19th October, the birthday of Pandurang Shastri Athavale, is celebrated by millions as Manushya Gaurav Din (Human Dignity Day).
This day is attributed to fulfilling his life mission to rejuvenate dignity among our fellow human beings, irrespective of their class, racial, gender, political, national, religious or other backgrounds, through the medium of an ‘Indwelling Divinity’.
This was celebrated on a large scale across the world, last month, to mark the centenary of Pandurang Shastri Athavale.
The Swadhyaya Movement
‘Swādhyāya’ means ‘Self Study’ or ‘Self-Enquiry’ to attain the Absolute Truth. The Swādhyāya movement is based on the principles of the central scriptures of Hindu Dharma: the Vedas, Upanishads and the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The main work of Swādhyāya is to manifest the central message of Hindu Dharma, of indwelling Divinity within the hearts of all beings, to bring about individual and social transformation. The movement achieves this through the combination of Jñāna Yoga (knowledge gained by scriptural study), Bhakti Yoga (devotion) and Karma Yoga (selfless actions to serve God within other fellow humans). It began in 1954, mainly in Maharashtra and Gujarat, India, and was founded by the eminent late Indian philosopher, Revered Pandurang Shastri Athavale. This movement refuses any support from the state, or any non-governmental organisations and it has millions of followers in India, Portugal, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and many more countries. Swādhyāya is present in more than 100,000 villages across India, and at least 34 nations across the globe. The movement is ‘God’s work’, and so it solely relies on the contributions of those who are actively working for Bhagavan (Krtiśhīlas).
Pandurang Shastri Athavale
Pandurang Shastri Athavale, lovingly known as Pūjanīya Dadaji, was born on 19 October 1920 in Roha, India. He was a philosopher, spiritual leader, and social revolutionary who founded the Swādhyāya Parivar (Swādhyāya family). At a young age, Dadaji was taught in a system similar to that of the ‘Tapovan’ system in ancient Bharat, in which he had mastered his study of the Vedic texts and Eastern literature. From a very young age, he fearlessly questioned traditions, and was deeply moved by the injustices towards the marginalised Jaatis. He felt the urge to create an ‘alternative society’, in which harmful divisions between humans would cease to exist. He was an avid reader; it is said that he had read every piece of non-fiction literature at the Royal Asiatic Library, Mumbai over a period of 14 years. He covered the full breadth of Western literature, and began to comparatively analyse it with the philosophies of the East. Not only did he cover the Western philosophy of Aristotle, Kant, the works of Will Durant etc., but he also tackled Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, and volumes on psychology, sociology, physics, politics, etc. He did this mainly to understand the underlying issues of human dignity and equality across many cultures and traditions. He soon started to give ‘Pravachans’ (discourses) at the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita Pathashala in Madhavbaug, Mumbai, in 1942. He delivered discourses on the Bhagavad Gita, Vedas and Upanishads. In 1954, he attended the Second World Religious Congress, held in Japan. There, he presented the glorious heritage of the Vedas and the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Many philosophers were impressed by his ideas, but wanted to see their practical application in Bharat (India). Nobel Prize-winning physicist Dr. Arthur Compton was impressed with Dadaji’s ideas and offered to teach his ideas in the United States. Dadaji politely declined, as he aimed to rejuvenate the cultural and spiritual framework of Bharat – his homeland – where he planned to demonstrate an ideal community to the world, which peacefully practises and spreads the thoughts of the Vedas. He had a vision of resurrecting Vedic culture across Indian society, which was largely steeped in ritualism, scepticism, materialism and social inequalities such as casteism, misogyny, classism etc. He devised many ‘Prayogas’ (socio-economic experiments) based on the Vedic principles, which have transformed thousands of villages and have uplifted marginalised communities. He was the first to proclaim and demonstrate that ‘Bhakti (devotion) is a social force’. This socially active form of devotion, combined with an intellectual zeal, brought about a fivefold revolution (Pancharangi Kranti) through his work: social, economical, emotional, cultural and psychological. He has received numerous awards for his work, such as the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1997, the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 1996 for Community Leadership, India’s second highest civilian honour – the Padma Vibhushan Award – in 1999, and many more.
The main roots of this movement is the Advaita Vedanta (non-dualism based on the Adi Shankaracharya’s school) philosophy within Hindu Sanatana Dharma. Advaita Vedanta asserts the Oneness of all existence. One Ultimate Reality pervades humans, living beings and nature. Hence, the outlook towards other fellow beings and the world, should be of equality, togetherness, and love. Pujaniya (respected) Dadaji personally visited tens of thousands of villages to establish a selfless and loving relationship with each and every family. He went from ‘hut to hut and heart to heart’ to convey the thoughts of the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads in a simple and relatable manner. As an applied philosopher, he wanted to bring the knowledge of spirituality to the masses, so that it would manifest into every movement of their lives. It would no longer be restricted to monks and priests in caves and temples but would uplift people from within, to solve the wide range of personal and social issues. He applied Jnana (knowledge) and Bhakti (devotion) through Karma Yoga. Dadaji started various ‘Prayogas’, stemming from Bhagavan-centric devotion in these villages. These included Yogeshwar Krushi (co-operative farming), Matsyagandha (co-operative fishing) and Vruksh Mandir (tree-planting), all done as a means of a collective, divine devotion towards Ishwara. His Prayogas had many socio-economic benefits. Through the principle of ‘selfless and collective work’, many Jati divisions were destroyed.
‘Yataḥ pravṛittir bhūtānāṁ yena sarvam idaṁ tatam|
Sva-karmaṇā tam abhyarchya siddhiṁ vindati mānavaḥ’
(Bhagavad Gita, 18.46)
“By performing one’s natural occupation, one worships Him from whom all living entities have come into being, and by whom the whole universe is pervaded. By such performance of work, a person easily attains perfection.”
The fundamental principle of Karma Yoga is to offer all of one’s actions as a service of the Divine. This reduces our ego, so that we can make spiritual progress.
Formerly, marginalised communities, such as fishermen, were restricted to enter temples. They were denied spiritual evolution. Dadaji taught them that they did not need to forsake their occupation. Instead, they were guided to devote some time every month, to offer their efficiency, collectively, as a worship of Bhagavan. Once a month, fishermen would do their duty of fishing as a service of the Divine. This was the Matsyagandha of the fisherman. Similarly, farmers would do farming activities selflessly once a month, which was known as Yogeshwar Krushi. Many such Prayogas were conducted by him. The collective wealth generated by the work would not belong to anyone. Instead, it would be offered at the feet of Bhagavan, as Apaurusheya Lakshmi (impersonal wealth). This wealth is to be secretly given to other members of the community or village, to alleviate their personal issues such as health, financial issues etc. His Prayogas received a lot of recognition by a leading economist at London School of Economics, Paul Akins.
How has being part of the Swadhyaya movement influenced my life? How is it helping me to become a Hindu student leader?
Being a part of the Swadhyaya Parivar has allowed me to introspect myself and guide me in my life through these teachings. For the youth, Pujaniya Dadaji introduced Yuva Kendra, where like-minded youth gather weekly and discuss Dharmic values applied to modern day issues, through character studies, quality studies, and games. Taking part in speech competitions and street-plays during the year has massively improved my confidence and communication skills, which will no doubt benefit me in the future.
Wealth, education, race, etc, all divide us, and cause personal suffering of dissatisfaction and conflicts between communities. Vedantic philosophy states that behind all these temporary differences is the One Brahman, present in the hearts of all beings. The goal of life is to look beyond these differences, and to see the One. This idea is repeatedly emphasised in Swadhyaya, and it helps me to become more respectful of other people, have self-respect for myself, and to not compare myself with others. I believe that this idea is very relevant in today’s time of conflicts and differences. Being a part of Swadhyaya has inspired me to take this idea of Oneness to others, so that they may gain the courage to deal with the ups and downs in their lives and communities.
Knowing about my Dharma and history makes me proud to be a Hindu, and definitely gives me a strong identity in modern 21st century Britain. Being more informed about Dharma through Swadhyaya, means I can pass on the same enthusiasm and knowledge to others as a student leader in our Hindu society.
How is this inspiring me to become part of the Hindu society on campus?
Being in the Hindu society committee this year as a Sanskaar Co-ordinator, I have gotten a platform to impart my thoughts and ideas to other students through Instagram posts during festivals and in-person talks. I want to continue to share and talk about famous characters, saints, and kings from our past to educate Hindu students at large, so that they can pass this knowledge on to their peers, and so on. Following the teachings of Swadhyaya has been vital for me to deliver my message through these various mediums at university.
Pūjaniya Dadaji says he has Shraddha in three things:
2.) Shruti (Vedas)
3.) Yuvan (Youth).
Because of Dadaji’s immense faith in the youth, it continuously inspires me to work for our Sanskriti.
How would I like other Hindu students to take on the message of Pujniya Dadaji and the Swadhyāya movement?
Pujaniya Dadaji’s perspective of a youth is “a living symbol of an indomitable enthusiasm and will to completely change the era, tie up in knots the whole sky, and crush to pieces the mighty Himalayas”. If a youngster is drawn closer with the divine relationship and given a proper understanding of Dharma and Adhyatma (spirituality), then their mind is truly awakened. This will no doubt lead to a spiritual revolution.
Dadaji focused on transforming our activities into a spiritual practice. As youth, whether we are studying, playing a sport, working, we can offer these activities to Bhagavan. The Gita talks about Nishkama Karma Yoga (selfless action), by which we can offer our efficiencies for selfless work, such as doing Sewa with the outlook of serving the Bhagavan within others. In the West, we need to be culturally informed about our heritage and values so we can stay connected to our Dharma. As future Hindu leaders, we should take time out to learn about our culture, and share our knowledge with other Hindus and other people.
How can the student movement as a whole benefit from these kind of teachings?
These teachings give me inspiration to pass on the wise and thought provoking messages of Pandurang Shastri Athavale to the masses of students. Swadhyaya is about internal and individual transformation through spiritual awareness. If this fundamental thought, ‘Bhagavan exists within me and within everyone else’, is remembered, then it really brings about a positive change within a person.
The teaching of an Indwelling Divinity in oneself and others, is the essence of Hindu Sanatana Dharma. If this becomes the core of the movement, it can collectively achieve the goals of uniting Hindu students and passing the flame of Dharma to their hearts. These teachings would encourage students to become proactive in trying to understand spirituality (Adhyatma) and Dharma, and apply it to unique situations in the lives of British Hindus. Student leaders can have the pride in being the cultural ambassadors of Bharat. Through these teachings, the student movement can become God’s work.