ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Social and Spiritual Transformation

An Imperative Complementarity

A long and unbroken chain of social and political activists, including M K Gandhi, B R Ambedkar, Paulo Freire, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh and bell hooks, centred their attempts at social transformation around a spiritual understanding of the world. They brought to bear reconstructed spiritual resources to address what they saw as the key challenges of their own time and context. Their work shows that without the inner transformation proposed by the ancient science of spirituality, it would prove impossible to build a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. I would go further and argue that the insights we can draw from this science are critically essential for the very survival of humanity, indeed of all life on earth, in this era of the Anthropocene.

This is a revised version of Shah (2023), which sought to tease out the implications of the ancient science of spirituality for policy and practice in our time. These ideas have evolved during the course of my own spiritual journey, which dates at least as far back as the time I wrote a translation (Shah 1991a) and commentary (Shah 1991b) on the Bhagavad Gita. My lectures at Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Ashoka University and Shiv Nadar University on these issues created huge opportunities for me to learn from my colleagues and students. For their invaluable insights and support, I would like to thank Sanchita Bakshi, Vinay Dabral, Bhargabi Das, Rahul Ghai, Sushma Iyengar, Jinendra Jain, Mayank Jain, Rahul Jain, Shobhit Jain, Sowmya Kidambi, Himanshu Kulkarni, Vipul Mudgal, Vanita Mukherji, Seema Purushothaman, Sriram Ramaswamy, Cherian Samuel, Arvind Sardana, Rohini Singh, R Subrahmanyam, Sandali Thakur and S M Vijayanand.

This paper draws upon the life and work of a pantheon of great thinkers, activists as well as from foundational texts and authoritative sources across multiple religious traditions.1 Current critiques of religious persecution have been framed around the problem of intolerance. However, in this paper, seeking inspiration from Vivekananda, we go far beyond tolerance. In his lecture on “The Way to the Realisation of a Universal Religion” at the Universalist Church, Pasadena, California, on 28 January 1900, Vivekananda (2007, Vol 1: 5) emphasised the need for not mere toleration but acceptance and respect for all religious traditions:

Our watchword, then, will be acceptance, and not exclusion. Not only toleration, I believe in acceptance. Why should I tolerate? Toleration means that I think that you are wrong and I am just allowing you to live. I accept all religions. I shall go to the mosque of the Mohammedan; I shall enter the Christian’s church and kneel before the crucifix; I shall enter the Buddhistic temple, where I shall take refuge in Buddha and in his Law. I shall go into the forest and sit down in meditation with the Hindu. Not only shall I do all these, but I shall keep my heart open for all that may come in the future.

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Updated On : 29th Jan, 2024
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