While we are facing the Chinese virus crisis, the fragility of the World Order, especially the global capitalism, which has reduced the status of man to mere ‘Homo economicus’ has been exposed cruelly. But in the history of humanity every crisis has provided an opportunity along with it. Infact the crown among Moksha Śāstras, the Gītā was revealed just before the Mahābhārata war. So now would be a great time to visit Dhārmik values and see how it can provide an alternative framework for a sustainable lifestyle in present times.
Before we go into exploring the Dhārmik world view and it’s different aspects, one thing we should keep in mind is that the objective of Dharma is to satisfy the material desires of man i.e ‘Kāma’ by necessary means ‘Artha’ under the framework of ‘Dharma’ and enabling him /her to achieve ‘Moksha’. Also unlike the western worldviews (Judeo Christian, Secular, Post modern etc) Dharma doesn’t differentiate between the sacred and the worldly. As the first mantra of Iśā Upaniṣad says, “All the world is the abode of Iśvara.” Manu also says:
धृति: क्षमा दमोऽस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियनिग्रह:
धीर्विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम्।।
Almost same principles can be found in the Purānas, other Smŕtis, in the 16th and 17th chapter of the Gītā ,the Yama and Niyamas described by Ŕṣi Patanjali in the Yoga Sūtra, even in Āyurveda Śāstras. However I’ll focus here on a few of the concepts like ‘Asteya’, ‘Indriya Nigraha’, ‘Aparigraha’. Those who meditate will find out two things- 1) By just practicing one of these principles the rest of them fall into line and; 2) Depending upon the depth of one’s consciousness their meaning and practice becomes more subtle and carry deeper meanings.
‘Asteya’ can be loosely translated as ‘not stealing from others’. We recognise that our life is not sustained by our wealth and possession alone; rather it is connected with other living and non living beings, Nature, our ancestors and our Devas. So when we are consuming or enjoying something we must recognise that we are indebted to them for it and we must try to pay our debts. If we are only concerned about ourselves or our families, or our company, that also is an act of stealing.
That’s why our ancestors had stressed upon PancaBhutaYajna, feeding cows, feeding dogs, crows, ants, giving Dāna to beggars, Sannyāsins, Atithis. Consuming without thinking about these and doing these as per one’s capability is stealing. Iśā Upaniṣad says “तेन त्यक्तेन भुञ्जीथा”. In Gītā Bhagavān says “भुञ्जते ते त्वघं पापा ये पचन्त्यात्मकारणात् (They commit sin who consume only for themselves)”. Similarly wasting things is also a violation of Asteya.
‘Indriya Nigraha’ can be understood as ‘checking/controlling the senses’ or ‘not letting the Indriya (senses) decide for you’. ‘Aparigraha’ is ‘not accumulating more things than one’s need’. Indriya Nigraha and Aparigraha can be seen as the inner and outer aspects of ‘Ātma Samyama (self restraint)’. It’s impossible to practice ‘Asteya’ without practicing these two and these two cannot be practiced without practicing ‘Asteya’.
In a Dhārmika society people are introspective and always examine their actions with respect to Dharma rather than being guided by the global trend. They also do not take Constitution as a moral authority. But in a society that has institutionalised lower human instincts such as ‘greed’ and ‘passion’, where wealth is not a means but a goal in itself, Dharma diminishes. One can accuse that these concepts such as ‘ĀtmaSamyama’ or ‘Indriya Nigraha’ are too tentative to be accumulated in an universal worldview. But there also lies the beauty of Dharma.
If we are selling an ‘idea’ to people as universal then the people must be an active participant in it, not a blind follower of global trends popularised by some overhyped humanity professors, post modernist thinkers, shrewd business tycoons and dimwit celebrities. Our scriptures like the Smritis, Vidura Nīti, Śānti Parva, Anuśāsana Parva, even Ācārya Cānakya’s ArthaŚāstra has many interesting insights to offer on how material progress and Ādhyātmik growth can go together.