Letter 29

Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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Dignity of Labour


19th August, 1990

My dear Pranav,

Vinoba had one life-long idea in all his speeches: insistence on physical labour by everyone. This was a legacy from Gandhiji. In ancient times Manu, the first law giver of the world, has downrated manual labour in the Smrti. You will therefore find in India that our brahminical education system has always given very low rating for actual manual or physical work. The more one is educated the more one dspises physical work. This attitude continues till today. It was Gandhiji who wanted to establish the dignity of labour in our social life.

Washing your own clothes, cleaning your own utensils, doing all your things by yourself is considered below one's dignity. This attitude was attacked by Gandhiji in his Ashrams. Vinoba carried it further; he took up the job of cleaning latrines even in jail. This was revolutionary idea then, it is revolutionary even today. He attacked untouchability and the aversion for physical work in one stroke.

Vinoba believed that physical labour, bread labour, is something which each one of us must do every day. The Upnisads have said, "Annam Bahukurvit." Increase the production of food. Let this be your vow. The same idea is stated by St. Paul. "He who will not work, neither shall he eat." This is necessary for health and also for the control of emotions. Physical labour is great equaliser.

Vinoba wanted schools to have half-time for labour and half time for learning other things. He wanted teachers to set an example to their students. He thought village power, people's power. With the power of knowledge wielded by a teacher can withstand the destructive power of politicians.

Vinoba wanted teachers to evolve into an Acharya-kula. Their power of knowledge would emerge when they unite. If they divide themselves, then their power will be dissipated. The answers to the problems facing India can only be given by teachers. But such teachers must first renounce politics. They should not be members of any political party. According to Vinoba, "party" takes care of only some 'part' of society. A knowledgeable man, a teacher must think of the whole and not of a part. He must avoid party politics. The teacher must throw in his lot with the common man and Lokaniti (people's power ). Unless he renounces politics he cannot influence politics. He will be effective only when he rejects the values of the power structure and chooses those of the people.

It is difficult, Pranav, for most people to understand this perception: that unless you renounce politics you cannot influence it. But Acharyas like Vasistha were the Kulgurus of Dasratha and Rama. They wer respected for their knowledge, their sage advice, and were acceptable to all. They held no political power. Many amongst us who view India with western eyes find it difficult to understand this role. Mahatma Gandhi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Vinoba were such Acharyas. They never held political posts. They refused the values of the power structure. But they tremendously influenced India.

Vinoba wanted this role of Acharyas to be institutionalised by forming an Acharyakula. He wanted teachers to play this role. He wanted teachers to define Dharma or the context for politicians to behave within those limits.

With love,


L. N. Godbole

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