Strategic evolution: An inherent need to connect the dots
The first one and half decades of the 21th century has made enormous changes to the ecosystem around us especially in developing countries. Dynamic changes have happened in various fields including technology, science & most importantly culture amidst the younger generation especially those born after the mid 1990’s. However, the question that quite often runs through my head is have religious institutions & guardians of culture actually changed their strategies to suit this evolving lifestyle? Before I continue, I would like to mention that these are mere observances of my own culture by a commoner who is neither an expert nor a master; a mere observer who is not interested in propagation of this culture to other folks or has any agenda behind this.
As one tries to understand the evolution of our society post liberalized India, one thing is very clear. As much as our parental generation tried their best to understand the economic consequences of opening up the country (which I am pretty sure a large section of them were blissfully ignorant about), they made a big mistake in underestimating the social consequences of such a change. Opening up new markets means new avenues, new cultural imports, new economics & most importantly a rapidly changing socio-cultural landscape. Our parental generation simply was under-prepared to handle this & was clueless on how to deal with this.
Even though one tends to find the ingenious Mani Ratnam’s beautifully pictured movie portraying so-called live-in relationships as a hyperbolic anomaly (most of his romantic movies are hyperboles focusing on a minority in that era- my mother’s generation didn’t run away during Mouna rangam times nor did my cousins do what happened in Alaypayuthey when they grew up in the late 1990’s), it makes one think on how the younger generation is dealing with issues such as culture,money, marriage amidst an array of other things. One has to acknowledge that a sociological churn is happening at a basic level. Much of India is going through a rapid transition into a new world and the confusions are rampant especially with the younger generation on how they have to deal with issues plaguing them which are an anomaly to their parents.
On one hand you have the youngsters dealing with changes in their lives on their own and on the other hand you see older people thronging to religious institutions to deal with their issues. So religion is thriving yet the younger generation is confused about it & not part of that bandwagon. It is imperative that society needs to evolve to connect these two dots; by addressing the new socio-economic challenges & provide solutions to them
Looking within history
Sanathana Dharma has been the cornerstone of Hindu philosophy for centuries. Needless to say, its endurance as a way of living has been in existence for time immemorial. Keeping the key tenets of this philosophy, how does one even try to appeal to the younger generation? One among the many answers to this is to look at history. When the Hindu civilization was under siege, much worse than the perceived scenario now, Adi Shankaracharya revived the entire philosophy through a remarkable journey through the villages of Indians and established institutions that stand even today here.
The circumstances included foreign invasion & corruption of dharmic practices etc. The situation then was physical in nature, now it is mental in nature; that’s the broader difference. Every 100 years or so, we do have great saints who come in various forms to revive the faith and address the challenges that are ahead. As such, this provides us a good measure of how even in the 21st century, there is a hope that a renaissance on cultural relevance would prevail at some point.
Positive approach towards solutions
At the basic level, the elderly generation needs to adopt a more aggressive and positive approach towards finding solutions to these challenges. I find a highly defeatist mentality in most of them. The alibi that Kali Yuga will result in all this and we have to live by it is a bogus logic. The Kali Yuga has about 4.3 million years to go; Lord Krishna has said that the first 10,000 years would be the best part of Kali Yuga & we are somewhere in the 5,000 year. Given this context, there is a long way to go before the believers get into the mode of never-ending pessimism about the world. There will be many ups & downs that society will undergo and it has to respond to it in a positive manner.
As such, we need to look at positive solutions to this issue at hand and try to work towards the goal of “Lokakshema Sukino Bavanthu”. The defeatist mentality by people, especially the elderly generation, has resulted in a lack of effort to propagate the nuances of their religion to the younger folklore. This should start with finding reason in many things that Hinduism offers.
Science, Reason & Universal Welfare as the cornerstones
One of the offshoots of the India’s independence has been a generation of people who have been enslaved to dogmas. Quite a significant section of the people in the 60’s & 70’s now, with due respect, were used to following the diktat of their parents without any logical understanding of the religion that they were following. It perfectly suited their generation & I don’t blame them during that time because it was relevant with their times. Ironically, the reality is that the same concept perfectly doesn’t suit this generation. The younger generation is often bemused on how inadequate their parents have been in their understanding & are often driven away from their ethos due to a lack of convincing answers. The newer generation wants reason & logic (not diktats) and justifiably so with the vast amount of information at their disposable.
Why not show them reason when it is in abundance within your theology? Why not if most of the modern day issues that we face at a pragmatic level are provided in our scriptures in some form or the other? I think one of the most interesting & ironical aspects of Hinduism are its duality; to be a matter of faith yet to be a matter of reason simultaneously. While the faith aspect has been largely covered, the matter with respect to reason has been largely ignored. If one reads through the brilliant encyclopedia of Shri Holiness Mahaperiyava’s Deivathin Kural, one gets to understand that there are many components within the system which are scientific and has reason all over it. An example of such reason in our culture is the fabulous idea of Vedic mathematics.
So why cant there be a parallel system where the children learn this in private to complement their normal academic curricula? Most of the stress related activities that the younger generation faces can be cured by yoga & meditation which is culturally in-built. Why can’t those be made more appealing to the younger generation? Why wouldn’t the children, who are fairly intelligent, be averse to such ideas? An example would be the often ridiculed Panchangam which is an encyclopedia. Why wouldn’t it fascinate any child with astronomical inclination that our ancestors could predict the exact time of sun-rise & sun-set besides other things thousands of years ago? Wouldn’t that provide a holistic perspective for astronomy or mathematics inclined student on how the ancestors figured out such deep mathematical calculations?
Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Indian calendars are in alignment with the solar system. These were not things that were created by chance; it was an output of a deep knowledge of the macro and micro philosophies of life and a deep rooted scientific knowledge of our ancient scriptures. Most of the rituals that are followed in the Hindu order have an element of logic in it (not just impulse). Whether the logic is relevant in today’s context is a separate debate.
However, it does have logic which in itself is non existent in some other civilizations. More importantly, most of them are catered towards the concept of the universal welfare; they are catered towards making the world a better place. This idea of universal welfare is rarely communicated to the younger generation. In a younger generation who is thriving under the aegis of globalization, a concept which assists in universal welfare cares a fair amount of appeal to them. It makes them understand a sense of greater good that the civilization provides & that could trigger their interest.
Strategic Role of religious institutions
However, the fundamental question that one poses is who is going to teach this to the youngsters when their parents themselves are clueless about these details? I think this is where religious or spiritual institutions need to place a significant role. While the goal of moksha has been the goal of the discourse in this Dharma, I think there has come a point where we need to address more fundamental things. The urge towards greater goals in life (moksha etc) comes with age, as people grow experiences drive them towards it. However, the younger generation is filled with loads of information when they are so young & restless.
That challenge can only be addressed by strategic pragmatism. Practical implications of Dharma Sastra’s need to be imbibed to the parental generation first for them to understand these things so that they can trickle it down to the younger generation. While keeping the tenets of Dharma Sastra’s institutions need to start a massive campaign to promote their practical benefits such as enhancing concentration, memory power, scientific knowledge & also day-day issues of the younger generation.
This has to also be supplemented by having direct contact with youngsters using technology among other means to instill the practical benefits of adopting such a way of living. Religious institutions also need to reach out to the younger generation much like how political leaders do so that there is a constant connect & feedback mechanism in place so that the younger generation feels there is a system that is willing to assist them in their day-day issues. There needs to be consistent dialogue whose mind space is convoluted with an information overdose and to capture this attention, there has to be interest and a dialogue from external institutions & the internal family circle.
Communication & Dialogue
This remains the key to the sustenance of our ethos. There has to be a conversational dialogue between the younger generation and the elderly ones in order to progress. Diktats of yesteryears are not going to fly; it will in fact lead to rebellion. Parents need to re-equip themselves, learn about what they are preaching to their kids & ensure that there is a two-way communication between them to tackle modern day pragmatic issues that confront them. They need to also take views and positions on issues rather than being fence sitting so that children’s gain confidence over the entire system.
Over centuries, Hindu’s have evolved themselves to various challenges that were external in nature; this is internal in nature and involves the mindset of young people. This needs to be dealt deftly with sensitivity & knowledge. Such dialogue will ensure that the children are on the same page & I am fairly sure that intelligent children will understand the bigger picture of why our dharma provides a more holistic way of living even in the 21st century.
In retrospect, I think Hinduism has survived for millions of years and will survive in the years to come. Its contextual history is sufficed to provide this. However, there are certain modern day challenges which are impacting our society at a rapid pace. The adherents of the Hindu faith need to probably evolve from a family level to the level of institutions so that the younger generation is taken into confidence and follow the eternal ethos in a more intelligent and pragmatic manner. Moreover, the societies as a whole needs to work towards ensuring that addressing this imminent inherent need of evolution to connect the various dots & provide a holistic path to the younger generation.
Sriram Balasubramanian is a Writer & Journalist. He can be contacted @Sriram316 & firstname.lastname@example.org