Question 36. What were these principal reform movements?
The sages of the Upanishadic age, were the forerunners of all the reform movements. The religion of the Rigveda which was simple and elegant, had by the period of the Brahmanas, deteriorated into a bewildering maze of sacrifices, which the common people could not understand, let alone perform. so, these sages rejected them and advocated meditation on and knowledge of the Atman as the essence of our religion and thus saved it. Lord Sri Krishna heralded the second reform movement. He set at rest all disputes regarding the relative superiority of Jnana, Karma or Bhakti over one another and brought about a balance and harmony among these various forms of spiritual disciplines.
His greatest contribution, however, is his unambiguous declaration that one must perform one's duty for duty's sake and contribute to the social well being. His continuously active life itself is a glorious demonstration of his philosophy. The third reform movement was initiated by Mahavira and Buddha who banished dry and useless logic from the field of religion and substituted it with simple, but life giving moral and ethical principles which can give peace and joy here and now. However, when in course of time, their teachings were misunderstood and misapplied, resulting in the desertion of. Vedic religion by large numbers, Sankaracharya appeared on the scene to resuscitate and re-establish it.
His was the fourth reform movement. Then came a series of invasions by savage tribes, the impact of which was felt both at the social and at the religious levels. It was at this most critical period of our history that a series of great religious and spiritual leaders like Ramanuja, Madhva, Vallabha, Chaitanya, Sankaradeva, Basava, Ramananda, Kabir, Tulasidas, Mira, Tukaram, Purandaradasa and scors of others descended on our soil and protected our religion, culture and society from the onslaughts of these alien hordes. But for these great and noble souls who initiated the Bhakti movements, Hinduism might have all but disappeared from its own land. This was the fifth reform movement.
When we lost our freedom to the British during the nineteenth century, a different kind of problem was created by the planned import of cultural and religious ideas from the West. As a reaction to this came the sixth reform movement aiming at Hindu renaissance. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Swami Dayananda Sarasvati, Mahadeva Govinda Ranade, Annie Besant, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda were the important leaders of this movement. As a result of their ceaseless, and even aggressive efforts, Sanatana Dharma, not only recovered its balance but made inroads into the bastions of Western culture and civilization. The movement has gained further strength through the lives and work of Ramana Maharshi, Sri Aurobindo and a series of spirituo cultural organizations.