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RADHASOAMI FAITH - A HISTORICAL STUDY: Introduction

Prof. A.P. Mathur
M.A., PhD, F.I.H.S., F.R.A.S. (London)
Former Vice-Chancellor, Agra University, Agra, India

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Raja Rammohan Roy - The Pioneer of Modern Reform

Born in a devout Brahman family in 1772 and brought up in a strictly religious atmosphere, Rammohun Roy rebelled against all the Brahmanical traditions and conservatism and came to be acknowledged as the herald of the age of reason in India. He was a scholar of Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Bengali. He studied English language and literature which brought home to him the whole range of western liberal thought. Later he learnt Hebrew, Greek and Latin in order to understand Christianity through the original texts. He developed a broad vision and adopted a critical attitude towards socio-religious and political problems.

He also studied the Upanishads and other religious scriptures. Though he was impressed with the moral precepts of Jesus and with the monotheistic principle of Islam, He remained a staunch Hindu who realised the necessity of re-interpreting Hinduism. Rejecting the narrow Christian claims, he accepted the wide humanism of European thought and its ethical approach to the problems of life. To liberate Indian society from the fetters of dogmatism, authoritarianism and medievalism he struck a balance between the best elements in indigenous and western cultures and founded the Brahmo Samaj in 1828. The Samaj was not a Christian dilution of Hinduism but a synthesis of European enlightenment with the philosophy of Vedanta. It was indeed based on genuine Hindu traditions. Its outlook on life was neither Hindu nor Christian but European, drawing its inspiration from the European intellectual quest. Its social message of westernization was meant to purge Hinduism of its vicious customs and superstitions, to raise the status of women, to bridge the yawning gulf between popular and higher Hinduism, to fight relentlessly against caste, social taboos, polygamy, idol-worship and other well-entrenched abuses. He took up cudgels against atheism as much as against Christianity, and thus enabled Hinduism to withstand the onslaught of Christian missionaries. According to R.C. Majumdar, "Brahmo Samaj effectively helped the progress of Hindu society by stemming the tide of conversions, by holding a living example of a society based on progressive and liberal views and supplying eminent persons who advanced novel liberal ideas in other spheres such as politics."

But to identify Raja Rammohun Roy exclusively with the Brahmo movement is to ignore his valuable contribution to national life. With Max Mueller, we may call him the "Father of comparative theology", but we must admit that his religion was wedded to the service of humanity. The Raja was a rationalist reformer who did pioneering work in the socio-religious sphere. He bequeathed a rich legacy of rationalistic spirit and freedom of individual conscience.

Rammohun's religion was simple and practical. He declared a universal faith and shifted the emphasis from metaphysics to utilitarian ethics. He preached a lofty monotheistic creed based on the central concept of the "formless" God; yet it was a theistic concept and the God of Rammohun was immanent in all things and the world was created, governed, preserved and destroyed by Him. The world was not illusory but real according to his theistic interpretations. He interpreted the soul and its nature on the rational grounds of social welfare rather than on any metaphysical grounds. Salvation, according to Rammohun, meant the attainment of happiness or knowledge of the Divine. But he held that idol worship and ritualism were quite unnecessary. The concrete form of worship of God, he believed, was service to man. Thus he championed a cause which could bring maximum happiness of the maximum number of people. His philosophy thus can be termed as religious utilitarianism emphasizing social amelioration and a better and happier life. Religion was to him a media to reform society.

Rammohun Roy wanted to reconstruct Indian society. He deemed sati as atrocious murder. He quoted such law-givers as Yajnyavalkya and Manu and pleaded with the government to legally abolish this inhuman practice. He also awakened public conscience and strengthened the then government. He wrote and propagated against polygamy and caste system and thus prompted Indian society to march ahead on the path to social progress and change. He also pleaded for modern and secular education. In his famous letter to Lord Amherst in 1823, he expressed his keen desire for the introduction of English education and English language as the medium of education for higher studies. His political views were also rationalistic and he believed in the creed of liberalism and justice, freedom of thought, expression and press. Raja Rammohun Roy, as the harbinger of the new age, belongs to the lineage of great seers and reformers who delivered the message of the "Eternal Man". He embodied the new spirit of reason, instinct of free enquiry, thirst of scientific knowledge, human sympathy and ethical values along with a reverential but not uncritical regard for India's spiritual heritage.

The Spiritual Renaissance

The nineteenth century was a creative age of great potentialities. It produced an unusually large number of distinguished men in different parts of the globe. It was an era of new awakening in almost all walks of Indian life. Historians have generally associated this cultural awakening with the impact of the West. But a careful study shows that behind the overall consciousness and general stir to reform medievalism, there existed a deep rooted spiritual urge for higher values within the very soul of the country.

It cannot be denied that during the six hundred years of Islamic suppression, Hinduism as the religion of a vanquished people suffered significant setbacks. It was during British rule that Hinduism could stand on a plane of equality with Islam. With the state policy of non-interference in socio-religious matters, an air of freedom was experienced by religious leaders who proceeded with confidence to deliver eternal message of love and to provide the suffering humanity with solace and relief. They awakened slumbering masses by their new spiritual message and inspired them to attain the highest truth through simple devotional path. Such leaders as Soami Shiv Dayal Singhji, Swami Dayanand Saraswati and Ramakrishna Paramhansa were far above any western influence in their thinking. Neither Christianity nor English education had moulded their thought and philosophy. They were indeed, spiritual light and sacred truth incarnate. Through their own intuitive realization and inner revelation, they came forward to be the founders of such important movements as the Radhasoami faith, the Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission. Remote from the centres of modern civilization and immune to westernization, they appear before Indian society with their simple and illuminating exposition of the spiritual ideals. Like the sages and seers of the past, they took a very firm stand on the bedrock of "mystic realization" and "spake like one in authority". They demonstrated the efficacy of a practical method of attaining the ultimate reality and inaugurated an enthusiastic quest after the eternal and transcendent Truth. Indeed, there was an urge from within to identify one's own self with the highest and the noblest of the Spirit, that heralded a spiritual renaissance in the country. The Radhasoami Faith, founded in 1861 was the first such movement. The Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission joined this unique phase of spiritual renaissance much later.

In an age of skepticism, the founders of the Radhasoami Satsang presented a bright and living faith to give spiritual solace to the thousands of men and women by a rational and practical approach to intellectual doubts and queries on religion and spreading the divine light of love and faith far and wide in an unprecedented manner.

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