- Some Reflections on Indian Meditation Movements in the West
(translation of an article in German in Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, Vol. XXX, 1978, no. 3, pp. 129-152)
"Ananda Marga 1) Pracharak Sangha" (=AM) was faunded in Bihar in 1955 by the West Bengali Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar, called Anandamurti. From the very beginning it pursued two goals, namely, along with individual renewal through spiritual practices, the liberation and purification of society. In a memorandum (available to the author in a mimeographed German translation) the British lawyer William T. Wells, who had gone to India in connection with the detention af P.R. Sarkar and the legal proceedings instituted against him, has provided same details on what happened before. Wells points out that Sarkar, by occupation a railway accountant, was a relative of "netaji" Subhas Chandra Bose who, unlike Gandhi, advocated violent liberation of India from British colonial rule and who lost his life in World War II in somewhat unclear circumstances. During his student days Sarkar lived in Bose's home and dedicated ane of his books to him. 2)
The creation of a number of branch organizations after 1955 gives an indication of the range af Sarkar's interests, whom his followers, the "Margis" or "Babalovers", call Baba. In 1958, "Renaissance Universal" was founded, "a branch organization for cultural renewal on the basis af morals and spiritual inspiration". In 1962 we have the "Seva Dharma Missian", "an order of yoga monks (and later nuns) who have given up their private life in order to dedicate themselves entirely to the service of mankind"; in 1966, the "Education, Relief and Welfare Section (ERAWS)", which carried out a series of emergency programs, and finally - no exact date of foundation is ever mentioned - the controversial "Voluntary Social Service (V.S.S.)", which has been suspected of being a paramilitary organization. In 1967, a chain of events began that eventually led to Anandamurti's arrest and legal proceedings against him. His hunger strike (since 1973), a temporary ban on AM for being a "rightist religious organization" under the 1975 emergency laws and, in November 1976, Anandamurti's conviction - events that need not be described in detail here.
Reimar Lenz 3) remarks correctly: "From the very beginning the Indian Communists have persecuted Ananda Marga as being an ideologically competing cadre organization." It might be added that the Congress Party which is sworn to secularism has no sympathy either for any political activities whatever that are grounded in religion.
The basis of the synopsis of meditation and social commitment in AM is found in the integral philosophy of Indian tantrism. "Both the practice and the theory of Ananda Marga yoga are based on the old intuitive science of tantra yoga... The word tantra describes ... the spiritual path that leads to expansion of the self and ends upon reaching "moksha", the final liberation. It begins with the body, then becomes a psycho-spiritual process and ends in "awareness of the self", as one of the publicity brochures with the title "Ananda Marga Yoga" puts it. Tantra means that the human being becomes whole, that the psychological, mental and spiritual aspects of his being reach a balance. Veneration of Shakti is unknown in AM; the frequent association of tantrism and veneration of female deities is absent as is the stress on the union of male and female principles. Kundalini yoga is practised, but as a technical aspect takes second place to the emotional aspect of devotion to "parampurusa", whose concrete form is devotion to the guru. Thus bhakti as the path to union with the deity is put above jnana and karma, wisdom and activity 4). Anandamurti loves to describe God as the "Great Magician" whose magical powers the yogi comes to share. 5) Thus for him the integral philosophy of Tantra, the absolutist doctrine of Vedanta and the emotionality of bhakti form a unity which is also outwardly expressed in the co-existence of kundalini yoga, joint kirtan and dance.
Striking in Anandamurti's description of the tantric sadhana is its uncommonly aggressive tone and the smooth transition from inner spiritual struggle to outward political struggle.
"Hence, Tantra is not only a struggle, it is an all-out battle, both external and internal simultaneously ... As part of the external fight one has to develop vigorous control over worldly conduct and expression, while in the internal fight one has to arouse and elevate his kundalini against crude thoughts with all the stamina of his intuition.
The well-controlled ascent of the kundalini brings uncommon wisdom and vigor in Tantrikas. This blending of such a wisdom and vigor adorns a sadhaka with an attractive personality, sharp intelligence and unparalleled spirit. Only such Tantrikas can provide sound leadership in social and national life. ... In Worldly affairs, the personalities with vigor and vitality developed through Tantra Sadhana meet success everywhere. The inspired leaders of mankind throughout history have knowingly or unknowingly followed Tantrik principles." 6)
Most of the time Anandamurti designates the perfect tantrikas (who as his disciples observe the technique he taught them and who are devoted to him) as sadvipras, i.e., true brahmans. However, by this is not meant caste membership by birth but by acquired spiritual qualification. The magazine Sadvipra of September 1976 defines the sadvipra as a spiritual leader and progressive thinker and sees his special task to be acceleration of the speed of progress which in itself cannot be checked but which can be speeded up.
Anandamurti has devised a diagram of the development of society, which he calls "social cycle" (samaja chakra) or "evolution" (kranti). It is the basis of AM's ideology which he calls PROUT (Progressive Utilization Theory). The rise of mankind leads from the sudras not directly to the vaisyas but by way of the ksatriyas to the vipras, the "intellectuals" and only in the fourth stage to the vaisyas, i.e. into capitalism. Anandamurti uses anarchic colours to describe the original "sudra time". According to him, it is characterized by the absence of civilization, society and family. Then from the slowly emerging leadership class of the sudras came the hereditary warrior class. Later the intellectuals (vipras), whom they had neglected, seized power only to lose it eventually to the protesting bourgeoisie (vaisyas), which to this day corrupts the other classes with the material wealth and keeps them dependant. 7)
Anandamurti interprets this picture of society adapted to the Indian caste system by means of dialectic materialism: Thesis and antithesis produce synthesis which, however, cannot stand its ground but brings forth a new antithesis. In this dialectic process the sadvipras have two specific tasks. In the transitional stage they help to develop the antithesis, and once the new synthesis has emerged, they are a stabilizing factor. "Sadvipras will encourage and accelerate anti-thetical movement against prevalent barbarity, injustice and exploitation. In the phase of synthesis, they will take the leadership of the society in their own hands. The synthetic Age of Sadvipras can be maintained if there is adjustment with time, place and person. The society will be governed by the 5advipras..." 8)
It becomes clear that there is tension between Anandamurti's belief in the power of a spiritual elite and the determinism of his social cycle. Although, in accordance with the traditional Indian view of life, he believes in the endlessness of the life process and in the continuous repetition of the four-stage social cycle, he would still like to see it arrested in favour of a paradisical final state; but unlike Marxism, he needs a deus ex machina, that is, his sadvipras.
All this can be more easily understood once we become aware of the position which Anandamurti himself occupies in the social cycle. On the one hand, he is confronted in the Indian context with ruling vaisyas, i.e., capitalists, who are in crisis and in his view dominate and corrupt all realms of life, whereas he and many other members of the former ruling class of vipras hold modest positions such as railway employees, in which they are devoid of influence. At the same time, an antithesis to the capitalist rule has developed in the form of the Communist Parties particularly strong in West Bengal, which attempt to come to power.
Faced with the choice between vaisya rule and "sudra revolution", 9) he opts for the latter. But "sudra revolution" as such would be nothing but a transition point before the wheel of the social cycle comes full circle again. Anandamurti does not believe that the Communist Party can find a durable solution of the problems. For this reason the sadvipras must take over the leadership of society. Only they can provide a solution. 10) The partisan polemics against both capitalism and Communism found repeatedly and the specific political dispute with Communism which we have mentioned confirm the judgment that the situation in India, in particular in West Bengal, is the backdrop for his system.
If we take a closer look at the type of political struggle the sadvipras must undergo we are struck by a certain tension between their spiritual nature and the fighting methods recommended. The sadvipra is simultaneously a yogi and a warrior, or, in the words of Reimar Lenz, 11) "yogi and police-inspector. " Anandamurti writes: "He is an active participant (in the struggle, ed.) who sees that no person or class is allowed to exploit the rest. For this he may have to resort to physical force. The sadvipra will have to strike at the source of the power which is tending toward exploitation. In case the ksatriyas become the exploitaters, the sadvipra may have to resort to physical force. When the intellectual or vipra class is dominating, he will have to bring about a revolution in the intellectual field. When the vaishyras are dominating, the sadvipra may have to contest and win elections ..." 12) Thus the sadvipra is "an intellectual, warrior, capitalist and laborer in one and the same body, ..." 13) The picture unmistakenly, probably intentionally takes on superhuman traits. The tantric is in his way superman. The notion that by means of education the physical hunger of the masses can be transformed into intellectual hunger so as to satisfy people's needs 14) also points in this direction.
What is aimed at in the creation of a worldwide federation, or, rather, a global family where social and religious contradictions have ceased to exist l5). To this end Anandamurti recommends the institution of "revolutionary marriage", marriage beyond social, national and caste boundaries, as was previously advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. If he belongs to one of the three highest castes, the Indian sadvipra at his initiation, or more precisely at the first of seven initiations, loses his caste membership and expresses this by cutting the caste string. Anandamurti has always considered that, to safeguard an orderly state of society, a world government consisting of sadvipras must eventually be set up. 16)
The motives that led to Anandamurti's concept of society are quite heterogenous. Marxist dialectics is closely linked to the traditionally Indian cyclic notion of time, and the Marxist concept of class struggle to the Indian caste system. The belief that the welfare of society depends solely on the quality of leadership, is wholly archaic.
It is not surprising that Anandamurti, who defended nothing but his own elitist concept of leadership, was crushed between the millstones of the large political interest blocs. In Kenya too, AM's activity in favour of the poor and against the corruption of the powerful was punished by a ban on the organization. In the West, AM's activity in society was in any case restricted from the beginning to various forms of social work. Yet we must not be misled into thinking that AM only intends to complement meditative inwardness by some socio-political commitment. In its original form Anandamurti's doctrine aims at nothing less than the creation of an ideal society under the leadership of a meditation elite which has developed superhuman faculties by means of tantric yoga.
1) on AM: R. Lenz, "Karunananda. Yogi in Berlin, Missionär fur Ananda Marga", Lutherische Monatshefte 1973, pp. 112-14. M. Mildenberger, "Ananda Marga - Weg zur Glückseligkeit", Materialdienst der EZW (Stuttgart) 38/1975, pp. 306-11. - AM publishes a number of magazines; the most important of them is called Sadvipra.
2) Wells, p. 3.
3) Lenz, Meditation, p. 115.
4) Baba's Grace, pp 80f. (1973-edition)
5) ibid., pp 17f. (1973-edition)
6) The Great Universe, pp 42f. (1973-edition)
7) The Great Universe, pp. 65f., 94
8) Ibid., p. 238. (1973-edition)
9) Ibid., p. 97.
10) Ibid., p. 36.
11) Lenz, Meditation, p. 115.
12) The Great Universe, p. 87 (1973-edition)
13) Ibid., p. 89. (1973-edition)
14) Ibid., p. 6l.
15) Ibid., pp. 21f., 62.
16) Wells, p. 3.
NB: This article has been translated from German which means that some of the citings have been translated from English to German for the German publication of the article. A re-translation to English has been done for the publication of the article in up-Date. However, original quotes have been found concerning most of the above mentioned notes, but concerning "The Great Universe" and "Baba's Grace" we have found the original quotes in editions of the books from 1973, and therefore the number of the pages for these citings are given, according to these editions, and not the editions which have been used by the author.