Bhagavad Gita and Modern Problems
BY: S. GURUMURTHY
Aug 12, SOUTH INDIA (HINDUTVA) Talk given at the International Seminar on Thiruvananthapuram.
Never before have I felt so uncomfortable before an audience. The reason why I am called to speak before you is not that the organizers felt that I am scholarly enough to make a presentation on Gita. But because the challenge of Globalization has given rise to the Swadeshi response in this country with which I am associated.
So, the idea of globalization, or the challenge of globalization how it has sought forth as Indian response and its intimate relationship with the soul of this nation - that has a lot to do with the Bhagavad Gita. The Indian soul is not related to a particular script or a book or a particular author. The Indian soul is a continuous evolution, in which as many scholar presented from this platform for the last few days the Gita occupies the central place or the most compact definition of the thrust of the Indian soul.
If you look at the present world, globalization is the latest manifestation of how the world has been moving in the last 500 years. If you look at the journey where we started and look at where we have reached, it is largely a Protestant Christian construct. The western world - is the world today. The legitimate world is the western world and globalization as understood today is a western thrust and the present west is a Protestant Christian construct. And the journey was a very instructive and informative journey. All the problems faced in the world where opened up by the journey. Whether it is economic or political or environmental problem, or problem of war and peace, you will find the issues unfolding from the last 500 years as the causes. And the present day globalization is presented as a platform for the upliftment of the world, the development of the world and this is the main line establishment thinking almost accepted by world leaders, almost without question 5 years ago though there may be some kind of question mark hanging around the kind of conclusion they reached about a decade ago.
Globalization has a certain definition and the are certain assumption underlying that. It is standing on certain pillars. The present day assumption of globalization is that the experience of the WEST in the BEST and it can be experimented on the REST. This is substance, the basic fundamental of globalisation. There are 3 basic philosophical as well as economic implication of globalisation? First it is based on exploitation of nature. I am not talking purely from the environmental point of view, it has certainly altered the relation between men and nature and legitimized that alteration. ? Second, it is based on Individual liberty and freedom. There are all very basic and profound concepts and even we talk about it. We agree with it, but we have to understand what this individual freedom or liberty mean. ? And the last, but not a very dismissible item survival of the fittest.
These are 3 pillars of globalization as it is understood today. But before we get into the mechanics of globalization and its impact on the world, on us particularly is anything global wrong? We should not get caught in the semantics to deceive the idea of global exchange. Global exchanges are valuable for human program. For the very program of the society, comparative experience, relative or sharable experience with other countries is a process of graduation. And so global exchange, global trade global understanding, global harmony are an integral part of human program.
But the globalization that we are talking about has nothing to do with any of these things. So we should not confuse ourselves between global trade and globalization even in economics. Globalization is a far more intense continuation of IMPERIALISM, COLONIALISM and it is the THRUST of the WEST against the REST. This, we must clearly understand because this is not something which is concealed. It is something which is set out as an agenda. Whether you look at Francis Yukuhama who wrote that book “End of History and Last Men” or even “Samuel Huntington who said “well, others are inferior but we have to live with them”. The WEST in the BEST - they know what is good, not only for themselves but also for others. But unfortunately, others will live like this, you can’t help it. So the ’superior’ civilization of the west, in order to avoid bloody clashes at the ground level will have to live with other civilization which are inferior and this he called harmony of civilizations. So the idea is very clear - the thrust is what THEY consider as ‘Superior’. And this has its more focused manifestation in economics. This is not the whole, but is a somewhat hazy definition of globalisation, as I understand it. Is there are any alternative to it?.
The alternative to an agreeing globalization is not an Ashoka or Buddha. You look at Ashoka, you are reminded of not Krishna, but Arjuna. You look at the two wars - the Kalinga and the Kurukshethra. All that Arjuna perceived and apprehended before the war, Asoka experienced after the war. None of Arjuna’s arguments question, apprehensions, feelings, which he demonstrably employs to Sri Krishna, could be dismissed. “For the sake of a chair, you want me commit all there sin?. “And this is precisely the question that hits Asoka after the Kalinga War. But a Krishna was there to clarify the confused mind of Arjuna. Arjuna’s questions in the first chapter were not reflective of his clarity. They were products of his confusion. And Krishna had to carry him through 18 chapters to clear his mind. You will be amazed that the last question that Arjuna raised is that “I am confused So I surrender to you. Please tell me what I should do”. In the 18th Chapter, the last sloka also says “I am willing to do whatever you want”, but in between. In Gita the surrender of Arjuna was complete even before Krishna started the lectures to Arjuna. By why is it that Krishna did not say immediately after Arjuna surrendered in the second chapter “come on take the weapon and flight the war”?. Because a confused mind cannot do it. So he had to remove the cobwebs in Arjuna’s mind; clear his mind and as result of this conviction will come the valour and the courage to fight the war. It is not simply that - look at the evolution of Arjuna’s mind, how Krishna makes him evolve - he attacks his lower ego - “People will call you impotent. If you are running away from war, you will incur infamy “. He appeals to his lower instincts. Then he slowly upgrades him. He teaches him different yoga. He teaches him detachment. He slowly upgrades him. He brings him to a state of self inquiry and finally grants him freedom of action. It is in the 63rd sloka in the last chapter, Krishna says, “Now you do whatever you want to do”. That means the idea of freedom is not based on the number of people who deserve it, but on the quality of people who deserve it.
So when we talk of the freedom of an individual and when the present paradigm of west - whether you call it globalization, liberalism or democracy- the freedom which is implicit in it are of two opposite folds. One is freedom from pleasure and another is the freedom to enjoy. There are of two different dimension. The whole world - the globalization the current economic policies, the global trade, the model for development is based on the right and the freedom to enjoy. It has not come out of suspension. It has come out of a tradition.
If you look at the Abrahamic tradition there, enjoyment of the world is theologically sanctified. God has created the whole world for the enjoyment man and so there no restraint on ones enjoyment. And when this theological guarantee is there naturally the result of it is competition. Who will enjoy more? Who will posses more?. That is how it is an admitted intellectual position among the socio-economic writers of the west. - That the present day development plant whether you call it consumerism or competition or global trade or specialization capitalism - the components of which the present day glob is made off is drawn from Christian ethics. So it has a theological sanctions. It is part of the spiritual progress of the west obtained through Protestant Christianity. This is a big challenge. This is a challenge to the west also. It is definitely a challenge for us. What is it that we can do? or should do? to formulate our responses.
That’s why I said the response cannot come from Asoka. It can come only from Krishna. Krishna clarified Arjuna’s mind, lend conviction to him and made him fight battle. In contrast, look at Asoka. Many of us wrongly interpret Asoka as a FOLLOWER of BUDDHA. He was not a follower of Buddha. Asoka copied Buddha. Buddha left the chair. He left the kingdom. He ceased to be a king. And so the dharma of the ruler did not attach to him. But Asoka instead on being a king and also be a Buddha. So the confusion of the Indian society is directly drawn from the Asokan Ethics. I am glad that Mr. Gautier- he is here today - he wrote an article recently on briefly as him intellect would enable him to do. And I may not be able to do justice in the same way. I certainly site that article (ref to the article by Francois Gautier in NIE on Buddhism,).
Buddhism - The Cause of India’s Downfall
The intellectual confusion in India is because of Asoka. And you look at the secular Indian state. Asoka was the only king in India who declared a state religion - never before, never after any king declared a state religion. Chathrapati Shivaji ruled as a Hindu King. But Hinduism was not the state religion. Ashoka ruled in the name of a faith. And Asoka is the symbol of secular India. You know why - he was the least objectionable person. The most acceptable king would not become the respectable symbol in India. It is the least objectionable. Symbol which has been accepted. This is the intellectual confusion in India.
So the answer to the challenge of globalization has to come from Krishna. The reformed Arjuna was able to take the challenge. The challenge had in fact come from within. It was not from outside Every one know his qualities, his competence, his valour - but the challenge came from within. It came in the form of confusion. And this is precisely where the Indian society is.
When Sri Parameswaranji undertook this exercise of this Gita Sibhiram, I was there the day the whole exercise commenced in Kaalady. We never thought - at least I never thought - that this could become some kind of a movement. But when it did become a movement, and when it manifested in an international conference like this, when a serious audience - as Mr. Kireet Joshi said - was sitting and discussing such profound issues and problems, as contrasted with the leaders of this country trivializing the whole country and themselves (the parliamentary discussion or rather thamasa was going on regarding Ayodhya dispute), We can understand what Gita holds forth. And Gita is, the vanguard of our challenge to globalization. I have no doubt about it. If you go a little further and look at two or there essential differences between globalization as it is understood today and the alternatives Gita has to present, or as a challenge - in this competitive world, it is survival of the fittest and might is right. It is not only that it has been accepted as something which has to be accepted recklessly, but it is something which is presented as the ‘legitimate proposition. “Yes, This is how the world not only will be, but should be”.
In contrast Bhagavad Giita says “Parithraanaya Sadhunam”. The word sadhu here does not mean sanyasis. It is those who cannot match the vice and the wit of the world. Those who cannot take care of themselves in this world on a run. It is they whose protection is Dharma. And it is not that they have a right to be protected. You have a duty to protect them. This is not a duty of the government the political system or of the leaders, it is the duty of everybody. Dharma is shared by everybody, not the rules alone who is responsible for Dharma. So for the Survival of the Fittest” the Gita alternative is “Parithraanaya Saddhunam”.
So there is a diametrically inverse relationship between globalisation and dharma. The present day glob represents, in core, adharma. And on man’s relation with nature, Gita’s principle is very clear. “Parasparam Bhavayantah”. It is a complementary relationship. In order for us to exist, nature has to exist. We protect nature, nature protects us. And this is the platform on which this whole civilization has continued without disturbance and in perfect harmony with nature for thousands of years.
A disruption has occurred. Disruption has occurred not in the way of living, but in our mind. There in initiate relation between the way you think and the way you live. The object of your life decides your lifestyle. Your lifestyle decides your habits. The habits decide your needs. So, once the object of life is disturbed, once confusion occurs in the aim or purpose of life, it will have a cascading effect downstream, and the distortion that we see, with our Ganga polluted, with Jamuna ceasing to exist, Cauvery refusing to flow. There are 75,000 lakes in Tamil Nadu. - 75000 lakes. Only 39,000 exist. In the last 150 years we have lost half of them. And out of this 39,000 less than half is functional.
So, the distortion in where we are going has resulted in distortion at the ground level. Man’s relation with nature has been disturbed. And Gita says “you protect the water and it’ll protect you, you protect the tree and it‘ll protect you,”.-Now one environmental movement says-and there is a slide show-there is one eco-feminist movement in America which has produced enormously valuable literature. And eco-feminism traces why women are being treated this way in the western society, and they zero in on the Christian philosophy-theology-as the reason for it!
Many of you may be aware till the seventh century there was a debate in the Christian church, as to whether women should be regarded as human beings at all or not. And they trace their entire problem to the Christian theological propositions and said that. “We are being treated in the same way as a tree, or an animal or generally the nature is being treated, and so we are equal to flesh and so we will not eat flesh”. The thrust of ecofeminist movement in US is vegetarian and that is for a theological reason. Why I am commenting on this is that the entire environmental, ecological problems of the west is not a mere incidental result of economic development, or technological devices that have come into play in the last 500 years, but there is a clear theological sanction behind this, which we often fail to note.
The third point is the right of an individual this is a very important issue. And I’ll take 2-3 minutes to explain what is its impact on the day to day life, on the society. The right of an individual has seeped thro’ communities, localities, even families in the west. This right is Aasuric. This is right to enjoy. This is freedom to enjoy. And not freedom from enjoyment. So when we talk of individual freedom, it is not the freedom of Bhagavad Gita
As a result of this, today in America or other western countries, you see the enormous amount of social security cost which is being incurred, to take care of people who are ordinarily taken care of by families, by communities, by social grouping - 1/3 the GDP in America is spend for this purpose; Nearly half in many European countries. And in India, and generally in the East, the family shares this responsibility. It is considered to be their sacred duty. A son’s sacred duty to take care of his parents, to marry off sisters, to educate them, to take care of even their surroundings, to take care of animals, to take care of trees, to take care of neighbors. This is part of the overall living style, living ethics. This cannot be legislated. There is so legislation in India asking the son to take care of their parents. But this in one duty discharged unfailingly by all children, and see the enormous amount of responsibility taken off the shoulder of the government.
In fact when I was talking to a leading economist who had come to advice India, I asked him “which is the most privatized economy in the world?”, he said Guru, “I cannot understand what you are trying to drive”. I said, “Which is the most important public function in the west which can never be privatized?.” You can privatize a company, an Airlines- because there are assets. They have properties. So, there may be people willing to buy them. But can you ever privatize the social security cost, which is a liability of the western government? Can you privatize the responsibility to take care of parents? An unemployed Son or a daughter is an unemployed citizen not a son or a daughter. There is no relationship between brother and brother in the matter of money -there could be some other relationship.
This enormous amount of public responsibility has been transferred from the society, from the family, from the community to the state, by the marketisation of the society on the insistence of the idea of freedom in the most distorted fashion. If the Indian society is functional, it is because it has chosen to follow and it will follow Gita and not the market economics of the west.
And the last point is civilizational clashes. It is not directly part of globalisation but it is the unmentioned part . There is jihad, there is crusade. And there is dharma yuddha. And many people try to interpret that Hinduism is also as violent because it also speaks of dharma yudha. But see the contrast. The Pandavas and the Kauravas seek Krishna’s help. Krishna says “Come on, take my army or take me without arms”. There is freedom to join either side. And Krishna says “You have to fight was without hatred”. Hatred is not the driving force of that battle. Everybody have a choice. Never can such wave be compared to a jihad or a crusade. And today’s civilizational clashes are not based on the principle on which Mahabharatha was fought, or the principles expounded by Krishna -it is because of jihad and crusade - Hindus must have clarity on this.
The Hindu intellectualism is so weak today, that people like Mr Gautier and Mr Michel Danino have to come to one's rescue (claps from audience). It's not a very happy scene. The Hindu society must assert itself. It has so much in it to demonstrate to the world. And if Gita is understood and Krishna is internalized, the Hindu society can not only face the challenge of globalisation but can make it rest on entirely different propositions and formulae. Thank You.