The Dharmic & the Karmic world view
Dharma and Karma are like Siamese twins, with one constantly complementing the other. Dharma as many people loosely translate is not righteousness or the right behavior, but rather can be translated into appropriate behavior as the situation demands. In the case of the Mahabharata war Krishna revives the Kshatriya spirit in him to take the enemy head on despite apprehension in the mind of Arjuna. Arjuna hesitates to war against the Kauravas with his mind clouded with the idea that they are his own cousins. Krishna clearly specifies that his Dharma on the battlefield is to fight and win the battle but not to be regretful. Hence, appropriate action does not necessarily have to be always something pleasant or agreeable. This however, does not mean Dharma advocates violence. That is like paying attention to just one half of the story and judging it without completely reading the book.
The other Siamese twin Karma comes in at this juncture. Karma is the action and the consequence that follows. Killing a human being of course has it consequence and human beings have to experience the consequence of their action. Therefore, the concept of good and bad, right or wrong does not exist in Dharmic way of living. One has to evaluate the consequence of his action prior to it happening and that is a powerful notion which lays emphasis on the individual. Individuals have free will and just like the 3rd law of Newton every action is followed by a reaction. This empowerment that one gains from the ideas of Dharma and Karma is liberating as the clutches of authority do not apply to individuals as the authority itself has to be concerned for its own Karma. Of course, in today’s society governed by laws and regulations killing someone is naturally an offence and their term in prison is assured. The larger idea that one needs to appreciate here is the fact that the Dharmic understanding of time is not linear but rather cyclic.
This cyclic nature of time borne out of the Dharma and Karma restricts people from going haywire. In fact this understanding of time is what gave rise to the ideas of reincarnation and that the gross body is just a discard-able vest to the eternal soul, which through appropriate action strives to liberate itself. Hence, the ideas of heaven and hell and blasphemy do not find any merit in the Dharmic way of life. Therefore, the concept of salvation through proselytism does not occur in the Indic cultural context. This also is the reason why Indic traditions lack exclusivist narratives. This way of thinking is what has made ancient India a home of various cultures, sub-cultures, various schools of thought and even religions.
Thus leading to the concept of : “एकं सद्विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” – “Different masters convey the same truth in different ways.”
These Dharmic ideas are what form the basis for acceptance and mutual respect vis-a-vis other cultures in India. This “live and let live” attitude despite a difference in opinion with Dharma and Karma at the heart is what makes the Indic civilization unique. No wonder in India every other Indian one encounters has his own philosophy; Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Dwaita, Adwaita, Vishistadvaita, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism etc. have only been made possible because there was no persecution. The human pursuit to understand life as it is and follow one’s own path to comprehend the cosmos has led to syncretism.
In India, other doctrines are not rejected, but are accepted as yet another perspective to understand reality. Perhaps what is most astonishing is the acceptance of even atheism in the form of the ancient Charvaka philosophy which is one of the first works on materialism in the world. Such ethos was also responsible for the acceptance of Parsis, Jews, Buddhists, Christians and Islam in India. The pantheon of gods in India only adds new gods and does not replace one god with the other,. And not to forget there is room even to reject the pantheon altogether.
The Abrahamic world view
The world view of a group of people or civilization is based on their view of time. In the case of the world view of Abrahamic religions viz. Judaism, Islam and Christianity, time is linear. Human beings are born, live and die at arbitrary points of time. This understanding of linear nature of time leads to the notion that reincarnation of human souls does not exist. The very same understanding leads to the belief that Abrahamic religion and theology is exclusivist in nature. This is a philosophy that broadly premises itself on the conviction that one who is not a follower of either the son of god Jesus or Allah-the only god, will be relegated to the deepest depths of hell for eternity. Hence, the fear of going against the most fundamental tenets of the faith and such an action resulting in the consequence of getting relegated to the purgatory leads to the ideas of blasphemy and Haram. Criticizing and voicing dissent or alternate views was rejected and the Church ended up as the ultimate authority in matters of god and theology. In fact, the population could be effectively controlled and rational and free thought was restricted so that the authority was never questioned. People were killed for presenting alternate ways of looking at reality and the men of god became supreme, with some Pope’s even becoming kings to keep Europe unite during the times of the crusades.
The other perhaps a more sinister outcome of the exclusivist nature of Abrahamic thought is the perception of the followers of these religions is that any other religious group or non-religious group automatically becomes blasphemous. As a matter of fact, the natives across Europe, America, Africa, Asia, Australia, America’s in short the world are seen by the followers of Abrahamic religions to be pagans worshiping weird gods and goddesses as well as animals. The natives are savage and do not follow the true god i.e. our god Jesus or Allah. Hence, it is a prerogative for these religions of the ancient books to save these souls from the raging fires of the nether regions by converting them. Thus, the idea of proselytism is a natural right of the followers of these faiths and soul harvesting is believed to be an act of redemption and salvation to these wandering pagan souls.
Hence, intolerance to other alternative and non-conformist views is inherently built into the Abrahamic religious structure. Perhaps, proselytism as an idea did not get adequate attention as it should have or rather that it deserves which actually led to a huge suffering of the native populations during the times of Islamic rule or for that matter during the colonial times. This seems to resonate even today with the rise of Wahhabi Sunni extremism and the rampant campaign to proselytize countries like India by the missionaries as the Catholic Church is experiencing a massive decline with dwindling numbers of church goers in Europe and the West in general. People might argue it is more about geopolitics and religion being a mere tool of state policy being covertly used, however, the fact is these fundamental ideas have cost, are costing and will cost more and more lives.
The rejuvenated Hindu
The conflict of religion one comes across in current day India is because of the ideology of Nehruvian secularism. In India secularism is not the separation of the church and the state but rather the treatment of all religions as equal. The Hindu has been alienated from their roots. Current day Hindus have no connection with their roots for far too long in the name of secular education. Hindus today have become self loathing individuals and fell prey to the clutches of ideas external to their culture. And naturally, when a society does not realize its wisdom, remains a slave. A slave to ideas, with the mind hijacked. The voice of the Hindu has been suppressed for far too long and the recent election result is an indication of the resurgent Hindu identity. It however should not degenerate itself into jingoism. The masses of the country have to be made aware of the richness of their esoteric philosophy and the inherent profundity of the message that is being delivered through their mythology. The emphasis should be on philosophy and not religiosity. Religiosity, dogma and superstition are not elevating but rather restricting.
The way forward
The challenge for the current establishment is to propagate these ideas, but not at the cost of the lives of the poor. Unless the stomach is full, a roof over the head and clothes to wear are provided no philosophy will get into the psyche. Eradicating extreme poverty and dealing with the most relevant issues that are plaguing the society need to be addressed as a priority. Agriculture, economy, unemployment, technological advancement needs a big push. At the same time the sensitization of the world regarding Hindus has to be done in a subtle yet effective manner. With Hinduphobia on the rise, India should use its soft power to bring in the difference.
Firstly, the new government instead of complaining and bickering over the other interpretations of the Hindu literature as regressive should have its own funding mechanism to encourage the study by scholars. Several Indian Pundits and experts from different fields like Tarka, Tantra, mythology, etc. have to be given responsibilities to interpret Indian literature in the right light. A series of videos on platforms like YouTube by these Pundits will make a huge difference as the repository of such knowledge can be created without any prejudice.
Secondly, the imposition of Hindi over the rest of the non Hindi speaking areas should be given up. India’s regional languages have made enormous contributions to Indic thought and that needs to be encouraged. The depth of knowledge in this literature should be presented to the world in the form of mass media.
Thirdly, the government should highlight the contributions of various writers of the past in prose, poetry, theatre, dance and drama through a series of web programs and on TV during primetime. Several youngsters today in urban India especially have no connection whatsoever with their culture. For them culture is about wearing ethnic wear on festive occasions and for those who are into design, it about reciprocating old ideas. The wealth of knowledge and information in Natya Shastra, Kalidasa’s poetry etc. needs to be conveyed in a manner that attracts audience.
Finally, the contributions to science, mathematics, medicine, diplomacy etc. as expounded by various scholars needs to be highlighted with mainstream programs on them. These claims have to be done in a rational manner away from all the humbug that sets in. The authenticity of such claims needs to be thoroughly verified before it gets attention worldwide for the wrong reasons.
The outlook of looking beyond the dichotomy of existence and having an avian point of view of the world needs to be encouraged. Individualism and self pursuit needs to be encouraged and mere tribalism based on arbitrary identities needs to be discouraged. The powerful ideas of “Aham Brahmasmi” and “Tatvama Asi” need to be understood in their true essence.
In the end it would be appropriate to invoke the Pavamana Mantra of the Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad.
असतो मा सद्गमय।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः