Guiding Light: The true liberal

-- Swami Brahmavidananda Saraswati

There was a time when, to be a liberal meant to be open to various viewpoints, to be empathetic to different people. In the European history, this kind of thinking created great Renaissance leaders – scientists, poets, writers and painters. It was a glorious time. It is not only in the West. Look at the Jain Muni-s who categorized millions of viewpoints into seven possibilities. They were open to all of them in a doctrine known as Syaatvada. Similarly, the Buddhists see that the world exists in your perception and all perceptions are valid as well as invalid. The ancient Indian Rishis held the diametrically opposite view of a monotheistic reality and a pluralistic world equally in their minds. The same teachers spoke of invoking Ishvara (God) in as many forms as there are people with the understanding that every form of worship is valid. Or in modern times the Vedanta teachers who teach people from different religions for the sake of moksha but don’t expect any of them to change their religion. These were the true liberal thinkers of the times.

Somewhere along the line liberal thinking got associated with Western universalism. It came to be that Western thought was universally valid. Nothing else! And the liberals especially the Indian liberals got more dogmatic about it. So much so that they started looking down on any ancient heritage of the Orient in general, and Indian in particular. All Indian ancient thought was dismissed as being superstitious, Itihaasa (Indian history) as mythology and Indian traditions as outdated. That is not liberal thinking. It is being dogmatic. There is no empathy or attempt to understand a different perceptive other than Western Universalism. We now have a situation that many Indian liberals are quite happy to associate themselves with dogmatic religious and political beliefs just to pull down ancient Indian thinking. That in my mind, is not being a liberal. So I hope that liberals in general and Indian liberals in particular will be able to reclaim their openness, their empathy for all heritages, different from their own.

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