Prostrations. I wish to remain anonymous. Nevertheless, I feel that the doubts and questions raised here must be felt by a very large number of our people, especially at the present juncture. For the subject “whether religion should have its place in politics and political administration’ is hotting up day by day. We find that on this issue the country’s political parties are trying hard to group themselves out of all norms and considerations and evolve an opinion and stand.
How far they will succeed and what effect that would have in determining the fate of themselves and others is to be see. At the same time, as is the nature and truth of the country’s ageold, eternal dharma, so will become evident the truth about this question as well, not necessarily through politics and political exponents but through the very course of our people’s thinking and behaviour. Here again the last word, I believe, is as Krishna puts it in the Gita:
“Wherever there is decay and confusion, and the upsurge of the wrong, there I manifest myself to redeem the truth and subdue the unrighteous.”
Is not the country passing through such a decline? And also, will not the true clarity manifest with equal alarm and timeliness?
To the extent, I know the history of our land, in crucial moments it is the vision, insight and influence of great thinkers, especially spiritually enlightened persons, that have brought clarity and stability to the society. Now too the same is the prospect. Compared to the earlier situations, we find a number of Sanyasins- I do not go into the question as to what quality and nature these personages have- becoming vocal in the sphere of politics. Will not some non-political Sanyasins also be there to steer the opinion and verdict in this troubled time?
It is in such a traditional and sublime background that I ventured to place my mind before you.
The age of monarchy is gone. Now is the democracy. Dasaratha and Rama had Sage Vasishtha in Ayodhya palace to take advice from. In very crucial matters like the sudden death of Dasaratha, Vasishtadev verily substituted the King in holding the throne and preventing anarchy. It was his decision that Bharata be brought immediately and crowned. Meanwhile Vasishthadev arranged to keep the king’s body in an oil boat, to prevent decomposition.
Now such a parallel cannot be. And democratic thinkers and stalwarts are confused about what is the influence of religion in life and administration, and whether it should be freely and properly allowed or not.
Whatever their pet idea be, I would like you to speak on behalf of our cultural legacy and tradition, and throw light on the subject. That our dharma cannot be termed as a usual religion, is an important point. Politicians are not very clear about what they say and what they want. The guidance and clarity must come from abodes like yours.
Did dharma remain a part of our life, in all respect? Was it also an important part of administration and hence administrators? What should be the situation now? I wish the point to be discussed well enough, so that seekers like me who are not part of the political world will be properly steered.
Dear and blessed seeker,
Harih Om Tat Sat. Your anonymity is kept in mind. Your question with its depth and relevance I have tried to absorb. This is a subject that must make all citizens think well and take their stand on. I feel it is like the issue of Mahabharata war, where this land’s opinion was divided over dharma and adharma, and a settlement, of national and eternal consequence had to be evolved. Bhagavad Geeta, the warfare dialogue, bears witness to this plight.
Dharma denotes, always, the object of human pursuit. When pursued, dharma will sustain man’s life in all facets. We do not want to reject or destroy life. Our aim is to preserve and sustain it meaningfully and fulfillingly. Naturally, dharma becomes indispensable and beneficial for every walk of life. Hinduism knows, speaks of and propounds such a Dharma. It is far besides and beyond religion. It is something, like education, which has to be gained and must accompany men and women, wherever they go and whatever they do.
Because any society can survive only under an able administration, be it under a hereditary king or a body of periodically elected or selected people, dharma has to become an inevitable part of administration and administrators. Thus, the proverb “yatha raja tatha praja” becomes the maxim for administration and people- as is the rule, the administration, so are the administered, the people.
I shall give three illustrations, which should cover the point in sufficient fullness. All the three bear upon the role of dharma in administration and administrator.
- Sri Rama was given the usual education in statecraft and archery. He became sixteen years old. Right at that point, he wanted to see through this subcontinent by undertaking a pilgrimage. With the permission of Dasaratha, he set out with his retinue. Till then, Rama had seen only the luxuries and comforts of palace, and the pleasure of hunting. Interactions and exposure of a larger measure had not taken place. Now for the first time he got exposed to the people, their plight and the situation of the land in general.
Pilgrimage over, he returned as a different person. Losing all interest and motivation in life, overwhelmed by dejection and affliction, he sat still, and indifferent to all routines Days passed and one day Sage Viswamitra came to Ayodhya. He wanted Dasaratha to send Rama with him to resist Mareecha and Subaahu, Ravana’s agents, who were obstructing the yaga he was performing. Dasaratha resented first, but finally on the advice of Vasishtadev, agreed to send Rama. But how was Rama to be called or assigned? The prince was steeped in dejection and inaction. On listening to the story, Viswamitra wanted the prince to be brought to their presence, for it was, he said, an instance of dispassion, to redress which the Sages alone had the means.
Rama was sent for. He arrived, prostrated before the Sages and father. He was asked to take his seat and disclose the torment of his heart. Rama began his touching narration. In the end he expressed what he looked for: “Is there any way of appeasing and stabilizing my mind? Do you have it in your possession? Will you make it available to me? And shall I be able to make use of the means and get redressed? If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, then I confess that I will not take food or drink water. Till death, I shall just remain like a picture still and unreacting.”
The plight was quite clear and crucial. Viswamitra spoke a few words of direction, and Vasishta, following the thread, commenced a long conversation with the prince, lasting for 18 days. Every day the narration commenced in the morning and continued till dusk. Surrounding Rama the elders of the palace also sat. The young mind blossoming, ready to spread its beauty and fragrance!
The long session concluded, and by then Rama’s mind was withdrawn to its inmost center. Unaware of the environment and his own body, he sat absorbed and still, steeped in his own Self. Vasishta found this unacceptable at such a princely age. He brought Rama back to normal awareness and told him: “Now is not the time for such a withdrawal. Be alert and active. Find your delight and interest in the world. And delight the world by an illustrious princely conduct- both in personal and administrative life.
The prince, who had learnt statecraft and archery, thus got reinforced by spiritual and Dharmic wisdom and began his life of Ayodhya’s rule. It is this Dharmic strength that enabled him to spurn the throne on the day of Coronation itself and set out for the long forest exile, and later hold on to his stand even when Bharata, Vasishta and others prevailed upon him at Chitrakoota to return to Ayodhya to accept the throne. In the forest also, he was continuously discharging the boundless duties of a just king. Again, on returning, he took the hazardous decision of living away from Sita, all because of the supreme influence and strength provided by our dharma.
Does not dharma act as a complement and indispensable factor in statecraft!
- Next is the instance of Pareekshit, a Pandava king, who lived much more recently. Pareekshit went hunting, and became tired in the end. Wanting to quench his thirst, he went to a hermitage he had spotted close by. Sage Sameeka was seen sitting immersed, unmindful of the King’s arrival or need. Proud Pareekshit felt humiliated: “What? Can a hermit, who lives under the protection of the King, be so callous and negligent as to ignore the King’s presence itself? Is his a fake absorption or real?” He went out and bringing back a dead cobra at the end of his bow, put it around the Sage’s neck, in wrath, as a punishment.
Anger somewhat cooled, hunger yet unappeased, he went back to the palace. By then, the Sage’s son had returned. He got startled by what he saw on his father’s neck. He removed the carcass and taking water religiously in his palm, he pronounced: “Whoever has done this villainous act, be he bitten to death by a living cobra on the seventh day from now. Is the hand of the conceited kshatriya more powerful, or the mind of the ascetic brahmana? Let the world know the truth.”
By then the great Pareekshit had become over-penitent. He knew a curse would be awaiting him, and very soon came the news.
A powerful ruler with a distinguished heritage, falling prey to pride and anger in a moment, and misbehaving in such an inexcusable manner! He decided to work out his own recompense. Thus came his resolve to go without food and drink for the next 7 days of his life, soaking himself in the Srimad Bhagavata narration of Sukamuni. If in Rama’s life, spiritual reinforcement marked the beginning of his rulership, here in Pareekshit’s case spiritual inundation came as a crowning end to his great life. In both, the role of dharma, religion and spirituality, is marked and decisive.
- Amidst these commencemental and terminational episodes, shines the other example, which came as an interventional event in the administrative life of Arjuna, a Dwapara Yuga administrator. Arjuna’s side suffered for a long number of years Duryodhana’s rivalry, intolerance, greed and stealth, all a vital part of his (Duryodhana’s) administrative life. Strangely, even now after the fateful division of this land, India is facing a similar plight! Finally, the long exile drove Arjuna to the Kurukshetra field in a resolve to fight and uphold dharma considering the event a challenge to his administrative life. Here is an instance of administrative duties pitted against the tyranny of adharma.
In the fateful front, Arjuna suddenly lost his stability, resolve and clarity. Shedding tears, his bow slipping from his hold, he sat on the chariot wavering and weak. Imagine the situation. It was right in the course of his administrative pursuit and that too of the most important and decisive character.
Krishna, standing by the side, felt moved. Finding no other means to give Arjuna strength, inspiration and resolve, he showered the eloquence of spiritual dharma, the message of the Supreme Soul, before which death becomes a nought, and life stands indestructible. Only when, through Krishna’s words, which repeatedly exhorted, “Therefore, fight, O Arjuna”’ the immortal Spirit dazzled before his mind and heart, Arjuna could revive himself, getting ready to take up the task which he long wished to but had suddenly failed to begin.
I cannot but point out that as much as Bhagavad Gita is considered the backbone of Hinduism, so much it is also a distinguished administrative gospel, delivered to enable and empower unhindered conduct of the most crucial and hazardous role of public administration- fighting to uphold propriety, to check administrative greed and dominance, to ensure society’s wellbeing and cohesion. Can anyone overlook this aspect of the whole episode? I have something more to say, but later.
Whatever goes by the name HINDU or Bharat’s culture and philosophy, primarily rests, especially these days, on this Bhagavad Gita, because of its practical and day to day relevance. And Gita is an interactional gospel, performancial philosophy, especially oriented to the public administrators and their indispensable insight and pursuits. If this is the key book of Hinduism, should politics eschew it, or incorporate its contents at every stage?
What do you now find looking at these three distinct episodes? At the very commencement of the life of rulership, equally at the end of it, and likewise in between, viz while involved in the thick and thin of the task of administration, our Dharma and its compulsions become not only desirable and necessary but also often indispensable.
The rule or ideology cannot be different now. Political thinkers cannot give their strange definitions to dharma or Hinduism, and then argue that it should be eschewed on this account or that.
Politics is meant to provide a well-based administration, under which our people can live, move, function and pursue the fourfold objects of pursuit of human life. The people consider dharma to be the very source of sustenance, and if such people are meant to be ruled by political system and persons, then the latter equally have to embrace and be governed by the same sustaining force of dharma. Instead of excluding dharma from politics or political procedures, we should include its cannons and compulsions in the system, as in all other walks of life. There cannot be any second thought in the matter.
If any argument lingers, then the subject will naturally again marshal our society, as it did during the Mahabharata times, and the country will surely witness a similar plight and resolve. It is merely a question of time and pressure of events.
Of the 18 akshauhinees of sena that assembled in the Kurukshetra to settle the issue “whether dharma or adharma will prevail in the society and its rulers”’ the great majority had sided ‘adharma’, and a small minority stood to uphold ‘dharma’. All except 10 fell dead, but dharma was upheld.
There is another fundamental observation about our Dharma and its relevance. Our people, especially the masses know of Hinduism merely through the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharata. In Ramayana, Sage Valmiki pictures the prince and king Rama, as a model man. Narrating incidents precedent and antecedent to his birth and through that imparting lessons of dharma relevant to every aspect of human life, in the individual and social levels alike, Valmiki lays down every small and big detail of Dharmic conduct, its objective and fulfillment. Why should Valmiki have chosen the life of rulers for the purpose?
Again, more recently, Vyasadeva penned Mahabharata, in which the decline of Kuru dynasty and its consequence is the theme. Whatever aspects are not touched in Ramayana stand covered by Mahabharata. The saying goes: ‘Whatever is in the world, that is in the Mahabharata. Whatever is not in the Mahabharata, that will not be anywhere else.” So complete and complex is Mahabharata.
Both the sages found the life of rulers as the indispensable medium for imparting dharma and its complex applications. Again in other texts like Ashtavakra Samhita, the Dharmic dialogues are between a King and a Sage, like Janaka and Ashtavakra. Unless the rule in the society rests upon dharma, the society ruled cannot pursue dharma. As is the rule, so are the ruled.
If political and administrative persons and their behaviour alone become suitable to illustrate dharma, its expression and rewards, then how can politics and its pursuit think of keeping away from dharma and its influence! To argue that politics should be safeguarded against dharma and religion, is to fight for unhindered play of adharma in politics. And such a freedom can never ensure dharma in the society. Our society will and must reject such adharmik politics and political exponents.
(First Published in the Vicharasethu Mar - Apr 1993)