Spirituality in India: Countering the Roots of Corruption

Spirituality and practices offer a counterweight to corruption and bring ethics and fair practice to government, business, and daily life.
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The world's largest democracy held Legislative Assembly elections in February this year across five states. Greed, in the form of unchecked corruption, bribery, and entrenched special interests, is a burning issue for the people.

In India, bribes are a common occurrence. If you want a building permit, you expect to pay a bribe. Bribery is found not just in the government sector. If you want the death certificate of a dear one, you pay a bribe. Even a birth certificate comes with a price!

However, the people of India are angry and fed up. Over the past year, they have been using their collective power to call for change, including passage of the Jan Lopkal Bill, which would establish independent anti-corruption bodies in every state. (Jan is Sanskrit word for "citizens." Lokpal means "protector of the people.") This is a stronger version of Lopkal bills that have been introduced ten separate times since 1968, without success.

Corruption begins where belongings ends. A lack of faith, and a missing attitude of service and compassion also contribute to corruption, as do selfishness and a sense of insecurity. People try to find security solely in money. But even after acquiring money, the insecurity does not disappear. In fact, a person becomes more fearful if the money is not earned in an ethical way.

Spirituality and practices offer a counterweight to corruption and bring ethics and fair practice to government, business, and daily life. Inner strength and contact with one's inner nature can be cultured.

Mahatma Gandhi used this power of spirituality to help India secure its freedom holding gatherings of wisdom and singing (called "Satsangs") every single day. It naturally raised the human values, taking people from a state of dependence to a state of total responsibility. This was a common practice in India's Golden Era, a time that inspired the Chinese and Europeans like poet, historian, and politician Lord Thomas Macaulay to praise India, saying that they could not find a single beggar, destitute, or illiterate person in the country.

The Gandhian values of ahimsa (nonviolence) and truth transcend time and work everywhere, even today. People should fight injustice, but without anger or violence.

People who take public positions to serve others need a shift in attitude from "What can I gain?" to "What can I contribute?" There are good people in every religion and party who want to work for the society. It is each citizen's duty to vote for uncorrupt and educated candidates -- education defined not simply in terms of holding degrees, but having the human values of compassion, care, and commitment.

A Two Pronged Approach

There needs to be a two pronged approach. First is the need for a strong legislation through "Jan Lokpal" bill and the corrupt should be punished. Second is to create awareness among public about ethical and moral values against corruption. An individual alone cannot fight the menace of corruption. Without strong community support , individuals are likely to succumb to corruption. Strong community which would help the weak and vulnerable is most essential.

With more than 10,000 volunteer teachers in our Art of Living Foundation in India, 100,000 of our youth leaders in rural villages, and hundreds of thousands of volunteers around the country, we lent our support to this call for greater human values in government. I have especially encouraged the youth to make a resolution and take responsibility for the society. Besides marching and other actions, many of our volunteers handed out "I do not take a bribe" signs to government workers, who often happily put them up. The volunteers have also made a commitment to avoid giving bribes themselves, even if something may take longer or not get done. However, they have found that many people respect their commitment and sometimes give the service without a bribe.

Today, we have new leaders who have donned the mantle to run their respective states. At this time I would like to call upon these leaders to address corruption at the root level.

The law is a cure for the present illness. But the work of spirituality is to prevent the illness from coming back. Through education and patience we can create a sense of belongingness, combat fraud, and bring about a change to create a better society.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a spiritual leader and humanitarian, and founder of the International Association for Human Values and the Art of Living Foundation.

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