Spiritual Revolutionaries

A day comes when some intelligent people emerge from the exploited masses having detected the exploiters’ techniques to dupe the people, even though the media is controlled. At this stage the exploiters become active intellectually to prevent the germination of the seed of liberation. They take control of the education system, the printing presses and the propaganda agencies in a last and desperate attempt to raise high embankments to contain the surging tide of public discontent. But soon after comes the day of change when the viksubdha shudras (disgruntled masses) rise up in revolt and the high sand embankments get washed away by the floods of revolution.[1]
— P. R. Sarkar

Sarkar’s Vision of Spiritual Revolutionaries: Sadvipras

During different epochs, various classes led society and passed from a progressive, dynamic phase into an exploitative, degenerate one, due to their selfish class interests. Because of this reality, the movement of the Social Cycle has not been smooth. Class conflicts ignite revolutions and counter-revolutions between progressive and reactionary forces. This erratic, turbulent movement causes great suffering and confusion, and often brings society to the brink of disaster. Is humanity doomed to be continually dominated by opposing class interests?

While PROUT takes a macro view of class struggles, it also accepts that strong individuals have the ability to influence and offer hope to society. PROUT envisions the formation of intellectually developed spiritual leaders called sadvipras, which literally means those with subtle minds. Sadvipras are those who by virtue of their physical, mental and spiritual efforts have developed the positive qualities of all classes combined. They also possess the moral force and courage to fight injustice and exploitation and to protect the weak.

The qualities of a sadvipra include honesty, courage, dedication and sacrificing spirit for humanity. They are firmly established in the universal ethical principles that are outlined in the following chapter. They are leaders devoted to the welfare of society. By personal example they can inspire and guide society forward in a holistic and progressive way.

During his lifetime, Sarkar always spoke of this concept with the highest respect, saying that sadvipras represent the greatest ideal that one could aspire to be. We can understand that as society progresses, an ever-higher ethical standard will be expected of these spiritual revolutionaries.

Anyone can become a sadvipra by humbly learning the positive traits of all four classes and setting a personal example of self-discipline and service. Sarkar writes:

Our approach is not to call these classes bad, … [but rather to encourage everyone to] practice and develop the qualities of all these classes. For instance, the developed mind required by vipras for an intellectual is necessary for everyone… . Even if one is a shudra or a vaeshya, or a member of any other class, every person … has to work to have a developed and strong mind. Every person has to work to build a strong and healthy body. Every person has to work for a living… . The work of a sweeper–the lowest form of work–is far more respectable than depending upon others for one’s daily needs. Not only has earning money and having a balanced and dependable economic life been given importance, … but even the lowest of these classes, in whom people usually do not see any good, has been given equal importance. Everyone… has to serve others physically. This is the work of the shudras, or the workers. [Sadvipras] cannot develop themselves completely unless they can also perform this work efficiently. In short, all the requirements of the four classes have to be mastered by each individual… .

It is not only the mastery of these trades which is necessary; the regular practice of these trades is an essential duty… . Every individual thus becomes universally fit. One makes as good a vipra as a shudra. Thus, no scope is left for an individual to leave others behind and form a special group.

A classless society is not aimed at … but is evolved by practice. This approach, to break a society full of classes and sects, was never thought of before. The very classes which appeared as a logical development and evolution can be broken up by an even more logical method to form only one classless society… .

[PROUT] has not been formed as a result of cyclic changes in the economic sphere of the world like the evolution of communism, rather it is a radical departure from all existing economic practices or theories conceived so far. It is a revolution in the economic sphere of the world’s life.[2]

While Sarkar sees the rotation of the Social Cycle as inevitable, he believes these socio-spiritual visionaries who have struggled to rise above their class interests can smooth society’s progress. Because they have risen above their class identity, they feel allegiance to everyone, not to any group or party or nation. They are magnanimous, multicultural, dedicated to justice for all. Without personal ambition, with a universal spiritual outlook, their thoughts are clear. Sarkar describes their role as one of working in the “nucleus” of the Social Cycle, assisting each group to develop and lead society in turn. As soon as signs of social decay or exploitation appear, sadvipras will apply sufficient force by mobilizing the people to accelerate the transition to the next varna, thereby decreas- ing periods of turmoil.

PROUT’s model of sadvipra leadership seeks to harness the dynamic forces of humanity in a positive way. PROUT utilizes the individual and collective potentials on all levels–physical, psychic, social and spiritual–and synthesizes them in an effort to create an ever more progressive and vibrant society.

How Sadvipras Develop: Spiritual Activism

Sarkar wrote, “It becomes the prime duty of all people to make them- selves and others sadvipras.”[3] He emphasized that there is a perennial conflict going on everywhere between good and evil, light and darkness, virtue and vice. Humanity progresses through this conflict. Through this struggle for justice, through this churning, sadvipras are created.

However, spiritual revolutionaries also develop through another struggle, the inner one. To continually expand the mind through meditation and spiritual practice, to accept the Supreme as one’s goal, must take place simultaneously with the struggle for social justice. Both are essential.

“Sacred activism” is a term coined by theologian Andrew Harvey which expresses the spirit of the sadvipra. He writes, “From the heart of the sacred activist flows a golden, ecstatic torrent of passion to change all things out of love for all things.”[4]

Sarkar indicated that in addition to one’s conduct, morality and fighting spirit, one’s universal outlook is also a way to judge whether a person is a sadvipra. “Due to their benevolent idealism and mental development they naturally look upon all with love and affection. They can never do any injustice in any particular era or to any particular individual.”[5]

This is interesting, because conversely, a person’s sentiment for a particular group would be a way to recognize that a person is not yet qualified to lead society. Some activists still hold an unconscious feeling of superiority of their nation, family, language, race or class. Some men have a distrust of women in leadership positions, and some women feel resentment against men because of this and so many wrongs committed.

Even among activists, it is very easy to get attached to one’s own plans. Yet if we refuse to listen to others and discuss other positions, then our rationality becomes of less concern than being “right”.

All of these feelings have developed due to our upbringing and our life’s experiences. They are a natural result of what has happened, and yet they prevent us from “looking upon all with love and affection.” Can we honestly say that we feel love and affection for every person we know? To strive for that highest spiritual outlook and to develop compassion for all is the personal goal of a spiritual revolutionary.

True leaders empower others to be great. They sincerely listen to the opinions of others, and they encourage and praise the accomplishments of others. Such leaders know that “who I am” does not depend on titles or positions. As loving parents are proud of the accomplishments of their children, these leaders show joy when others become great too. Because economic democracy is about empowering people and communities, sadvipras are uniquely suited to facilitate this process.

One of the best examples of this in my own life was my trainer, Dada Vicitrananda, who guided me when I was studying to become a monk in 1978. He encouraged and inspired me, gave me self-confidence, and empowered me to develop my own identity.

Facing Our Shadows

A position of leadership gives one an unusual degree of influence over others, but that influence may be either positive or negative. Studies in capitalist enterprises show that the actions of the leader account for up to 70 percent of employees’ perceptions of the climate of their organization.[6]

Great leaders are forged through great struggle. Oppression and imprisonment have helped mold some modern leaders, such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X in the United States, Andrei Sakharov in Russia, Anwar Sadat in Egypt, Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic, Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, Rigoberta Menchú in Guatemala, Xanana Gusmão in East Timor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

The path of revolution is the most difficult path of all, and all those who choose to walk that path will encounter greater and greater risks and challenges. However, the greatest enemies to be faced are one’s inner enemies and bondages: one’s complexes, weaknesses and fears. For example, many people are afraid of failure and looking bad in front of others. Organizers will eventually find themselves confronted with whatever it is they fear. The key is to face these fears courageously and overcome them.

The inner work of leaders is very important. As human beings, we all long for love, for approval, for certainty, for belonging. If we are unconscious, then we tend to blame others for our unmet needs, usually those who are around us. The process of self-analysis is essential to inner progress: evaluating one’s mistakes each day–indeed, each moment–and struggling to overcome each defect as it arises.

The downfall of many revolutionaries has been the desire for small comforts and security. The powerful spirit of spiritual struggle, as embodied in the ancient science of Tantra Yoga, can help to overcome such desires. Rather than avoiding physical and psychic clashes, one needs to confront and embrace these clashes for personal transformation and development.

It is true that what we despise in others–the qualities that we hate–are actually within us. Every human being has the same basket of mental propensities; we express them according to our individual tendency. People are inclined to project what they dislike within themselves onto others, seeing those who disagree with them as enemies, and getting into heated arguments and bitter conflicts. Projection is a trick the mind plays to avoid facing the enemies within.

There is a way to identify this tendency. Think of someone with whom you have the greatest difference of opinion. This person may have done something wrong; you or others may have been hurt by their actions. But if you experience feelings of hatred, anger or superiority in relation to this person, then that is a problem that you must confront and over- come. While you may disagree with someone’s actions, and while you should fight against immorality and injustice, you should not confuse behavior with the person.

Sarkar counseled, “Even while dealing with persons of inimical nature, one must keep oneself free from hatred, anger and vanity.”[7] The feeling of jealousy should be overcome by super-imposing the idea of friendliness towards that person. Hatred should be overcome by compassion and forgiveness, envy by praise and encouragement. This is certainly not easy, but with continued effort each propensity can eventually be brought under firm control. It is a life-long practice of continued self-improvement. This endeavor is vital to the ethical fundamentals of social responsibility.

Goodness, Evil and How to Train Heroes

We like to think that we are very different from those who commit terrible crimes of torture and violence. However Sarkar’s discourses on biopsychology and extensive scientific research support the opposite view: the potential for good and evil lies within all of us.

A series of famous psychological experiments were conducted in the early 1960s to examine the question of whether ordinary people could be coerced into contributing to evil, such as the Holocaust. Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram tested whether normal volunteers would be willing to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.

Participants were asked to play the role of a “teacher,” responsible for administering electric shocks to a “learner” who sat behind a wall in the next room when the learner failed to answer test questions correctly. The participants were not aware that the learner was secretly working with the experimenters and did not actually receive any shocks. As the learner failed more and more, the teacher was instructed to increase the voltage of the shocks—even when the learner started screaming, pleading to have the shocks stop, and eventually stopped responding altogether. Ordered by a serious-looking man in a lab coat who said he would assume responsibility for the consequences, most participants continued to administer ever higher shocks until they reached 300 volts or above, described on the control panel as a potentially lethal shock. The majority delivered the maximum shock of 450 volts.[8]

Why would normal people do such a thing? A high school friend of Milgram was Philip Zimbardo, who in 1971 designed an experiment at Stanford University to answer that question. A group of 24 normal male college students were randomly assigned to be prisoners or guards in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building. The two-week planned study into the psychology of prison life ended after only six days due to the emotional trauma being experienced by the par- ticipants. The students quickly began acting out their roles, with guards becoming sadistic and prisoners becoming traumatized and depressed.[9]

In 2004, when the terrible story became known about the torture, rape, humiliation and murder by United States soldiers and contractors at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the military tried some of the perpetra- tors, calling them “a few bad apples.” Whereas hundreds of guards knew at least some of what was going on, only one, Sergeant Joseph Darby, courageously reported it. Zimbardo testified for the defense, explaining that few individuals can resist the powerful social pressures of a prison, particularly without proper training and supervision. He said:

When you put that set of horrendous work conditions and external factors together, it creates an evil barrel. You could put virtually anybody in it and you’re going to get this kind of evil behavior. The Pentagon and the military say that the Abu Ghraib scandal is the result of a few bad apples in an otherwise good barrel. That’s the dispositional analysis. The social psychologist in me, and the consensus among many of my colleagues in experimental social psychology, says that’s the wrong analysis. It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.[10]

Psychology recognizes a trap that discourages people from acting, known as the “bystander effect.” When a lot of people witness an emer- gency, there is a common tendency to think, “Surely someone else will do something.” This is like “good guards” who keep silent when they observe misconduct: most of us keep silent when we should speak out. We have to resist the urge to excuse inaction and justify that evil deeds are acceptable means to supposedly righteous ends. Whistleblowers who report crimes or corruption in government or business often face ostracism, physical threats, and the loss of their jobs. A hero is one who speaks out, and even disobeys authority when it starts to act inhumanely.

In the same way that people commonly believe that they could not do evil, it is also common to think that heroes are somehow superhuman, practically beyond comparison to the rest of us. In fact, heroic deeds are nearly always done by ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Zimbardo believes that we are all potential heroes waiting for a moment in life when we are called on to perform a heroic deed. If we can make people aware of this, through education at all levels and ages, more of us may answer that call when it comes. By studying heroic deeds from ancient times until today, Zimbardo observes that a code of conduct invariably served as the framework from which heroic action emerged. These principles serve as a litmus test for right and wrong and remind us, even when we would prefer to forget, that something is wrong and we must attempt to set it right.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

Effective leaders must develop what Daniel Goleman calls “emotional intelligence.” This concept explains how some people may be brilliant intellectuals, with vast knowledge and skills, yet still be unable to under- stand or be sensitive to the impact of their actions on others. Those who lack emotional intelligence are unaware of how others feel. Ideal leaders are “visionary,” “coaching” and “democratic,” and rarely use the less effective “pace-setting” and “commanding” styles.[11]

Most people communicate more easily with others from the same cultural background. Yet in the struggle to change the world, activists will have to live and work with people from different races, cultures and nations. Cultural clashes, translation difficulties, misunderstandings, dis- agreements about values, and different ways of seeing the world, are very real phenomena that leaders must confront every day. Neohumanism teaches that one must overcome false superiority and groupism based on geo-sentiments and socio-sentiments. Ideal leaders treat all people as their brothers and sisters, dealing fairly with everyone based on universal principles and individual merit.

Another important principle for all leaders is to set an example by individual conduct before asking others to do the same. Some leaders unfortunately become arrogant. They believe that because their cause is great, they are also great. This is not necessarily so. Arrogant leaders lack sensitivity and care little for the feelings and values of others. True leaders, instead of developing ego, develop humility. A leader who is humble gives joy and inspiration to others.

Insecure leaders feel threatened by the success of others. Some men feel threatened by the achievements of women and may even create obstacles in their paths to diminish their success. Insecure leaders, both men and women, often become fiercely competitive, viewing the success of another’s project as a humiliation of them. Although healthy internal competition can inspire people to work harder, the spirit of coordinated cooperation is also needed. Insecure leaders are also afraid of losing control. They are afraid to hear complaints or criticism, of doing things a new way, of chal- lenge and change. They are afraid of failure. They do not realize that they can learn from every failure, that every unsuccessful effort is an opportunity for personal and collective growth. They fear that admitting a mistake and apologizing for it will mean a loss of face. On the contrary, an honest apology for an error along with a willing- ness to make up for it, whether it was done knowingly or not, heals hurt feelings and often increases one’s esteem in the eyes of one’s peers and the public.

How to Inspire Others and Yourself

Inspiration is vital for activists who receive no material compensation. The only fuel they get for serving others and sacrificing for a noble cause is inspiration. Without it, they may feel like giving up.

Common questions that activists have include “How can I inspire new people to join this struggle? How can I inspire my fellow activists to carry on? And, most important, how can I inspire myself ?”

There are several ingredients for inspiration:

  1. Spiritual practices: Daily meditation strengthens the mind and opens one to the source of all inspiration and wisdom. The more time one devotes to it, the more one will experience peace and joy. The company of other spiritualists also helps immensely to keep the mind inspired and growing.
  2. Positive outlook: From a spiritual perspective, all obstacles and difficulties help one to develop. Both individually and organizationally, one can learn much when things go wrong. Rather than become discouraged when a loss is suffered, by redoubling one’s efforts one can often make it up. Hidden in every crisis lies an opportunity.
  3. Enthusiasm: To inspire, one must be dynamic, cheerful and full of energy. By speaking to others in an exciting and dramatic way, one can transfer some of the thrill and exhilaration of the global movement to create another world. There is an old French saying, “Miracles happen to those who believe in them.” We all need to open our eyes to the marvelous adventure that is taking place all around us every day.
  4. Actively collect and communicate good news from around the world: From the dawn of our species, human beings have desired to belong to a large group. Being part of a popular movement gives a feeling of success and security. Yet one’s humble efforts sometimes seem too insignificant to have much effect on the local community or the wider world.
    It is only by expanding one’s vision to see all the efforts and projects in every country of the world that one can realize how strong the global effort to make a better world is growing. Hearing and telling others of the successes of this movement inspires everyone.
  5. Invite Creative Expression: The collective struggle needs everyone’s help. Recognizing that people have diverse experiences and abilities, leaders should invite them to express their talents in a constructive way. When people discuss freely and frankly, and ask sincere questions to their heart’s content, they can learn and develop more in the spirit of Neohumanism.
    New ideas and new ways of doing things, if carefully planned, breathe fresh life into tired activists and generate enthusiasm. And the resultant new experiences will challenge and empower people to take risks and overcome their fears.
  6. Laugh Together: There is an old proverb, “If you take yourself too seriously, no one else will.” A good sense of humor is one of the loveliest qualities that leaders can have. Those who spent time with Sarkar remember well how often he lightened their feelings with a funny story or joke. Sometimes he made everyone laugh so hard that their sides hurt and tears came to their eyes. His jokes were always an invitation for everyone to relax and laugh together as a family.

To be a positive example and a continual source of inspiration for those around should be the goal of every activist.


1 P.R. Sarkar, “Yatamána – 2”, PROUT in a Nutshell, Volume 4, Part 18 (Calcutta: Ananda Marga Publications, 1980).
2 Ibid.
3 P.R. Sarkar, “The Future of Civilization,” PROUT in a Nutshell Volume 2 Part 6 [a compilation].
4 Quoted in “Empowered by the Sacred” by Louise Danielle Palmer in Spirituality & Health, Sept/Oct. 2006, p. 46.
5 P.R. Sarkar, “Dialectical Materialism and Democracy,” PROUT in a Nutshell Volume 2 Part 6 [a compilation].
6 Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 2002).
7 P.R. Sarkar, “Paincadasha Shiila (The Fifteen Rules of Behaviour)”, Ananda Marga Caryacarya Part 2.
8 Stanley Milgram, “Behavioral Study of Obedience”, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67 (4), 1963: pp. 371–8.
9 Haney, C., Banks, W. C., and Zimbardo, P. G. “Interpersonal dynamics in a simulated prison.” International Journal of Criminology and Penology, 1, (1973) pp. 69–97.
10 Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo, “The Banality of Heroism”. Greater Good, Fall/Winter 2006-2007, pp. 30-35.
11 Goleman, op.cit.

Excerpted from After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action by Dada Maheshvarananda (Puerto Rico: Innerworld Publications, 2012): www.aftercapitalism.org

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