India has produced some of the greatest spiritual thought of mankind. The ancient spiritual thought was very scientific in nature and based on deep inquiry of truth. The Upanishads, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Bhagwat Gita, etc., are part of that great tradition.
The ritualistic tradition of Hindu religion came later when the spirit of inquiry degenerated. This degeneration of thought however provided an impetus for rejuvenation of India by creation of new thinking in the form of Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, etc. It was as if the old spiritual thought was washed and made clean by these new developments.
The degeneration of great thought took place when rulers started controlling people. Spiritual thought got converted into religion which allowed the rulers to control people and resources and the rituals and associated systems of the religion helped to increase this control.
Rituals help to create fear which makes it easy to control a person. For example, the rituals like, you have to pray so many times; have to give so much prasad to the temple; wear this ring or the bracelet; give so much material to a pundit are all part of the mechanism to control the person. Fear is put in the minds of people that if you do not perform the rituals then major calamity will fall on you. Fear is a powerful mechanism to control people.
Throughout the history of mankind all “isms” are used to control population, whether it is religions or a system of governance. The authors of new thoughts did not control. It was their followers who used their ideas to create isms for control. They put fear either by physical or mental means. In the present scenario the fear of pandemic also came in very handy to a lot of dictators and rulers to control the population. This fear creation (either real or fake) by rulers throughout history helps them to divide and rule.
By nature, a very powerful brain will always seek the truth. The ultimate truth is beyond caste, creed, color, country, etc. Old rishis who developed India’s great spiritual thoughts were people endowed with very powerful brains who lived in a rich and beautiful country like India. Once their basic needs were satisfied their minds soared to understand the universal truths. Thus Patanjali, authors of Upanishads, Gita, etc. were seekers of truth.
The ancient Indian spiritual thought always encouraged spirit of enquiry. The guru helped the disciple by pointing and guiding him/her to the goal; the disciple then followed it based on his degree of application. There was no control exercised, just the guidance. It is this spirit of enquiry and seeking truth that is presently missing in our society. Somehow it must be inculcated in our children and young adults.
India has always progressed economically, culturally, and emotionally when it pursued the path of spirituality and search for the truth.
Thus, it can be conjectured that the general prosperity in ancient India followed after a new spiritual thought came. The Mauryan empire, especially Ashoka, followed after Buddha; Harshvardhan empire was inspired by Adi Shankaracharya; Chola dynasty and the rise of the great Hindu Kingdoms of Southeast Asia including Angor Wat, came after Sage Ramanuja.
This inspiration is visible in the wonderful architecture of the temples. I have always wondered about what forces shaped the lives of the workers who made the temples which took years to make – some even more than hundred years. It was not simply a paid job but a part of great thought and a mission which inspired and guided the workers. This made them proud of their creation and allowed the flow of high quality of craftsmanship.
In the recent past, work of NASA space program followed this process. More than building the rockets it was the desire to win the space race against Russians and a greater desire to conquer space – the next frontier, that drove a lot of people to do wonderful work in NASA.
I also feel that the great thought of Mahatma Gandhi of non-violence and adherence to truth, which had fired the whole of India to win our independence, would have helped produce a great economic activity in the country if we had not followed the socialism route. After all Gandhiji inspired industrialists like Birla, Tata, Bajaj, etc. to help in Independence movement and nation building and I am sure they and other industrialists would have continued with even greater vigor in this task if they had been allowed freedom to do so.
Similarly, the desire in each Indian to help build the newly independent India was very strong and when that desire did not get a proper outlet in the socialist structure then the enthusiasm slowly faded.
This can have some lessons for the present dispensation. Instead of following the unsustainable growth example of U.S. and China which is based on extreme greed and very materialistic outlook, we should follow our great philosophical and spiritual tradition and give the world a new direction of development based on the mantra of “high technology guided by spirituality can produce sustainable development and happiness”.