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Why does man make countries? What is patriotism? || Acharya Prashant, with youth (2014)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Listener: Sir, can you give your views on nationalism and patriotism?

Speaker: See, man always requires something to separate him from others. In this separation is the protection of his ego. If I were just the same as you, how will you say that I am ‘I’ and you are ‘you’? So it is very important that in some ways you declare that I am different from you and man has created a thousand ways in which he can separate himself from others. What are these thousand ways? He will give himself labels according to economic classification, religion, caste, educational qualifications, gender, and age. It is very important for us to give ourselves labels.

What is a label? A label is a superficial answer to the question; ‘Who am I’? So, somebody asks you that who are you? You can very quickly say that I am a 20 year old male, pursuing an engineering course, it makes it convenient for you, and you can provide an answer. The political entity which you call as the ‘country’ is another such label, remember I am talking about the political entity, that which has been created by politicians. It is necessary for you to be separated. So, you find another way to be separated. ‘I belong to country X and you belong to country Y,’ and remember in this separation lies the sustenance of the ego. Now I can answer the question, ‘who am I?’ Now I have an identity: ‘I belong to country X’.

You can divide yourself on the basis of tribe, you can divide yourself on the basis of all kinds of beliefs, and you can keep putting yourself into groups and groups. What is the purpose of doing all this? So that you can have an identity, a collective identity. ‘Now, I am somebody’. It is such that this identity is fed so deep into our minds since childhood that we never really question it. Ask yourself, ‘what really is the usefulness of having countries?’ Ask yourself, ‘why this planet must be really divided into nations? Is mankind anyway benefiting from it?’ In history of mankind thousands of wars have been fought and they have brought great suffering. A large proportion of those wars have been fought in the name of nationalism. The ones who have been at the forefront of these wars have been called patriot. Since the day you were born, you have been taught to worship patriots. But you never asked that what patriotism is exactly? To kill someone else because he or she does not belong to your so called country. Because if you are a patriot, you will always have an affiliation, you would always be biased. What else happens in name of country, except that large armies are kept? Why must a country have an army? You would say for its defense. Defense against whom?

Listener 1: Another country.

Speaker: And why must another country have an army? To defend itself against the first country. So, why do armies exists at all? Because there are countries.

Today there is so much nuclear material on the earth that you can destroy the earth hundreds of times. You destroy it once, then again, then again and you keep destroying it. The countries who have these warheads say that we have them; we produce them in order to defend ourselves against another country. What is this madness? And you feel proud, every citizen feels proud, when its country adds to its nuclear might. ‘Wow! My country has 200 bigger, more powerful and more brutal nuclear weapons’.

I want to ask you something. Surely, the Ganga is a beautiful river, is it not?

Listeners (everyone): Yes.

Speaker: Surely, the Himalayas are beautiful mountains, are they not?

Listeners (everyone): Yes.

Speaker: Are the Alps any less beautiful? There are beautiful rivers in Europe. I am asking you, ‘is it not a tragedy that you cannot go to those rivers in Europe?’ Today if you want, you can pick up your bike or car and go to Himalayas, but you cannot do that when it comes to Indus River. And the Indus is a very beautiful river. The ancient literature of this country came up on the banks of the Indus. But you can’t go to Indus. Why? Because it lies in another country. You can’t even dream to go to Indus. Is it not bad that when entire Earth was available to us, we were so stupid that we created these boundaries and now we are saying that whatever is outside my boundary is not accessible to me? ‘You cannot come to Ganga and I cannot go to Indus’. Is that not highly stupid? I have to remain within my boundary; you have to remain within your boundary. When somebody has to remain within its boundary, what is that boundary called?

Listeners (everyone): Jail

Speaker: A jail. Just that this jail is so large, that we don’t feel that this is a jail. You can’t go outside without getting the permission, but you feel so proud of the entire affair. A particular day is approaching and they are same people who are asking that let there be celebration, let there be love. Why are you displaying missiles and tanks in this celebration? Who are you trying to scare? But that’s the whole point of a country. I will kill the other one because man’s mind is such that he cannot live without violence. If there is no violence, what is the need of a boundary?

Armies feel good about boundaries because if there are no boundaries there will be no armies. Politicians also feel good. If there are 200 countries in the world, there would be 200 presidents. So, let there be 400 countries, so that there can be 400 presidents. For them it is very important that the concept of nation is upheld. So, India had remained undivided there could have been only one Prime Minister. India got divided into three, now there are three Prime Ministers. Now, two persons can fulfill their ambition of being a Prime Minister. So, partition is good for whom? For that ambitious politician and you do not realize that. You worship those politicians.

These armies that you are so fond of ultimately turn upon their own citizens. Have you heard of an incident in China called as Tiananmen Square?

Listeners (everyone): Yes, Sir.

Speaker: Who killed all those protesting students? Most of them were of your age, protesting at a particular place, asking for democracy. Tanks were brought in to crush those students, and thousands were killed. The same army that you are so fond of ultimately kills you because that is what the politicians want; power. Power on whom? You. And army is its instrument. But, we are so deeply steeped in our conditioning that we will never ask intelligently that what is all this? Why must there be separations? Why must there be boundaries? We will not ask. Yes, of course India is beautiful. But which India are we referring to? That India which is a product of political process or that India which gave the world its first light of wisdom? I am greatly fond of India, but not India the political unit because political units come and go, maps keep on changing. I am fond of that India in which the openness of mind was first learned, that India where the Upanishads were born and the land of Mahavira and Buddha. That is my India. And that India does not exist on a map. As far as that India goes, Christ is an Indian, Einstein is an Indian. Everybody who is intelligent is an Indian, and obviously that India does not have 1.3 billion people. That India is a very privileged and rare place where everybody cannot enter. It is not geography; it is not a piece of land. The country you refer to is just a piece of land and that is why it can be denoted on a map; just as a plot that can be shown on a piece of paper. Mostly what people mean by a country is just a plot. But what is it that is so fascinating about a plot? Nothing. It is something else.

Know the real India. And that real India has no President and Prime Minister. That real India needs no armies, that real India is indestructible, that real India does not need a Republic Day parade, that real India is universal. Abraham Lincoln is an Indian; Faiz Ahmed Faiz is an Indian.

I am asking you to look at the perverse effect of confining yourself to the boundaries on a map. You know of a few Indian greats, but if I ask you that have you heard of Lieh Tzu? You will say, ‘No’. I ask you that have you heard of Chuang Tzu? You will say, ‘No’. You read Lao Tzu? You will say, ‘No’. Why have you not read them? Why do they deserve this contempt? Because they do not belong to your country. But, if I ask you that have you heard of Krishna? You will say, ‘Yes’. I am saying that Lao Tzu is as magnificent as Krishna, but you will not read Lao Tzu just because his place of birth lies outside a particular line, and you have identified yourself very deeply with that particular line. I ask you that have you heard of Bahauddin?

This is the case with every identity that you have, not only with national identity, but identity of religion, economics, ideologies, all kind of things. These identities limit you, make you a dwarf, they make you waste this one precious life. Are you getting it? A few of you might not be feeling pleased with what I am saying because we take pride in calling ourselves patriots. And what is our patriotism all about? That when cricket team is playing, we all shout that we want a six. That is our shallow patriotism. We go and spoil the roads, go and spit on public walls, misuse all public property, go and urinate on public tracks and then we say that I love my India. We do not pay income tax. India is among those countries in the world where we have biggest thieves who do not pay their income tax. But in the evening they go, switch on TV and say, ‘Yes! India must win’. That is your common patriot. Who am I? I am a patriot. Why I am a patriot? Because I keep abusing border countries all the time, that is my patriotism.

Listener 2: You said that our boundaries are our limitations. Sir, there are several incidents in which army helps people.

Speaker: He has raised a very nice point. He says that army plays a very humanitarian role as well. Yes! Army helps people. For example, in recent Uttaranchal flood, thousands were saved by army. When there was an earthquake in Kashmir, it was the army which came for the rescue. But tell me, ‘when the army is saving people in Uttaranchal, is it using missile launcher? Is it using nuclear weapons? Is it using any guns?’

It is there to provide a service like a saint. It is not armed machinery that is helping. Are you getting it? Are you using missiles to help people in Uttaranchal? Are you using grenades? Do you get the difference? There is a difference between a service oriented force that is there to help people and a force that has been mobilized to attack and kill. The armies of the world are primarily oriented to attack and kill. This humanitarian part of them is only a side function that they can also do, if needed. But, this is not there primary objective. Yes, there must be people like these, groups like these, organizations like these that are useful at time of disasters. You have fire brigade, and they too are well-trained professionals. They are fit and they fight fires, which can be a life threatening occupation. But, are they carrying riffles? Do fire brigade people arrive on tanks? Whosoever wants to help people, will help people. What is all this destructive arrangement for?

Of what help to anybody is a nuclear bomb? Ask yourself and find out whether a nuclear bomb can be of help to anybody? Except something that can make the other person scared and in extreme situation totally annihilate the other person. By army are you trying to rid people of fear, or are you trying to strike fear in them?

Remember we are talking against concept of boundaries. We are trying to find out that why does man so desperately need boundaries when we know that every boundary is a separation.

Excerpted from a ‘Shabd-Yog’ session. Edited for clarity.

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