Bhagwat Gita : Solving Ethical Dilemmas

In our lives, we come across a number of situations when one can’t make a clear decision about what choice to make and which action to take. The situation of extreme confusion is called a dilemma. A number of times we come across what we call an ethical dilemma. It is a situation when we have to choose between two aspects, both ethically sound, but one of them is the best solution.

Let us take an example of a person who is a prospect groom. In his wedding, his parents try to put pressure on the other side for dowry. The person(prospect groom) is against it. However, he cannot go against his parents as well. So, now, the groom is in an ethical dilemma. The two ethical choices with him are: First, going against his parents by voicing against the acts they are involved in and second, Letting it happen while respecting what his parents are doing.

The question now is: How to solve such and even higher category dilemmas that may often upsurge in one’s life? The answer is well imbibed in the Bhagwad Gita.

The Bhagwad Gita is a conversation between Sri Krsna and Arjuna in the in the mid of battlefield. The situation is that Arjuna is in a dilemma whether to fight against his relatives or back off from the battle. So, here Sri Krsna guides Arjuna with words of wisdom, reviving in him the sense of duty again.

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How did Lord Krsna show the path?

  • Krsna advised Arjuna to perform his “prescribed” duty. As a kshatriya, the prescribed duty of Arjuna was to fight the battle. However, due to attachment, he failed to realize his duty and was up to surrender.
  • So, the root of solving such a dilemma lies in dutifulness. The Kurus were relatives later and enemies first for Arjuna. But, Arjuna failed to understand this and wrongly prioritized his preferences leading to an ethical dilemma.
  • Lord Krsna told Arjuna that his “prescribed” duty was his(Lord’s) injunction and should not be ignored. Even if he refuses to perform his duty the end of Kurus was definite as the Lord himself would kill them. So, he told Arjuna to become a means of Lord’s plan and execute his duty.
  • If he did not do so, he would become a performer of sin. If he did so, then it would serve the larger purpose of destruction of the sinners and restoration of dharma.

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How this instruction could be relevant in our lives?

Apply this principle to the above example:

  • Duty as a citizen: Voice against the wrongs.
  • Dilemma due to – Parental pressure or duty as a son to obey his parents.
  • Which of these would serve the larger purpose?
    • The answer is the first one as if he voices against the wrongs, it would be ethical as well as utilitarian for the society.

Therefore, the solution to the dilemma is to perform the duty that would serve the larger good. This is the path being shown to us by the Bhagwat Gita.

 

 

Rebirth and Transmigration-Explained

The theory of rebirth or multiple births of the same person is a moot philosophical topic. While some uphold it’s legitimacy to explain a number of philosophical and spiritual concepts, others reject it as absurd and baseless. In this post, we will be discussing about the concept of rebirth and transmigration.

  • Why should I accept rebirth and transmigration of soul?:
    • The proponents of rebirth give the argument of transmigration of soul as an argument to support their stand.
    • Soul is taken to be the ground of consciousness of a being. Soul is not material in nature and so it can never be destroyed.
    • Thus, death is related to body and not soul.
    • So, where does the soul go? The answer is transmigration. It transmigrates from one body to another over different lives.
    • This argument for transmigration of soul /rebirth is upheld by the Indian text. Bhagwad Gita and also by the Western Philosopher, Plato.

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  • Do we get the same body or a different one?:
    • This is decided by the Law of Karmaabout which we have explained earlier.
    • According to the Bhagwad Gita -We get our body according to our deeds.For example, if we justified our human life by human-like work or activities, then we would get a human body while if a human being develop qualities like laziness or stagnation, then he could get a body of a stagnant object or being such as a tree.
    • Also, it is said that if we are very ambitious for accomplishing something in this life but we die before doing that, we take birth in the circumstances conducive for the accomplishment of that desire.
  • What are some of the arguments for rebirth other than transmigration of soul?
    • Buddhism: due to ignorance or Avidya, the cycle of birth and death called Dvadasnidana keep on recurring.
    • Jainism: Ignorance, that is, indulgence in the material life leading to Ashrava and Bandha(bondage).
  • What is bondage and what is its relation with rebirth?:
    • Bondage results out of extreme indulgence of oneself in material aspects of life due to the desire for pleasure.
    • This leads to the cycle of birth and death. As desire moulds our karma and thus, governs our next life.
  • Is this cycle never-ending?
    • No, it is not.
    • The proponents of the rebirth explain the concept of liberation, that is, escape from this cycle of birth and death.
    • Bhagwad Gita: Bhakti Yoga or complete surrender to the Lord(Krsna) leads to liberation.
    • Jainism: Following the Panch Mahavrata(Satya, Ahimsa, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigriha).
    • Buddism: Following the Ashtangika Marg or the Eight-fold path.

Law of Karma: Explained.

In one of the previous posts, we explained in detail the notion of predestination.One of the important arguments for predestination is the Law of Karma. In this post, we will be explaining in detail the whole concept of the Law of Karma in detail.

  • What is Law of Karma?:
    • Law of Karma in general or layman terms can be put as -” As you sow, so shall you reap”.
    • So, essentially, it is a law of justice in the life of human beings.
  • If it is a law, then there needs to be a legislator and a regulator. Who is it?:
    • As commonly believed, this regulator/legislator is GOD.

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  • If Law of Karma is valid, then why do we see good people suffering and evil people thriving well?:
    • This is one of the strongest argument against the Law of Karma.
    • The defence so given by the proponents is that the law is not just applicable to this life but to all the lives of a human being.Thus, the notion of rebirth(to be explained in a later post) is central for the validity of the Law of Karma.
    • A human being who is doing evil deeds in this life in thriving well due to his good deeds of the previous birth.
  • Does Law of Karma define our destiny?:
    • As we understood in a previous post on Predestination, Law of Karma governs our destiny to a considerable extent.
  • Is Law of Karma consistent with free will?
    • This is also one of the common objections against the Law of Karma–> If everything is determined by the Law of KARMA, then the human beings do not have free will.
    • One extreme view would uphold that, yes, human beings do not have free will.This includes Western Philosophers like Baruch Spinoza and Indian Philosophers like Ajivikas.Other strike it down as absurd.
    • However, a balanced view has been explained on the basis of an analogy of “a horse tied to the pole with the help of a rope.” The horse could do whatever it wants to within a defined limit, that is, the radius of the rope and not beyond that. So, this radius signifies the limit to which we can do anything we want to in our life based on our free will. Beyond that, destiny plays its role.
  • How our desires get fructified on the basis of Law of Karma?:
    • This also can be understood with the help of a real life example.
    • Consider your desire to be a resume for a job. There are certain prerequisites for the job. If you fulfill those, then you are qualified for the job else your application is liable to be rejected. So, the need is to have those basic minimum requisites.
    • Now, apply it to your desire and fruits. Corresponding to every desire of yours there is a certain minimum level of karma required. If you have those, then, you will be able to accomplish your desire else not.
  • What is the significance of the Law of Karma?:
    • It motivates us to do good deeds so that we get good fruits in future, thus, promotes moral values among the believers.
  • What could be the negative consequences of the belief in Law of Karma?
    • It may induce a sense of irresponsibility as people would do away from accepting their mistakes.

What is Predestination?

Predestination is an often debated spiritual/philosophical topic. In our lives, we often come across different views regarding our destiny. While some say- “Everything is written and whatever is meant to be yours will come to you when the right time comes”, others give an anti-thesis to this view by saying – ” You are the creator of your destiny and if you want something, you have to work hard in the direction needed to achieve the same”.

Due to the powerful prevalence of both thesis and antithesis, destiny becomes a difficult conundrum. In this article, we will try to solve this conundrum through objective views and bring about a synthesis of the two views.

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The Proponents(Thesis):

The proponents of the doctrine of predestination often uphold that our life is a pre-written script in which more or less all the events are already being decided by the “omniscient” God. (Here the word “omniscient” itself signifies predestination as the God if omniscient will know for sure the past, present,and future).

Here we take into consideration few of the objective facts.

  • The Holy Bhagwat Gita says:

vedaham samatitani
vartamanani carjuna
bhavisyani ca bhutani
mam tu veda na kascana

Translation:

” O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows”.

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This gives and indication towards the predestination as the God(Krishna) says that he knows the past, present as well as the future . 

  • The Bhrigu Samhita:

The Bhrigu Samhita is an ancient text written by Saint Bhrigu, a proponent of Vedas. It is said that, this book has the script of our lives(not everyone’s though) and gives us the information of what has happened and what is yet to happen in our lives. There are a few who read this Samhita. (Disc.: We are not taking the responsibility of the objectivity and authenticity of it ;)).

  • Islamic notion of “Maktub”:

Maktub or Maktoob is an Arabic word means “it is written”, that is, whatever is about to happen in our life is already “written” by the Almighty and thus, cannot be changed.

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  • The Christian notion of Infralapsarianism:

It holds that predestination logically coincides with the preordination of Man’s fall into sin.That is, God, predestined sinful men for salvation. Therefore, according to this view, God is the ultimate cause, but not the proximate source or “author” of sin.

  • The Law of Karma:

The Law of Karma can be simply presented as: “As you sow, so shall you reap”. It is sometimes analogically presented to us as” if you dig a hole for someone else, you are likely to fall in the same”. However, LoK is not an instantaneous law but is said to be applicable till we live in this world. Here, living does not just mean one birth but multiple births that we take on this earth through repeated cycle of birth and death till we are “liberated”. (Rebirth and transmigration would be discussed in a separate article).

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It is said that our fate is determined by our “karma”. This seems logical enough when we look at the disparities like rich and poor and the fact that some are born rich and some poor. LoK also holds good for other major aspects our life.

  • Others like Astrology, deja vu, a sudden unfolding of events in our lives without we being unaware of their happening are also few of the proofs of predestination.

So, it is a justice ridden law which determines our destiny.

The Opponents(Antithesis):

  • If everything is predestined, then:
    • I have no free will:
      • This is one of the most logical contradictions to predestination. A human would become a “pre-programmed Robot” or a “puppet” in the hands of the God if everything he does is/was meant to be done. If this is so, then humans are not liable for any wrong decision they make, This will make the humans “irresponsible beings” and they will never accept their own mistakes. God and Destiny would become the objects of imposition
    • I should not work:
      • as the destiny would come to me even if I do not work. Such a notion would induce fatalism in the society and would annul the productivity of the people.
    • I should not apply my brain willingly:
      • as my actions(which are going to decide my future) will come out “automatically” with the Almighty’s grace and destiny’s play.
    • I should not pray:
      • as if God cannot change what He had already written, By changing something that He had written, He would contradict himself and become limited like humans.

The Synthesis:

Yes, we can say that a number of things in our life happen as they were or are meant to happen. For example, our birth in a family rich or poor, our health at birth, our death etc.But, it would not be sane to say that “everything is predestined” as this would threaten our freedom and also leads to fatalism and irresponsibility. Here, we could abide by the view that although major events may be predestined, it never strips us of our free will. We always have the right to make a choice, say, a choice regarding education or career among others. Now, the results of the actions which follow these choices are sometimes in our favor while sometimes against us.

Here, we could account for the role of predestination which is often called “luck factor”. But this follows only after appropriate action from our side.Just take an analogy: “We can’t get water out of a well without making a minimum required effort to get it.” Similarly, we can’t find/get success without basic minimum efforts to get it.

Shankara’s Advaitavada and Unity.

Adi Shankaracharya is considered to be one of the greatest philosophers India has ever got. His key philosophy is called Advaitavada or Non-dualism. 

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Adi Shankaracharya

 

Adavaitavada or Non-dualism:

A verse which summarised the whole philosophy of Shankara goes like this:

Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, Jivo Brahmaiva Naparah “.

Decoding it:

  • Brahma Satyam, that is, Brahman is the only(ultimate) reality.
  • Jagat Mithya: The material world is mithya or illusion.
  • Jivo Brahmaiva Naparah: There is no difference between soul and Brahman and thus, soul is identical to Brahma.

Our focus would be on the first and the third. We will talk about the illusionary nature of the world in an article to come later.

So,we know that :

  • Brahman is the only reality and
  • There is no difference between Brahman and soul(Jiva).

Understanding the soul

  • Now, if we try to identify some common characteristics among the human beings, it would not just be the body but also the essence of our life.
  • It is a dominant opinion(especially in the Indian philosophy) that consciousness is the essential characteristic of the soul.  
  • Thus, presence of consciousness in all human beings points to the presence/existence of a soul in all human beings.

Shankaracharya and Unity:

  • Now ,according to Shankaracharya, there is no difference between Brahman and Soul(Jiva) .
  • So, all the souls are identical to Brahman –> (S1=S2=S3=S4= Brahman) . Here, S represents Soul.
  • This implies that all souls are identical and are equivalent to an ultimate reality called Brahman.
  • This way Shankaracharya’s philosophy unifies the whole human race together.

Significance:

  • In a world where intolerance(even on very trivial matters) is on a rise, Shankara’s philosophy can bind them together.
  • Countries which are adorned with immense diversity can establish unity in diversity with this kind of a thought.
  • In an age of moral hypocrisy, a practical philosophy propagating unity can induce truthfulness and empathy.

The Gandhian Philosophy and Ideals: The Satyagraha

Mahatma Gandhi, as we all know was the cornerstone of the Indian National Movement. He was a leader who led the victory of independence over the British Raj through movements with a preponderance of idealism. It was his philosophy which was at the foundation of such movements.

In the next series of articles, we will be throwing some light on Gandhian philosophy and ideals and how these laid the foundation of the movements led by him. The first such ideal is Satyagraha.

Satyagraha:

Meaning:

  • Derived from two words,
    • “Satya“, which means “truth”
    • Agraha” which means “insistence
  • Thus, satyagraha means “insistence on truth”.
  • Going further in depth, here “Satya” has been derived from the Sanskrit word “sat”, a word often used in the Indian philosophy, meaning “the real”. Whatever is real is true. Real is something which can never be destroyed or annulled.
  • Thus, it is a quest for the establishment of the “sat” or the real.

Origin:

  • First in South Africa.
  • In India, began from Champaran(Bihar) to save the Indigo planters from the overexploitation of the British through extortive rents.

Nature:

  • It is Non-violent and Spiritual in nature.
  • According to Mahatma Gandhi, there is an organic and intrinsic relation between the principle of non-violence(ahimsa) and satyagraha.
  • The concepts of Ahimsa and Satyagraha are essentially the same.
  • Without Ahimsa or Non-violence, one cannot insist on truth because Violence or Himsa is false in nature.
  • Spiritual because it comprises of many measures  of one’s purity in thoughts, words ,and deeds.

Principles of Satyagraha Movement:

The core principles of Satyagraha movement were an amalgamation of multiple Indian philosophies . Major principles include:

  • Satya or Truth:
    • Any accomplishment made on the basis of false words, actions or beliefs can never be ever-lasting.
    • False actions also set a wrong precedent for the society and make it a hypocritical one.
    • Truth and honesty with oneself and with others acted as a binding force among the masses.
  • Ahimsa or Non-violence
    • A violent movement could not become a mass movement. This is because violent methods could be easily suppressed by the British might.
    • There is an intrinsic relation between Ahimsa and Satyagraha.
  • Aparigraha or  Non-possession:
    • Non-possession is important for cutting down the greed of possessing more so it can have a negative impact on the availability of resources and thus, may reduce the per capita availability of needs.
    • This creates a class system in the society and may lead to exploitation of the lower by the upper.
  • Brahmacharya or Chastity
    • Subduing one’s sexual desires.
    • It is very important for one’s purity which in turn is reflected in one’s actions.
    • According to Indian Philosophy, only after this can one think of achieving the ultimate.
  • Asteya or  Non-stealing:
    • Stealing shows greed of more, thus, making our life driven by wants.
    • It may lead to a society of unrest as people may become self-centric and may fulfil their wants at the cost of the needs of others.

(The above five are also the core principles of Jainism, named as, Panchamahavrata and Yama of Yoga Philosophy).

  • Fearlessness:
    • Cornerstone of the movement.
    • Britishers had enough avenues to suppress the masses.
    • But, it was the fearlessness of the leader and the masses which made it mighty for the British to tackle.
  • Eating Less:
    • Overeating may arouse carnal desires, which is against the principle of Brahmacharya.
    • Gandhi Ji often asserted the reliance on needs than wants.
  • Sarvadharmasambhava or equal respect for all religions:
    • one of the most important principles in a diverse and heterogeneous country like India.
    • Promotes tolerance and religious pluralism.
    • Promoted cohesiveness among the masses and prevented trivial communal fights.
  • Boycott of foreign(especially British) goods and assertion of Swadeshi goods:
    • It had two advantages:
      • Economic losses for the British.
      • Spirit  of self-sufficiency among the Indians.

These principles laid the foundation of the rules the Satyagrahis were needed to abide by. Also, all the activities of the satyagrahis were governed by these. A few of the rules include:

  • no use of abusive or curse words for the opponents(Satya and ahimsa).
  • no special treatment to be demanded as a prisoner(aparigraha).
  • do not insult the opponent(ahimsa).
  • voluntary submission of oneself for arrest(fearlessness).
  • no communalism(sarvadharmasambhava).
  • suffer the anger of the opponent(fearlessness).
  • obey the orders of the leaders of the opponents(Satya/ honesty).

Significance and advantages:

  • Could gather and carry on the masses for a sustained period.
  • Principle oriented and ideal, thus, lasted for long.
  • Strategically correct as a violent method could have easily have been suppressed.
  • A humane method of putting and accomplishing one’s demands.

Exemplary tool:

Satyagraha has been an exemplary tool discovered and implemented by the Mahatma. Its use was emulated in the Civil Rights Movement in South Africa(by Nelson Mandela) and America(by Martin Luther King Jr.).

References:

  • Books:
    • The Story of “My Experiments with Truth”.
    • Hind Swaraj.
  • Others: