To salvage the world

Dharma, which transcends all -isms

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

In his detailed essay ‘Towards a new dharmic vision of humanity’, which is available on the website of the American Vedic Institute, of which he is the founder and head, Dr David Frawley proposes a way forward for our world which seems to have lost its way. Concluding, he writes — ‘A new world order defined by Dharma – not simply by religion, politics, or commercial concerns – is crucial for our way forward as a species and can help promote and preserve the good in all. It is important that a regard for the universal Dharma is brought into both our personal lives and into our societies. Otherwise our civilization may continue to flounder and is unlikely to find peace or harmony with life. This is a matter first of all of upholding Dharmic principles and practices in how we live and think. The work begins with each one of us.’

The dire consequences, in the form of the manifestations of the disease that it has given rise to that make up the pandemic, are unfurling before our very eyes. Coping with them has revealed our powerlessness. Photo – aljazeera.com


Dharma in Sanskrit comes from the root ‘dhri’ meaning ‘to uphold’, and refers to the spiritual, ethical and natural principles that uphold the entire universe which extends from the infinitely small to the infinitely large – microcosm to macrocosm; it is implied that dharma is to be found at all levels. It therefore comprises all that is found in the universe, both non-living and living including human beings. One could say that Dharma is the software which maintains the harmony of both the totality and the individual, which are complementary and interdependent.

Taking all points of view into consideration – such as scientific, moral, legal, psychological and spiritual — we can say that in the larger sense, dharma is the cosmic order or rta which we must gain a clear understanding of, as that which upholds, nourishes, sustains, unfolds, integrates, strengthens, and unites, and thus ensures the overall well-being of the individual and society. It follows, therefore that all that tends towards peace and harmony constitutes dharma, is dharmic. Contrarily, everything that takes one away from peace and harmony – and gives rise to conflict – constitutes adharma, is adharmic.

Since the past six months the world is being shaken up – to put it mildly – by a tiny, invisible virus which has gained a foothold into the entrails of the human being because, as the scientific evidence indicates, we have been comingling with bats in a way that has upset the natural order. The dire consequences, in the form of the manifestations of the disease that it has given rise to that make up the pandemic, are unfurling before our very eyes. Coping with them has revealed our powerlessness, as health systems have been overwhelmed, many in even the most advanced nations being caught unprepared to face the magnitude of the assault. Scientists and doctors must perforce be hopeful that we will eventually contain the pandemic through a combination of treatments and vaccines.

However, the social and economic impacts of the pandemic are what are proving to be the most difficult to handle, and that is where Dharma comes in. Because this pandemic has also revealed the inequalities which exist in societies both rich and poor, which inequalities and gaps have already been the subject of many studies and research that have found their way in journal publications and books, among which is the French economist Thomas Piketty’s one.

Over the past couple of centuries, various political systems have been tried out across the countries of the world. Feudalism, socialism, communism, liberalism, capitalism, secularism, multiculturalism, ultra and neoliberalism – and the list could be lengthened, but all of these have not been able to meet to the levels they promised the welfare of all peoples and fulfil their aspirations in an equitable manner.

As a result, humanity is ‘suffering from a global crisis, which is not simply a lack of resources but a crisis of values’ as human beings get divide into opposing camps, as the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and other earlier protests have amply illustrated. These divisions and increasing gaps were already present and simmering, and the pandemic has merely catalysed their more visible emergence.

Dr David Frawley is spot on about what could well be the fundamental driver of this state of crisis. As he diagnoses: ‘Unfortunately, the political world today tends to rely upon slogans, vote banks and appeals to mass fears and desires, looking forward only to the next election. The personality of the political leader is made more important than any deeper vision for humanity. Political parties today are lacking in any real idealism and vision and quickly compromise in order to gain power or influence.’

Further, our ‘over-fixation on “individual rights” encourages a mere outer freedom to do what one wants that can make people more aggressive and acquisitive, lacking an inner dimension of spiritual search.’ A dharmic order would mean that ‘rights can never exist without corresponding duties and obligations’ and ‘unless rights and duties are balanced, the society itself will become imbalanced and disturbed’. We must realize that our well-being can never be secured at the cost of that of others.

So it’s up to us, individually and collectively – ‘If each one of us acts for the good of all, we will all certainly flourish. If we act only for the good of ourselves, our family or our particular community, we will breed long term division, inequality and violence.’

There is a clear choice to be made. It should not be difficult at all for those who wish a future for themselves and for the coming generations that is as free as possible from divisions, antagonisms and conflicts. Others who would rather drive these wedges will have to assume their responsibility in the court of History, but maybe they should keep in mind that by then it may be too late for everybody, including them…


* Published in print edition on 4 August 2020

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