Calcutta Notebook


Modi had promised to make Varanasi an International Spiritual Capital during his electoral campaign. It will be necessary to renew both the physical and spiritual infrastructure to attain this noble objective. This writer had an occasion to visit Varanasi recently. The auto rickshaw driver was emphatic that the development works such as removal of encroachments and construction of fly-overs was done only during the reign of Mayawati. These have come to a total stop after Akhilesh Yadav has become the Chief Minister. The point is that roads, electricity and cleanliness all lie in the domain of the State Government or the Municipality. Modi can make all the plans that he may like; he may even disburse monies to make roads; but at the end of the day the State Government will have to do the works. Modi appears to have adopted an aggressive and confrontative posture with respect to opposition parties. Hence there is little hope of his plans being implemented on the ground.

The centre of attraction of Varanasi is the Ganga. Modi does have a say here. The first source of pollution is industrial waste. The consortium of seven IITs is making a plan for the conservation of the Ganga. One major recommendation is that all industries must be required to make zero liquid discharge. They must clean and continuously reuse the waste water. This will both reduce water consumption and also prevent pollutants entering the river. Problem is that reuse of water will entail incurring huge expenses and increase the cost of production. Industries in the Ganga Basin will find themselves at a disadvantage if this requirement is imposed only on them only while units in other parts of the country are allowed to dispose off waste water. Therefore, Modi will have to make a national policy of Zero Liquid Discharge to clean the Ganga and restore glory of Varanasi.

The second source of pollution is urban sewage. The problem here is that Municipalities have no incentive to run the Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) that have already been made. The CEO has to decide in the morning whether to use the available electricity for running the STP or for the street light. Needless to say, his priority is the street light. At the same time the Municipality is mighty happy to construct new STPs. There are huge commissions to be made here. Therefore large amounts of monies provided to the Municipalities under the Ganga Action Plan have not delivered. STPs have been made but are lying idle. Need is to make a paradigm shift. Instead of providing subsidies for constructing STPs, Modi should formulate a policy for purchasing treated sewage. The purchased water can be supplied for agricultural irrigation. That would make it profitable for private businessmen to enter the business of establishing STPs.

The second aspect of making Varanasi a spiritual capital is to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Religion, generally speaking, includes the rituals followed by the sect; whereas spiritual pursuits are, generally speaking, free from such rituals. The objective of spiritual pursuit is to attain the One God that is formless. Therefore, Varanasi will be able to become the International Spiritual Capital only if it focuses on the spiritual pursuits and keeps away from religious issues.

Hindus enunciate God at two levels. The Para Brahman is the ultimate God. It has no form or activity. There was nothing other than Para Brahman. It was alone with nothing else existing. The Upanishads say that Para Brahman was One and He decided to become Many. This desire led him to mutate into the Apar Brahman. Apar Brahman is active though it is formless like Para Brahman. The Para Brahman is like the energy stored in the battery while Apar Brahman is like the electricity flowing in the wires. Both are formless but one is inactive while other is active.

The Islamic and Christian 'God' is almost identical to the Hindu Apar Brahman. Both are formless just as wind, gravitation or electricity have no form. Yet it has activity or movement. Electricity cannot be seen but it can make the fan to run, similarly God cannot be seen but makes the world move. This God has to be the starting point of an international discourse on spirituality. Indian Government must consider setting up an International Spiritual University with the explicit mandate of developing a common understanding of God between various religions. Let practitioners of various paths of spirituality sit below one roof and work out a common path acceptable to all. Such an effort would befit the stature of Varanasi.

A major hurdle in this direction is the asceticism of the Hindus. Large number of Holy Men believe that the world is unreal and spend their energies in remaining aloof from the world. Indeed, hindu scriptures sometimes suggest that one must 'give up' or disconnect with the world and connect with God. But this is said only to get the seeker to take a break so that he reaches the right direction. The idea is that one needs to disconnect with the world for some time and reflect on the direction one is taking. Then one must reenter the world and work in the new direction so discovered. This can be understood with an example.

The teacher disconnects with teaching and goes away to participate in a committee to make curriculum for the subject. Then she comes back with greaterĀ  vigour to teach the new curriculum. The temporary withdrawal from teaching is aimed at intensifying the teaching at a higher level. Or the software engineers are sent on a yoga camp by their employer. They disconnect with software programming for a while only to do the same with more vigour on return. For one thing the Hindus have made a great mistake by making this disconnection permanent. It is like the teacher never teaching and ever remaining engaged in curriculum making; or the software engineer never programming and ever being engaged in yoga. No school will employ such a teacher and no software company will employ such an engineer. Similarly, the ascetics who permanently deny the world are negating the very purpose of God. Why would Para Brahman evolve into Apar Brahman if It was happy being inactive?

The decline of spirituality in India, has been due to the best minds having negated the very objective of Brahman which is to become many from one; or to dance and to grow. Ascetism was taught as a short break between two parts of the dance sequence. Instead Holy Men have converted ascetism into a permanent feature and denied God in the process. The task of the International Spiritual University should be to discourse on this topic and arrive at a common understanding of God and His purpose.

Vol. 47, No. 21, Nov 30 - Dec 6, 2014