TipriTV.com Can Yoga Cure Corruption? By Vishal Mangalwadi From his Series 'Why Are We Backward? Part – XXV.'
Social activist Anna Hazare and Yoga guru Baba Ramdev deserve credit for focusing the world’s attention on our national disease: corruption. For over three thousand years, Hinduism deprived the Shudras opportunities that come from knowledge, governance, and finance. Now, universal education, democracy, and free market economy have begun to undo that harm. Yet, corruption continues to barricade our people into backwardness. It prevents the poor from developing their God-given potential and using it for the common good. Corruption includes nepotism. That means who you are related to becomes more important than what you know and what you can do.
Baba Ramdev is right in insisting that those (mainly educated, upper caste Hindus) who have looted the nation and hidden their Black Money abroad are anti-nationals. If that capital were available, our hard-working entrepreneurs can create jobs for tens of millions of unemployed people. If corruption keeps us backward, why are we Indians so corrupt?
Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare have demonstrated (though not conceded yet) that the corruption of our souls is a disease that neither Yoga nor Civil Society can cure.
A corrupt Congress Party won the current round initiated by Ramdev. It brilliantly used him to sideline its real rival – the BJP. On June 1, 2011 when the media-magnate Baba landed in Delhi to challenge corruption, the Congress dispatched four cabinet ministers to meet him at the airport. Pleased with this unexpected honor and official assurances, the Baba (allegedly) signed an agreement to cancel his crusade against corruption. But then, due to some mysterious factor he changed his mind. Violating his own words he went on a fast-unto-death to bring back to India the Black Money hoarded abroad. His reason for this unexplained behavior may have been honorable, but it gave credence to the argument that he was using corruption merely to build a political following.
That perception (right or wrong) made people think that the Baba’s fast was insincere. Just then, on June 4, the Congress resuscitated his leadership. After midnight the Baba was evicted from the Ramlila Grounds by force. That made him a martyr, compelling Hindutva leaders to make a pilgrimage to the Baba’s Patanjali Yogapeeth in Haridwar if they wanted to get published photos of them with him. Civil society, which had been skeptical of the billionaire Sannyasin’s sincerity, was also compelled to support him. Anna Hazare went to Mahatma Gandhi’s grave to fast in Baba’s favor, only to discover that his hero had agreed with Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, to give up his fast without forcing upper caste billionaires to bring their Black Money back to India. We do not know why the Baba gave up his crusade, but there is no dearth of brilliant people who can make twisted arguments: “It is better for our Black Money to corrupt the West;” or, “it is better for the Baba if the Black Money returned at election time.”
Whichever argument prevailed, the relevant point is that it is premature for the Congress to rejoice that it has exposed the business-savvy Baba to be a political baby. For he can re-bounce, especially if the BJP’s political-infighting forces the RSS to conclude that the Baba can mobilize much more (Black) money for the next election than other Hindutva leaders.
Doesn’t the Baba have a right to float a political party? Of course he does. The BJP has better reasons to serve the Baba’s ego then it had for touching Behanji’s (Mayawati’s) feet. However, his partnership with the BJP could make voters wonder if yogic politics will be better than Ram Mandir’s.
If corruption was not such a debilitating disease, it would not matter if people ridicule someone who draws so much attention only to disgrace himself so easily. Jan Nayak, JP Narayan fought and failed. The Baba gave up the fight before finishing. Does his failure make it wiser to follow Civil Society? Sadly, Anna Hazare’s ‘non-political’ campaign against corruption is an acknowledgement that (a) Secular capitalism has made corruption a bigger problem than Nehruvian socialism, and that (b) Liberal education, democracy, judiciary, and the media that created Civil Society have also created the current culture that is conducive to corruption.
Anna won our respect because he was not seeking power. Those who remained pessimistic toward his campaign were remembering the JP Narayan led ‘Total Revolution’ of 1974-75, which led to political upheavals of the Emergency (1975-77), the overthrow of Indira Gandhi’s Congress, and corrupt misrule by JP’s followers.
An “Independent” Lokpal (Ombudsman) with authority to hold a Prime Minister accountable is a good idea, but hardly new. We already have an “independent” judiciary which indicted Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of electoral corruption. That judgment triggered the chain of events that led to the suspension of the Constitution and detention of thousands of activists like Anna Hazare. When a battalion of independent, liberal judges have failed to curb corruption, what would enable an individual Lokpal to tackle powerful and well-entrenched evil?
Anna’s credentials and concern do merit respect, but his diagnosis and prescription have no more weight than Ramdev’s. Ironically, they expose Civil Society’s lack of faith in democracy: Why should anyone believe that an unelectable Civil Society can make corrupt rulers behave morally?
Why can’t an enlightened yoga guru prescribe a yogic cure for corruption?
I was about eight years old when the word Yogi registered in my memory. We were living on the banks of the holy river Yamuna when my mother warned us not to wander too far from home: “Some yogi babas are roaming the streets, kidnapping boys to sacrifice them.” Soon afterwards an older uncle explained why one pillar supporting the Naini Bridge over Yamuna was shaped like a leg: “Engineers were having difficulties with the bridge until some yogis offered a human sacrifice to Jamuna-ma. They suggested the leg-shaped design.” The “uncle” may have been misinformed but as eminent a scholar as Nirad Chaudhuri wrote that human sacrifice was indeed common. The first time I heard yoga being mentioned in positive terms was in the early 1980s, after Dhirendra Brahmachari became Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s personal yoga-teacher. Even then, initially the media ridiculed this trend set by the hippies. Our cultural attitude then was admittedly condescending. It was summed up by Dev Anand in 1971 filmHare Ram Hare Krishna. Its most popular lyric was “Dum maro dum, mit jaye gum, bolo shubah sham, Hare Krishna, Hare Ram.” This attitude was not produced by hippies who loved drugs and free-sex. The hippies loved the yogis who had been practicing amoral spirituality for two thousand years. The Ramayan itself taught that the demon-king Ravana acquired his powers through yogic austerities.
Much has changed during the last four decades. Yoga is now considered a respectable fitness recipe and no one is exploiting the therapeutic (or, at least the commercial) value of the yoga brand better than Swami Ramdev. Even he, however, does not sell it as a cure for corruption. This is because corruption is a moral issue and none of the philosophies that promote yoga diagnose human problem in moral terms. Following the Buddha Indian philosophers saw our problem as metaphysical (ignorance). Therefore, they promoted techniques of yoga and meditation for mystical enlightenment that required no commitment to moral purity. Let me explain:
Some yogic exercises as well as mystical Upanishads existed prior to the Buddha. However, the philosophies that give meaning to yoga became popular mostly after Buddha. Patanjali’s sutras which Ramdev promotes were composed at least four hundred years after the Buddha.
The sacrificial religion of the Vedas that preceded Gautam Buddha did consider human sinfulness. It prescribed animal sacrifices as propitiation for our sins. Some sacrifices were offered to find forgiveness. That implied a desire for moral change as well as a view that the universe was both physical as well as a moral system. However, most Vedic sacrifices were intended as bribes to gods to prevent misfortune. Other sacrifices, rituals, and yogic austerities sought favor, power, or revenge on enemies.
Brahminical religion could not inspire followers to seek purity of heart because our gods themselves are unholy and greedy. They do not punish immorality with any consistency. They harass innocent people, creating all sorts of obstacles in their path. Fear of these obstacles is the primary reason why Ganesha has to be worshipped before than other gods. He is depicted with a fat belly because of his insatiable appetite for our offerings. This brahminical use of gods to extract our offerings became so nauseating that the Buddha reacted against the very idea of God.
Once the Buddha rejected god, he had to define the human problem as suffering, not sin. His First Noble Truth was demonstrably true: life is suffering. The question is why is life suffering? Having sidelined god the Buddha had to reject the notion of soul (atman) in favor or no-soul (anatman). Since free-will can’t exist without soul, the Buddha had to reject the possibility that a holy God could punish us for sin we “choose” to commit.
Did a creator then make us to suffer because He/She/It is a sadist? Some European contemporaries of the Buddha, called Gnostics, did think that an evil creator made us to suffer. But the Buddha could not believe in such a bad god. He came up with the innovative suggestion that our consciousness must have come into existence due to Avidhya (Primeval Ignorance), Karma, and desire. The antidote to Ignorance (Avidhya) is Enlightenment, not forgiveness of sin or moral transformation. It makes sense that a life filled with suffering is an accidental product of Avidhya. Assuming that to be the case, the Buddha proposed that we should seek liberation (nirvana) from existence itself.
The Buddha’s logic was powerful. Therefore, even though the old sacrificial Vedic religion continued with some adaptations, the philosophic traditions that followed the Buddha emphasized mystical (not rational) enlightenment.
Patanjali Yoga, for example, adopted Samkhya philosophy, which believes in two realities – purusa (soul) and Prakruti (matter). Samkhya says that the human predicament is that somehow the soul has become entangled with matter (body). Yoga, in the Samkhya view, is a path of Salvation that isolates (Kevalyam) soul from body. Seeking out-of-body mystical experiences remains a goal for many yogis even today. However, most teachers now define the human problem in terms of Adwaita (non-dualism) rather than in the dualism of Samkhya. These teachers of yoga see human misery as caused by the human soul’s (illusory) separation from the divine soul (Brahma). They interpret Yoga as an attempt to unite the human self (atman) with the divine self (paramatman). The effort to separate soul from (illusory) body continues, but that is understood as a means and not the end. The end is merging our finite consciousness into a mystical union with the infinite consciousness, called Brahm.
Thus, although the dualist and the non-dualist traditions define yoga differently, both follow the Buddha in assuming that the human problem is not moral but metaphysical and, therefore, our salvation requires mystical enlightenment (jnana) not moral transformation. This intellectual milieu has governed India for two thousand years and precluded the very possibility of anything like the Sixteenth century Protestant Reformation that created modern Europe.
Our philosophy delayed India’s moral-cultural renewal until the Eighteenth century when western missionaries, beginning with William Carey, brought to us a biblical view of reality. The Bible accepted the fact that life is suffering, but it revealed that we were created to live in bliss (Eden) not in suffering. Suffering came as a curse upon our sin. And sin is not ignorance but a choice made by free will. It is possible for a soul to sin, because our self, though finite, is not maya. It is real, valuable, and immortal. Because human beings are uniquely precious, the Creator wants to save us from our sin. He is not merely the ultimate judge. God is our loving Father. It was His love for us and judgment on our sin that put the curse of human sin upon the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus became the sacrificial lamb, as in the Vedic sacrifice.
The Bible revealed that God is determined to save His beautiful creation that has been marred by sin. Although God’s will is not always done upon the earth, He will re-establish His reign on earth. All that is sinful will be destroyed, but the earth will be renewed like paradise. It will be bliss again. Therefore, God commands us to repent from our sin, seek forgiveness and become holy like God for we were created in His image. God is neither corrupt nor capricious. Therefore, we must love our neighbors as ourselves, not covet what belongs to them. The Bible warns that God respects our free will so much that if we persist in choosing to live contrary to His will, he will respect our choice and allow us to be excluded from His grace forever. That is hell.
This worldview that implied hope for sinful individuals, society, as well as for physical creation made sense to Indian reformers such as Raja Rammohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, and Mahtama Jotiba Phule. These reformers knew western missionaries intimately. They could see how their personal life differed so radically from our “saints,” as well as from greedy, arrogant Europeans. The reformers were also aware that the biblical worldview had a proven track record of reforming entire nations in Europe and North America. Therefore, like the Buddha, they too mustered up the courage to oppose the Brahminical religion that had been fabricated to exploit and oppress. These great men began opposing Hindu myths, superstitions, idolatry, astrology, untouchability, caste, widow-burning, child-marriage, polygamy, and a whole host of intellectual and social evils. They promoted education for boys and girls, journalism, and human equality. These builders of modern India are now despised by Brahmin intellectuals because they followed the Bible, albeit only partially. Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru continued the reforming tradition initiated by these reformers. The question that we have to face is this:
Why did India’s Renaissance create a corrupt culture?
The answer is that Indian reformers were mistaken in putting their hope in “education” (also pioneered by western missionaries). For example, Mahatma Phule expressed his faith in education in his selection of poems, Akhand, in this way, “Lack of education leads to lack of wisdom; which leads to lack of morals; which leads to lack of progress; which leads to lack of money; which leads to the oppression of the lower classes.” As it turned out, the people who benefitted the most from liberal education are often rich in money but poor in morals. Their corruption keeps the Bahujan oppressed.
So what went wrong? The problem was with the implicit assumption that ignorance, not sin, constitutes the human problem. From Rammohun Roy to the early phase of Dr. Ambedkar’s training, “ignorance” was understood in terms of western “enlightenment” or “Rationalism,” i.e., lack of information and understanding. This view assumed that human reason could lead people to truth and, therefore, western-style university education was sufficient to create morally descent “gentlemen,” who will create equal opportunity for all. In Mahatma Phule’s day, education did create gentlemen. But that happened because all European universities, including state funded universities, were religious institutions. They were established by the Church or monastic orders, though they were granted the authority to operate semi-autonomously, under a bishop. They existed to train young people into godliness. It was only around the year 1900 in Europe and by the 1920s in America that a majority of university professors began to think that the human mind could know truth without God. By the 1950s they had come around to agree with the Buddha that the human mind could never find truth (without divine revelation). For example,
Is the universe a moral system?
In a world where the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, there is no reason to assume that the universe is moral or just. If life’s purpose is determined by evolution, then whatever aids my development is good; and morality is simply social convention that seeks to restrain my power, pleasure and progress. Man-made morality is binding on those too weak to live above societal restrains.
Genuine evolutionists have been forces by the logic of their theory to at least doubt, if not reject, the very notion of truth. If the mind (or self) is not made in the Creator’s image, then it can be nothing but brain – that is, mere chemistry. Chemistry can have no “Free-will.” Therefore, self has to be a delusion, as the Buddha thought. Also, if the brain came into existence by chance then it must have evolved merely as an aid to evolution, not to discover abstract notions of truth or goodness. What is morality then? Evolution has come to the same conclusion as Ravana – the yogi: morality is merely a means leaders use to control ignorant masses. Anyone who is powerful enough to get away with breaking moral norms has no need to be ethical.
The Christian West that Rammohun Roy and Phule encountered believed in reason and moral purity because back then it believed that the human self, including the mind, was made in God’s image. That made it reasonable to assume that mind’s processes, including logic, could lead us to truth and goodness. Now, having rejected the Bible, the west has no choice but to resign itself to myths and mysticism. It is being drawn to Hindu and Buddhist (non-rational) mysticism as well as to corruption. From Rajneesh to Ramdev, many Babas are flourishing and the postmodern West is going downhill, morally and therefore also materially.
Good legislation, education, and democracy are all necessary for building a great India. But it is naive to put faith in Godless spirituality, education, or democracy. Adolf Hitler came to power democratically. The majority in Germany supported his murderous corruption of the state, at least in silence. Without a submission to the moral law of God democracy can and inevitably will become a terrible tyranny of a bullied and bribed “majority” in Parliament. Given our non-moral philosophical culture, there are plenty of reasons why yogi-raj can quickly turn into Ravan-raj.
Just, free, and prosperous political cultures have flourished where Individuals, minorities, and the majorities have been bound by the righteousness of a holy God. That is why the Lord Jesus asked his followers to first seek, not enlightenment, but the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
(Vishal Mangalwadi is the author of
The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.)
Click to chat with a LifeMentor
Is chat offline? You can still click the button to leave a message. A LifeMentor will reply to you via e-mail.