Humanism and Ancient Indian Dharma

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Item Code: NAO798
Author: M P Lele
Publisher: Shubhi Publications, Gurgaon
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9788182904743
Pages: 167 (17 B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 400 gm
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Book Description

About The Book

The idea of Humanism was the hottest topic during the intellectual ferment in the post Enlightenment era in the west. It was promoted as a crusade against the hegemony and the authoritarian attitude of the organized religions over every aspect of human life. The revolt was so loud that Humanism was termed as an anti-religious movement. However, as the idea evolved itself through intellectual debates, many versions of it were produced reflecting divergent viewpoints.

Indian thinkers were not happy with Humanism's anti- religious crusade. But they took notice of it and welcomed it for a positive debate with regard to future evolution of Humanity. The central thought that emerged out of this debate was that the-ancient Indian Dharma can serve as a fitting model for Humanism. Keeping that in perspective, this study deals with the tenets of ancient Dharma which was conceived as repository o Eternal Truths and simultaneously had tried to address the concerns concerns of the Humanity.

The ancient Indian Dharma has its roots in Vedas, was enriched through the philosophical churnings in Upanishadas, synthesized in Bhagawat Gita and illustrated by legendary life styles in mythology. It has continued to evolve through centuries.20th Century witnessed a remarkable renaissance in the Indian religions. A lot of soul searching seems to have been done to cleanse the morrases and regain the vibrancy and universal spirit of the Ancient Dharma. The sum and substance of this great churning is that Spirituality is the essence of religiosity and is the true reflection of Divinity on earth. peace and Harmony in the world can only be achieved through that. True Humanism can only be persued through Spirituality. That has been the message of Ancient Indian Dharma.

About the Author

Bornand brought up in Varanasi, Mr M P Lele tills pursued the study of Ancient Dharma throughout his long career in Public service. After Post-graduation from Banaras Hindu University and a short term as Journalist, Lele joined Indian Broadcasting Service and worked till his retirement as Addl Director General, All India Radio and Doordashan in 1996.

Mr Lele has also served as faculty with- Indian Institute of Mass Communication; as Chief Producer--T V News service of Press Trust of India and as Advisor to International Centre for Gandhian studies. Delhi. Has widely travelled abroad for assignments in International Broadcasting forums. He was advisor to Mauritian Broadcasting Corporation.(1982-84 ). Mr Lele has authored a book on Indian Broadcasting — ' Bharat men Jansanchar our Prasaran Media.

Mr Lele has profound interest in Religion, Philosophy, Arts, Culture and Indology. In the study under reference lie has tried to present an overview of how Religion in its eternal form and spirit, which is reflected in the Ancient Indian Dharma can serve the Humanity even in modern times when human society is deeply disturbed by growing Materialism.


The original idea of the present study was to research and bring out a monograph on the Humanism of Mahatma Gandhi. I had developed some basic formulations on the subject while I was associated with International Institute of Gandhian studies at Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti in Delhi. But when it was decided to do an in depth study as a research project for IASE University, I considered it appropriate to focus on various aspects of the theme starting with 'Humanism', where and when it was conceived, how it influenced the thought process all over the world, impacted the course of history in the 19th and 20th centuries and particularly how it was received by practicing religions in the world, whose authority it seemed to challenge.

I start with an introduction to the concept of Humanism and run through its different versions that emerged, as it evolved over a period of time through its interface with other established religious doctrines and influenced the socio-political movements in the world. Then I attempt to analyze the serious challenge that it posed to the organized religions of the world. Finally I try to analyze whether Humanism can help the mankind by ignoring the superhuman element of divinity and concentrating solely on the material aspects of life.

Most of the Indian versions of Humanism have studied it in the context of ancient Indian Dharma. Naturally therefore, my study extends itself to the wider aspects of Dharma, its long tradition, the phases of renaissance it went through and finally to its contemporary model — 'Hinduism'.

Gandhi was an apostle of Humanism and he lived it in his own style, following his convictions about the law of Righteousness enshrined in ancient Indian Dharma. Naturally therefore, the study ventures into the original concept of Dharma, its subsequent manifestation in prominent Indian religions along with the reforms and renovation it underwent in order to measure up to the challenges of the changing times. The study then proceeds to juxtapose the original western concept of Humanism with the humanitarian perspective of the ancient Indian Dharma, picking up the common ground. Despite their different approaches, both of them aimed at shaping a perfect man.

As a sequel to the main theme, I have given in the 'Epilogue', my observations about the burning issues of the day, like urgent need to work out religious harmony, re- establishment of ethics and morality in worldly affairs, current conflicts pertaining to the resurgence of fundamentalist religions all over the world and whether Spirituality can be the solution for survival of humanity.

Today the world feels threatened by the impendingperils such as annihilation of civilization through nuclear holocaust and destruction of world's environment due to excessive material greed. It is pertinent to consider if Humanism's focus on humanitarian values and spirituality, as outlined in the ancient Indian Dharma, can lead to emancipation of the threatened humanity and bring Peace in the world.

Shifting the focus of the study on Humanism to ancient Indian Dharma resulted in widening the scope of the study in hand. It was professor M M Verma's constant guidance and encouragement that enabled me to keep up the spirit, for which I remain forever indebted to him.

I feel indebted to Shri Kanakmal Dugar, Chancellor- Gandhi Vidya Mandir, IASE (D) University (Rajasthan), who encouraged me to take up this study as part of University's Inter Disciplinary Research Projects on Existential Harmony.

I am also grateful to Prof Hema Raghavan (Former Dean, Delhi University) for sparing some of her valuable time to critically go through the manuscript andoffer valuable suggestions.

In dealing with the subject I have referred to various works of renowned scholars, quoting from them profusely for underscoring particular points, that I felt were relevant to the conclusion. I express my reverence and gratitude to all of them.

Last but not the least, I must admit that, much more than pursuing this task as an academic study , for me it was really an experience of a spiritual journey through the pathway of ancient Dharma, which is eternal in spirit and substance. I hope the readers of this work will also vouch my feeling.


All over the world today there seems to be a crusade to go to the very roots of human civilization and pick up the basics on which the edifice of world's diverse religions and cultures were raised. The contemporary world is looking at the age- old traditions and thoughts with renewed interest. In the words of Danial Bell — "it is the return of the sacred." Some others have called this movement— "an attempt to regain the 'Blessed Assurance' thatreligions have provided over the centuries. Famous British historian Arnold Toynbee had once remarked that if the Centre of interest in the 20th century was science and technology, it would be replaced by religion in the 21' century. Obviously he did not mean the stereo-typed sectarian religions, which were critically examined and questioned during the era of Enlightenment.

Samuel Paul Huntington, whose work —`Clash of civilizations' has generated extra ordinary interest in the contemporary discourse on world politics and its implications for the future of mankind, has analyzed this renewed interest in religions of the world. He says —"More broadly, the religious resurgence throughout the world is a reaction against secularism, moral relativism and self-indulgence. It is also a reaffirmation of the values of order, discipline, work, mutual help and human solidarity. This revival is not the rejection of modernity; it is a rejection of the degenerate culture — a gross product of materialism." (P-98).

Jawaharlal Nehru was a great votary of science and technology, which in his opinion was the strategic priority for development of newly independent Indian nation. However, he also underscored the need to adhere to the principles of Dharma'. Writing an introduction to a book on 'Socialism in Indian planning' by Dr Srimannarayan, Nehru says— "In India it is important for us to profit by modern technical processes –but we must not forget that the essential objective to be aimed at is the quality of individual and the concept of Dharma underlying it."

Humanism which is the principal subject of this study has grown out of the nursery, where scientific materialism was to play the dominant role, in which religion was conveniently sidelined and branded as opium for the deprived lot. This new line of thinking promised to reset the course of human evolution based on ethics woven around - Reason, Rationality and Radical strategies. It soon got baptized as 'Humanism' and was welcomed and supported by philosophers, intellectuals, scientists and social thinkers in the West. The founding idea was that man has the resources within himself and he can attain his desired evolution and shape his own destiny. `The core of Humanism rests on the assertion of secularism that this world of ours, in historical sense, is shaped by men and women, and not by any God as super power. We can rationally understand it according to the way it is made of.' (Humanism and democratic critismby Edward IV Said – page 11).

There is no doubt that the spirit of Humanism, in its liberal stand point, has freed us from the obscurantism and dogmatism of religions. But in the process it has also created another dogma since it is based on philosophy of pure reason. The might of science ruled out not only God as an object of reverence but completely shut down man's faculties of cognition and perception which are ingrained in the spirit that sustains life. The new God of reason in the materialist concept of humanism has created its utopias not only through the aid of science and technology, but also through social reforms or by political revolution.

The catastrophic events in the twentieth century, which saw two world wars and in their aftermath the exploitative regimes created by capitalist system and the regressive state, built over Marxist theory of communism, all have proved beyond doubt that humanity needs a fresh perspective and a new vision about both science and religion. This comes out very vividly in Dr S Radhakrishnan's statement in his famous work —`Religion of the spirit’.He says — "Our predicament is due to lack of adjustment of the human spirit to the startling developments in science and technology. If we are to survive, there has to be a moral and spiritual revolution, which should embrace the whole world."

Prof Julian Huxley- the eminent social scientist has also underscored the need for searching new paths. He says — "what we need is a science of possibilities to guide us for a psycho-social revolution. In the light of our present knowledge, man's most comprehensive aim is seen not as mere survival or increased control over his environment but as greater fulfillment i.e. - the fuller realization of his potentialities both individually and collectively". (Evolution of life- page-20)

So if there is going to be a resurgence of Religion world over, it is imperative that the religion of the future should pursue the aforesaid goal rather than get bogged down in controversies of the past ages. Religion must address the challenging prospects that Humanism and the so called modernity have placed before us.

Before we deal with the development of the concept of Humanism and its versions as the fall out of European Enlightenment, it would be a good idea to look into the development of philosophical tradition and concept of religion in the West, the beginning of which could be traced to Greek civilization. The Greeks had a form of religion in which their gods helped the followers in their struggles. Then came the Sophists who challenged the fundamental concepts of religion and ethics based on that. Thereafter the great philosopher Socrates exposed through his dialogues the vanity and hollowness of the sophists. Plato who was the learned and able pupil of Socrates, systemized the ideas put forward by his teacher. He laid down a philosophical system, according to which the 'sense presented experience' is entirely different from the world of ultimate ideas, the world of Reals. His theory of ethics propounds that man should learn to restrain the tendencies created by senses with the help of reason and ultimately regain his lost freedom.

A few centuries later we find Judaism as the popular religion of Europe. Then came Jesus of Nazareth, who questioned the traditional authority in religion and exalted the human personality as the most valuable entity, the function of religions and ethical institutions is to support that cause. He asserted— "Sabbath is intended for man and not the man for Sabbath" and – "the kingdom of God is within". Christianity became the dominant religion which, with its powerful church, dominated the masses. The real challenge to the established religions came when science made discoveries— like Copernicus' theories in astronomy or Columbus' voyages revolutionizing geography. They generated a new revolt in religions.

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