Satyagraha literally means an insistence on truth. If we consider the movement against corruption that has gripped India’s national imagination today as a contemporary satyagraha, we must also be willing to examine the truth and all its constituents, beginning with ourselves.
The truth of any situation is usually contextual and relative. It depends on which part of the elephant you are standing next to, as illustrated in the popular story of the blind men and the elephant. The one who touched the tail thought it was a rope, the one its legs thought it was a tree, and so on, demonstrating how individuals can have their own circumstantial truths.
There does exist a larger concept of truth – an overarching principle, philosophy or set of values that most human beings respond to and agree to accept. These include the ‘goodness’ of kindness and compassion, the ‘wrongness’ of wilful infliction of violence, and so on. These can fluctuate according to the times and prevalent cultural norms, for example the belief in the sanctity of life, which might include all life for some and only human life for others.
There is a Truth beyond this, too, which has been referred to as ‘perennial philosophy’ –the kernel embedded at the heart of all wisdom traditions. It is the belief that there is a Truth that powers and underlies reality, and whose ‘suchness’ remains unaffected by the events and circumstances at any given time. What this Truth is, and how it can be experienced, is interpreted and explained by wisdom traditions in diverse terms.
Which of these levels of truth are we dealing with in the satyagraha against corruption? Clearly, perennial Truth is ever-present and needs no insistence to establish. Seeking it is the journey of a lifetime (or lifetimes) the spiritual aspirant commits to undertake. However, it is not divorced from other quests for truth, including the one related to practical truth, which might be relative to persons and circumstances.
To exist and survive for as long as it has, we must accept that the culture of corruption is not just out there, practised by a few bad guys. We have all been complicit in its perpetuation in some form or another. And we can all be complicit in its eradication as well, provided we begin by questioning our own motivations and actions.
This is so because one cannot presume to question another if one does not know one’s own truth. We must ask ourselves, ‘Am I incorruptible? If not, what is it that prompts me to indulge in any form of corruption? Because it will make life easier? Because I will have more money? Because I do not want to suffer the consequences of my actions?’ And follow it up with, ‘Am I willing to give this up?’
Only when we have established this truth within, can we presume to embark upon the crusade to root out corruption without.