(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 12 August 2002.)
UNITY IN diversity has become a catch phrase for civilised people who celebrate differences and want to end civil disruption, communal violence, religious conflict and international tensions.
The principle of unity in diversity has its origins in the concept of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, inconceivable [simultaneous] oneness and difference. Although The Vedas enjoin: sarvam khaly idam brahma (everything is non-different from the God who is the Supreme Brahman), this creates logical enigmas. For example, if everything is one, why don't I eat my father? Further; how can Brahman be complete since it also presupposes negation of everything material?
The idea of simultaneous oneness and difference may pose problems for rationalists, but it is easily assimilated when one accepts an omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God. In other words, essential truths contain paradoxes, and we can't know everything by reason and deduction. For example, our body functions as a holistic unit, but we constantly make distinctions between stomach, legs, head and heart. Significantly, within ourselves, there is unity and diversity.
We want to relate to ourselves and others, and yet be separate. Ah -- to repair to a remote Himalayan village, dance daily on the streets, or find a cave, distant hermitage or ashram where we can simply contemplate mystic phenomena for the rest of our lives. Wouldn't it be wonderful to be rid once and for all of responsibility and unceasing duties, and be a renunciant?
Readers of the Gita learn that the true mystic is `not he who lights no fire and performs no duty'. This theme recurs in Vedic literature. Madhvacharya writes: `When one thinks that the living entity is non-different in all respects from the Supreme Lord, there is no doubt that he is in ignorance'.
Great sages of the past have taught us that renunciation is incomplete unless we use everything in God's service. For instance, Rupa Goswami has written in his Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu (2.255-256) that `When one is not attached to anything, but at the same time accepts everything in relation to Krishna, one is rightly situated above possessiveness. On the other hand, one who rejects everything, without knowledge of its relationship to Krishna, is not as complete in his renunciation'.
One can be active but learn how to dedicate all his or her activities to God. This is the perfection of renunciation, the deeper understanding of meditational life, and the key to reconciliation between all peoples. Duty as a sacred principle is joyous to perform.