Title: Applied Spirituality; Author: Swami Agnivesh; Publisher: Harper Element; Pages: 156; Price: Rs.350
In this small yet punchy book, Swami Agnivesh unveils all that has gone wrong with organised religions. Agnivesh, who dresses in saffron like a Hindu holy man, took to activism after giving up a cushy job in Kolkata and embracing the Arya Samaj. Over the years, he has crusaded on many issues, particularly bonded labour. Here he speaks on one of his favourite subjects: religion.
Religions are and are meant to be nurseries of the culture of hospitality rather than the fortresses of hostility. But every religion, while turning against other religions, is also viciously turning against itself. This is why Agnivesh underlines the need to draw a line between religion and spirituality, making it clear that the two are, often, contrary to each other. Spirituality, he argues, has the power to liberate people from the ghettos of religion.
In the context of India, Agnivesh emphasizes the need for a passionate pursuit of social justice. And all inter-faith movements must be based on the foundation of spirituality, not institutionalized religion. Inter-faith dialogue did not make much progress because it did not look at the horizon beyond religion, he argues. The time has come for inter-faith movement to become a genuine movement rather than be confined to the religious elite.
The book makes for powerful reading, more so the interviews Agnivesh gave at different points of time and which figure towards the end. But there are concepts in the book that are difficult to digest.
While one cannot disagree when he says there are simply too many fake swamis, Agnivesh makes some sweeping statements: “The common man no longer turns to religion for inspiration to become a better human being. People expect no public good to come from religion… Places of worship have become a haven for parking ill-gotten wealth amassed by those who are in the race for making quick money.” Really?
There is more: “Today, religion is politicized and politics is communalized.” All religions are politicized and all politics is communalized? By the way, why must a 156-page book cost Rs.350?