In the land of Brahman the way to the finality of human destiny, to siddhi and self-fulfilment, leads the pilgrim through existential contradictions and absurdities. With such markings belying the desire to proceed along a straight path, the transmigrating subject finds himself cast into a labyrinth mysteriously designed for his sole need and purpose. Such is the road of dharma- The seeker for the Ultimate Reality has no choice but to trudge resolutely, in stark solitude, undaunted by failure and discouragement. Urged on by the persuasions of dharma he strives with heroic fortitude till finally he breaks through to knowing that his pains and joys, as well as the toilsome coils of the labyrinth itself, had been of the substance of his ontological freedom. The labyrinth only happened to be the necessity through which jivan-mukti is felt as a home-coming. The dweller within then sees that, during the time of his adhesion to dharma, he was as he had always been, and now is ancient.
After a career of teaching Indian Philosophy and Religion at the University of Alberta, K.D. Prithipaul now lives in Edmonton, Canada. He obtained his BA and MA degrees from the Banaras Hindu University, in Varanasi, and continued his research at the University of Paris (Sorbonne) where he obtained a Doctorate. He has published: Action and Contemplation in Advaita Vedanta; Moha-A Study of Spiritual Error in Brahmanism; and Translation and a Comparative Commentary of the Bhagavad Gita (in two volumes); together with the following translations: The Philosophy of Nagarjuna (from V. Fatone's Spanish original); The Yogasutras of Patanjali (from F. Tola & Co., Dragonetti's Spanish original); and Colonialism-A Global History (from M. Ferro's French original). He is at present working on an essay on Valmiki's Ramayana.
It was close to midnight, one Saturday in the fall of 1953, after an exhausting study of the Mandukya Upanisad; which had lasted for several hours when, overwhelmed by his brilliant dialectical skill, I asked Swami Nihsreyasanandaji on what foundation had he built the strength of his profound knowledge of Vedanta. Without any hesitation he said, 'The Mahabharata and Valmiki's Ramayana." And he added: "Hinduism is nothing else but Dharma!"
Somehow, for some inexplicable reason, the names of these two books sank deep within me. They kept gnawing at my conscience and sustained, during all these many years, the desire to reach out and explore these two monuments of world literature. The structure of the obligations of teaching and research in a university environment did not allow the patient study of a text as vast and extensive as the Mahabharata. It was only after I retired from the university that, freed from the peer and administrative pressure, I could study the Mahabharata at leisure. I then discovered how different would have been my undergraduate lectures on Hinduism if only I had had the leisure of reading this book of wisdom before retirement. I still regret that I did not, for I could not, have the opportunity to share with my students some of the insights which I gained in going through the epic.
I also found out that such a situation exists also in the university setup in India, where few academics do find it rewarding to spend time in an in-depth study of the epic. The pressure and the need to publish cold morsels of analytical knowledge of transient worth inhibits the curiosity and the fervour required for the exploration of the arcane mysteries of a major work like the Mahabharata epic. It is a matter to be deplored because the academic community, and the society at large, would benefit if the ancient wisdom of this great work were to be shared with students and colleagues. I believe that a hundred years from now Vivekananda's lectures, for example, will still be read with delectation, while most, if not all, of the academic publications produced, during the last fifty years, under the duress of the "publish or perish" ideology, would have passed without leaving any legacy.
When I retired from my university duties I resolved to explore the Mahabharata, as an act of gratitude which, more than ten years after his passing away, I feel I still owe the revered jnana-yogi, for his having taught me how to love the beauty and the wisdom of Advaita Vedanta. I offer this book, with all its faults, as my homage to, and my recognition of, the candour and the humanity which animated his every word, his every gesture, and his every moment of being a sacred reflection of the spirituality of Brahmanism. When the learned samnyasin said that the essence of Brahmanism is nothing else but dharma the simplicity and directness of the statement struck me as a revelation. It had not dawned upon me up to that time that it is possible to envisage the reality of Brahmanism as continuing to remain vital and meaningful even if all the entire body of the karma-kanda were to disappear from the surface of the earth and from the minds of the believers. But Brahmanism would not last for a day if dharma ever happened to be extinguished, even if the karma-kanda were to maintain itself in regular domestic and community performances.
The way of dharma is not a straight path to the Ultimate Reality, to the consummation of the individual's strivings for perfection. Despite the regularity of the movements of the spheres in the dark cosmic emptiness, one must perforce recognize that, in individual existence, Time does not have a regular rhythm for, in a refutation of the Biblical myth, it does inexorably pass, but not as a movement in a straight line. We like to believe that the Rta assures the harmony and the cadence of the spheres in their cosmic dance, while Time embraces them with the unchanging regularity of their movements. But the concord ends there, on the cosmic stage, for the life of the individual is not made of the stuff of this silent ease and peacefulness.
Indeed the existential Time of the individual holds in its womb contradictions and congruities, surprises and testimonies, seeds of misery and of ecstasy, absurdities and assurances, blasts of calamity and zephyrs of wishes fulfilled. It is in the midst of such experiences that, despite the unfailing adhesion to the obligations of dharma, one experiences the certainties and the mysteries of life as the inevitable trudging through a personal labyrinth in dire solitude. Hence the title of the book will inform the reader of the intricacies and the challenges of the pursuit of dharma as a duty which even today does not bear any diminution come what may within the span from birth to death.
Throughout this book I have avoided the use of the common expressions "Hinduism," "Hindu." I have used instead Brahmanism, the Brahmanist or the Brahmanical Man, for the simple reason that the dharma is an explication of the all pervading Brahman in all the works carried out by the individual. I have used the term "Hindu," or "Hinduism," only in those contexts which suggest a degraded version of the authentic dharma: Likewise I have used the word Brahman or Brahmin to signify the fallen state of what the authentic Brahmana stands for. The word Brahmanism evokes the ontological dimension of the sanatana dharma.
Throughout the text the word dharma is written in bold characters, as a sign of the intention to stress the importance of the related theme. My concern has been to show that the verities which constitute the substance of dharma, as laid down in the Mahabharata, retain their freshness and their relevance to the conditions of living at the beginning of the twenty-first century. In particular I have tried to demonstrate the validity of the contents of dharma in a comparative set-up in order to bring out their applicability to contemporary life.
Concomitantly the word Brahmana refers to the person who lives according to what the word designates. That is, he is one who lives an authentic life leading to self-realisation. According to this restricted use of the word, the Brahmana does not necessarily refer to birth, but to the man endowed with virtues which elevate the dignity of his existence to the highest level. The "Brahmin" is he who claims undeserved, unearned superiority based merely on his birth. A genuine Brahmana, especially one engaged in public life, must know how and when to renounce and retreat from the hubbub of the crowd. He must revive the ideal of the vanaprastha, both in spirit and in practice, particularly when they have earlier received from a grateful nation all the honours and graces which they deserved and more. The men who glided through the political passing show, like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Jawaharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee are just mere Brahmins, incapable of even imagining the desirability of the ontological passion to renounce and to strive for greater fulfilment in the status of the oanoprastha. For Brahmanism remains incomplete without the anagogic presence of the renouncer who indicates to the common citizen that there is a purusartha nobler and more prestigious than what is attained in the satisfaction of ambition and of the lust for wealth and power.
I owe a debt of deep gratitude to my friend Mr Tan Peng Cheng, a computer Engineer, who retrieved most of my material from my broken down computer. I had the unpleasant experience of losing my previous computer when our home was broken in. Without Mr Peng Cheng's assistance and his patient editing, the material representing the many years of research for my work would have been irretrievably lost and this book would not have been written.
On Sunday, 11 June 1997, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) carried a two-hour programme in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Independence of India. The second hour was taken up with an interview with three Indian women writers who, in flawless English, articulated their views of the prevailing situation obtaining in their country. One of the three writers attributed to non-resident Indians what she deemed to be the undesirable practice of making substantial contributions to the financing of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In her mind such non-resident intervention in Indian politics constitutes a direct, even a pernicious, way of promoting intolerance and chauvinism in India. In the context of the conversation, she seemed to suggest that the rise of Hindu fundamentalism-if, according to a current fad, this expression be the proper designation for the emergence of traditional Brahmanical values in Indian national politics-is not a product and an expression of the dynamics agitating the indigenous Indian socio-political realities. But, she continued to argue, that it was an import from Western constituencies of the Indian diaspora.
Such a statement from an enlightened, highly educated, and independent-minded person demonstrates the confusion that has prevailed in India ever since she obtained Independence. The writer interviewed did not seem to be aware of the absurdity of her statement. For, a few moments later, on being asked by the CBC reporter what is taking the place of British culture which "is burning on its own funeral pyre," one of the trio of writers answered coolly that the cultural vacuum was being filled by MTV, Michael Jackson, the Internet, disco, and a host of borrowings from the West. Further, none of those writers seemed to appreciate the interviewer's expression of surprise caused by his discovery that Bill Gates' dolls are being marketed in India, while such was not the case in North America. His remark triggered a mild laughter as one of the writers volunteered the information that her brother was a manufacturer of those dolls. Nevertheless, she blamed the media for blowing the occurrence out of all proportion. What was striking in the statements of those three women writers was the absence of even a wish to see the evanescent British influence being replaced by genuinely Indian cultural forms and creative activities. They actually relished in the prospect of American kitsch coming forth to fill the void left by the departing British influence.
In Edmonton (Canada), during a conversation, at a private reception given in the late spring of 1997, in honour of a visiting classical dancer from India, the latter felt no compunction in berating the British-Guyanese Indian community for their adherence to the mother dialect they still speak a century after they had been transported from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to provide cheap labour for the British plantation owners. Mallika Sarabhai was smugly unconcerned with, and oblivious of, the incongruity of her using the English language to express her contemptuous comment on the 'culture' of the Indo-Guyanese before whom she had earlier produced her pretentious, multimedia, one-dimensional, one-hour ''V for . . . " show during hich, dressed in a dark brown tail-coat, brown slacks with a pistol tucked in her belt, she spewed out at machine-gun speed a text riddled with cliches tied together with the thread of anarchist slogans. After the show, dressed in shalwar-kamiz she came on the stage to interact with the audience and claimed that she was bringing the Gandhian message to the world! She showed no awareness of the indifference and neglect which, for five or six generations, the elites in India have evinced towards the deprived diaspora communities. The best that India could offer to them in the matter of culture was whatever dripped from the formula- structured films churned by the hundreds in the Bombay studios.
Middleclass, educated Indians too easily forget that Mahatma Gandhi spent twenty-one years in forging the instruments of satyagraha and ahimsa while working among a community of deprived diaspora Indians in South Africa. It was the greatest gift which the poor overseas Indians have offered to the mainstream of Indian history in the twentieth century.
In a different context, the small island of Mauritius-now known to many Indian aficionados of Bollywood B-grade movies-has, in addition to hosting a World Conference on "Franco-phonie," sponsored international conferences on Hindi, Tamil, Bhojpuri. These too are gifts which the Indian diaspora has presented to the Indian mainstream. It is befitting that such contributions, as vibrant testimonies of loyalty to the presence of an unquestionably glorious heritage, be mentioned as a postulate of the validity of a diaspora concern for the preservation and development of the values that have their roots in what can still be called "Hindu dharma." Further, it may be borne in mind that Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore has, in the recent past, as a member of the Chinese diaspora, acquired some eminence as a major spokesman for the relevance and meaningfulness of a renewal of the Confucian tradition which he raises as a bulwark against the dehumanization inherent in the triumph of an inexorable Western inspired cultural and economic globalization. In 1993, he was invited as a guest speaker and as a major participant in an international conference on Confucianism sponsored by the Marxist-Leninist Government in Beijing.
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