanishads for inspiration. (...)In the Vedas are found verses which enjoin the people to fight against exploitation, inequality and injustice. We went in villages preaching Vedic socialism and organizing people in demonstrations, sit-ins and marches. We went to the farmers who were fighting for the price of their produce. (...)We sang hymns and chants which excellently expressed our new message. Asked about my attire, I replied, "It’s the dress of fire and my name is Agnivesh which means fire." (...)Participation in the political process is the real test of Dharma. And this is a view I hold very strongly and very dearly to this day. This is what my experience tells me. If you want to participate in a social movement and if you want to be really spiritual, you have to become an integral part of the political process in your country whether it is in the aboveground process or in the underground process. I don’t understand a social movement without it being a political movement. I joined a political party, the Janatha Party which was in the center of power in the state. I was elected to the state legislative assembly in Haryana. I became minister of education, but I had to resign because we protested against the chief minister of the state. (...)When I was in jail I read Gandhi literature. Gandhi’s simplicity fascinated me, the way he puts things in a very simple manner. He gave me an outlook. I am no more bound by this "ism" or that "ism". The simplest "ism" he gave is that whatever you are doing you do it to help the last person - the theory of the last person. The last person should be the yardstick for total social development. I took this lesson in my own involvment and development, in my own spiritual development. Today, I am working in my country, in my society fighting against the caste system, against Brahmanism. Buddha tried to demolish Brahmanism but he could not, Nanak with his Sikh movement tried, he could not. Islam came to India and attracted the lower caste people, the oppressed classes of the Hindu society, thinking they will get equal treatment. The Christians came and they also attracted the lower caste people. They got some measure of equality but to this day you find dalit Christians, i.e. lower caste Christians and higher caste Christians, like you find lower caste Muslims and higher caste Muslims, lower caste Sikhs and higher caste Sikhs. Among the Buddhists there are the new Buddhists and the original Buddhists in the high caste. The caste system is the most devious thing designed and it has not been abolished. We have to continue the struggle and we must fight this system from within."
Swami Agnivesh shows us that for social transformation to take place, it must be rooted in its own historical, religious and cultural context.
SWAMI AGNIVESH, VERHELST, Thierry in. CULTURES ET DEVELOPPEMENT - QUID PRO QUO, 1993/05/01 (BELGIUM), N°13/14
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