Thoughts on Patriotism

Brahmachari Arvind Chaitanya

Pujya Swami Chinmayanandaji defines love in three ways. There is first the lower kind of love which is called sneha, and then a higher kind of love which is called prema. The lower kind of love is based on demanding and wanting while prema, the higher kind of love is based on giving. It is a love which makes one give to others. When this higher love is placed or directed towards an altar very high, like the Lord, prema translates itself into bhakti or devotion. In devotion, when such a love is placed at a high altar, Pujya Gurudev says our mind expands, our vision deepens and our functionalities become more efficient. Patriotism lies in the realm of bhakti. Patriotism which is the love that one has for one’s land is thus called deshabhakti, the devotion that one shows to one’s country. By logic, it would imply that this is a love which is based on giving to the nation and not demanding from the nation. It is founded on what we can give, what we can do for the nation. To love a country means to give to the country and to serve the country.

What does it mean to give to or serve the country, as ‘country’ is a very abstract entity. What does it really mean? It means to give and serve the things which make up a country, which are the institutions and the people. Patriotism or deshabhakti thus means giving and serving, in a selfless manner, the people and institutions of a country, and that is what is demanded of all of us.

Pujya Gurudev mentions in another context, a beautiful story. A poor man from the village comes to the city, works very very hard and after many years of hard work, becomes very rich and ends up owning a large portion of the city itself. His son is of course fully endowed with the wealth that his father has earned. However, he has seen his father work hard. So he might not work for he has the money, but since he has seen how his father has worked, he is at least careful in the way in which he spends that money. His son, unfortunately has neither seen his father work, nor has he seen the hard work of his grandfather, and therefore thinks this wealth to be his birth right and assumes he can enjoy and spend it any which way he likes without giving back anything. That person ends up finishing all the wealth, having nothing in the end. This is what typically happens even in a nation’s history. There is one group of people who work and fight hard to win independence. The next generation of people who have seen the others work and are enjoying its results still want to treat it carefully and give something back. The third generation is a tricky generation, for they have never seen the hardship and work that has gone into making them privileged partakers of this freedom and therefore, they think it is their birth-right only to be enjoyed.

Therefore, what we must learn is that we must continue to act and strive all the time, so that every generation coming after learns from the previous generation that it is their duty to continue to serve the land, to continue to give back to the institutions, to continue to give back to the people of the land, and to sustain this freedom, and that is what is demanded of deshabhakti or patriotism.

The Hindu thought construct places more emphasis on duty over right. Before asking the nation what is my right, we must ask ourselves first, what is my duty. If and only if one is able to perform one’s duty, then and then alone one becomes deserving and eligible to enjoy something in return. This we must all keep in mind. It is this thought of serving the nation which is beautifully captured in the Chinmaya Mission Pledge as ‘we live a noble life of sacrifice and service’ emphasising that we must serve first before asking for things in return. Whichever profession one is in, which ever vocation one is in, in which ever station in life one is in, whether one is fifteen or fifty years old, we can still ask this question to ourselves – what am I giving to the nation. It is a noble ideal such as this that we must first fix in our minds, which will inspire us to do things.

The Chinmaya Mission Pledge graciously gives us this ideal when it says ‘to produce more than what we consume, to give more than what we take’. If each one of us can make this the ideal in our lives, whatever be our profession, we can dramatically change our vision of the very acts we are involved in. For example, a doctor treating a patient can say that ‘I treat so that I will get money in return’; or he could say ‘I treat so that the patient is well and happy’; or he could say ‘I treat the patient because I want the nation to be healthy’. If the aim is for the nation to be healthy, then the doctor will not wait for the patient to come to their office but will take the proactive measure to make sure that no patient comes to their office. That is what it means to make a nation healthy, whether physically, emotionally, intellectually or spiritually.

That must be our aim. We, each one of us, must have a noble ideal, we must work towards that noble ideal in the spirit of selfless, dedicated, and inspired service, in the yagna-bhava or spirit of collective effort and contribution, putting duty before rights.

It is my strong conviction that change can only happen at the level of the individual. Only when the individual changes within, can any change happen on the outside. So though the aim is large, the first and the least we could do is to be good individuals with honesty and integrity. Each one of us must learn to live a life of self-restraint, which is very important; instead of living a life of indulgence, of exhibitionism, we must strive to live a life of self-restraint, because a nation does not become independent only because it is free from external political rule. A nation truly becomes free only when everybody within it is free from selfishness. Till the time there is selfishness in the hearts of the people of a nation, a nation cannot consider itself truly ‘free’. We must try to reduce our personal desires, live a life of simplicity and restraint, which will amply aid us to give back more to the society, to communities around us, to the nation.

Another thing we can all do is to pray for the country. Today, many don’t pray at all. Those who do, pray mostly for their personal ends. It is surely very few who might be praying for the wellbeing of their country. In Sanskrit, we have a beautiful prayer,

svasti prajaabhyah paripaalayantaam nyaayena maargena maheem maheeshaah

go-brahmanebhyo shubhamastu nityam lokaah samasthaah sukhino bhavantu

'Let there be good-ness to the people. Let the leaders of the lands lead their country following righteous means, let those who produce things and those who guide us with wisdom always be happy, may every being in the world be happy and content; let the rains always come on time, let the nation be always green with crops and plenty of food, may the country be free of disturbance, may the wise ones who guide be free of fear.'

This is the prayer that the Hindu makes for the wellbeing of the nation and the people around him.

God understands all languages. You can pray in which ever language you know. What it calls for is an earnestness in our heart, an earnest and pure request, ‘please ensure the country does well, let people be righteous, give us the strength to not have too many desires in our hearts, and that we may live self-lessly in this world.’ That is the kind of prayer that we must make.

Which is My Country?

This raises an important question…’which is my country?’ Is it the land that I am born in, is it the land where I study, is it the land where I work? Especially in today’s age of free movement, what is it which I can call ‘my country’ and show my patriotism to? Here again, the Hindu thought tradition provides a beautiful answer. There is a beautiful couplet in Sanskrit:

ayam nijah paro veti gananaa laghucetasaam.

udaara-charitaanaam tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam.

'That something is mine, and this other thing is someone else’s, is the thought of a small-heart, of the narrow mind. For the large-hearted one with a wide-vision, the whole world is his family.'

What a beautiful thought! Hence in the prayer mentioned above, the Hindu prays…’lokaah samastaah sukhino bhavantu’, may every being in the entire universe be happy. With this vision, our patriotism will lie with which ever land we are in, giving and serving selflessly the people and the institutions there. This is the large-hearted patriotism that one must have and not reduce our love to nationalism. While patriotism is a positive and expanding force, nationalism is a negative and limiting force. We must expand our identity beyond the artificial and arbitrary boundaries of even a specific country, to embrace the entire world, the entire universe if need be.

The Hindu thought tradition beautifully outlays this expansion. All of us start out as individuals, educate ourselves as individuals but being together; then one gets married and expands one’s identity to the family. Then it becomes one’s duty to serve the community around, thus expanding one’s identity beyond the family to the immediate society. Patriotism takes it to the next level, making us expand our identities to a much larger and greater whole.

Herein lies the true purpose of patriotism in one’s spiritual evolution. The more we expand our identity, the more we reduce our individual egoity. The more we reduce our egoity, we then start discovering ‘newer lands’. For after all, patriotism and all that is connected to it are but only in-between steps to reach an altogether different land, the land of Kabir.

The Land of Kabir

Kabir sings beautifully in one of his bhajans, ‘ham pardesi panchi baabaa aani desraa naahi’, ‘I am a bird from a foreign land, I don’t belong here, where people are always drowned in ignorance, confusion and sorrow’; and what is Kabir’s land like, he says ’I belong to that land where I sing even without a mouth, where I move even without feet, where I can fly devoid of wings, where I can move about with absolute clarity on my face, free from all delusion, where there is neither the sun nor the moon, but yet there is light and light alone all over, I belong there.’ This land of Kabir is unlike any land we have ever known.

Where is this land? Kabir answers, ‘this land is within this body’. If you ask me where my patriotism lies, it lies not with any land outside, but with that land which is within, that land which is the import of all the Upanishads, of which alone one can truly claim to be a legitimate citizen of. Not just me, but it is the only land that each one of us can truly claim to be citizens of. We consider ourselves as citizens of some land because we are born there, but we are truly citizens of this land within alone, because we are never born here nor will we ever die here. That is who we truly are. That is my land, of light and love. That is the land of the Self, the Atman, the Truth. It is to reach this land that we must all strive.

I pray that with the Lord’s grace and the Guru’s wisdom and blessings, we will all one day claim our true citizenship…nay, our sovereign kingship over this land within, of unchanging, eternal, immutable light, love and peace.

Om Tat Sat

This is an edited Transcript of an informal talk given on 26th November 2017 by the author in conclusion to a symposium for youth and adults on the topic of ‘Patriotism and Nation Building’ organised by the devotees of Chinmaya Mission Mauritius from L’Escalier, in a build up to the 50th Anniversary of the independence of Mauritius.