Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kaliyuga 'Warriors'

You know how things get watered down over time. They get mixed up, polluted and only lead to confusion. The idea that warriors who die on the battlefield go to heaven, and that beautiful, heavenly damsels are eagerly waiting to receive them, actually has its origins thousands of years ago in the Mahabharata. But today, the concept of a ‘warrior’ has been bent way out of shape. So much so that they equate the death of a warrior on a battlefield to going into a school or cafĂ© and murdering children and women. In the Kaliyiuga no one is exempt. On one is spared.

The Mahabharata, however, has very strict codes for warriors. First of all, the fighting is done away from the civilian population. That means it’s only among willing participants. And usually you have to fight with an equal. And if someone’s wounded and they want to leave the battlefield, they are not to be attacked. These and a bunch of other stuff. It was clear on what it meant to be a warrior. There were responsibilities and rules of civility for warriors, leaders and for all branches of society. In many ways, the world we live in is in a deep hole. It’s very sad. And many people suspect this, even if they don’t know about the Kaliyuga.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Material Self Knowledge Vs Spiritual Self Knowledge

A recent article in the Op-Ed of the Dec 8 New York Times entitled  "Know Thy Self - Really"  by Quassim Cassam, philosophy professor  at the University of Warwick, UK., asks “How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” and explores the conundrum of many philosophy professors that their work is of no relevance to the human condition.   He continues by stating  that “Knowledge of such beliefs is seen as a form of self-knowledge.”

The noble professor tries to elevate the discussion in saying, “What is missing from this picture is any real sense of the human importance of self-knowledge. Self-knowledge matters to us as human beings, and the self-knowledge which matters to us as human beings is substantial rather than trivial self-knowledge. We assume that on the whole our lives go better with substantial self-knowledge than without it, and what is puzzling is how hard it can be to know ourselves in this sense.”

Professor Cassam, however,  sees the question about the socks as trivial self knowledge rather than substantial self knowledge. But real self knowledge can never be trivial. It’s always substantial, because once we understand ‘self’ we can understand our relationship to every thing around us. It’s all about posing the right questions. The Bhagavad Gita explains that we can’t come to self knowledge if we mistakenly think that our mind or our body is the self. In the Gita, Arjuna asks, “What happens to a philosopher who becomes confused or gives up the path of self knowledge. It seems that such a philosopher will achieve neither spiritual nor material success.” Krishna responds, “A philosopher who asks beneficial questions and is engaged in beneficial activities will not meet with failure, for  one who does good is never overcome by evil.” 

At this point Krishna helps us to distinguish between matter and spirit. He explains that we need full knowledge, both physical and metaphysical to draw proper conclusions. And that which is comprised of earth, water, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego make up the lower, material energies.  And the living being, comprised of life force, is part of the superior, spiritual energies. This distinction is a vital step toward self knowledge. We first have to know who the self is and know what the self is not, otherwise all discussions on the topic will be flawed. If I could I  would like to assure the professor that  self knowledge is not as hard to obtain as one might suspect.

“One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity and the interaction of the moods of nature is sure to attain liberation.  He will not take birth here again, regardless of his present position.” Bhagavad Gita 13:24

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

On Gita Jayanti

On this day, the warriors assembled
Where, generations before,
Virtuous Kuru sat in meditation.
The warriors made ready
For victory or the afterlife,
Yet they did not know
How thirsty the fields
Would be for their blood.

On this day, seeing
Friends, relatives and teachers
Opposed before him,
Arjuna felt the burden of his actions,
And his heart ached
As the mighty Gandiva
Slipped from his hands,
And tears flowed from his eyes.

On this day, Sri Krishna
Drove Arjuna’s chariot
And laid before him the secret teachings,
And revealed His fearful, cosmic form
And encouraged him to fight,
And yet, see friend and foe alike.
In one instance as He blessed Arjuna,
Krishna blessed us all.

“And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation worships Me by his intelligence.” Bhagavad Gita 18:70

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Mahabharata For Today

Dharma teaches us that human life is all about regulation. Morality means regulation. Children and young people getting an education requires regulation. Married life requires regulation. And driving safely on the road requires regulation. Why shouldn’t this apply to businesses? After all, as some proclaim, “businesses are people too.” So why do some politicians insist that de-regulation, or absolutely no regulation, is the best thing for business?  Imagine the chaos if this unregulated dynamic were allowed to be played out by drivers on   the  road. It would mean pandemonium, pileups, meltdowns,  and death.

But it’s become a cycle.  Wall Street & big business demand deregulation.  When they get it, like little children, they run recklessly after quick profits.  Because of their foolish behavior, the investors become fearful and the stock market plunges. Regulation comes back and people feel secure again and stocks go up.  After a short while, people forget, and the cycle begins again.

To govern properly, and to live peacefully, requires education.  People need to be educated so they can  understand and identify the qualities of good leadership. When uneducated voters elect unqualified leaders, it becomes a case of the blind leading the blind. The foundation of an honest government is an honest and informed citizenry.  The main focus then must be on a higher and more profound level of education; an education that promotes the  principles of honesty,  compassion and sacrifice. This, in part, is the teaching of Dharma.

Most people have an intuitive sense of this.   People make sacrifices to get an education, to raise their children and to protect the country. Why shouldn’t big businesses make sacrifices and practice self restraint to keep our economy solvent. If Wall Street and big businesses are people, then some of them act like bullies or spoiled brats who think they are entitled to special treatment.

My book, Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest,  offers a contextual understanding of  dharma and identifies the qualities of true leadership. Unfortunately, all to often our so-called political and business leaders find ways to exploit their positions for their own personal gain. But leadership must assume the greatest responsibility and make the greatest personal sacrifice in time of hardship. They  must also be considerate of the most vulnerable citizens. The story speaks of a time when it would be a great embarrassment if leadership were remiss in giving proper protection. If citizens were robbed, it would be the responsibility of leadership to retrieve the stolen goods. And if they were unsuccessful in doing that, then they would have to replace the goods. When citizens are truly educated, they would demand more from themselves and their leaders.

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