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Knowing our History for Dharma’s sake

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.

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