Letter 27

Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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Religious Institutions


29th July,1990

My dear Pranav,

I have told you Pranav, that Vinoba took his sustenance by striking roots deep into the Upanisads, the Vedas and the Sastras. He always talked of self-knowledge, atman and paramatman. The picture that comes before one's mind is that of a Godman. He was not in that mould. He was essentially a thinker, a jnan-yogi and, more importantly, a constant Karmayogi. His living was ascetic, but it was not to impress others. It was a part of his belief system.

It is therefore very interesting to see his reaction to the established Mathas hierarchies and Devasthanams. He visited many of them. He was beaten at Vaidyanath in Bihar and was sent away without darshan at Jagnannathpuri in Orissa. But his reaction was very interesting.

Basically, he was a rebel, and all these institutions, Mathas, Peethas, were a logical anathema to him. He gave a lecture at Chaturvedamangalam in Ramnad in Tamilnadu. He raised certain issues concerning thoughts, ideas and these institutions. He criticized them for not re-checking their ideas, dropping the dead ones and absorbing new ones. He quoted the Vedas where it is stated that you should winnow the thoughts and ideas like grain and keep only the good corn. It is no use repeating old sayings as mantrams. You must constantly check their validity. He wanted the outdated part of the Vedas also to be rejected. He wanted new ideas to be added to the Vedas, and to retain what is good in them.

He told the Dharmacharyas that they should not become mere postmen, who deliver letters and messages. He gives a smile. A learned father told his son to hold an umbrella in the morning for protection from the sun in the eastern direction. However his son must have sense enough to change the direction in the afternoon, and hold an umbrella in the western direction. Simply because father said, it should not compel him to hold it so in the evening. Vinoba said that it is the obstinate behaviour of believers that created non-believers.

The heads of the mathas did not undertake to the spread of real religion. They only looked after their properties. Their properties were gifted by people for the spreading of religion. The maintenance of such properties became an end in itself. Vinoba wanted Dharma to be constantly spreading and growing. Why should the saints of Tamilnadu be as Nalavar (four greats) and not grow in numbers? Why are the Gurus of the Sikhs restricted to ten? Why not more? We must be capable of finding new ways to live and be religious.

Those who are bound to institutions do not find such new ways. Vivekananda, Gandhi, Aurobindo, Sankaracharya, Tolstoy were the people who really spread Dharma. The established mathas, swamis and churches opposed these thinkers.

Vinoba wanted to know why such religious institutions were unable to stop thefts in their near vicinities? Why was the great Mahaveera, who did not even wear a stitch of cloth on him (Digambara), is kept in an idol form with gold, diamonds and valuables in Bihar? The idol was kept with armed guards and enclosed by several walls and locked gates. Vinoba was very critical of such institutionalization, and avoided it through out his life.

With love,


L. N. Godbole

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