Thought for the Day - Akhandadhi Das

Good morning. For the seventh time in nine years, Chelsea show the red card to their manager – this time, Andre Villas-Boas. Football management is notoriously transitory, but watching the high-speed turnstile at Chelsea I can’t help wondering if the role needs more time to be consistent and effective. The respective benefits of continuity and change are tricky things to manage.

Football, business, politics, religion, science – all depend on the balance of tradition and revitalisation. Tradition builds a history and community memory as it works through successes and failures. In the face of challenges, it relies on tried and tested principles and wisdom rather than expediency. But, it can also become tired and staid. And, in failing to respond to the new, it may lose relevance and purpose in a changing world.

Perhaps, one example of the sort of tensions that can arise between tradition and reform is the debate, this week, over the legalisation of gay marriage.

Hinduism, as the world’s oldest living religion has seen its fair share of changes over the centuries. Although rooted in the voluminous texts of the Vedic scriptures, the tradition has been revitalised many times - in all cases, with massive, often fierce, debate.

Tomorrow is the birthday celebrations for Sri Chaitanya – a saint responsible for reforming the social and spiritual landscape of India in the sixteenth century. Chaitanya challenged the stranglehold of the caste system as a social tradition, ostensibly derived from scripture, but at odds with the principle of spiritual equality. He declared: I belong to no caste, no division of society – I am simply an eternal servant of God.

It was also a time when religious ritual and learning were the preserve of the brahmana priests. Chaitanya contended that the Vedas regard personal devotion to God as the highest form of spirituality and open to every human being. In the context of the early Moghul rule of India, he taught that: there are many names for God and they all have the same potency. In essence, he said, there is only one religion in the world – the chanting of the holy names of God, however you know them.

Chaitanya’s reformation was not against his tradition, nor contrary to its founding tenets. It was a revitalisation of the current culture to be both more in tune with the initial precepts as well as the needs of the day. The trick, it seems, is to prune those aspects of tradition which no longer represent the core principles and to weigh carefully the loss of continuity against the benefits of renewing the original intent.

That's a useful framework for considering tradition and change. But, whether or not it could help the rest of Chelsea’s season is another matter.

Release date: 07 Mar 2012

3 minutes

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