This is an excerpt from the discourse on Day 2‑Session 1 during the Rishikesh Retreat 2016.
Knowing the true history of the land is very important as it gives an opportunity to reflect on our actions, take pride or correct ourselves.
The Scale of Destruction
It is said that Vyasa Maharishi deeply contemplated upon the Mahabharata war and the scale of destruction before starting to compile it. The destruction that happened after the war is beyond comparison and nothing like that has happened till now on this earth. The numbers are pretty startling. In the Stri Parva, Raja Dhirtharashtra asks Yudishthira about the number of causalities in the war. Yudhisthira reveals a startling number. He says that 1 billion 660 million and 20 thousand warriors died. Our assumption is that the world is now super populated. We even have these “hum do hamare ek or naam iruvar namakku oruvar slogans” everywhere.
According to our Shastras the world was highly populated in the Satya yuga, shrunk a bit in the Treta Yuga, reduced further in the Dwapara and further in the Kali yuga. Even the dimensions of the human body, the intelligence, the ability to grasp things, inner well being etc reduced from the Satya to Kali Yuga. Most of us do not know about this and think that ancient civilizations were primitive, backward and barbaric. We have not been educated along these lines. We have always been told that modern man is more advanced.
No Knowledge of History
Actually there is no proper education with respect to our own history. When we talk of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, people ask proof. Not just these Ithihaasas, if we consider the past 1000 years, there were so many prosperous dynasties: Chola, Chera, Pallava, Karnuthiyas,Chalukyas,Guptas,Mauryas etc. The purpose of education is to help construct knowledge, a right perception of things. Hence it is important to now what the educational system was like?What was the administrative system like?How did the people live?All this we hardly have any proper construction. What was the economy like and how businesses operated. Because we have not been educated on the true history of this land, we are not proud of it. When we have knowledge of the past 1000 years of Indian history, we will be better able to appreciate what is happening today.
Vyasa’s Musings: Perspective on Dharma
So Vyasa Maharishi actually contemplated on the Mahabharata, because of the scale of destruction. 1.66 billion people died. We have never encountered destruction of this scale. Because such a thing should never happen again. Even during world war millions (that is less compared to the scale of destruction in the Mahabharata). Even now we actually remember the Hiroshima and Nagasaki days. Why? Because we don’t want to repeat that. It’s a blotch in human history. We don’t want to repeat that. And hence, we remember those days, we mourn those days, and again and again revisit that and analyzing the cause . That’s part of Dharma. That’s part of educating people on Dharma. Let us not do actions which leads us to such disastrous consequences. With this in mind, Vyasa Maharishi wanted to educate the population on Dharma, because it is important. Nobody wants crores of people dying and rivers of blood flowing.
It is said that he contemplated on it and Brahmaji himself gave a boon and said “You pray to Lord Ganesha and he will be your scribe.” So he prayed to Lord Ganesha and Lord Ganesha appeared. Ganeshaji said,”See I have one condition!”. He has broken his own dantham and made it into a pen. “Once I lift my pen from the paper, I am done. Because I have other work to do”. and thus began the compilation of the Mahabharata.
The world’s perception of India
When I was in the US, I used to watch CNN. What I found was that most of India is portrayed in an extremely negative way. Many things have changed but it used be very different then. Even now, the media has a big role to play in the image of India abroad. The whole “intolerance” debate is to do with this image projection. This is because the people there get the image of India only as it is projected by the media production channels. Infact some people are systematically funded to project such an image. The world will then develop a very unidimensional view of India.
It becomes the role of the leader to set an appropriate vision for the future, so that the future views us, of current times, through an appropriate framework. That’s the role of historians as well. Right now, what view have we set of ourselves, our Indian identity, the Indian tradition and way of life? Sati..caste system..oppression..gender discrimination! That is a terrible view! We need to educate the world appropriately as to how to view us. How can they get educated automatically? Hence, first of all, we have to educate ourselves. We still don’t have an appropriate view of ourselves. We don’t know what our strengths are. We don’t know what our weaknesses are. All that we know are some popular misconceptions about our own tradition and culture.
The need for an educated perspective
We need to act now to change the perception about India. For that we need to educate ourselves on our own background. Unfortunately most of us are so abysmally ignorant of our own background. The ground on which we stand is taken for a ride by everybody. We don’t know our ground. It is not the fault of the other countries that their perception about us is so abysmal.
There are many evils in society today, that need to be worked on. What are we doing about that? That’s where we need to learn the principles, we need to gain an educated perspective and apply ourselves very powerfully in that direction. Only then the future will be better. That does not mean all problems will vanish. In the future, there will be other problems, and for facing them, the inner qualities should be built up in our antahkarana. These are called values. With such inner qualities, we can march forward valorously into the world. It is day to day effort, but in order to stay motivated you need all these values.
Only now we are slowly becoming aware of the richness of our history. A certain pride is very important. There is a righteous pride. If your honour is not in place, you can stoop to any level. That’s why education was considered extremely important in our culture. Education provides you with a stature. You cannot stoop below that. That’s the difference between the educated and the non-educated. Even in the Mahabharata times, uneducated people would not be given top roles, because they can stoop to any level.
A very refined and detailed system of Governance
One fall-out of the modern education system is that we assume that everything before 1000 years was primitive, underdeveloped and that evolution is linear. If we read the Mahabharata, other puranas and the Neeti Shastras, we come to know the level of complexity of governance and the legal system. The role of a Raja was much more than the Prime Minister or President of current systems. Reading those works help us to gain a perspective of many aspects of the Indian system that we practice today, the rationale behind them and the beauty and finesse of certain governance dimensions. Infact one of the key aspects of governance by the Raja was to protect his citizens from the three obstacles: Tapatreya: Adi Deivika (Divine or natural forces like natural disasters) , Adi Bhautika (man-made obstacles like wars or clashes) and Adhyatmika (self-made obstacles that arise out of a certain dissatisfaction and unhappiness). There was lot of focus on the happiness of individual citizens and the Raja had to constantly worked towards that. Though we see multitudes of laws in the current times, there is still a sense of delayed justice and sometimes injustice. A peek into the ancient system of governance can throw light on what is wrong with the current models.
Leadership based on the highest values
In the Sangam Tamil epic, Silappathikaram, in Kannagi’s case, when Raja Nedunjeliyan realized that he had failed to deliver justice, he could not bear it and gave up his own life! The Raja was so good that he could not bear to live with the fault of a single improper judgement! Can you find a leader like him in today’s world? It shows immense greatness! We should grow up reading and studying the life stories of such great people! Our whole land was this way, just imagine! If we are brought up with such values, imagine how good this entire nation would be! It is just a question of values — appropriate values. We just need to take our jobs seriously and do a good job. That is all. What else is required? In the process we enjoy ananda anubhava, the experience of joy. The experience of joy does not come otherwise. Now we are not trained on that. We don’t see any value in what we do. Then how can we apply ourselves in what we do? We cannot apply ourselves. If the laymen are this way, they can be corrected. But the problem is, the leadership itself is that way! But now, thankfully it is different. For the nation to be prosperous, it requires continuous work day and night — dedicated work. Without that, how can there be success and prosperity? And it is cheerful work, where we apply ourselves to our work enthusiastically, and that is valour. In the process, anyhow there will be challenges. But one finds the courage within oneself to face those challenges, in performing one’s swadharma, at whatever role one is engaged in playing.
Prosperity – not an automatic phenomenon
The different governance systems, the varied sciences and technology — all that we study now was also applied during the Mahabharata times, in fact, in a much better measure. Right now the problem is that we think that all these have been developed only recently by modern man, while the ancients were barbaric and primitive. This is the only problematic view. Actually, all of these existed in those times as well. The land was rich and heavily populated. And hence all forms of governance, science and technology existed. There were ways and means of trade. Everything flourished. Only this can lead to prosperity. Prosperity is not an automatic phenomenon. How can a nation become prosperous automatically? Right now, we are suffering in terms of prosperity because of the lack of proper knowledge and application of the administrative sciences.
Right now our target is 150 kg of grains per person per year. Actually, even as recent as the 17th or 18th century, the availability of grains was 2500 kg per person per year! Can we even compare the amounts of grains produced? Are we anywhere near 2500 kg of grains per person per year? That’s prosperity! However, one may argue that the population was only about 30 crores then, whereas now we are dealing with a population of 120–130 crores. But then, 18th century is quite recent, it was after the Mughal invasion. We are talking of ancient times, 5000 years ago. What is written in the Mahabharata is clear: our land, Bharathavarsha, was heavily populated and rich.
It is most unfortunate that we are cut off from our ancient history. What we know is our recent history. Ancient histories have been there in all civilizations. If one reads such ancient histories, one will find such accounts of beings from other worlds. We have been brainwashed into believing that all this is mythology – just cooked-up stories. Basically, we have not been educated properly and confusion has been created in our minds, that all these are nothing but fairy tales. It is not so, in truth. And hence we have very strange ideas about ourselves and everything around us.