When we think of Social Service and Social Work what comes to our mind usually are physical needs of our people like food, water, health, medical services, transportation, communication, etc,. While these are absolutely essential for our physical existence there is something even more important for our happiness, and that of our society. This is character, morality, truthfulness, unselfishness, brotherhood, service mindedness and concern for the wellbeing of fellow citizens in the society.
Unless these moral values are well developed and become part of our life and activity neither can one be happy nor build a good society. “There is a Sanskrit saying “ಯದ್ಬಾವಂ ತದ್ಭವತಿ” As you think it will happen.1 To improve or build a good society one should have good thoughts, good vision and good efforts to achieve it. Nature has endowed each of us with many good qualities, but most of them do remain dormant. To tap these qualities and build up our character right environment and good association would be needed. Dharma or Righteousness and Faith or religion provides this.
It is necessary to be clear what do we mean by Dharma or righteousness and religion or faith.
“Dharma is of complex significance. It stands for those ideals and purpose influence and institutions which shape character of man both as an individual and a member of society. It is the law of right living the observance of which secures the double object of happiness on earth and salvation. Dharma is that which holds together all living beings.
In ethical sense Dharma is the cement which unites woman with man to form integrated structure of society. A mere aggregation of people does not make society just as a mere accumulation of bricks does not make a building. Just as bricks are held together by cement to make a structure so also Dharma holds people together by spiritual force.2 Dharma is essential, because it promote individual security and happiness as well as stability of society. Each man’s dharma has its own role in the larger and more complex network of social texture.3 By playing the role of his own dharma man shows awareness of others in society as well. The interphysical aspect certainly contributes to the ethos of society. It is the foundation for the good of individual and the good of social order.
Religion is closely intertwined with Dharma. It not just worships in temples and our houses as guided by our priests. It is the greatest motive power that releases the infinite energy which is in the nature of every man. When we come to spiritual concept that all people are endowed with the same divine (or natural) energy and all are equal then and there religion becomes a real living force. It will come into our nature lives in our every movement, penetrates every porus of our society and become infinitely powerful to achieve good.4 It is good to bring peace for oneself and others. It gives great motive power to do good and a set of principles that relies on spiritual power of its followers. Religion provides moral guidance, a sense that life has meaning and a feeling of shared values with community. Religion involves ethical conduct and a set of values that believes in Dharma.5 Religious values and righteousness inspires social workers to work for the betterment of fellow citizens selflessly.
Dharma has deep roots in our culture. Our ancestors had realized that given several natural differences among people along with manmade inequalities righteous conduct by people along can overcome the consequent difficulties and lived happily.
Righteousness and religion are parts of once culture. Culture of a country depends on the relationship of the culture of those who shaped it and their relationship with the society. Attention is to be given to inculcation of the fundamental basic values of the culture to each person in society. Our Rishis (saints) have told us to follow truth and righteousness so that both individual and social wellbeing can be achieved. It is important to note that though ultimate goal of man is liberation from the bondage of the world the importance of living proper worldly life was never ignored. Prapanchika and Paramarthika are two sides of the same coin. The ancients designed four ashrams of life (Brahmacharya, Grihastha , Vanaprastha and Sanyasa) for the inclusive development of people in succeeding phases each measured fully with moral values and concern for the welfare of all.6
After Mahabharata War when Dharmaraya asked Bhishma how Peace and Order can be established in society and how people be kept happy he was told that by not getting angry, by not deceiving any one, by speaking truth and being just both inwardly and outwardly, living honestly and sharing wealth with the needy, society can be kept happy, strong and peaceful.7 If one practices dharma dharma protects people in fact these values are parts of Dharma.
ಧಾರಣಾತಿ ಧರ್ಮ ಇಕ್ವಾ-ಹುಃ
ಧರ್ಮಾಧಾರಯತಿ ಪ್ರಜಾಃ || 8
Even Upanishads state that all householders should look after society by giving donations to various institutions aiming at social good and participate in tasks concerned with social reconstruction.9 Likewise fundamental principale propounded by Bhagavad-Gita for a good social order was based on social good not just on individual good only.10 It was regarded possible to achieve self realization by performance of one’s duty as conducive to socio-ethical code.11 Give something which you can to your society and country rather than seek something from it. The same code of conduct continued to be upheld even several centuries after the epic period. Tiruvelluvar who lived in early Christian period in Tamilnadu said that “man is born as a social being. He alone truly lives as a social being who lives as a social cooperator. He who does not recognize this is to be counted as dead and that there is no price too high to pay for being of service to society.”11
Cooperative work and social service help to promote healthy social relationship. Socially useful productive manual work was considered as a healthy and important mechanism for educating in the scheme of basic education.12 Religious and value based education will help our society to overcome inherited Social problems based on work and vocation of people. There are age old prejudices in our society towards certain kinds of manual work. This has given rise to social stratification based on caste resulting in social inequalities and injustice. Inculcation of manual work to our students right from primary school will help remove social inequalities by teaching dignity of labour.
It helps to promote national integration.13 So long as society tries to cure evils by laws, police and force it will not be achieved fully. force against force will not work . They can only be cured by unselfish right conduct. Voluntary social work should be based on morality, Righteousness, (Dharma) spiritualism14 as it inspires social workers to work for the wellbeing of society fully besides promoting character of people.
The socio-religion reform movement in India between the 12th and 19th century clearly provide much evidence to show what important role religion and righteousness can play in promoting welfare of people by fighting against all kind of discriminations in society and promoting equality. Foreign invasions and conquests and internal fights among Indian rulers has caused political and administrative weakness in the early medieval period. Indian society was suffering due to degeneration of Hindu social structure and religion. Discrimination of people based on caste, religion and sex had created much tension among people. High caste people were ill-treating lower classes and Brahmin priestly community was exploiting them financially by forcing on them meaningless rituals and rites. It appeared that the whole society was being held for ransom by these priests. Gradually lower classes rose against caste discrimination, ill-treatment and meaningless and expensive religious practices. At this time a number of saints, scholars and ascetics came forward with genuine interest to reform the society. Through their untiring efforts the cullt of Bhakti was transformed into a forceful reform moment which covered the whole of India.15
The Bhakti movement, the Hindu socio-religious renaissance began with Basavanna who was born in 1131 A.D. In Bagevadi, Bijapur district of Karnataka state. Though born to parents who had a good standing in society, Basavanna even from his boyhood was concerned for the equality, and welfare of all lower classes in society and close interaction with them. He rebelled against then existing social and religious order and strived to achieve equality for all. His goal was “equal status for all and equal share for all”16 Basavanna tried to end exploitation of people by Brahmin priestly class and taught them to think and act rationally. He asked people not to waste their life thinking and worrying about hell and heaven and told them that our good behavior and characters is heaven and bad behavior and character is hell. He also told them not to worry about the dead past and unknowable future but to live in present, do good deeds and to be happy enjoying the good fruits.17 He worked to end untoucability by telling that all people were children of god and hence “All were equal really there was no upper and lower caste. He promoted equal status and good education for women. Many women joined Basavann’s reform moment as his disciples and co-workers including the outstanding lady Akkamahadevi and his own wife Nilambike.18 Basavanna opposed all discrimination based on caste, sex, religion and gave sanctity to family relations. He taught people not to depend on any one for their living, to earn their livelihood by hard work and to give some of their earnings to the poor in the society to make them happy. The concept of Kayaka and Dasoha was a cardinal principle of Basavanna. Basavann’s teaching appealed to a large section of the society and lakhs of people joined his order. They followed Basavann’s ideology and brought about great deal of social transformation through19 their righteousness and religion. Even now large section of Karnataka population are of Basavann’s faith and they have been doing good work in providing good education and free boarding and lodging facilities to poor students from all over the state.
But religious and social evils were not confined to any particular region of India. It was wide spread. The condition of people especially gender discrimination was so highly spread and so bad in Bengal that women suffered much through sati, child marriage and denial of education.20 Conflict between faith and reason and exploitation of lower classes by the higher ones had become intolerable. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many great religious reformers, intellectuals and journalists in Bengal founded many institutions to bring about social reforms for the betterment of the people. The spread of English education and liberal ideas also had prepared the background for this.21Most well known of these reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy who founded Brahmosamaj, and Keshabchandrasen, who founded Prarthana samaja. Raja Ram Mohan Roy helped to bring about the end of the Sati (Burning of widows) and promoted free education to depressed classes. Keshabachandrasen promoted widow remarriage and education for girls. Great reformers like Dwarakanth Tagore, Debendranatha Tagore S. Banerjee and others played important roles in bringing about social reforms. In Bombay presidency also great reformers like Ranade, Chandavarker, Gokhale and Tilak. promoted community relations and women’s educations besides awakening national consciousness. Likewise Dayananda Saraswathi, a great reformer, founded Aryasamaja in 1877 which operated from Punjab. The Swami encouraged widow remarriage, women’s education and provided low cost education to poor people through his national education programme.22
Other great reformers were Nanak, the founder of Sikh religion, who promoted equality of all people and brotherhood of man, Ramanuja the founder of visistadwaita who allowed depressed classes and other out-castes to visit and pray in temples. “it marked the beginning of the movement to uplift them”. Kabir was another great reformer who preached religion of love, equality of man and wished to abolish caste system. He tried to promote Hindu, Muslim friendship parching the Ram and Rahim were the same, and both can be found both in temple and masques.23 Chaitanya too preached universal brotherhood, equality of people, denounced caste system, dominations of priestly class and ostentatious religious ceremonies. Like Meera Bai, through his sole stirring lyrical music he inspired people to pray with devotion and love humanity.24 Work of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Vivekananda to educate mankind spiritually and to promote equality and brotherhood of man and oneness and universality of all religion is so profound and detailed it cannot be even summed up here for want of place. Nevertheless I would like to point out that though Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was deeply immersed meditation and prayer for liberation he was no less concerned for the welfare of people suffering around. For instance he was much worried about the miserable condition of women who had been suffering from Inhuman discrimination, denial of social welfare rights and education because of age old blind beliefs of the society. He was convinced that until women were given good basic education neither would they improve nor India would progress. He told Gowrima, his close devotee and follower, “Women of this country are in miserable condition, you should work for their improvement”. Gowrima established an ashram named “Sharada Ashram” in Barackpore for girl’s education and worked for women’s education and training for forty-five years.25 He influenced his devotees and disciples not to bury themselves in seeking their own good but to work for the betterment of the society. Once Vivekananda expressed his wish to Ramakrishna that he wanted to go away to a far off cave to sit and meditate to achieve final liberation and sought his blessings. Ramakrishna was very displeased with this and told Vivekananda “What kind of selfish person are you? You seek only your personal happiness. See god everywhere. Grow like a banyan tree giving shelter and happiness to thousands of people”.26 This instruction of his guru was turning point in Vivekananda’s life who devote his entire life for the welfare of India. Once Vivekananda said” Progress of India is dependent on progress and development of ordinary people common mans education and training is the only savior. Lakhs of our fellow citizens are living worse than animals. India cannot achieve any progress by keeping these people apart. Our youngsters should follow ideals of service, sacrifice. Service is the best worship that can be offered to Bharatmata.27
Vivekananda had a down to earth perception of religion and spirituality. He knows very well that hunger has no caste, no spirituality. Service to the suffering humanity became a bed rock and backbone of his philosophy. 28
Removal of ignorance and blind beliefs and providing knowledge and education is the best way to help people to strengthen themselves to achieve a bright future for themselves and the society. In the last century Ramakrishnaashrama founded by Swami Vivekananda has been providing good education to several thousands of students all over India besides helping poor students. Free boarding and lodging. Equally important is its role in dissemination of knowledge by making available at affordable prices very good books and literature to all people on Indian culture, religion, philosophy, education, family and society.28
Great spiritual and religious leaders of our time like Bhagavan Sathya Saibaba, Chandrashekara Bharathy Swami of Sringeri Mut, Shiva kumara swami of Siddaganga mut. Tumkur, endeavored to bring about improvement in lives of poor and distressed people by providing free education to their children through their schools and colleges and free boarding and lodging facilities and influencing. People improve their character and morality and to help the community.
Sathya Saibaba when millions of people both in India and abroad sought as a great guru and spiritual master did not himself spend any time in worshiping or observing rituals. His goal was to reform our society through Dharma and to uplift poor and ill placed people from their misery.
Unlike other religious-social reformers Saibaba believed in transforming people in to charactered, morally bound living people with a sincere concern for the welfare of all in the society. His message for all was Sathya, Shanthi, and Prema - truth, peace and love. He urged all to base their activities on Righteousness. He said the most obvious quality in human being is love. He advised “lead your life with love, develop love and live as embodiment of love” serving the poor and ill placed. Saibaba had thousands of wells dug in many villages in India from Bihar to Kerala to provide drinking water to people and also established several colleges and schools to provide free education for people. There are thousands of Satya Sai organization both in India and abroad serving people.29 Love is meaningless if it does not transform itself into service.
Chandrasekhara Bharathy of Sringeri peeta too advised his devotees to improve their character, morality and love for fellow human beings before trying to help others. The Swami said “our country suffers now not for want of religious institutions but for want of people who are prepared to conform to rules. Instead of trying to change the world change yourself. If each individual reforms himself society will get automatically reformed for better. The Swami’s message was Dharma should be the basis for all work.30
There is a great deal to learn from the life of Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom fighter and father of the nation, about the role of righteousness in improving our society. An inflexible faith in god had been deep rooted in Gandhi. He was a great devotee of Sri Rama. He once said pluck my eyes I will not be dead cut off my ears I will not be dead, but blast my belief in god then I will be dead.” But Gandhi was rooted in god consciousness rather than ritualistic religion. He was primarily interested in the welfare of our people by training them to get employment, ending poverty and removing ignorance through education. Political struggle in which he was fully involved to get independence for India was only the first step in creating Gram Raj to achieve a happier life for the people. Gandhi said that “It would be a mockery to what is call spiritual good in society when stark poverty, misery disease and ignorance are ruling.31
Today there is a great need for all strength and inspiration that righteousness and faith can give us to lift our society from the depth of degradation it has fallen in the last seven decades.
Though India is the world’s largest democracy and the Indian constitution declares that all Indians are equal and ensures political, economic and social equality, more than forty per cent of Indians are suffering from unemployment, low income lack of adequate nutritious food, ill health, want of good and quick health services and unavailability of affordable good general and technical education. Though government of India has introduced several economic and social schemes to help poor, poverty stricken, unemployed, under employed and lower middle class people, the funds allocated for their relief and facilities offered to them have not reached or most of them benefited due to massive corruption among administrative officials entrusted with the disbursement of benefits and corrupt politicians with power to allocate the funds. In the last seventy years corruption, immorality and unconcern for real social service have increased. Most of our political leaders have been unable to enforce discipline as themselves are not righteous.
They have to be taught how great role Dharma played to keep our people happy in ancient India. Dharma had the highest place. Even king was not above law or dharma. In fact dharma constituted the essence of kingship. The kings were thought that happiness of people was the happiness of king. His own happiness was not dear what was good for people’s happiness was good for the king also’
“ಪ್ರಜಾಸುಖೇ ಸುಖಂರಾಜ್ಞ ಪ್ರಜಾನಾಂತಚಹಿತೇ ಹಿತ
ನಾತ್ಮ ಪ್ರಿಯಂ ಹಿತಂ ರಾಜ್ಞಾ ಪ್ರಜಾನಾಂತ ಪ್ರಿಯಂಹಿತಂ” 32
Moreover as our people are progressing in education, and technology most of them are taking to western materialism and ways of life and acquisition of wealth illegally and corruptly to satisfy their needs even when it is hurting other members of our society. More ever as in our democratic system as every citizen has a right to act as he desires. Many are exploiting liberty for their licentious behavior. Declining morality in administration and politics has increased injustice and is weakening our social fabric. These developments have been badly influencing our younger generation’s character, mode of thought and behavior further weakening our society. When our thoughts. Values And character is influenced by righteousness our families, and society gets reformed for better making it possible to live happier.
Why is our society affected by so much misery asked Buddha. It is because of our selfishness. To remove selfishness and to divert our energy to service of the society Dharmic teaching is necessary. Dharma should become the foundation as well as guide to reform society.
Dr KV Ram