29/12/2015 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Tracing The Roots Of Intolerance And Finding A Way Out: A Roadmap From The 'Gita'

Geeta  bhavan, Swargashram, Rishikesh
Neetesh Gupta/Flickr
Geeta bhavan, Swargashram, Rishikesh

With the Mahabharata, the epic war between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, replete with narratives of strife and conflict as its essential background, the Bhagavad Gita's message to humanity in regard to the problem of hatred and intolerance in human society at large is quite relevant.

How deep are the roots of hatred and intolerance in human nature? What is the essential nature of these tendencies? Can any religion in its essential truth support these tendencies? In other words, can one nurture hatred and intolerance and yet be truly religious?

The Gita lays down the following imperatives for one to be a true lover and beloved of God (XII-13,14):

● To be free of all malice and hatred towards all beings.

● To be free of all sense of egoism, all I-ness and my-ness.

● To have friendship and compassion for all beings.

The Gita also distinguishes between Divine Lots and Demoniac Lots. Few people exclusively fall into any one of these categories. We, as ordinary humans, draw our share from both the lots, tilting towards the one or the other in their sum total.

The cluster of virtues that goes with a godward orientation, called the Divine Lots, incorporates generosity, compassion, absence of injuriousness and excessive pride. The cluster of qualities that fall to the Demoniac Lots includes arrogance, hypocrisy, overweening pride, wrath, harshness.

[N]o religion ... can promote hatred and intolerance, as the path to attaining all true spiritual realisation... essentially passes through a deepening process of selflessness

Can any religion in its true essence provide room for fanaticism, hatred and intolerance culminating in violence? Hatred and intolerance are not uncommon to human nature at large but combined with fanaticism they make a very deadly proposition.

The following categorical imperative for one to be a true devotee denies all room for hatred, intolerance and violence towards people of different leanings, religious or otherwise:

"He by whom the world is not afflicted or troubled, who also is not afflicted or troubled by the world is my beloved." (XII-15)

In fact, no religion in its true essence can promote hatred and intolerance, as the path to attaining all true spiritual realisation, with or without faith in God or Soul, essentially passes through a deepening process of selflessness, and selflessness is the soil where no antagonism, hatred or intolerance can take root and grow.

But where does the remedy to the present state of the world and human society at large lie, with hatred and intolerance often tilting the balance towards the Demoniac Lot? What clues does the Gita hold out to us?

At individual level, an essential spiritual path that the Gita lays open for spiritual progress as well as material well being involves the mastery of the lower self with the higher self:

Deliver the lower self with the higher self...

Thus conquered, to the man, his self is a friend...

Not thus in possession, his own self acts as an enemy to him. (VI-5,6)

Thus without this mastery of the lower self, one remains susceptible to harmful tendencies in one's own nature. A person with hardened tendencies like hatred and intolerance is as much at risk to themselves, as these tendencies with their own nature as these tendencies may recoil upon themselves. But as humans we have the power to purge certain traits and tendencies by growing and staying in pure awareness of them and mastering the lower self.

We need to be aware of the egoic self - which is rooted in ignorance -- at the individual as well as collective level. It is in ignorance that negativity, malice, hatred and intolerance are born and grown.

Our egoic self binds our life, work and relationships in calculated narrow interests instead of letting them grow in some selfless, larger good.

We also need to understand the hardening impact on our consciousness of the qualities that fall into the Demoniac Lot. As the Gita puts it:

The Divine Lot leads to release,

The Demoniac Lot is considered to lead to bondage. (XVI-5)

No wonder every act of hatred and violence invariably creates a chain of action and reaction and deepens the bonds of antagonism between peoples and societies.

The Gita categorically states the harm we bring to ourselves as well as to society at large if our temperaments are consumed by the Demoniac Lot and we act out our egoic self:

"In the egoism of their strength and power, in the violence of their wrath and arrogance they hate, despise and belittle the God hidden in themselves and the God in men." (XVI-18)

Our egoic self binds our life, work and relationships in calculated narrow interests instead of letting them grow in some selfless, larger good. It does not let them open out in their free spiritual potential, thus creating conditions for intolerance and conflict, malice and hatred. As a solution to the ills and evils that arise from the egoic self, the Gita first gives us the principle of soul or higher self and then sets out to guide us how the lower or egoic self must dissolve and lose its unhealthy moorings in greed, selfishness, malice, narrow attachment, hatred and intolerance. It outlines how we can find healthy moorings in connectedness with the higher self, to all life, and let our work and relationships grow in the principle of giving.

As we contemplate the holistic world view intimately woven in the philosophical fabric of the Gita, its essential message for humanity becomes evident to us:

• All life is connected...

• All life owes its origin to the Supreme...

• All beings are born of the Supreme...

• All elements and essentials of life find their origin in the Supreme...

(Though each statement sounds similar, each holds a distinct truth.)

Such a worldview brings out how all life shares elemental material commonness as well as essential spiritual connectedness naturally, giving rise to the following principles which we must deeply imbibe for a better world:

• Connect spiritually...

• Relate essentially...

• Grow mutually...

Thus, all our individual as well as organisational pursuits must imbibe the following principles to eradicate at root all hatred and intolerance:

• Act for a larger good...

• Relate to consolidate the collective material conditions for the common well being of all life...

• Connect to associate the Divine Lots in all mankind...

• Associate to grow together the higher possibilities and potential of all mankind...

If all life is connected then mutual growth becomes the natural principle. If all life shares essential elemental material in common, indistinguishable with the well being of the entire world, then taking good care of our planet as well as all life upon it becomes our common global concern. If all life essentially flows from the Supreme then egoic clashes and conflicts lose ground to take root and build up. This is sure to become a reality as individually as well as collectively we gradually rise above the lower self where egoic clashes and conflicts are rule and join together in holistic and wholesome relationships and associations in the higher self, where love and compassion, peace and unity are the normal ambience.

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