Posts tagged ‘principles’

A thought on Dharma

Jack is one of the five strong boys in the class but seldom gets along well with the other four except perhaps with Jim. And other than with Jim, John has great relationships with almost all and he is easily the nicest boy in the class, even when he enjoys a special bonding with Jack. John would help Jack with his homework and Jack would, in turn, lend his pencil to John wherever he needed one and also guard him against the stronger Jim.  The atmosphere in the classroom generally remained cordial and peaceful until one day Jack decided to steal the lunch box from Joe, the weakling boy sitting next to Jack. The entire class protested against this strong arm tactics of Jack and the other strong four even threatened to retaliate by isolating him. But John chose to remain silent and refused to stand up against this abhorrent behaviour fearing that the special status he enjoys with Jack would be jeopardised even when he concedes that stealing the lunch of others is deeply immoral. John places expediency and self-interest above righteousness even when he correctly guards his lunchbox as his inalienable right. 

The principle of morality has long vexed the human consciousness and when it is placed in direct conflict with self-interest, it has remained even tougher to make a choice. The questions often that are placed on the table are whether morality can be made subservient to expediency and can it thus be twisted and turned to suit one’s convenience? Or, is it that, the issues governing principles and morality are absolute and non-negotiable and thus are independent to the consequences of its application? There may not be an easy, much less a direct answer to the ethical dilemmas that human beings are at times posed with but there are in our epics and history, instances that could well act as signposts to help resolve such moral conundrums.

In the Mahabharata, the episode of the attempt to disrobe Draupadi and the behaviour of the learned men assembled in the courtroom then is a textbook case of how principles of morality and justice were subjugated towards self-preservation.  And of all the men, the baffling silence of Bhishma, a man of immense wisdom and of proven valour, in upholding his moral duty and stop the disgraceful act is a definite pointer as to how an overwhelming concern for self-preservation could cloud the rational thinking of even the most upright and end up in the wrong side of history. Bhishma was a powerful warrior and if there was someone present there who could stop Dhryodhana from the ghastly act, it was Bhishma and yet he acted powerless and cowardly, turning away the relentless plea of Draupadi to intervene. Bhishma was confusing his loyalty to Duryodhana with that of his higher moral duty of protecting the dignity of a women. In this bargain, even when being highly cultured, Bhishma miserably failed to rise above his mundane considerations and stooped low in esteem by setting an awful precedent. For this single act of indifference, Bhishma was tormented by his conscience till his last breath.

But in the other epic, the Ramayana, the character of Jatayu, the ageing eagle, sets an altogether different yardstick of moral compliance and adherence to the higher duty even at the risk of a definite death. Though weak and powerless, Jatayu tried everything within his strength to prevent Ravana from kidnapping Sita knowing only too well that he will perish in the very attempt. Sita was a stranger to him but that did not stop Jatayu from intervening and act valiantly against the mighty yet morally wrong Ravana for he had a clear understanding of his Dharma, the righteous duty. Though only a winged creature, the response of Jatayu was exemplary and in accordance to the highest values of moral obligation and for this single act, Jatayu would remain revered for ages to come. The Lord himself, as Rama, did the final ritual and obeisance to Jatayu and conferred him the highest honour while Bhishma spent his last days on a bed of arrows lamenting his fate! What a contrast of approach and what a forceful message! 

And from the same epic, the conduct of Vibhishana, the younger brother of Ravana is again a worthy moral compass that generations to come could easily refer to. Though fully dependent on his elder brother for his survival, Vibhishana did not shy away from pointing out the immorality of kidnapping another man’s woman to Ravana. He only knew it too well the wrath that would befall on him for his stance but humiliation and deportation are too small a price to pay when it comes to the question of upholding moral righteousness. 

In our recent history too, the application of this principles of morality can be found in ample measure when Gandhiji decided to call off the non-cooperation movement against the British rule in 1922. The non-violent movement had reached a crescendo and the Britishers were finding it increasingly difficult to contain the movement and were literally on their knees when Gandhiji decided to call it off due to one stray incident of violence. If not for the burning of a police station resulting in the death of few policemen in Chauri-Chaura, India, many scholars argue, would have gained freedom from the British yoke way back in 1922 but have to wait for a full quarter century to achieve it. For Gandhiji, moral correctness is far more pertinent than an independence gained through violent methods.

These examples from epics and history do richly demonstrate that moral principles are inalienable and are designed to serve a higher purpose not immediately discerning to the uninitiated. And they are to be adhered at all times and under all circumstances and their validity applies equally to individuals, societies and nations!

Yours 

Narayanan

March 6, 2022 at 4:46 pm 11 comments


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