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Be not afraid of anything. The moment you fear, you are nobody. It is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. It is fear that is the greatest of all superstitions. It is fear that is the cause of our woes, and it is fearlessness that brings heaven even in a moment. Therefore, “Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached.” Ignore digital bhakts, chanakya chelas and their twisted unpatriotic preaching or barking to vocal natives as some anti-national.

Some days ago, during a discussion on the many ways to interpret episodes in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the issue came up of whether these are ethical texts or merely ideological ones. Should one regard them as repositories of moral conundrums, on the human condition, that needed to be decoded and debated by every age for itself, or whether their messages, about the nature of the dharmic order to which all must conform, were clear and without ambiguity.

What gave rise to this debate were two stories that were being discussed: the case of Eklavya who willingly offered his thumb to Drona on the Guru’s request, thereby assuring an anxious Arjun of his supremacy as an archer, and that of Ram beheading Shambuka for falling out of dharmic line. I wondered if one were a feminist, a Dalit scholar, a passionate nationalist / patriot of the current variety found among Ministers of State, or even a European Marxist, would one find morally gray areas in such episodes or would one see them as containing clear messages of how power and social relationships in a ‘just’ society should be ordered?

At this point let me step back a bit and carefully probe the distinction between an ethical and an ideological text. An ethical text is one which presents episodes as forks in the road where each path offered is attractive because it contains desirable goals. Choosing one path presents one with a quandary because the benefits offered by the other path would now have to be willingly foregone. Each path at the fork leads to the same destination. One only needs to decide what gains and losses one wished to forego.

For example, path A would offer to cut a journey short by four hours. But it would mean traveling on a bad road full of potholes and perhaps risking a bad back and a breakdown. Path B, in contrast, is longer and would get the traveler home past midnight. But it would be a smooth ride on a freshly metallic road that went through a forest. Traveling at night would risk a dacoit hold-up. An ethical text does not give a clear moral message. It compels one to weigh options before making a choice.

The ideological text, in contrast, is like a road within the National Highway system. Clearly numbered exits are given to one’s destination. You know where and when to leave the highway. Here there are no moral conundrums. There are just clear signposts prepared by a highways authority which tell you where to stop, at what speed to travel, which lane to follow, and where to exit. The highways authority offers a distinct route map for the whole society. It does so with the certainty of one who knows.

The smell of the mahua tree, for example, means a great deal in central India but has little significance in coastal India where the smell of fish is more exciting. Unless of course the rishi Parashar aroused by Satyavati replaced her fish smell of matsyagandha with the heavenly smell of yojanagandha, making coastal people like me to think this to be a parochial tale. Such playful stories can only be told when the epic is an ethical text. The cultural vigilantes have created a climate of anxiety which the people in control of the state have done little to diminish, for it pays them political dividends. Do they not realise that while they may gain the country, they will lose a civilization? Do they not realise how anti-national this is?

Modern bhakts are only preaching for fame and brewing religion + politics cocktails. Rarely such famous celebrities dare follow Bhagavad Gita’s central theme called “निष्काम कर्म” souped in artificial attachments for self-benefit. Its better to focus on nature, people & peace. No one can be 100% right about man-made selfie rules, states and land masses. In the end, we all get back as per our accumulated karma. (Source: The Hindu, April 13, 2017)

One thought on “Religious scriptures are richest when they are read as ethical texts, not ideological guides!”

  1. Neither I am so Liberal nor a Nazi. Just trying to get wise sooner 😉
    Not a Bhakt of either gangs. || सत्यम विषम, मिथ्याम सुंदरम | चलता है हरिओम ||

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