Friday, April 25, 2008

In Search of Some Balance…

We often see many heated discussions on many types of topics, essentially revolving around various personalities.

Few illustrations- our neo-Buddhist friends often come up with the argument of Shambhuka and his killing by Rama as a proof of caste discrimination. Our dualist and arya samaji friends try to quote bhajagovindam or some other verse of Sankara to prove that Sankara was against women or sudras. To be fair, even some Hindus do the same to others - be it Arun Shourie’s treatment of Ambedkar or Ayesha episode in Prophet’s life.

It will be of course to wrong to just right away brush aside these people as brainwashed or prejudiced. There is some principle they are all trying to highlight, be it against caste discrimination or gender discrimination etc etc.

But the error is they confuse a Personality from a Historical Person. They think that rejecting one is equivalent to rejecting the other. However that’s not the case.

For example, how does a devotee of Rama react to the question of Sambhuka- he will reply that “look brother, how can Rama who ate from the tasted fruits of Sabari ever discriminate another person on the basis of his caste; all those episodes should have been interpolations of later authors”.

It’s needless to say that the other does not buy this and keeps harping that it is the Shambhuka episode that is real, and Sabari might have been fabrication or dikhava. Naturally the fight goes on and on…

But what the first person does not realize is that the second person already agrees to the principle he is trying to bring out. The first person:
1. Feels that a concept is wrong (caste discrimination here)
2. He then feels that the personality in question is acting as a wrong example and hindrance to the acceptability of that principle.
3. He thus sets out to destroy that personality with a view to actually destroy that idea.

But when the second person does not even think that the personality in question holds such a view, the link in point-2 is broken. What happens thus is: though the first person starts the argument with a view of establishing a principle, he gets so engrossed in the argument that he forgets that both actually agree on the principle in question.

The same phenomenon can be seen in the reverse direction too… for example we used participate in some educational work in our nearby slum and used to have regular interaction with some kids there. Being maharastra, many of them were from families of neo-buddhist background and had great reverence for Ambedkar. The bookish-scholar I was, and having read Arun Shourie’s book on him, I did not have a great opinion of him, to put it mildly. I used to feel that a neo-buddhist guy naturally hates all the hindus and their gods. So when I used to visit some of their houses, I used to find it strange and contradictory that in many houses the hindu gods used to share space with their new gods viz. Buddha and Ambedkar.

It was later that I realized that Ambedkar for them stood for dalit empowerment and not exactly anti-Hinduism (note that I am referring here to lay followers; not the political class). It was only the bookish scholars on both sides who fight a futile battle over those things. When it comes to the actual follower, he has amazing ability to discriminate between both.

The same pattern can be seen even in many inter-sect debates too. Take for example, our Arya Samaji friend’s displeasure at Sankara in a recent thread. If we separate out all the strong and bitter words, what remains is that he opposes the singling out of women and sudras for vedic knowledge. Such person then feels that the teachings of Sankara are hindering those principles and hence opposes Sankara too (note that this is just an example and I am not commenting on any particular groups; to be fair there are also Advaitins who denounce the other dualist groups worshiping Shakti as illusion dwellers)

But when he poses these questions to people who revere Sankara, they will probably reply that Sankara meant “keep away from lust”, when he says “keep away from women” and as proof of this they cite many of those Sankara’s strotras extolling Shakti.

Swami Sivananda for example while commenting on Brahmasutras, when it comes to the Apasudradhikaranam remarks that this Bhasya is an interpolation of a later author. Other Adviatins cite the incident of Sankara and the Chandala to substantiate that argument.

In the end, an argument which started essentially to uphold some viewpoint lost itself somewhere and argument descends into an expression of one’s grammatical skills (when both parties actually agree to the principles in question).

One may ask is it not important to ascertain whether the person is question actually held those views or not? The answer to this takes back to the beginning of the post where we started with understanding the difference between a Personality from a person in history. None of us have empirical evidence of all the acts of Rama or Sankara. These personalities refer not flesh and blood people, but a set-of-ideas. Hence it also appropriate to judge them for what the follower understands them to represent, instead of what you or me understand them to represent. I feel if start to view things in this manner, we may agree with each other more easily. At least we can avoid fighting on things we don’t actually disagree.


Blogger nandi said...

You know pertaining to the episode with Rama,
There is one reason for doubt on my art and it is caused simply by a flaw on the author's part.
Why would Rama who throughout the entire Ramayana is said to have used the bow and arrow, now use the sword?
I see it as a literary flaw and lack of insight on the part of the author, it simply does not follow.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Surya S said...

thats really a careful observation. thanks for sharing.

12:26 PM  
Blogger Anirdesh said...

One of the few visits on your blog...

As for the blog, very well woven around the thread that interpretation always makes a difference.

To a person biased, even the best of intentions can be hostility.


1:41 PM  
Blogger froginthewell said...

I think the "first person's" argument typically is that the shambuka episodes show how the "brAhmaNas" who framed Hinduism used to hate the shUdras and non-varNis. Their crib is that Hinduism is a religion that evolved hand-in-hand with Brahminical supremacy. So they view the entire religion as a symbol of shUdra/dalit hatred etc.

2:11 AM  
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