Friday, August 19, 2005


This is a great discussion on Hindu-Buddhist Dharma in a book by Pirsig. Found on net.

Just for curiosity's sake Phredrus decided to see if aret was in it. He looked under the "a" words and was disappointed. Then he noted a statement that said that the Greeks were not the most faithful to the Proto-IndoEuropean spelling. Among other sins, they added the prefix "a" to many of the Proto-IE roots. He checked this out by looking for aret under "r." This time a door opened.

The Proto-Indo-European root of aret was the morpheme rt. There, beside areti, was a treasure room of other derived "rt" words: "arithmetic," "aristocrat," "art," "rhetoric," "worth," "rite," "ritual," "wright," "right (handed)" and "right (correct)." All of these words except arithmetic seemed to have a vague thesaurus-like similarity to Quality. Phredrus studied them carefully, letting them soak in, trying to guess what sort of concept, what sort of way of seeing the world, could give rise to such a collection. When the morpheme appeared in aristocrat and arithmetic the reference was to "firstness." Rt meant first. When it appeared in art and wright it seemed to mean "created" and "of beauty." "Ritual" suggested repetitive order. And the word right has two meanings: "righthanded" and "moral and esthetic correctness." When all these meanings were strung together a fuller picture of the ft morpheme emerged. Rt referred to the "first, created, beautiful repetitive order of moral and esthetic correctness."

There was just one thing wrong with this Proto-Indo-European discovery, something Phredrus had tried to sweep under the carpet at first, but which kept creeping out again. The meanings, grouped together, suggested something different from his interpretation of arete. They suggested "importance" but it was an importance that was formal and social and procedural and manufactured, almost an antonym to the (Dynamic) Quality he was talking about. Rt meant "quality" all right but the quality it meant was static, not Dynamic. He had wanted it to come out the other way, but it looked as though it wasn't going to do it. Ritual. That was the last thing he wanted arete to turn out to be. Bad news.

It was in this gloomy mood, while he was thinking about all the interpretations of the rt morpheme, that yet another "find" came. He had thought that surely this time he had reached the end of the Quality-arete-rt trail. But then from the sediment of old memories his mind dredged up a word he hadn't thought about or heard of for a long time:

R-ta. It was a Sanskrit word, and Phredrus remembered what it meant: R-ta was the "cosmic order of things." Then he remembered he had read that the Sanskrit language was considered the most faithful to the Proto-Indo-European root, probably because the linguistic patterns had been so carefully preserved by the Hindu priests.

He thought he'd forgotten all those words years ago, but now here was Rta, back again. Rta, from the oldest portion of the Rg Veda, which was the oldest known writing of the Indo-Aryan language. The sun god, Surya, began his chariot ride across the heavens from the abode of rta. Varuna, the god for whom the city in which Phredrus was studying was named (Varanasi), was the chief support of rta.

Varuna was omniscient and was described as ever witnessing the truth and falsehood of men-as being "the third whenever two plot in secret." He was essentially a god of righteousness and a guardian of all that is worthy and good.

The physical order of the universe is also the moral order of the universe. Rta is both. This was exactly what the Metaphysics of Quality was claiming. It was not a new idea. It was the oldest idea known to man.

This identification of rta and arete was enormously valuable, Phredrus thought, because it provided a huge historical panorama in which the fundamental conflict between static and Dynamic Quality had been worked out. It answered the question of why arete meant ritual. R-ta also meant ritual. But unlike the Greeks, the Hindus in their many thousands of years of cultural evolution had paid enormous attention to the conflict between ritual and freedom. Their resolution of this conflict in the Buddhist and Vedantist philosophies is one of the profound achievements of the human mind.

The original meaning of rta, during what is called the Brahmana period of Indian history, underwent a change to extremely ritualistic static patterns more rigid and detailed than anything heard of in Western religion. . As Hiriyanna wrote, "All that came to be insisted upon was a scrupulous carrying out of every detail connected with the various rites; and the good result accruing from them, whether here or elsewhere, was believed to follow automatically from it. . . . Ritualistic punctilio thus comes to be placed on the same level as natural law and moral rectitude."

You don't have to look far in the modern world to find similar conditions, Phredrus thought.

But what made the Hindu experience so profound was that this decay of Dynamic Quality into static quality was not the end of the story. Following the period of the Brahmanas came the Upanishadic period and the flowering of Indian philosophy. Dynamic Quality reemerged within the static patterns of Indian thought.

"Rta," Hiriyanna had written, "almost ceased to be used in Sanskrit; but. . . under the name of dharma, the same idea occupies a very important place in the later Indian views of life also."

Dharma, like Rta, means "what holds together." It is the basis of all order. It equals righteousness. It is the ethical code. It is the stable condition which gives man perfect satisfaction.

Dharma is duty. It is not external duty which is arbitrarily imposed by others. It is not any artificial set of conventions which can be amended or repealed by legislation. Neither is it internal duty which is arbitrarily decided by one's own conscience. Dharma is beyond all questions of what is internal and what is external. Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of "rightness" which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of all life and to the evolving understanding of the universe which life has created.

Within the Hindu tradition dharma is relative and dependent on the conditions of society. It always has a social implication (not strictly true). It is the bond which holds society together. This is fitting to the ancient origins of the term. But within modern Buddhist thought dharma becomes the phenomenal world-the object of perception, thought or understanding. A chair, for example, is not composed of atoms of substance, it is composed of dharmas.

This statement is absolute jabberwocky to a conventional subjectobject metaphysics. How can a chair be composed of individual little moral orders? But if one applies the Metaphysics of Quality and sees that a chair is an inorganic static pattern and sees that all static patterns are composed of value and that value is synonymous with morality then it all begins to make sense.

It resulted from the working out, centuries ago, of the problem of dharma and the way in which it combines freedom and ritual. In the West progress seems to proceed by a series of spasms of alternating freedom and ritual. A revolution of freedom against old rituals produces a new order, which soon becomes another old ritual for the next generation to revolt against, on and on. In the Orient there are plenty of conflicts but historically this particular kind of conflict has not been as dominant. Phredrus thought it was because dharma includes both static and Dynamic Quality without contradiction.


This is why Hindus are both ritualistic but also extremely open to change, and why they typically don't murder each other over religious disagreements. The Arya Samaj and the Vaishnavites are further apart than the Shias and the Sunnis, and they will often virulently disagree on things. But they won't bomb each other.

This is also why most Hindus are quite resistant to literalism. The discussion above isn't focused on this aspect of Hinduism, but Hindus find it ridiculous that a "Static Quality" book can encompass "Dynamic Quality." Doesn't mean the book is useless. Just means it is incomplete at best, even if God himself authored it.

English has no word for Dharma. The Hindu name for Hinduism is Sanatan Dharma (loosely translated as Eternal Religion).


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