True Patriotism Is an Active
Part of Universal Brotherhood
The Theosophical Movement
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) taught that the love of
one’s country is an expression of one’s love of mankind
The following article was first
published at the international magazine
The Theosophical Movement” (Mumbai,
India), in its May 2019 edition, pp. 15-18.
Love of and devotion to one’s native country, called patriotism (from the Greek root-word, pater, meaning father) is as natural a sentiment of a human being as filial reverence one feels for one’s parents. As mind-beings, each an incarnated ray of the universal mind, we humans have the innate capacity to enter into intimate relation with every conceivable condition, from the restrictive and limited – such as, interests of our personal self and its limited environ – to expanding areas of experience and feeling to embrace the whole of mankind and the universe. In this vast scale of expanding field of consciousness men, as souls, are at different stages of development. Patriotism is a stage in the evolution of Soul, or growing expression of heart-consciousness, heart being the seat of divine consciousness.
Patriotic feeling for one’s homeland has many facets, and takes on manifold moral colouring. It may be of political, ethnic, geographical, cultural, linguistic, religious, or historical. All these aspects of patriotism may be glimpsed in the seminal classical work of Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India, an eloquent and scholarly expression of his unbounded love of India, its ancient philosophical and cultural heritage, its multi-ethnicity, its art and literature.
His love of the mother land was so intense that he had willed that the ashes of cremation of his mortal remains should be immersed in the rivers and the three seas surrounding the sub-continent, and scattered over the mountains and plains of India. It is noteworthy that his patriotism did not preclude his respect for people and cultures of other nations and his belief in cosmopolitan humanism. He was an ardent protagonist of world peace and amity among nations. This is an example of patriotism of nobler and universal character. There were thousands of others, like him, who, during India’s struggle for freedom from colonial rule, moved by the same lofty sentiment of patriotism, sacrificed their lives and fortunes for political freedom of their motherland and for the uplift of countrymen who have suffered material and spiritual impoverishment by centuries of political slavery to alien rule of invading hordes.
When we study ancient epics, Srutis, and Smritis which are extant, history of rise and fall of kingdoms and empires of many cultures and ethnicities, of their marvellous arts, architectures, from ancient to mediaeval times, dotted all over India, and classical literary and artistic masterpieces of unmatched beauty, depth of insights, wisdom and elevated morality, one feels a deep love of India of hoary antiquity. We cannot help but deeply feel the loss of the glory of the perfect civilization that India was in every field of human endeavour, and a longing to see her restoration to her past glory. This is all the more so when we realize that India is a vast treasure house of profound exhaustless knowledge, which it is her destiny to disseminate freely to the whole world, which, disillusioned with the hollowness of mere material advancement, is looking to ancient India for help and inspiration for a worthier ideal for the reconstruction of a better and a nobler world order.
Many an Indian heart feels such patriotic surge, who are working, each in his own way, towards the desired end. But there are also many pitfalls in this great patriotic enterprise; when, due to lack of spiritual discrimination and understanding of universal brotherhood, it is carried by some to extremes along the lines of cultural exclusiveness with an undue sense of superiority of one’s own brand of culture, a pride of heritage, an indifference to and an intolerance of other traditions and cultures, misreading and misinterpreting historical facts and experience of the nation to subserve their bigoted ideologies, biases and prejudices, causing divisions and discord.
The latter kind of patriotism is termed in modern lexicography as nationalism. Liberal thinkers everywhere have discountenanced it as productive of much evil in the society and a cause of disturbance of world peace. George Orwell draws a clear line of distinction between patriotism and nationalism. He states it well when speaking of patriotism, to the effect that it is devotion to a particular way of life to which one belongs but has no wish to force it upon other people, and that, of its nature, it is defensive, culturally and militarily. Nationalism, he says, on the other hand, is inseparable from desire for power and more prestige for one’s nation over other nations. World history is replete with instances of ethnic, religious and cultural genocide and wars in which nations have indulged, motivated by chauvinistic sentiments, so much so, that pacifists like Samuel Johnson distrusted the very sentiment of patriotism. “It is lamentable”, said Voltaire, “that to be a good patriot one must become the enemy of the rest of mankind.”
Yet patriotism is natural to the human heart, which must be facilitated to flower out into the next higher stage of universalism or internationalism, if it is not to be constrained by narrow conceptions of life and duty, and degraded into chauvinistic nationalism, which is one of the potent causes of world’s misery and national distress.
The soil of the mind of the nation is to be cultivated and enriched with non-sectarian education that eliminates weeds of prejudices and biases, promotes liberal outlook, and inculcates universal values, for the reception of seminal seeds of eternal verities. It is on such soil that grows the spirit of true patriotism which ever tends to mature into universalism. Patriotism is a necessary stage in the evolution of man towards a higher and nobler sentiment of love of mankind as a whole. Says a Master of Wisdom, “In learning to love one’s country one but learns to love humanity the more.”
Individuals have perforce to progress on the path of Self-development along the national and racial line of heredity to which the individual belongs. As one eliminates individual and national defects and prejudices, cultivates nobler virtues born out of an appreciation of the ideal of human perfection through a truer realization of the nature of the true Self, as Self of All, and a conviction of universal brotherhood, one raises oneself morally and spiritually, in however small a measure it may be, and by reaction raises the consciousness of his nation, with a beneficial effect on mankind as a whole. In India the true patriot will devote himself to educating people out of the evils of false caste system which has been the bane of India, the scourge of untouchability, religious superstitions and seek to inculcate religious tolerance and brotherhood among communities, by personal example and labour. “India has been going down for thousands of years. She must take equally long for her regeneration. The duty of philanthropists is to work with the tide and assist the onward impulse”, writes a Master of Wisdom.
In America the patriot will perhaps cherish the universal and humanistic values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as fundamental and natural rights of man free from the regressive theological dogmatism, as articulated in the American Declaration of Independence, and help in the realization of the “new order of ages” encompassing all mankind, envisioned by the noble founders of the Republic.
It will be promotion of true Theosophical education which alone can liberate minds from racial and creedal prejudices which divide man from man, and bring about true national and international unity, concord and cooperation. Mr. Judge wrote, “I believe personally that the day is coming when America is to be the country where the new race will be born that will know all about the true laws and what is right, and will be able to perform it.” (W.Q.J. Series No. 3, p. 17) Rescuing the seminal values of national ethos, which might have fallen into degradation, towards reconstruction of social order on higher ideals would be the endeavour of the true patriot of every nation. The spirit of true patriotism, which every patriot ought to imbibe, is stated by Gandhiji, who practiced it in the service of his nation and for the larger good of humanity:
“My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or exploitation of other nationalities. The conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always, in every case without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large.” (“The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi”, Navajivan Publishing House, p. 28)
The article “Nationalism and Internationalism”, was published at the associated websites on 05 June 2019. Click to see other articles by the same Indian magazine.