Periodicals and Books
Periodicals and Books on Guru
SREE NARAYANA GURU’S VISION OF LIBERATIVE RELIGIOSITY: A POST-SECULAR AND POSTRELIGION MODEL1
George Thadathil, SDB
Sree Narayana Guru’s vision is slowly becoming acknowledged as comparable to those of Ambedkar and Gandhi, Aurobindo and Vivekananda. The present article is an attempt to follow up my two earlier articles on the Guru. Here I would like to argue that Sree Narayana Guru’s vision anticipates the contemporary rethinking of the role of religion within Indian society. Religion has been perceived either as a weapon of oppression or as a means of social protest. The tradition we are dealing with seems to favour neither of the above.
After scouting the contemporary post-religious and postsecular scenario, we shall outline the redimensioning of religion accomplished by Narayana Guru, taking the cue from his immediate disciple, Dr Natarajan alias Nataraja Guru.
The last two decades have seen significant changes in the assessment of the role of religion and especially of its stranglehold on peoples. The colonial reading sought to root classical Indian culture mainly in the Upanishadic-Vedantic philosophy. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century revivalism in Hinduism confirmed the role of religion as reinventing a people and their culture. The last decades of the twentieth century saw cultural homogenization proposed as the point of unification of the subcontinent. The goal of establishing a religio-cultural nationalism is a quite steady feature of the socio-political agenda of our times. While modernity and the ideals of the Enlightenment have played their part in the construction of the modern Hindu identity, there is from the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century an alternative move to deconstruct the traditional and classical conceptions of religion. The Dalit, Tribal and Feminist critiques are along this line.
On the global scene, ever since the dawn of the Enlightenment on European shores, there has been a growing bias: Divyadaan 16/2 (2005) 195-228 196 George Thadathil, SDB that of giving prominence to one’s own shore as the only one on the globe. The histories of colonialism, slave trade, propagandist religion, market economy and globalization encapsulate the bias of ‘universalism’ as an ideology that claims the universe for a few millions on one part of the globe. Since the dawn of the twentieth century, however, this myth has been dismantled in slow and measured steps. On the Indian scene, the rise of fundamentalism and the depreciation of secularism open up the need for rethinking the erstwhile cultural primacy of religious pluralism. Does postsecular religiousness call for a shift in understanding of pluralism as ‘a state of mutual exclusion minus conflict’ to ‘the convergence of the fundamentals of different faiths,’ though variously expressed? Or does it mean ‘that every religion requires the other, for no religion has a monopoly over the whole truth’? The present article intends to trace how the Sree Narayana Guru tradition deals with the issue without getting bogged down in either the ‘superiority-inferiority’ debate or the ‘all are equally true’ proposition.
In order to unveil the emerging contemporary consciousness of religiosity, Liberation Theology is taken as a dialogue partner. The dialogue is therefore between the redimensioned religiosity of Guru Vision and the liberative religiosity of Liberation Theology. This dialogue will focus neither on the details of liberative action nor on its structures and methods, but rather on the nature of ‘involvement’ grasped by concentrating on the respective visions as spiritualities. This choice is born out of the conviction that the pre-eminent field of transformation is the level of attitudes, affections and feelings. There is, in other words, a privileging of experience and mythos over thought and logos.
1. Post-Religion Religiosity: Sree Narayana Guru’s Vision
Applying the insights of Sree Narayana Guru’s vision to ‘religion,’ Nataraja Guru maintains that a new interpretation2 of religiosity3 is possible. The insights emerging from this reinterpretation are threefold. We shall first enumerate and then explain the implications: firstly, religion is of the realm of faith, both subjectively (for one person) and objectively (for a group). The ordinary notion of ‘faith’ as a part of religion is reversed, and religion is considered as part of ‘faith.’ Faith is fundamental to being human.4 It is the intrinsic character of the self as related to the Absolute. It is another name for this relatedness.5 In a non-dual perception of reality, ‘being human’ involves faith. Faith is the realization of one’s relatedness to the Absolute — the totality of reality.
Secondly, religion as faith is sustained in and through ‘myths and symbols.’7 Myth is to be regarded not as something fictitious, but as a ‘non-definable,’ ‘non-rational’ horizon of understanding. The ‘symbol’ is not something that points to or signifies something outside of itself, but rather the very symbolization of the reality.8 ‘Myth’ and ‘symbol’ are mediations of reality, of the Absolute.9 They are the area or field of communion of the Self with the Absolute, because they reveal and conceal the Absolute.10 All worship and genuine ritual have their place within this background of the symbolic character of the Absolute. Reality defies total explanation and transparency; it has dimensions that go beyond consciousness and logos.
Thirdly, any action that is rooted in the Absolute is a sacrificial action. It is sacrificial by being generative or creative. A holistic action is a sacrificial action. It is an action that is performed with the welfare of the totality taken into consideration. This concern for the welfare of all is revealed in the search for the happiness of all. Sree Narayana Guru, in his Atmopadesasatakam, clarifies the fundamental link between the ‘one’ and the ‘All’ in this way:
What is dear to me, what is dear to you and what is dear to another;
What is dear to oneself, do realize to be dear to another too. (v.21)
To other man’s interest, that is even mine; what to oneself Is beneficial is so for the other man also; such is the course of Discreet conduct. All acts aiming at each man’s Self-happiness Must spell at once the happiness of the fellow-man. (v.22)
For the sake of fellow-man, unceasing, day and night, Unstinting strives a kindly man. (v.23)
What here we view as this man or that,
Reflection reveals to be the Self’s prime form;
That conduct adopted for one’s Self-happiness,
Another’s happiness must also secure at once. (v.24)
What spells benefit to one, while to another disaster brings,
Such conduct is one that violates the Self; beware! (v.25)
The texture of this new religiosity is identifiable firstly, in the position of faith as a common denominator for all traditions/ religions and belief systems; secondly, in the way the new religiosity of the post-religious/secular era stands for and manifests a human attitude, a rediscovery of the Human in humankind; and thirdly, in the fact that authentic religiosity is not far removed from either genuine culture or welfare-oriented politics.
1.1 Faith—A Common Denominator
Faith is common to all religions, and as such is a potential unifying factor. Besides, every religion has ‘some sort of satisfaction or happiness’12 as an implicit goal; this happiness is another source of unity or else a meeting point between religions. Faith and happiness are internal dimensions of religion. When they become codified in a network of social relationships, there emerge common beliefs and patterns of behaviour, giving shape to the ‘sociological, sacramental and doctrinal’13 dimensions of religion.
These latter constitute the horizontal aspect of religion, whereas the former, ‘faith and happiness,’ constitute the vertical aspect. The perception of a common religiosity in and through faith and happiness sustains the hope of an ever-widening form of ‘new religiosity.’ “Viewed in this light, humanity can belong to only one religion, which is that of Absolute happiness through an absolutist way of life.”
The absolutist’s way of life is reminiscent of the appropriation of human agency and the concurrent freedoms. It is the realisation of the fact that the human being is on a pilgrimage to the centre— one’s own centre and that of reality. If belief is belief, the tenets of belief manifest a certain impenetrability. The fundamental human dimension of faith is reflected in this inability to convert belief into knowledge. The human being faces the project of life as an openended uncircumscribed series of interventions. This is applicable whether one is theist or atheist, fundamentalist or secularist. In short, it is a post-religious and post-secular attitude.
1.2 Religion—A Human Attitude
Religion, as understood in the above sense, is a human attitude. It is the attitude of the human being to the ultimate. It is a result of the realization that the human is an integral component of the real, Being.15 It is a realization that the be-ing of the human is a be-ing of the totality of reality, that the human possesses reality by creating, sustaining and destroying reality. The manner of living flowing from such an awareness is religion.
Faith is the owning up of the responsibility of the totalknowledge-situation (aham-arivu).16 The appropriation of Sat-citamrdam, within oneself, enables a manner of living that is liberative, holistic and integral. We quote the last two verses of Atmopadesasatakam:
Knowledge and I-consciousness—both are one to him for whom the veil is removed; to another there is doubt; if knowledge, having separated from “I”, can become another, there is no one here to know knowledge. (v.99) Neither that, nor this, nor the meaning of existence am I, but existence, consciousness, joy immortal; thus attaining clarity, emboldened, discarding attachment to being and non-being, one should gently, gently merge in Sat-Aum.”(v.100)
Religion, which is a human attitude, is an attitude of ‘freedom.’ ‘Freedom’ here symbolises a new way of being religious, or, better, the most authentic way of being ‘religious.’ Religion as an attitude of freedom is choiceful, decisive, conscientious living. Freedom is thus a sacred attitude. Religion as a human attitude of freedom, or a religiosity resulting from freedom, cannot be regarded as the only religion, because that would amount to negating the need for and validity of all other religions. Such a stand would make this new religiosity ‘another religion’ just like the ones already existing.18 The search for the core of all religions does not end up by promoting another religion; it emerges into a post-religious religiosity.
The genuine ‘One religion’ of religiosity as human attitude is a discovery of the essence of any and all religion as freedom. Therefore, it is neither a running away from existing religions nor the creation of a new religion. True religion is the recognition of the immediacy of the free act. It brings a radical meaningfulness and responsibility to the performance of action, making activity sacred. Any action performed with the awareness of its sacredness becomes a religious action par excellence. 19 Any authentic ‘free’ act, therefore, becomes liberative action, a way to liberation, a way of salvation.20 It is the way of realizing the ‘ideal’ of ‘One religion’ for human beings.
1.3 Religion—Cultural and Political Welfare
The revaluation of the mahavakya of Narayana Guru, “One in Caste, one in Religion and one in God is humankind” leads us to note two distinctive features in the way ‘religion’ can be understood. These further clarify the relationship of religion to culture and politics. This in a way is a reading into the text, an interpretation, which we think legitimate in the light of what we have argued thus far. As we have been saying, religion, for Narayana Guru, is the ‘inner search,’ an act of ‘freedom’21 that sets each individual on the path of salvation, of atmasukham. Since the desire and search for atmasukham or spiritual happiness is common to all, ‘religion’ can be conceived as a fundamental human attitude. But we can go further and consider the common welfare that the ‘one religion’ urges each participant and follower to pursue. This is the first distinctive feature in the way religion can be understood.
The second feature consists in the fact that, whether one talks of God (Daivam), Caste (Jati) or Religion (Matham), it is done always in relation to the human being.22 The primacy of the human being calls for the dictum, “One in Caste, one in Religion Sree Narayana Guru’s Vision of Liberative Religiosity 201 and one in God is humankind.” It captures an insight that there is a ‘Oneness’ within and surrounding the human being — whether it is in relation to the Divine (God), or in terms of the Human community (religion) manifested in the world of ethnicity, language and caste (jati, species23 ). The ‘Oneness’ of the human community is a symbol of the oneness of the divine and cosmic dimensions of the real. The human community in its “collective communitarian, inter-relational domain,”24 is symbolized by ‘religion.’
Religion (matham),25 as the human realm, is a symbol of reality, the Absolute. Within it, whatever enhances and constitutes relationality and interdependency are part of and related to ‘religion’(matham). It is here that culture and politics get intermingled with religion or become non-dually related to religion. Culture and religion mutually support, construct and enhance each other. Development or growth in religion affects culture as much as cultural changes affect religion. The history of religions and evolution of cultures are ample proof of this mutual interpenetration.
Similarly, religion and politics have a nuanced, non-dual relation. Religions and politics both aim at the human community’s welfare. They are one in their goal but different in the means employed, though even here there is a mutual critique. The relationship of religion and politics is evident from the histories of state and ‘Church’ or ‘religious hierarchy’ in all the cultures. A total merger of religion and politics results in theocracy; a total separation results in the secular state and private religion. The goal of human welfare (salvation, liberation, moksa) is a concern not only of religion but also of politics, and the means used to arrive at the goal are the concern not only of politics but also of religion.
We could continue in this manner with our description of the interrelationality of the spheres within human community: not only are culture and politics related, but also other realms such as economics. However, the point we are making is that religion is a symbol of the interrelativity within the human community.
To summarise, religion (matham) can mean two things: first, the inner search or path of freedom which is an individual and personal dimension; and second, religion as the collective search 202 George Thadathil, SDB for human happiness. The two, though distinct, are not unconnected. The former has received attention as spirituality, whereas the latter is regarded as the institutional, external and politicised face of religion, where religion is perceived as a ‘function’ of or within culture. The direction of post-religious religiosity and post-secular secularity lies in the former perspective.
But what motivated the emergence of the new religiosity outlined above? The answer is the socio-historical context in which Narayana Guru lived. In Narayana Guru, the liberative potential of genuine religiosity breaks through the shackles of the stratified and insitutionalized religion of the time. The plight of the human being, bogged down in the mire of lethargy, negativity and blind forces of tradition, goaded Narayana Guru to action on a war footing. He identified the decadence of religion as one of the causes of decadence in society. He rejected what was practiced in the name of religion and set the foundation for a new religiosity superceding the boundaries of existing religions. He thereby provided the tools of empowerment to a people shattered by tradition and by their past.
The massive conscientization among a people and the organizations and structures that were set up continue to echo the message of ‘freedom’ and ‘power.’ Narayana Guru succeeded in relating the spiritual to the material, the self to the other, oneself to one’s neighbour. His vision unleashed a hidden power of renewal from within Indian society. He has broken the chains that shackle tradition from being able to respond creatively to the needs of the time.
Nataraja Guru, one among many prominent immediate disciples, carried forward the legacy of Narayana Guru by working to overcome the divide between the sciences, philosophy and religion. Nataraja Guru anticipated, in his own way, the postmodernist critique of modernity, and carried out a diatribe against the exaggerations of a logos-centric, rationality-dominated Western civilization. Immersing himself within the Western tradition, he recovered a lost wisdom tradition and re-emerged with power. Further, he pointed out to the modern wo/man a path towards the ever-elusive goal of ‘One World.
2. Post-Secular Secularity: Liberationist Utopia
We shall now look at the manner in which liberationists within the Christian fold envisaged the movement towards a just world.
The history of religions reveals recurrent efforts to redimension religion in order to make it serve its purpose. Whenever religions became blunted in their ability to achieve their goal, there has been a revaluation or redimensioning. We have been tracing the contours of one such process in the attempts of Narayana Guru and the tradition that he began. In order to accentuate its contribution, we now place it alongside a similar re-dimensioning within the Christian religion, the one introduced by Liberation Theology.
Liberation Theology is at the forefront of contemporary Christian consciousness.29 This new consciousness is a direct response to the contexts in which it arose. After World War II, there was a euphoric expectation of a united and reconstructed world. It was a period of hope, as colonialism gave way to new nations, and as the United Nations took up the responsibility of monitoring the welfare of peoples across the world. Despite developmentalism, however, this hope was belied. By the middle of the 1960s, the structural nature of the evil behind the perpetuation of poverty and injustice was exposed.30 The hidden agenda of ‘neocolonialism’ came to light.
The Christian response in the third world to this situation of oppression and injustice came to be known as Liberation Theology. A Marxian critique of society along with sociology of knowledge31 created a new awareness about the material, physical, this-worldly nature of the liberation promised by Christ and the need to work for the same. Liberation Theology emerged as a cry from within the ‘Basic Christian Communities’32 in their struggle for freedom from their oppressors. The motivating ideology and the spirit of resistance came to be known as Liberation Spirituality.
The reliance on Marxian principles and analysis by Christian groups and movements came under attack. The liberative efforts within Christian countries of the third world were either quelled peacefully or put down violently. The oppressive local regimes were often in collusion with the megapowers. An ideological resistance manifested itself in the domination by other Christian countries with their traditional and Eurocentric conception of Christianity.
The challenge thrown up by liberationists was thus cultural and economic as well as political and religious at the same time. It was a demand for freedom for and by people at the periphery. It was a call to face poverty as a human and social evil rather than as something having purely financial dimensions. Without entering into details (the movement is profusely documented and the literature is still growing35 ), suffice it to say that there is in the world an unjust structure working for the benefit of a few to the disadvantage — to the extent of death and decimation — of the majority. The Christian response in such situations of outright injustice cannot but be one of resistance to the oppressive forces, because God is on the side of the poor as Jesus and the Bible consistently reveal.
Though this is ordinarily associated with the countries of Latin America where the Christian population is sizable, the movement has had almost simultaneous expressions in other parts of the third world as well. It has many forms like feminist liberation, black liberation, Dalit liberation37 and Asian liberation. Our intention is to highlight the break with the traditional conception of religiosity brought about by liberationist religion within Christianity. We shall do so by commenting on four aspects: a new conception of salvation, the primacy of the poor in the interpretation of the Word of God, the emphasis on the context, and the newness of spirituality. Our exposition shall be followed by a cross-cultural comparison between the spirituality of liberation and the spirituality of Narayana Guru.
3. The Non-Duality of the Post-Secular Post-Religiosity Models
In our third and final part we shall attempt to do three things. First, we will establish that the vision of Narayana Guru is a Spirituality of Liberation in the Indian context. Second, we will draw certain parallels to the Christian liberation spiritualities of the third world. Third, we will propose the birth of a post-secular religiosity in the meeting of ‘religiosity’ and ‘poverty,’ as exemplified in in Indian Liberation Theology and in the approach of Narayana Guru. Our intention is to note that any genuine solution to the Indian (world) problems of cultural/religious pluralism and economic/social disparities calls for a meeting point, and that such a meeting point is available in the work of Narayana Guru.
The Indian word for ‘liberation’ is Moksa, understood ordinarily as something personal, individual and spiritual. In Narayana Guru, instead, we consistently find two points: first, he was a social activist who worked for the upliftment of a people who were dispossessed economically, socially and culturally; second, he was a philo-sopher (lover of wisdom), religious thinker and spiritual person. In contrast to the traditional separation of social activism and spirituality, especially in the Indian wisdom heritage, the meeting of the practical and theoretical, of spirit and matter in the vision of Narayana Guru mark him out as an a-dvaitin with a difference.
Narayana Guru was an a-dvaitin (without denying other strands in his vision). The man and his accomplishments reveal the spiritual depth of his understanding of reality, of God-World-Man. His involvement in the socio-political context of his day marks him without any doubt as a ‘liberationist’ of the socio-political order. The manner in which he combined these two dimensions is what makes ‘his way,’ a genuine Indian liberationist-spirituality. We shall now look into its content.
3.1 Non-Dual Spirituality
Narayana Guru’s vision is his spirituality. His vision is summarized in the phrase “One Caste, One Religion, One God, for the Human being.” It is at once a statement on God (as human conception of Divine); on the World (as sum total of all the species in it); and on the Human (as community, as network of relationships sustained by religions). The vision is non-dual in the sense that it is ‘cosmotheandric’ and ‘trinitarian.’ Reality is what it is primarily as constructed by the human component of its tri-dimensionality. The integral welfare of the human is primary and ultimate. Narayana Guru’s vision of integral liberation is clearly centered on the human being.
The dictum “One Caste, One Religion, One God for the Human being” is a vision and a programme of action for humankind. The human being is the centre and the goal of this vision. ‘Reality’ is what human beings make of it.80 The human being’s conception of others of the same species is concerned with maintaining the World for total human welfare. It promotes a mutual, non-greed based relationship. Further, one’s relationship with fellow beings is what lies at the root of religions. Religions, in other words help sum up the socio-political and cultural ordering of any society at any given time. It is in this ideational sense that the Indian reference to religion as Dharma is to be seen. Dharma is not just one aspect of social existence, but rather the sum total of relationships.
The threefold stress on ‘Oneness’ in the dictum reveals a spirituality of non-duality. Firstly, in the efforts to preserve the integral order of the Cosmos, human investment cannot but be singular or ‘One,’ a question of preserving the one geo-ecosystem. Secondly, no human being can be excluded from the inner search and freedom that nurture relationships paving the way for ‘One’ religion. Thirdly, the human being’s perception of the Divine is a consequence of the integral, interrelated, interdependent character and being of reality. In other words, perceiving the ‘real’ nature of the world and of religion, the human being (Wo/man) will have to acknowledge God, the Divine, as ‘One.’
Therefore the above vision, when considered as a project to appropriate ‘Oneness,’ reveals a new dimension of religiosity as secularity. In other words, the ‘Oneness’ perceived in the human being’s openness to reality is a post-secular vision. The vision, in the process of being appropriated by the human being, is a spirituality that can be characterised as post-religious. The post-religious religiosity or spirituality is the vision of a post-secular secularity.
What bearing did this integral vision and its method (spirituality) have on the socio-political liberation of a caste-ridden society? How does Narayana Guru’s vision and method differ from the revolutionary (Marxian), Ambedkarian (Dalit) or Gandhian (Pacifist) styles? How far was his liberative praxis different from a mere compliance with the Sanskritization process? In answer to these queries we shall look into the mystical component of his liberative praxis, placing it side by side with the mystical component of liberation spirituality.
3.2 The Open Secret
If we were to sum up the reinterpretation of Guru Vision by Nataraja Guru, it would be to say that the writings and activities of Narayana Guru had a fourfold import: “pragmatic, philosophical, mythological and mystical.”82 These fourfold implications could be related to the quaternion as follows: the pragmatic and philosophical vertically, and the mythological and mystical horizontally. A fourfold interpretation of Narayana Guru’s life and activities is possible because of the ‘Absolute-neutral-stand’ from which he functioned. He was a Jivanmukta, a ‘liberated self’ acting dispassionately,83 but fully conscious and aware of the relative realm of day to day existence. It is such a standpoint, and action therefrom, that makes us speak of the mystical tenor of his liberative spirituality.
What we mean by the ‘mystical’ in Narayana Guru is his ability to overcome or transcend polarities without evading the tension necessarily involved. In the language of liberation spirituality, it would be ‘to have known God and the world alike,’ the objects of “contemplation and of action.”84 Or, “the contemplation of God is simultaneously a contemplation of the world with God’s eyes; and the practice of God is the implementation of God’s word according to God’s will. Thus the movements of contemplation and action are not ‘diversified,’ as if the one were referred to God and the other to the world.”
What Nataraja Guru calls ‘the absolutist stand,’ then, is to act in the relativistic (socio-political) context with ‘God’s eye;’ in Gutierrez’s words, it is action that is ‘free.’ This is a ‘mystical’ solution, the only solution to overcoming the polarities of oppressor and oppressed, persecutor and victim. An action that is socio-political and purely from a relative (victim’s/ victor’s) standpoint would only repeat the show if the revolution turns out victorious, with the oppressed becoming oppressor in turn.86 We would like to clarify further the above cross-cultural assertion by taking just up one issue—the respective understandings of the ‘Self’ in Narayana Guru and Liberation Theology. In order to highlight the conception of ‘Self,’ we shall place it against the prevalent notions of the same in three prominent cultures of the world, despite the risk of easy generalization.
Among the prominent civilizations, the Chinese value society the most. Careful delineations of the relationships between people are found in Chinese ways of life. “There are special names for family members and special terms of respect for friends outside the family.”87 On the personal level of relationship there is a great element of thoughtfulness, courtesy and regard. In contrast, in a crowd there is no such consideration for the ‘other.’ In a way, within the Chinese frame of reference, the ‘other’ as family member or friend is a part of a person’s definition of ‘self,’ but beyond the circle of family and friends, the ‘other’ is a non-person.
In the Indian society, one notices a great sense of conscientiousness about personal hygiene. There is fastidiousness about bodily cleanliness, clothes, preparation of food and order in the house. But once one is outside on the street, there is no such consideration. The street is a place where dirt can and does accumulate. This indicates that the ‘self’ extends to one’s body and the immediate dwelling, but not beyond it and outside its boundary. Outside of the body, the self does not belong, the self is not a part thereof, it is non-self. The environment of the community and the wider world is not part of the self.89 If we turn to the Western world, we find great respect for the individual, the human person, finding expression in gentleness and formality in relating. All developments and progress are for the comfort and welfare of the human person. But this attitude coexists with a ruthless aggression towards nature and disregard for the environment, the cosmos. The ‘self’ is restricted to the ‘self of the person’ and that too of the white race. A disregard for non-Western peoples and their environment is a glaring characteristic of modern Western civilization. The ecological problem has become a global problem in and through the concept of ‘self’ as anthropos alone.
3.3 Liberationist Non-Duality
The awakening to the discriminatory treatment of the poor of the ‘third world’ lies at the root of liberation struggles, movements, and spiritualities.
We are, for the moment, concerned with the differences in the perception of the ‘Self’ in the two respective spiritualities of liberative involvement.90 Differences may be perceived most especially in the conceptions of the relationship between the ‘Self’ and ‘God’ or ‘Absolute.’
Sobrino and Gutierrez brought about a paradigm shift in Christian spirituality. It is within this new perspective that we get the best entry into the conception of ‘Self’ in Liberation Spirituality. The duality between ‘contemplation and action’ is part of the old paradigm, where action is secular and contemplation spiritual. The shift has been brought about by the use of two words, ‘gratuity’ and ‘response.’ In the new perspective, both action and contemplation are infused with gratuity and response. We act because the situation demanding the action is a gift, something that is gratuitously given. Our action, therefore, is simultaneously the reception of the gift as well as a response to the gift. We easily perceive this gratuitousness in our experience of friendship and love, where there is a free choice and free commitment on the part of the one who loves or offers friendship and the one who responds. Gratuitousness is the perception of grace in the given situation and freedom is one’s response of involvement in the situation.
The socio-political, economic-ethnic, religio-cultural dimensions of the here and now (geographico-historical) situation come to oneself as the gift of the Divine: the Divine pole is confronted or met with in and through these dimensions. One’s manner of being, acting (contemplation or action) is the response to the ‘Real,’ to the Divine. The relationship between ‘Self’ and ‘Absolute,’ Man and God, Reality as gift and Oneself as response is the Primary Dualism of greater significance. It is to this truth that Sobrino refers when he says:
The ultimate, primordial duality that makes spirituality possible cannot be sought in the distinction between contemplation and action. Rather it lies in the irreducible duality implied in the human being’s relationship with God.
This duality, nevertheless, is subsumed into a deeper unity, the unity of experiencing ‘gratuity’ on the part of God and at the same time as a ‘response’ on the part of the human being. It is the perception of this ‘unity’ (as a possibility in God’s way of seeing) that can overcome the duality between ‘Contemplation’ (of the Self in action) and ‘Action’ (of the Self in contemplation). The spirituality of liberation is spirituality in the Christian (Western) sense only when the duality is there (between God and Man). But at the same time, if perceived through God’s eyes (mystically), there is no duality, or in other words, the duality is subsumed. It is this ‘mystical insight’ that enables the poor of the world, and those who work for and with them, to realize that they are being “graced by God” and are being “transformed into grace for others.”92 Another way to overcome the duality implicit in action and contemplation is in and through ‘love.’ Spirituality is “freedom to love.”93 Love, which presupposes and includes contemplation, is action. Thus in love, “the moment of action is neither separated from, nor subordinated to, nor consequent upon the moment of contemplation.”The direction is towards unification but it always presupposes and begins from a duality.
3.4 Renunciation and Reclamation of Self: the Root Paradigm
The notion of ‘Self’ operating in the spirituality of liberation can also be clarified with the traditional word ‘self-abnegation.’ Both contemplation and action stand in danger of being vitiated. A self-seeking that refuses to undergo the ‘baptism of the cross’ and accept ‘self-sacrifice’ (Rom 12:1-2) is in no way a spiritual journey. One could seek contemplation and/or action in all earnestness and still be promoting ‘oneself.’ Therefore the move to ‘self-abnegation’ becomes a criterion for reclaiming the Divine, God. The Christian tradition presents, as the model for such abnegation, the person of Jesus, the ‘God-Man’ Christ.
The kenosis of the cross is a symbolic paradigm of the tension to be preserved in the polarisations of God and World, Man and God, World and Man. Therefore “one can always touch God in Man and reach Man in God, provided one opts for the cross, where alone, love for God and love for Man are convertible.”95 Seeking God in total self-abnegation, one touches the depths of the Human. And conversely, in committing oneself to human liberation without self-seeking, one experiences God. What is implicit is a discovery of the merger of the Self and God, in the letting go of the Self—a ‘mystical discovery’ of Western Christian tradition.
In our study, we have more than once hinted at the diverse Indian approaches to reality that influenced Narayana Guru. We mentioned Saiva Siddhanta in particular. The Guru was also influenced by the Alwars and the folk traditions of the coastal regions of South India. Darsanamala gives us special reasons to confirm his familiarity with the Buddhist tradition as well as the other Darsana schools. We return to these biographical references because his spirituality of non-duality is best manifest in his personality: he was open to English education as well as the revival of Sanskrit education; he admitted students of all castes and religions to his schools; he established temples and insisted that they be centres of masseducation rather than of religious ritualism; he founded the Gurukula for would be Sanyasins but did not debar marriage. These not only reveal the non-dual facet of the Guru’s personality, but also project him as a forerunner of the contemporary concerns of folk traditions, Dalit world-views, tribal meaning-systems and feminist alternatives. Even in his day, between the demands of denouncing the conception of a super-religion of Vedantic mould and having to promote folk-Dalit religiosity, he showed it possible to acknowledge and transcend both, and thus be true to the religiosity of ‘non-duality.’
One characteristic of his vision that shines through his person as well as his works is the definitive link between spirituality and renunciation. At the heart of his vision is hidden the great pearl of ‘renunciation.’ To be ‘non-dual’ is to appropriate the essence of renunciation. To ‘renounce,’ on the other hand, is to be ‘non-dual.’ A-dvaita is, in this sense, a renunciation of dualism, a renunciation which is a transcendence of the two poles of the duality. Renunciation cannot be static, nor can it be solidified. The truth of ‘renunciation’ comes alive only in the discovery that the very desire for renunciation needs to be renounced
In the vision of Narayana Guru, the Self is the Absolute. The Absolute is Reality. Reality is Cosmotheandric. The perception of ‘Self’ is perception of God, of World, of Other Human beings at one and the same time. Fundamental to the liberative spirituality of Narayana Guru is non-duality and the freedom implicit in non-duality. Non-duality is the realization that the ‘Self’ and everything ‘otherthan-Self’ are ‘not-two.’ It is a manner of be-ing by transcending even the ‘Primary Dualism,’ a realm of which no description is possible but only surmises can be made. The ‘Absolute-neutralstand’ is the transcending of Primary Dualism at the heart of Reality, at the meeting point of all polarities.
There is, as a consequence, no trace of any preference for any one country, people, or religion. A method of liberative action rooted in any such preference will lead to discrimination of ‘another.’ The only really liberative action is therefore the fallout of a neutral, absolutist stand, a contemplative stand, a ‘free’ and ‘nonaligned’ stand. One has to transcend affiliations to religions, to nations, and to race and language in order to be a genuine liberator, to journey on the path of Liberative Spirituality. One’s spiritual journey can only be a letting go of all identities, even while struggling tooth and nail to hold onto them.