The Message of Sri Basaveshwara

- R. R. Diwakar

Man lives in several dimensions—such as physical, vital, mental and so on — at one and the same time though he is conscious only of one at a time. It has been possible for him to do so because the dimensions mentioned above are not isolated and separate from one another but are inter-penetrating, and they find their integration in a unitive existence of the human being. Since I want to deal here only with two dimensions, I need not go into the details of other dimensions. The two dimensions I am thinking of are the world of thought and the world of action. Sometimes these are referred to as the inner and the outer world — the two worlds, the poet Spender has spoken about and written.

Among men and women too there are usually two types of people: those who live predominantly in one of the dimensions, the inner world or the outer world, the world of consciousness or the world of sense objects; to be more explicit, they can be called the world of thought and the world of action. I have deliberately used the word predominantly, because it is impossible to live in any one of them exclusively. The inner and the outer worlds keep acting and reacting on each other and human consciousness or the conscious human being has to deal with both, though with varying emphasis. Those who live more in the inner world or in the world of thought and are conscious more of themselves and their thoughts than of the outer world are called introverts. The other type is more conscious of the outer world and comes under the category of extroverts.

There is a third type of persons however, which is not common. These persons are equally at home in both the worlds, nay, they feel called Upon to function in both the worlds and are not satisfied only with the one or the other. They look upon both these worlds as complementary and in their eyes each is incomplete without the other. Existence, life, being is integral and it does not make any difference between the world of thought and the world of action. They have to harmonise with each other and a synthesis of thought and action has to be worked out. The path to the perfection of manhood and humanity lies in the direction of this synthesis, the synthesis not only of these, namely, the world of thought and the world of action, but the harmonisation and synthesis of all the dimensions man can be aware of through the present as well as the potential and future powers of his own consciousness.

What I have been saying would be clearer if I cite some examples. Usually typical Western philosophers like Kant, Hegel and others are men of thought and they dominate that world. They scarcely think in terms of entering the field of action and moulding life according to their ideas and ideals. Even today, the great living Existentialist philosopher and author, Jean Paul Sartre, excuses himself from action by saying that ‘writing’ itself is action, action in self-discovery! Indian philosophers however, usually belong to another category. Shankara, Ramanuja, Madliva were philosophers of the highest calibre but they were not satisfied with philosophising. They not only moulded their own lives according to the philosophy they preached but also tried to sec that the society in which they lived was deeply affected by their philosophy. To give another example, I can say that Marx and Engels were men of thought while Lenin and Stalin were men of action. This does not mean that Lenin and Stalin did not contribute to thought; but their thought arose out of their attempts to apply the philosophy of Marx to the problems of the day.

The world of thought and the world of action differ from each other like theory and practice. A philosopher when out philosophising does build his thought structure on the basis of facts and experience but once he begins to build his thought-system, there is no obstacle in his path to upset his theory. In the case of a man of action, he has to test his theories in the practical world of action. No theory is valid unless it is tested by practical application and no action can be explained logically except by the Support of some theory. A theory without practice would he hanging in a vacuum and practice without a theory would be a movement without purpose and direction.

In essence, life is action and not thought. Man’s life is much more so as he has developed self-consciousness and is aware of the purpose and direction of his own actions. There is need, therefore, of men of action who have a sound and noble theory of life, in order to lead humanity to its destiny of peaceful, happy, and progressive life. There is need of persons who have integrated personalities and who can show the people a path which is practical and a life which can be lived by all.

This entire introduction was necessary to convey the great importance of high personages like Basava. He was a true leader of men. From his very early days he was aware of and alert about the grave defects which had entered into the lives of men and women of his times. While religious truths and moral principles have somewhat permanent validity, they are often dimmed and obscured by accretions and miss-interpretations on account of human weaknesses and limitations. It requires the insight of a philosopher, the boldness of a prophet, the earnestness of a reformer and the drive of a man of action to sweep the dust off the minds of men and give them a fresh outlook. That was what Basava did in those early days in the twelfth century in Karnataka. He revivified the faith of the people in the Lingayat (Veerashiva) system of Shakti-Vishashtiadwaita ; he declared that equality of all as well as of men and women was the rule in the kingdom of the spirit; he said that all obstacles created by Varna and caste should be swept away; he ridiculed the multiplicity of gods and gods made of stone and metal and what not; lie gave the highest importance to ethical conduct; he showed how one could live a simple life while enjoying the high authority of a minister; he proved the potency of simple faith in God and the spirit of surrender with which a real devotee could live in life; and above all, he proved to be a prophet to the people in their own language.

Karnataka has always been a land where orthodox as well non-orthodox schools of thought and conduct have lived together. At times there might have been instances of intolerance but on the whole the spirit of religious tolerance has prevailed. Basava’s life and message have a special significance from this point of view. There was a time when Jainism dominated the scene. The three great Acharyas also had a vogue and even now the followers of Dvaita,Advaita andVishashtadwaita live side by side. Basava struck a new path and cut across not only Vedic ritualism but also across what is called the class system of Varnashrama. He emphasised internal purity and good conduct more than ceremonial and ritualistic procedures of physical observances and external cleanliness. He emphasised devotion to one God and worship of Him through service of mankind. He gave a call to all irrespective of caste and creed, rich and poor, man and woman. He aimed at the spiritual regeneration of the masses through simple faith in and devotion to God. His was a call to purity of thought and action, to worship through one’s own duty and vocation in life.

Basava was a social reformer of the highest order . He had the insight to see and the boldness to declare that inequality of every type and gradations in social status were the enemies of spiritual sadhana and elevation. He declared a spiritual brotherhood for all who would seek the Kingdom of God, irrespective of class and caste, sex and status. Viewed from this point of view he was far ahead of his times. His was not a mere academic teaching. He sought to bring into practice what he preached. He was a great organiser and got together thousands of followers and established a spiritual academy called Anubhava Mantapa.

Rightly understood his message is relevant even today. His impact was so great that he weaned vast masses from the evil of rugs and converted millions to vegetarian fare. He swept stroke artificial barriers of ceremonial purity and cumber in which only the rich and leisurly classes could indulge. His was a simple call to faith in God, devotion to truth, non-violence and pure life, worship through bread labour and equality of all before God. He aimed at a spiritual brotherhood shorn of sacerdotal hierarchy and hereditary aristocracy of religion. To him man and woman were equal in the field of spiritual saadhana, were equally beloved of God. He poignantly asks of what sex is soul? He threw open the doors of spiritual elevation to everyone who would enter with a pure heart and an earnest desire.

His Vachanas, or Sayings, are of the simplest and yet they embody profound truths of the order of Upanishad teaching. He has presented to us the essence of religion, which in other words is the quest of the human soul for the highest elevation.

[This Article is from the book: Sri Basavesvara, Eigth centenary commemoration Volume, Pub: Government of Mysore (Karnataka), Bangalore, 1967.]

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[1] From the book "Vachana", pub: Basava Samiti Bangalore 2012.