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The Waning Spirituality of India

“The mainspring of every race lies in its spirituality, and the death of that race begins the day that spirituality wanes and materialism gains ground”, said Swami Vivekananda more than a hundred years ago.

India is a vast and ancient land, which till now had managed to keep within itself, by the stubborn will of its people, and the silent tapasayas of her yogis hidden in her Himalayan caves, the ultimate knowledge, the secret of our destiny. At a time when the world has never been feeling so lost, when man has forgotten the Why and How of his existence and all religions seem to have failed, India may hold the key to man’s future.

What is this knowledge ? Take pranayama for instance. This extraordinary technique, brings in very quickly wonderful results in both the well-being of the body and the quietude of the mind. Pushed to perfection, it gives to the disciple deep spiritual experiences and a true inner perception of the world. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has revitalized pranayama with his Sudarshan Kriya technique and repackaged it in simple but powerful forms, that can be practiced daily by anybody, whatever their origin and religion. Indeed, as his recent trip to Pakistan has proved, he is probably the only Indian spiritual master who is making inroads in the Muslim world, where he has both disciples and teachers whether in Pakistan, Iraq or the Gulf.

And what about hata-yoga, also a 5000 year old technique, which has inspired today all kind of aerobic, of so-called yoga techniques and gymnastic drills around the world? Practiced properly, it brings health, strength and endurance to the body. It was the secret of Indian Yogis’ incredible longevity. It may be too, a help to a once and future immortality. And like in Pranayama, its exercises, results and particularities are so well documented that there is a solution for each problem of the human body, an application for each part of the human anatomy.

And what about meditation, queen of all the yogic sciences? That which is above everything, which interiorizes us, carries us within ourselves, to the discovery of our true soul and nature? There are hundreds of different meditation techniques, simple, easy to practice, which have been devised by Indian sages since the dawn of time. Each one has its own characteristics, each one gives particular results.

India is full of ashrams, of yogis, of masters, who are still keeping alive all those amazing sciences. From the tip of cape Comorin to Kashmir, you cannot go to a place in this country without finding some spiritual place, some sadhu practicing a particular tapasaya, some course in meditation for householders. You have just to step out of the big cities, its five star hotels, its mad traffic, its hurried businessmen with their ties and briefcases and enter India’s country side, and you experience again India’s immortal Dharma, you can still feel the line of continuity of 7000 years of sages.

Yet, sadly, the leaders of Independent India never integrated this Knowledge into the social fabric of the country. What do you think would happen if these ancient arts still alive in India were officially recognized by the Indian Government and UTILISED in every day life. What do you think would happen for instance if pranayama was systematically taught to sportsmen from the beginning of their training ? It would be difficult to beat Indian athletes, because through this marvelous technique they could achieve perfect concentration. What would happen if Indian businessmen use too pranayama ? It would double their capacity of work and endow them with enthusiasm for their task. Or if school children were taught at a very early age the combined techniques of pranayama, hata-yoga, meditation and Ayurveda ?

Forget about the Government, it is happening already: the Art of Living Foundation has devised courses for the corporate world, for instance. Called the APEX courses, it helps executives to de-tress through simple breathing techniques and yoga. AOL has also wonderful courses for children and youngsters, which use playful pranayama, yoga and group techniques, to drill in them an inner quest. The Foundation has also developed a new holistic approach to Ayurveda and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar himself in his satsangs, keep reminding people to come back to the most ancient medical science in the world still in practice today.

Unfortunately, many of India’s intellectuals constantly denigrate these great techniques which are part of India’s heritage and western materialism is fast catching-up rural India. Thus, India’s spirituality is definitely under attack today from many sides and it is, as Swamy Vivekananda had predicted, waning at the expense of Materialism. But it maybe saved by its export.

Because, thank God, India’s yogis, gurus and teachers are going all around the world to spread this wonderful knowledge and there are more and more people in the West who are interested in Indian sciences, who practice pranayama, hata-yoga, or meditation.

It maybe then that India will have to officially recognize its spiritual inheritance because the West becomes more and more enamored of it, the way Japan began in the late forties to hark back to its martial art techniques, Zen Buddhism, or Ikebana, when America took a liking to them.

The author is the editor in chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l’Inde and the author of the Guru of Joy (Hay House, 100.000 copies sold)

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