By Life Positive
For Dr Karan Singh, philosopher, environmentalist, statesman, orator, author and politician, life is a continuous effort to realize the eternal Brahman and work for the greatest common good. He is the chairman of Temple of Understanding, an international inter-faith organization, president of the International Center for Science, Culture and Consciousness, chairman of the Auroville Foundation and member of the UNESCO Project on Universal Ethics. He has extensively lectured on Indian culture and philosophy and has set up ‘India Forum’, a think-tank on contemporary issues. Dr. Singh has also authored several widely acclaimed books, including Essays on Hinduism, In Defense of Religion and One Man’s World.
The growing gap between man’s destructive ability and his capacity for constructive co-operation poses a serious threat to our existence, and unless we can look upon mankind as a single family, it will not be possible for man to survive much longer. The second concept is the divinity of man. The Upanishads have a marvelous phrase for the human race, amrtasya putrah (children of immortality). Every human being in this world, regardless of where he lives or what beliefs he professes, enshrines a spark of the divine.
Thirdly, we come to the essential unity of all religions, ‘unity’ rather than ‘tolerance’, because tolerance implies a somewhat grudging agreement to let other religions continue to exist. What is required is an active acceptance of the doctrine put forward in the Rig Vedic dictum: ekam sad viprah bahudha vadanti (Truth is one, the wise call it by various names). An unequivocal acceptance of the fact that all religions are different paths leading to the same goal forms the true foundation for an enlightened secularism.
Finally, there is the reconstruction of society. It is our duty to work for the betterment of society, bahujana sukhaya bahujana hitaya ca(for the happiness and welfare of the many) as the Upanishad has it.
Born in 1931 as heir to the then-princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Dr Singh was catapulted into political life at the age of 18, when his father Maharaja Hari Singh appointed him regent. At the age of 36, he was inducted into the Union Cabinet. He was a member of the Indian Parliament for the next 18 years and held several major Cabinet posts. All this while, Dr Singh’s spiritual quest continued unabated. In 1953, he undertook a pilgrimage to eastern and southern India.
A few years later, Dr Singh came in touch with Indian spiritual teacher Raushan Nath, which led to a deep spiritual experience. He also worked with dreams under the guidance of his guru, Sri Krishnaprem.
For Dr Singh, life is a continuous wonder. In this interview with Life Positive he talks about Hinduism, the Hindu world view, and the resurgence of spirituality in India.
You have been an eminent proponent of Indian culture and tradition. What is India’s greatest contribution to the world?
I think the Vedantic concepts—the notion of an all-pervasive Brahman, the atman that resides in all beings and the methodology of joining this atman to the Brahman, which is broadly known as yoga. The belief in spiritual quest and primacy of consciousness are deeply embedded in the texture of Indian civilization. This does contribute to the special spiritual dimension that India has given to the world.
What of the other world religions?
Each religion has made a special contribution to human knowledge. However, many religions were born in India. Take Jainism, or Buddhism. India has also been home to creative interaction of religions, Sufism, for instance.
Today, there appears to be an eclectic spiritual revival in India. There is reiki, there is…
You see, our philosophy has always been to accept noble thoughts from various sources. We have never been a closed or dogmatic religion. We welcome reiki or any other system. We are lucky there because we can participate in the pool of knowledge from all over the world.
Do you perceive a shift in consciousness, be it India or the world?
I think two things are happening at the same time. On one hand, there is a tremendous thrust towards materialism. There is an avalanche of violence and negative values in our movies and television. On the other hand, there is a growing section of people who are turning towards spirituality. I have been to several countries and I can see the change. It is a double shift.
But which is a stronger trend?
That remains to be seen. If you look at the history of human race, both negative and positive elements have run parallel. There has never been a time when either has totally dominated the other. Trying to predict the outcome is futile. Instead, we should contribute to the world in whatever way we can. I travel around the world speaking on Vedanta, education, environment, global consciousness—on ‘Life Positive’ in fact. Our tradition is life affirming.
You have traveled all over the world. Which culture or country is most spiritually oriented in your opinion?
You cannot pass a judgement like that. There are communities in California and other parts of America that are deeply spiritual. So it is in Japan and Europe. I don’t think India has a monopoly over spirituality. There are more people practicing yoga in California than in the whole of India.
Once you wrote about Machu Picchu (Peru) as a deeply spiritual place…
I’d like to repeat that I believe there are people and communities around the world who are deeply spiritual. Take the dancing dervishes. They are astounding. Then there are what Carlos Castaneda would call places of power. Machu Picchu is a place of power. In India there is Varanasi, or the Himalayas. But essentially, the place of power lies within us.
Do you follow any particular system of meditation?
I do my own puja. Hinduism is a great do-it-yourself kit. You can take whatever elements you like—chanting, meditation, rituals. I am a worshipper of Lord Shiva.
Have you ever had a guru?
I’ve had a Shakta guru who was an Indian, a Vaishnava guru who was an Englishman and a Shaiva guru who was an American. You see, spirituality is not the preserve of any particular region or religion. In addition, the two leading lights in my life have been Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. But I’m open to influences from around the world.
How would you define the meaning of life?
The meaning of life is to reflect the divine within one’s consciousness. According to the Rig Veda, we should work for the liberation of our souls as well as for the welfare of the society. I try to do both to the best of my capability.
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