Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bhakti as a Social Force

Bhakti as a Social Force

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya
(Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.)

The very heart of Sanatana Dharma consists of experiencing a direct and intimate realization of God in devotion (bhakti). Without such an experience, Sanatana Dharma is rendered devoid of all meaning and purpose. To love God is to embrace Dharma. And to embrace Dharma thoroughly and without reservation is what it means to be a Hindu.

One of the most unfortunate and most damaging stereotypes that many present-day Hindus have about Sanatana Dharma is that a) deep spirituality and b) practical action in the world simply do not mix. In the minds of such people, serious spiritual practice and practical social action are mutually exclusive paths, of which we can only choose one. Such a defeatist scenario is in actuality the very opposite of the realty of Sanatana Dharma. Indeed, holding this incorrect opinion that one cannot be both spiritual and also engaged in the world is in itself just another sad manifestation of the self-denigrating syndrome that we see so prevalent among nominal Hindus today.

When we look at both the history and the teachings of Sanatana Dharma specifically, and of all religions generally, we see that the reality is the opposite of these gross, and very much modern, Western-inspired, stereotypes. The myth of the other-worldly mystic having been rendered incapable of engaging the world around him in a practical and activist manner is an exaggerated stereotype arising more from the speculative minds of spiritually unaware speculators of religion than from anything corresponding to reality. Rather than being socially debilitating, spirituality has always proven itself to be the most powerful motivator for highly practical and effective action in the world.

Bhakti, or single minded devotional meditation upon Bhagavan (God), is not a hindrance to practical social and political action in the world. On the contrary, bhakti has been, by its very inherent nature, a powerful and dynamic social force in the past. Bhakti is an unparalleled motivating force that has induced revolutionary and progressive change. It will also serve as the driving spiritual force that will revive and strengthen Dharma well into the 21st Century.

If we examine the very long history of Sanatana Dharma, we see that it was almost exclusively deeply spiritually-realized people who were always the most practical and successful men (and women) of action. Valmiki, for example, was originally a bandit who then later became a dedicated Rama-bhakta and ascetic sage. It was only after this personal spiritual transformation affected him to the core of his being that he then found himself empowered to compose the enormous literary masterpiece known as the Ramayana in its 24,000 Sanskrit verses. Indeed, the entire corpus of Sanskrit shastras (scriptures) were written by hundreds of spiritually-inspired saints, whose very motivation for writing about philosophy, religion, politics, Yoga, mathematics, sciences, medicine, etc., etc. was their own radically personal self-transformative experience of the presence of God within them. Without the committed scholarship of such spiritually-inspired sages, Hinduism and India would today have been entirely devoid of an intellectual and cultural history! It was the empowerment provided to these sages by God that equipped them to realize unparalleled feats of scholarly and literary accomplishment in this world.

After the ascendance of Buddhism and Jainism in Hindu India, it was again God-realized men of action who - far from retreating from the world and living in their sadhana huts - led dynamic movements that saved Sanatana Dharma from imminent extinction. The great sage Sri Shankara Acharya was known as Dig-vijaya (“Conqueror of All Directions”) because he quite literally conquered the four corners of India, peacefully reestablishing Vaidika Siddhanta (the Vedic Truth) as the preeminent philosophical system on earth, and the only legitimate path for knowing Brahman (God). Shankara was not shy in his assertion that Sanatana Dharma was the most legitimate and direct way of knowing God, and each and every other system was substandard in comparison. He is known to have engaged in hundreds of debates with the avaidika (non-Hindu) Buddhists, soundly defeating them with the superiority of Vedic teachings, and converting their followers en masse to Sanatana Dharma. Hardly an otherworldly dreamer was he!

The great Vedantist philosopher Ramanuja Acharya, similarly, was a radical bhakta (practitioner of Bhakti-yoga) who nonetheless wrote some of the most philosophically profound masterpieces India has ever produced, while simultaneously traversing the length of breadth of Bharata (India) to reestablish the path of bhakti as the greatest expression of Vedanta philosophy. Ramanuja created a revolution in people’s understanding and appreciation of the ancient bhakti tradition, reviving bhakti in the four corners of India, and changing the course of Indian and world history.

Like Shankara centuries before him, the Vaisnava Vedantist Sri Madhva Acharya traveled widely, actively converting thousands of Buddhists and Jains to Sanatana Dharma, and reestablishing Vaidika Dharma in South India. He also urged the kings of South India to physically expel thousands of avaidika Jain leaders from their kingdoms, converting many important kings to the fold of Sanatana Dharma.

Tulasidas, Surdas, Mirabhai, Chaitanya, Sahajananda Svami (Swaminarayana), and a thousand other God-intoxicated revolutionaries fearlessly revived the people's faith Sanatana Dharma during the Islamic holocaust in northern India. Without the practical leadership and hard work of these many bhakti-inspired saints, Sanatana Dharma would most likely have been annihilated by the Abrahamic purveyors of genocide hundreds of years ago.

The biographies of many hundreds of Rajarshis - or courageous and implacable God-realized kings - are recorded in the Puranas. Such philosopher-kings were often known as Chakravartins, due to the fact that they ruled their kingdoms while wielding the figurative “Wheel of Dharma”. Such Chakravartins and Rajarshis were at once the personifications of both Dharmic spirituality and martial nobility. Such rulers exhibited qualities that represented the very best of both the spiritual and the practical worlds. They were philosopher-kings, ascetic-warriors, saintly-rulers, and martial-yogis. These spiritual men-of-action were capable of delivering a profound and moving discourse on Dharma one day, and then leading an army of multiple phalanxes into bloody battle to defend Dharma the next. These Chakravartins were saints-of-action! They are also perfect models of the qualities that we so desperately need in Hindu leaders today.

The Dharmic world is waiting with fervent yearning for the arrival of such Chakravartins today, who will be able to save Sanatana Dharma with the intensity of their devotion, and the powerful authority of their sovereign will.

How many untold thousands of true brahmana (intellectuals/priests) leaders like Chanakya have helped to preserve Sanatana Dharma and served as brave guardians of Dharmic culture? How many saints have served as trusted advisors to kings and empires throughout the history of India, helping to steer the great “ship of state” toward to the path of Dharma?

How many unlimited numbers of fearless yogis, gurus, acharyas, and saints have worked endlessly to keep Sanatana Dharma alive in the face of terrible challenges, conquests, persecutions, and betrayals from within the likes of which so many of today’s "Hindu activists" living in the lap of comfort in Twenty-first Century America, New Delhi, and Mumbai, can only pretend to comprehend, but can never hope to imitate?

Did Swami Vivekananda ignore the real world, or did he fearlessly engage the world, traveling thousands of miles from the only home he knew in order to share the light of Sanatana Dharma with an uncaring world? What of such contemporary spiritual soldiers as Sri Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, or Sri Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, or Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Sri Vamadeva Shastri), or Sri Shastri Pandurang Athawale? It has only been due to the hard work of such sages as these that Sanatana Dharma has been preserved for as long as it has.

Sanatana Dharma will be saved by the emergence of many more such saints and leaders in the immediate future - and such saintly leaders will arise, not from the stars above, but from the ranks of the Hindu community itself. Ours is not a messianic, faith-based religion. Unlike the Abrahamic sects, spiritually-inspired Hindus do not sit in prayer huts and wait for messiahs, saviors, or avataras (the next of whom will not be arriving for another 420,000 years!). We don't hide in prayer closets as the world burns around us hoping only for our own salvation. Again, this is only a childish stereotype of the religious Hindu. Rather, Hindus are a very practical and innovative people. When times are dire, God-inspired leadership always arises from within the Hindu community.

My message to the Hindu community is this: if you want to see an empowered and fearless Hindu leadership arise to lead Dharma into the Twenty-First Century, then YOU must become the leaders you seek. And you must do so, not out of a craving for money, fame, or power, but as a devotional offering of your life humbly surrendered at the divine feet of Bhagavan. True Hindu leadership can only arise from within the Hindu community itself.

It will only be God-empowered Hindu leaders, fueled by the blissful rays of bhakti, fearless in the face of opposition, and dedicated to giving their lives for the greater benefit of the Hindu People and the Dharma Nation, who will be capable of leading Sanatana Dharma and of securing its future in the years to come. Indeed, IT IS ONLY BECAUSE THEY ARE GOD-EMPOWERED that such leaders will be ready, equipped, and able to storm into the world unafraid and confident in their ability to compel positive change upon society, politics, and culture. It is only the power of bhakti that can fuel such dedication and fearlessness.

Bhakti can be the only motivational force strong enough to ensure the degree of self-sacrifice necessary to create true leadership. It is not enough to identify yourself as a "Hindu activist" merely because you find Sanatana Dharma interesting, inspiring, a neat culture that shouldn't disappear, or just because you somehow think it's your ethnic heritage. Such trivial concerns are not enough to promote effective action. The only way a Hindu leader will be truly effective is if he/she has had a direct vision of God in his/her heart so powerful that they see it as their own personal service to Bhavagan to teach others how to love Him. Any lesser motivation only leads to the invisible chains of ego. Only when we have leaders who are on fire with devotion (bhakti) to God will Dharma be saved.

Throughout the history of Sanatana Dharma, bhakti has served as a powerful social force, and has consequently served to change the course of human history. Bhakti will once again serve as a social force today as we face a world that is yearning for truth, for goodness, and for meaningful relief from the manifold sufferings produced by the failed offerings of the cold, secular world we have created. The life-enhancing power of bhakti, coupled with honest and fearless leadership, will bring about nothing less that the Dharma Revolution that we need in our age. I urge you to be Chakravartins.

The Author:

Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya (Dr. Frank Morales, Ph.D.) is an American who has been practicing Sanatana Dharma for over 35 years. He has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies and is recognized by the global Hindu community as one of the leading Hindu Acharyas (Spiritual Preceptors) in the nation. With a large international following of both Indian and Western students, Sri Acharya Ji is especially renowned for his highly authentic approach to Dharmic spirituality, his authoritative and scholarly method of teaching, and his clear emphasis on serious spiritual practice and direct experience of self-realization and knowledge of God. He has lectured on Sanatana Dharma at such prestigious institutions as Harvard University, Columbia, Rutgers, Cornell, Northwestern, as well as for such Fortune 500 companies as Ford Motor Corporation and Lucent Technology. He is the Founder and President of the International Sanatana Dharma Society.

His primary websites are:

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