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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Bipin Chandra Pal: Dharma – The Basis Of Our Civilization

Source: The Soul of India, Choudhury and Choudhury, 1911

(These) two fundamental characteristics of our culture, detachment and idealism, have been combined – into an organic whole, in our conception of Dharma, loosely rendered by the English word religion. Strictly speaking, the concept is untranslatable. There is, no doubt, some slight affinity between the radical meaning of the two words – Dharma, being derived from Sanskrit ‘dhri‘ to hold and Religion from Latin ‘ligare’ to bind.

Dharma is that which holds together the different elements of a thing and thus combines them into one organic whole. Religion is that which binds men together. The conception of religion is, thus, exclusively human and social; that of dharma is cosmic and universal.

The elements have no religion. We can never speak of the religion of fire, or water, or ether or air. But we always speak in Sanskrit, and all the Sanskrit-derived vernaculars of Bharat, of the dharma of these elements. Heat is, thus, the dharma of fire, coolness of water, sound of ether, motion of air. Everything in creation has its dharma.

The most correct rendering of our dharma is to be found in your word Law—with a capital L. It is law in the specific Emersonian sense,—the Law of Being. And as every object, whether animate or inanimate, whether vegetable or animal or human —has its own law of being, so we can reasonably use the word dharma in regard to them all.

This Law or Law of Being is not, however, imposed upon objects from without, but grows from within, through the general course of their history and evolution. It is what, in the philosophy of evolution, they call a Regulative Idea. It is something constitutional. And as the constitutions of different things differ, so this dharma also organises and expresses itself differently in different objects.

As there are constitutional differences between one individual human and another, so the dharma of one man cannot truly be the dharma of another. It is something essentially specific and personal. The law and course of ethical and spiritual evolution in one person, cannot, therefore, be necessarily the same as that of another.

What is good for one, may not, therefore, be good for another. There must consequently be great diversities of both faiths and cultures in the community, owing to fundamental constitutional differences between the individuals composing it. Hindu Dharma has always recognised this fact. It is, therefore, not one religion, like Christianity or Islam, but a federation of many cults and cultures.

The Hindu society is also, for the same reason, not a homogeneous unit but rather a highly developed organic whole which seeks to realise its essential unity not by denying but openly accepting and harmonising in the totality of its life, the endless diversities of its component organisms.

Like the Hindu religion, Hindu society is also not a unit but a federation of many units. The freedom and integrity of the parts inside the unity of the whole, is the very soul and essence of the federal idea. And in no religion or society that I know of, has this organic federal ideal being sought to be so fully realised as in the Hindu religion and the Hindu society.

And because of this wonderful combination of isolation and association, of freedom and federation, in the very constitution of our society and religion, you find that in a country inhabited by so many different races, racial  antagonism has scarcely been known; and among a people divided into so many sects and cults never had  the stake or the rack been set up for the spiritual benefit of the heretic.

The word of Bharatiya Evolution is Dharma; the word of European evolution is Right. And these two words seem, to my mind, to completely sum up the fundamental difference between Bharat and Europe. Dharma is the law of renunciation, Right is the law of resistance. Dharma demands self abnegation. Right self-assertion. Dharma develops collectivism; Right individualism. Dharma works for synthesis: Right lives and grows in antitheses. Dharma is the soul of order: Right the parent of revolution.

To understand Bharat we must seize the conception of Dharma. To understand Europe we must seize the principle of Right. How then, can the generalisations of European experience, gathered under the Law of Right, help one to interpret the character and culture of India trained in the Ideal of Dharma?

Bharat , my child, must therefore, interpret herself.

-Speech by Bipin Pal 

(Source: The Soul of India, Choudhury and Choudhury, 1911)

(This article was published on on Sept 28, 2018 and has been reproduced here in full.)

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