Beach 2: First Steps in the Ascent to the Divine
Wave 5: Ancient Scriptures of Hinduism
Drop 2. smRti
Page 2: A crisis of intellect
Very often a crisis of intellect expresses itself in an orthodox setting. It is that of a dogmatic pursuit of a ritual or what one holds to be a dharmic principle. Since external exhibitions or expressions of dharma change from age to age, a dogmatic pursuit of such an exposition beyond the times for which it was valid can ultimately lead to a situation where the primary dharma of compassion and non-violence is jeopardized. The classic response of Vyasa, when asked to summarize the limitless scriptures that he had produced was:
paropakAraH puNyAya pApAya para-pIDanaM.
Meaning, Merit (puNya) is the one which helps others and sin (pApa) is the one which hurts others. It is in this breed of arrogant upholding of the so-called dharma that practices like sati perhaps got generated without an eyebrow being raised. While it is true that Manu smRti talks of woman having no independent status because, 'in her childhood she is dependent on the father, in her youth and middle ages she is dependent on the husband and in her old age she is dependent on the son' - the same Manu smRti insists very emphatically that every man should act in such a way that not a single tear rolls down the cheek of a woman, for, if it does so, continues the smRti, 'the person who caused that tear-drop will be destroyed with his whole clan'!. If the followers of Manu smRti had only taken this seriously, women in Hindu society would have been put on the highest pedestal -- which is what perhaps is indicated in the Indian habit of addressing or greeting every unrelated woman as 'Mother' or 'Sister' . But custom and tradition forced themselves away from the spirit of ancient times. They thrust humiliating and unfair norms on the woman of the household, particularly when she lost her husband, just as, at the social level, a caste-ridden arrogance created and sustained the practice of untouchability.
The touchstone of Hindu dharma is therefore the attitude with which one acts. One has to analyze oneself constantly. Whgether it is a question of interpretation of caste rules, or a question of the meaning of the partnership between husband and wife , father and son, teacher and disciple, elder and younger -- whatever it may be, the choice between what is dharma and what is adharma should be made only on the basis of absence or presence of an internal selfishness, irrespective of what the secondary scriptures, like Manu smRti have to say. Even if there is an iota of selfishness in what one is doing or saying, then there is the contamination of adharma in it.
Selfishness may be of two kinds: one, which ultimately aims at a personal benefit of mundane return, or psychological satisfaction; and the other, may be of sense gratification. Only those actions, words and thoughts which are completely free of either type of selfishness are dharmic. Pursuit of a dharmic principle as a dogma ( for instance, irrespective of its social consequences ) may ultimately end in nothing but self-gratification that one is upholding dharma. Any time the thought comes to you that you are the upholder of dharma and you are indispensable for the dharma to be nurtured, you may rest assured that egoism has set in and you have strayed from dharma. Dharma is a very subtle concept. Even a divine incarnation like Rama who had every right to flaunt his observance of dharma, did not do so; he did not have the slightest egoistic pride that could lead him to proclaim that he was making the greatest sacrifice (of renouncing his right to be coronated as the prince of Ayodhya) for the sacrifice of dharma. His humility even prevented him from going beyond the simple statement, even in intense debates about the dilemma of right and wrong, that, 'Having been told by my mother and father to do what I am doing, how can I do otherwise?'
mAtA-pitRbhyAm-ukto'haM katham-anyat samAcare /
Valmiki Ramayana: Ayodhya-kanda, 104 - 22 Southern Recension.
Why did Rama say like this? What was his authority to say so?
Why is father's or mother's word respected so much? Is it law?
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