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.

 

 

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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.

Philosophy :Practical significance of the Middle Path of Buddha

The Middle path or what is called as the “Madhyam Marg” is one of the most distinctive features of the Buddhist philosophy.

Buddha denied aligning oneself to extremes in any situation of life.So, unlike other religions which upheld extreme penance as the way to attain enlightenment, Buddha chose to propagate a balanced way of life.

This makes Buddhism a comparatively pragmatic philosophy. The impact of this stance of the Middle Path is clearly visible in all the theories of Buddhism, especially ,its central theory of Pratityasamutpada*.

The teaching of opting for the middle path or Madhyam Marg has a considerable significance in our practical life as well.

  • Political significance:
    • Avoiding extremes in our decision making would lead to a balanced decision making which could be widely acceptable. For instance, the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu dispute over the river water of Cauvery should be such that the needs of all the stakeholders are fulfilled.
    • This, in turn ,leads to utilitarianism, that is, maximum good to maximum number. 
    • Also, it is in line with the principle of distributive justice(socially just allocation of goods). 
  • Significance in establishing harmony and unity in the society:
    • It would create a situation where violence on the basis of exclusivism of any kind, maybe religion/caste, gender, economic status among others would be annulled.
    • Mahatma Gandhi gave a theory called satvadharmasambhava., according to which, there must be mutual tolerance and harmony among all the religions. Here as well, the middle path theory finds significance as no one would take an extreme stand of imposing his own religion on anyone else. On the other hand, this could help in creating a universal religion which inculcates the significant features of other religions.
    • So, the differences on various grounds which persist in the society for long could be addressed and resolved.
  • Day-to-day significance:
    • It has a considerable significance in overcoming the dilemmas which appear in our day-to-day life.
    • It could help in living a balanced and peaceful life as we would prefer to avoid any kind of extremes in our life. For eg. avoiding too much sleeping or eating keeps us healthy and wise. Also, establishing a control over our extreme animal desires would bring peace and balance.

Thus, there is a multi-dimensional significance of the Buddhist Madhyam Marg and being quite pragmatic in essence , must find a consistent application.

*Pratityasamutpada:

The theory of causation of Buddhism. It says that effect exists till the cause does so and vanishes thereafter. There have been other views related to causation which said that:

a.) cause exists before effect b.) effect is inherent in the cause.

Buddhism takes a middle path and gives the theory of Pratityasamutpada(Paticcasamutpada)

Philosophy: Jainism and Tolerance

Jainism is one of the major philosophical systems in the world.Many philosophies and ideals of Jainism are acclaimed by the people from all across the globe. The Jaina Philosophy is essentially considered to be the one with practical insights.

One of the principles/philosophies of Jainism, which is acclaimed by larger masses is that of Syadvada. This principle is the one which upholds tolerance and harmony among the multiple interpretations of the same reality. This is valid for every single aspect.

Brief about Syadvada:

  • Derived from the word “Syad”, which means, “relative” .
  • Thus, Syadvada is the Theory of Relativity of Knowledge.
  • According to this, each and every judgment is true from a particular condition of time, place, and circumstances.
  • Thus, none of the views about a particular thing is incorrect, although, they may differ from one another.
  • According to this theory, absolutely affirmation or negation of a particular view is not correct in principle.

Contemporary significance:

The major lesson from the theory of Syadvada is that of tolerance towards the views of others. This holds true for each and every field.

  • Democratic behavior:
    • The right to freedom of speech and expression is considered to be the cornerstone of a democracy.
    • In an environment where every other person takes offense, unfortunately, due to trivial things, the right to freedom of speech can hardly thrive well.
    • A scenario where Syadvada is understood well will be a truly democratic one.
    • There will no aggressive objections and offences but only debates and discussions in order to reach a consensus.
    • Thus, the theory of Syadvada can help in the establishment of an ideal democracy.
  • Individual Liberty and dignity:
    • Tolerance is also important for maintaining individual liberty and dignity. The sovereignty of an individual has to be respected whatever be the situation. In an intolerant environment, this can hardly be established.
    • Interferences and breaches of the individual sovereignty take place mainly when one tries to establish the hegemony of one’s beliefs in someone else’s life.
    • With an understanding of Syadvada or Relativity of knowledge, no one would try to impose one’s beliefs and practices on that of other as all will be considered true from a particular angle.
  • Religion:
    • One of the most important spheres which hold a high relevance when it comes to tolerance or intolerance is that of religion.
    • Religion essentially is an interpretation of the absolute or the ultimate reality.Though, the reality is one, the multiple religions which exist today are different paths to attain it.
    • However, there has been an increasing antagony and intolerance between different religions, mainly due to religious exclusivism(a principle which upholds only its own reality as true while falsifying others).
    • Here, an understanding of Syadvada can play a vital role. If it is well understood that each of the interpretation of religion is true and the variation lies only in terms of time, place ,and circumstances, an environment of tolerance and harmony could be established.

Therefore, Syadvada or Theory of relativity of knowledge holds high significance and relevance in the contemporary times and thus, need to be understood and inculcated well.

 

 

Practical Lessons from The Bhagwad Gita: Nishkam Karmayoga

Chapter 2, verse 47 of the Holy book Bhagwad Gita says:

“Karmanye Vadhikaraste Maphaleshu Kadachana

makarmphalhetur bhur mate sangostvakarmani”

Translation :

You have the right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of results of your activities , and never be attached to not doing your duty.

Break up of the translation:

  • The term “prescribed duty” in ancient context is pertinent to the respective duty with regard to the erstwhile Varnashrama System(4 clans, namely, Brahamanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras – from higher to lower).
  • However, in contemporary times, such a rigidity is not pragmatic. Thus, duty can be perceived as one’s duty as a student, as an employee, as a leader among others.
  • The verse says- “you are not entitled to the fruits of your action” . This signifies that duty has to be performed without attachment or in a detached manner.
  • Never be attached to not doing you duty“-   signifies non-promotion of (i)fatalism and (ii)evasion from one’s responsibility from the defined work.
  • This verse, basically defines what is popularly known as Nishkam Karmayoga or disinterested or detached action.

Importance in practical life:

  • From a practical point of view, what we have in our hands is our work and not the results.
  • Thus, it is always good to do one’s action without any consideration of positive or negative consequences. Practically speaking, it eventually drains out our precious time and energy which may in turn negatively impact the results to come.
  • Considerations like “ What if I fail?,  What if I lose etc.” are not good for our mental as well as emotional well-being.
  • Working in now/present leads to better channelizing of our energy towards the defined work, thus, giving us an inner satisfaction in our lives. It brings peace as our mind is being used up only for the productive activities(truly psychological).
  • Now, it is upon us whether to put our thoughts into action or keep wandering in the world of thoughts(positive or negative).

That is why in our society, it is often said – ” Karma karo phal ki iccha mat Karo” .

Good Day. 

You can comment your opinion on the same below.