Saturday, January 14, 2012

Whenever whenever righteousness declines.....

Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya
Glanir Bhavati Bhaarata
Abhyutthannum Adharmasaya
Tadatmanam Sryjamy Aham
-Bhagavat Gita Chapter 4 Verse 7

"Whenever Whenever Dharma (Righteousness) Declines, Oh Descendant of Bharata, and Adharma (Unrighteousness) Arises, Then I will manifest myself"

This is a line that nearly every Hindu knows and almost all Indians recognize. It is the saying of Krishna, in the Mahabharata to Arjuna, explaining when He (righteousness, God, justice) comes into being. Most Hindus take it to mean that God takes avatara (literally "ava" meaning from coming down and "tara" meaning crossing over, essentially the descending from Being and crossing over into phenomenal existence) . God becomes man and interacts directly with the world. Hindus believe that this means that God directly intervenes with the world and saves it from itself. While I do think that is partially the meaning of this passage, I do not think this is all that is meant by the authors of the text. Putting aside the belief in the existence of a God (which I am not convinced of nor really care about), I do believe that this verse speaks more to humanity's potential to connect and become Platonic ideals of virtue.

What I mean by that is that is this, the authors are speaking about the potential and the fundamental desire of human beings both as individuals and a collective to uphold and maintain fairness and justice. It is the idea that we, human beings, have that spark of divinity or something beyond our natural animal instincts alone to seek fairness and justice for our world. It is the idea that when injustice, evil and unrighteousness occurs we feel an inner compulsion to fix it, to bring the wrongdoers to justice and to protect the innocent. When Hindus think of this verse, they feel that God will make things right at the end, He will not let evil continue unabated for long and at some point He will intervene. There is a certain helplessness that usually comes with the traditional Hindu understanding of this, it is the feeling that we can't fix the wrongs and have to wait for divine intervention. This, I submit, is the exact opposite intention of the authors of the Mahabharata and also the Gita.

I believe the authors meant for this passage to empower people, to empower people to feel that they are in fact the conduits to try and make justice occur. We need to remember that the term Dharma does not simply mean religion but means so much more than that, it means righteousness, justice, law, duty, the firmament of society and order and most importantly fairness. Krishna uses dharma in this passage to mean the foundations of justice, fairness, law and righteousness. He does not mean religion or way of life, as both of these things were not at controversy during the Mahabharata war but rather it was about justice and fairness. Krishna was telling Arjuna (the character he was telling this to) that when our notions of righteousness are contradicted and attacked, we should not let it pass without a fight. It is our duty to fight for it and stand on our principles despite the consequences.

He is saying that we must fight and at the end, righteousness will triumph because it is supported by conceptions of justice and fairness. We can see that through out our history as a species, we have become more and more cognizant towards these notions furthermore we can see that fairness and justice have become progressively the focus of our conversations both in our political and social circles. Rights of individuals have improved at an enormous right over time, individuals have more avenues for justice now than they might have 50 years ago let alone 2000 years ago. Although I may be agnostic about God, I take this passage to mean that nothing can stop the progression of Dharma/normative righteousness or fairness because it is "divine" or the providence of something beyond our simple animal nature, it is something we conceptually believe in. Something beyond simply the world we see but the world we wish existed, a world in which no matter to whom we are born, how we are born or with what differences we are born with we have a fair and equal right to engage and thrive in the world we are born into.

Taken in the corpus of Mahabharata and the Gita, that passage means that each and everyone of us has the spark of divinity in us to try and make this world a better world. We have the potential to become the "avatara" of that divinity, or the representation of that larger spirit of justice and fairness, to try and improve this world. Maybe that is what the current incarnation of that spirit is, the occupy wall street movement. The belief that everyone despite their education or their connections to the upper echeleon of the current oligarchy deserves some level of fairness. This world we live in is not fair, nor is it going to be at any foreseeable point in our future, but that does not mean we have to give up on that notion. At any point, anyone of us, can become the catalyst of the righteousness that all beings desire, that Avatara, that is necessary for the family, community, state, nation, civilization, world or existence to take that next step. That is what this passage means in part to the authors of this text and to me. It is about us and our decisions and principles, not about some external force or power.

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