By Arun Srivastav
Ananda Marga’s public display of vigorous Tandava dance or the more subtle and intellectual Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT) has always created ripples, but the organization has also enlarged its network to 180 countries and has received international acclaim for its relief work
Pundag railway station in Purulia district of West Bengal that borders Ranchi appears just another quaint railway station found in these hilly parts. Impressively clean, red-pebbled platforms and an open railway campus that permits an eyeful of beautiful natural surroundings-Pundag would fit in better in a Ruskin Bond short story.
And this, to some extent, offers justification for setting up the international headquarters of Ananda Marga-the path of bliss-here. Ananda Nagar is spread over a vast stretch of 150 sq km, and was conceived in 1963 as an international city thriving on neo-humanistic ecology, principles of Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT) and dogma-free spirituality.
It has witnessed many political and violent upheavals but today, as its temporary headquarters in Kolkata is being shifted back, that dream of making Ananda Nagar an international city is still alive and is taking concrete shape.
At the core of Ananda Marga philosophy is the radical exposition of human dharma by its founder Anandamurti that the insatiable urge in humans to find unlimited, uninhibited and eternal happiness-bliss-sets them apart from the rest of the creation. Man begins this search in his immediate surroundings, from his near and dear ones and finally goes on to do an entire gamut of mundane worldly things to attain it.
But the limited material world doesn’t bring him that elusive state of supreme happiness. Until he discovers an unlimited and infinite source of such joy-Supreme Consciousness, Brahman.
Clearly then, the goal of every human being is to direct his search towards this Supreme Consciousness and realise that entity, explains Acharaya Kalyaneshvarananda Avadhut, direct disciple of Anandamurti and Principal of Ananda Marga Institute of Technology, defining the premise on which Ananda Marga psycho-spiritual practices and philosophy are based.
Ananda Marga, founded in 1955 at Jamalpur in Bihar, came into full public view in the early 1960s. Since its inception, it has attracted controversies from inimical political forces. This impacted its public image and progress as an essentially socio-spiritual movement.
‘Though the violent political vendetta and a continued slur campaign did quite a bit of damage, Ananda Marga continued to grow rapidly. Today, it has established its presence in over 180 countries through its ashrams or Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team (AMURT).’
‘A band of over 5000 trained whole-timers, of whom 2000 are women, are spreading the message of sadhana, service and sacrifice. These Acharyas teach intuitional practices, including meditation and asanas,’ says Acharya Bhaveshananda Avadhuta, the public relations secretary of Ananda Marga.
In his book, Ananda Marga: Elementary Philosophy, the late Anandamurti studies in detail, some of the vexing, age-old concepts. He says Brahman is greatness himself and blesses those who meditate upon him. Brahman is the composite of Purusha (pure consciousness) and Prakriti (the operative principle).
Parkriti acts on the body of Purusha. When Prakriti is dormant, Purusha is termed as Nirguna and when he is under the influence of Prakriti, he is called Saguna. Prakriti, through its three bondages- sattva (sentient), rajas (mutative) and tamas(static) principles- binds the Purusha to different degrees of crudification.
The goal of human existence is to attain salvation or moksha, the merger of the human mind in the non-qualified entity (pure consciousness, known as Nirguna Brahma). As a prelude, when the human being concentrates on the cosmic mind, he attains a stage of liberation termed mukti, which means freedom from the thought-waves of the movement of the Supreme.
In the normal life of a seeker, he merges only with the qualified supreme entity, which at best can be termed mukti. Total freedom from the bondage of Prakriti is the merger with the non-qualified supreme entity or attainment of the supreme rank, moksha.
‘Your goal is the supreme entity. Yours is a subjective approach through objective adjustment. Your movement is towards the supreme entity. But while moving towards the supreme entity, you are to do all your worldly duties in the social, economic and other spheres. That is, your hands should be engaged in worldly duties, and your mind should be moving towards the supreme entity,’ Anandamurti said in one of his discourses.
He says that service makes the human mind pure and when one does sadhana with that pure mind, one can attain the supreme easily. He insists on the triple values of life-sadhana, service and sacrifice.
‘We see that Baba started with devotion, added karma midway and finally a lot of jnana (knowledge) to it. But he never allowed the focus to shift from devotion-the most valuable treasure,’ says a follower in his write-up in Ananda Marga publication, Bodhi Kalpa.
After founding Ananda Marga, Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, better known by his spiritual name Shri Shri Anandamurti, propounded a socio-economic philosophy, known by its acronym, PROUT, in 1959. Ananda Marga faced violent opposition from both communists and the capitalists from the time of its inception.
Marga Guru, as Sarkar is fondly known, was arrested in late 1971 on the charges of conspiring to kill some of his former disciples. He was poisoned inside the Central Jail in Patna in February 1973. Two months later, he went on a long fast demanding judicial inquiry into the poisoning incident. It was not conceded. Worse followed when Ananda Marga was banned in India in 1975 after a nationwide Emergency was imposed.
The Marga Guru was released in 1978 following the verdict of the Patna High Court acquitting him and four others of all the charges. After his release, he went on to give discourses on intricate subjects like philology, linguistics and medicine, and on the lives and teachings of Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna. On October 21, 1990 he passed away.
Anandamurti’s most profound contribution, PROUT can give lasting solutions to many of the social and economic problems that humanity faces today. It was this aspect of Ananda Marga that inevitably brought it in confrontation with dominant political ideologies of our times.
According to Anandamurti, ‘Capitalism makes the man a beggar and communism makes that beggar a beast and so both are anti-human,’ says Bhaveshananda. PROUT is based on the global vision of individual elevation, which guarantees that each individual carries out activities according to one’s wishes and capabilities.
PROUT guarantees the minimum necessities of life to everyone, assures the provision of special amenities progressively to the deserving, reduces the gap between the incomes of the richest and the poorest, and encourages living in harmony with nature.
Anandamurti remarked: ‘The owners of land are neither the tenants nor the zamindars (landlords). The wrong and illogical propagation that ownership lies with the toiling people only gives rise to conflict. We are to fight capitalism and not the capitalists.’
Sadhana and lifestyle
According to Anandamurti: ‘Morality is the base of human life, intuitional practices are the means and divinity is the goal.’ His spiritual prescription includes adherence to the yama and niyama as elaborated in his book A Guide To Human Conduct. He stressed that human life is a march from imperfection to perfection.
The spiritual practices of Ananda Marga are based on ashtanga yoga sadhana given by Maharishi Patanjali, comprising eight limbs: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. But Anandamurti has updated and revitalised the sadhana system by adding many lessons to suit the needs and psychological development of human beings since Patanjali’s time.
‘He has also made the meditation practices easy and free for all age groups and sections of society,’ informs Bhaveshananda. The spiritual practices followed by Ananda Marga sanyasis and householders are common to some extent. The sanyasis, however, have to learn and practise higher techniques of tantra when they move up in the spiritual realm.
Tandava dance controversy
Lord Shiva, in his Nataraj aspect, is considered the author of the famous Tandava dance. Nataraj’s images adorn most Indian living rooms dancing the Tandava, which is a dance of life and vigour. It gives a new dynamism and vitality to the person who practises it. Anandamurti gave the Tandava dance new life and made it a part of the spiritual practices for all male Ananda Margis.
It activates the subtle lymphatic glands. While dancing, the dancer holds the symbol representing death in his left hand, and in the right hand he holds a symbol representing the fight against death. However, the Kolkata Police Commissioner, on the orders of the West Bengal government, prohibited the Tandava dance under Section 144.
Ananda Marga moved the Calcutta High Court against the order. In May 1990, the court adjudged that the Tandava was an essential and integral part of religious practices of Ananda Margis and they have every right to perform it in public places. The West Bengal Government’s appeal against the order is now pending in the Supreme Court.
Service to humanity
The Education, Relief and Welfare Section of Ananda Marga (ERAWS) founded in 1964, shoulders the main responsibility for social service in education, relief and welfare. Its role is to establish and run primary and high schools and colleges. Its permanent relief section opens and runs children’s homes, homes for the handicapped, asylums for the mentally retarded and homes for the aged.
It currently runs over 1,000 primary schools in India, and over 200 abroad. They also run about 165 children homes all over the world. The main intention of running schools is to impart a value-based system of education based on the motto, Sa vidya ya vimuktaye, meaning education should be for life in all strata of human society.
Similarly, it has been running a large network of children’s homes, students’ homes, rural development centres, charitable dispensaries, medical clinics, hospitals, community kitchens, etc. In Ananda Nagar alone, the Marga runs seven children’s homes for boys. All their needs are looked after till they become self-reliant.
In Ananda Nagar, the Marga sanyasis also run several educational institutions including a degree college, a technology institute, a veterinary college, a homoeopathic college, combined medical college and music college. The medical section of Ananda Marga conducts medical camps and builds hospitals.
It runs over 200 medical centres across the world. The Marga also runs 200 master units, which are rural welfare projects aimed at the integrated development of villages to uplift tribals and socially backward people.
AMURT carries out disaster relief during natural calamities and manmade calamities like communal riots, wars and civil disturbances. In 1991, AMURT was recognised as an international NGO by the UN.
The yeomen service rendered by AMURT during these times of crisis has won it praise from the governments, the media at home and abroad as well as from the public.
The selfless service rendered by AMRUT during the Bihar drought, Koyna earthquake, Bangladesh refugee crisis, earthquakes in Uttarkashi and Dharbhanga, Gujarat floods, successive cyclones in Orissa, Latur earthquake and the recent earthquake in Gujarat remains unparalleled.
During the earthquake in Los Angeles, AMRUT featured at number four on the list of reputed NGOs in The New York Times. During the Latur earthquake relief work, the team sent by Bill Clinton was asked to prepare a report on the relief work.
Raymond Flinn, the American Ambassador to Vatican who headed the team, in his report to Clinton highly appreciated the services rendered by AMURT to the victims of Latur.
‘We feel by our services we can play a useful role in helping the poor, break the cycle of poverty and greatly influence the common man. Our broad international presence enables us to respond to disasters almost anywhere in the world,’ says Bhaveshananda.
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