Dharma is one of the most misunderstood, distorted and attacked concepts in the contemporary world. Some think of it as a religion, others a way of life while still others think of it as a set of moral rules and ethics. It is all of these and beyond. That which upholds the natural laws of the Universe and the order of nature is Dharma. You may ask: What is this order of things? Surely, there is a fair bit of subjectivity surely in doing this? In nature, things are local and global, phenomena are transient and yet reality can be unchanging. The order of things must encompass this duality, nay multiplicity. A multiplicity of realities. A super-set, if you will, of all properties and phenomena, of entities and existence itself. If, as per modern Physics and the theory of the Big Bang, all arose from one singularity with the Big Bang, surely every element must be inherent related with every other, albeit with increasing levels of dissipation and diffusion of elements spatio-temporally over time. Invariably, Dharma is aligned with this relational reality of the Universe. However, the key operative is the reflexive tendency as well as the correlateability of each element across the Universe. Every element can correlate to things around it and to itself, in specific relevant degrees of freedom. We can therefore surmise that
Dharma is that which upholds the multiplicity of realities of existence with its inherent reflexive tendencies.
Not only is Dharma inherently the essence of being human but, with this universal definition, even potentially that of the Universe itself. Standing by and for Dharma is therefore something that underlies our existence and the harmony therein. Those of us who stand for Dharma, across religions, races, nationalities, genders, class or creed, have a major task at hand, given the disharmony, acrimony, violence, corruption, subversion of free-will, parochial exclusivism and lack of sensitivity to our environment. The paradox of this age seems to be one of a false sense of attainment: of having attained greater world peace than any time in the past (primarily due to the efficacy of deterrents that dissuade adventurism by nations and their armies) and yet just below the surface we have so much of violence, of having attained greater prosperity as compared to any time in the last 2000 years and yet having the highest number of poor people in various parts of the world. There is a certain veiled unrest, be it socially, politically or economically. We have mechanised and globalised and urbanised to the hilt but maybe, just maybe, we have forgotten what it means to be truly human. And in this regard, I believe that standing by and for Dharma can help. Before moving forward, I would like to highlight that Dharma is unconstrained by religious constructs, philosophical frameworks or socio-political moorings. Historically, the name came from Sanskrit and therefore invariably is connected to the Indic civilisation, but anyone who aligns with the aforementioned ideas is inherently Dharmic. Whether one seeks to give it some other nomenclature is important but not quite primary for the purposes of this discussion. The aim of this essay is to try to resolve a certain paradox: how to be Dharmic while strongly standing up for Dharma. By definition, taking a stance and position leads to potential opposition or even disregard of the subtleties in the arguments or position of the other side(s). How must we strongly stand for the broad framework, which inherently encompasses all ideologies and concepts, without compromising on the cosmopolitanism and pluralism that is second nature for Dharma, by definition?
The first question here is: Who are the proverbial adversaries? Who are we supposed to be standing against, if Dharma inherently encompasses all there is? Well, those who chip away at the freedom of others to live life in their own way, free of coercion or intimidation. Those who are so regressive in their attitude towards an aspect of belief or ideology that they cannot stand freedom of expression of anyone who remotely stands against them. Those who are so polarised and even cruel that they shall stoop to the lowest of depths to denounce, denigrate and try to decimate even those who stand for balance, nuance and comprehensiveness. These are the true enemies. These are the people who have skewed self-interests and ideas of what must be and must not be. The liberal dream of today has been hardwired into the Dharmic psyche and way of being since times immemorial! What the modern liberals, however, sometimes fail to check is their own illiberal tendencies while standing for liberalism and that is where Dharma can go one better! But in doing so, one must be true to one’s Dharmic roots and ideas as well as be strategic in offsetting the highly subtle and indirect ways in which forces that seek to create imbalance and disharmony operate today. This includes the concept of ‘ecosystems’ that are springing up faster than possibly even Mother Nature could keep up with! This holds true both for both sides of the political aisle as well as all manner of ideologies and constructs. There are elaborate networks and ways in which political parties, media, academics and students, activists, bureaucrats and even diplomats around the world get embroiled into this tussle of stances and counter-stances, agenda and counter-agenda, positioning and counter-positioning. To break through this is not everyone’s cup of tea, and yet the Dharmic cup can be quite delectable!
A Strict Loyalty to Truth
Truth is a beautiful and fundamental element of reality, albeit its pursuit can be a slippery slope. What is truth? Is there one truth and if not, how can we reconcile the contrasting and even conflicting truths that may arise in a certain situation? A simple answer is: we cannot! Nature and reality inherently has duals, polarities and even multiplicities. Binaries are ubiquitous. There is darkness in the absence of light, there is a crest for a wave where there is no trough, there are particles and there are anti-particles in nature. There is no way in which, within the empirical framework, one can disregard these and speak for one over-arching truth. And yet, in a metaphysical conceptualisation, the super-set of all these truths could be extrapolated to obtain a universal Truth, if you will. To stand for such a super-set, as is the Dharmic way by definition, requires a highly scientific temperament. This does not mean one has to go and learn the nitty-gritties of science! It means that one is critical and rational in one’s approach to addressing and solving a problem.
One of the key things on this front is nuance, in being able to state a certain position but at the same time speaking of the margins of error in doing so and if there are any other sides to the discussion that have not been accounted or mentioned in the primary statement.
Even in scientific experiments, which are premised on empiricism and objective reality, we can never speak of anything with absolute certainty. The uncertainty expressed is not only a sign of humility (and not weakness) but also respectful of the fundamental layer of nature, which at the level of quantum physics, for instance, inherently possesses uncertainty as a primary element.
Having a scientific temper includes being self-critical when required. Ego and hubris must have no place in working for the Dharmic cause. If there is, say, something that is inherently Adharmic, regressive and problematic either undertaken by a supposed ‘champion of Dharma’ or supported thereof, that must be called out, since the harm that such a positioning and occurrence does on the cause is hundred times more than that done by those opposing us. It gives them ready fodder to pounce on and decimate us, particularly when we would otherwise have had an advantage by the merit and strength of our arguments and truth. For instance, when we see instances of dowry deaths and marital rape, girl child marriage, female infanticide and sister suicide pacts, in the modern world, even if from a certain limited cross-section of individuals, how do we speak up for the glorious tradition of women empowerment present in the Dharmic way of life since times immemorial, particularly in the Indic civilisation, with ancient women pioneers in varied areas, from philosophy and metaphysics to science and politics, such as Maitreyi, Gargi Vachaknavi, Lilavati, Khana and Prabhavatigupta or the women Rsikas, from Aditi, Aditirdakshayani, Juhurbramhajaya, Yami Vaivasvati, Ratrirbharadvaji, Vasukrapatni, Sashvatyangirasi, Shikhandinyava Psarasau Kashyapan and Suditirangirasah who composed verses for the Vedas? When we see instances of abject hatred and dehumanisation of others in the name of religion, such as when someone posted a poll recently asking followers to choose from certain denigrating labels for Muslims, while others have openly used slurs against Muslims, how are we any different from those we are trying to oppose, not due to dogma or regressive parochialism, but for true liberation and liberation that is inherent in the Dharmic way? Those who stand for Dharma stand for spiritual and socio-cultural inclusivity and harmony. Anyone who tried to subvert and pervert its essence, either from inside or without, is an adversary for the cause.
We must have the courage and conviction to be able to stand up against those who burden us with any baggage comprising of regressive tendencies, both within and without the Dharmic family.
Standing strongly for Dharma does not mean standing against others in such Adharmic ways. There can be no compromise on Dharma while standing for it! Sri Krishna is often stated as having mentioned that we must use realpolitik and pragmatism when required but even in those moments, where to take out evil one employs Adharma in a restricted manner, one must steer clear from unwise, unthought-of whims as well as wanton cruelty. He even went as an emissary to the Kaurava court in the epic Mahabharata as a last resort to avoid war, even when everyone on the Pandava side felt it would be a futile exercise. Dharma helps attain equilibrium in an ultimate reality that transcends all binaries, all dualities, all multiplicities.
Dharma liberates, it unites, it dissolves all manner of divisions.
Unlike what a recent left-liberal critic mentioned, Dharma does not care about drawing everyone in with the aesthetics of the cultural and social, as an end in itself. The festivals, customs and rituals add a layer of allegory and symbolism to it, but Dharma is more fundamental, more primary than that. In fact, I would say that even if we were to rid Dharma of its historical and geocentric or even civilisational associations, it would remain unaffected.
I stand for the idea that
All religions and ideologies that are premised on the inherent cosmopolitanism (not just tolerance of differences, in religion or other identities, but active acceptance thereof) of Dharma are fundamentally Dharmic.
The word Dharma may have come from Sanskrit, and to make the playing field more universal, one can name it in myriad ways but it is the essence and not nomenclature that I personally stand for. Dharma is simply that which helps one attain one’s highest potentiality of being human, and yet transcend the limitations of the human condition. All people belonging to any race or nationality can align with the idea of experiential progression towards the essence of nature, and the Universe itself is Dharmic. We have many individuals and groups in contemporary times, who wish to break the very fabric of society asunder, and all that Dharma stands for. Some terrorists kill for regressive, exclusivist ideas, and there are radical ideologues who condemn those who do not stand for their stances and beliefs as ever lesser than humans. In these times, Dharma can be the fundamental uniting and liberating premise, only if its own house is in order. Only if there are no Adharmic Hindus who try to chip away at its cause by positing perverted interpretations of its very essence and thereafter enacting regressive measures to stand by them, always remember, strength is never in regressive and aggressive perversions of one’s humanity, but in the assertive and surefooted stride to stand for one’s principles and life-values.
Building Allies and Networks
An important aspect of any movement must build on allies and networks. For a movement as important as the one to stand for Dharma has to be a broad church. Since Dharma transcends identities of race, nationality, gender, religion, class or creed, we must identify and engage with all those people, groups, ways of thought, schools of tradition and philosophy that are inherently Dharmic. The buzzword – ecosystem, used in the political context has become quite a thing now. We have the Leftist and Right-wing ecosystems primarily. The former has such power that they got Greta Thunberg and Rihanna to tweet against farm laws. The Right-wing ecosystem in India is also slowly building up and acquiring momentum. What we need, however, is a Dharmic ecosystem! An ecosystem that negates and removes from active consideration the regressive tendencies of both the sides of the aisle. An ecosystem that stands for universal oneness. A point to note here is that such an ecosystem is not centrist, for that is just a convenient middle path made from a montage of all that which does not fall into the binary of the Right and the Left.
This would be an ecosystem, instead, that will be based on actively looking at the truth and reality at a point in time and calibrating accordingly. Of looking at an evidence-based policy making and way of thinking that unifies and yet transcends disparate schools of thought and ideologies/positionings. When one speaks of an ecosystem, one is presumably talking of a manner in which members reinforce each other, albeit never in a regressive or improper manner (for that shall go against Dharma).
There has to be an emphasis on bringing together all those who have Dharmic values and tendencies, besides building allies and networks across the world, with the emphasis being on Dharma not on any individual, group, identity or ideology.
This can be furthered, in a natural way, by making the opposition of parochialism, regressive tendencies and exclusivism the primary rallying point, the proper thing to do, even a fad. If we began from no presence of Dharma at a certain time and place, then when the idea and framework has caught some momentum among the common people, one can think of encouraging Dharmic individuals to work towards entering into government, bureaucracy, diplomacy, the mercantile and trade circles, media, academia and the intellectual space, as well as civil society organizations, with no dogmatic mooring but rather the clear emphasis on removing any such mooring(s) within the system! This presence can be utilised to remove prejudices and biases against the Dharmic people as well.
There is a need to also have Nodorum pretii or `nodes of value’, which are the resource-persons who have one or more areas of expertise, and who can guide the discourse and factual understanding in their respective areas of expertise. The problem of fake news and skewed projections can be avoided in this manner. This ties back to the loyalty to truth that is characteristic of the Dharmic way. India needs a marketplace of ideas, and the whole system must be oriented as such. Creating and sustaining think tanks can go a long way in helping with this, although the association, alignment and loyalty to truth, nuanced and comprehensive as it may be, over and above any ideology or dogma is of importance. An important aspect on this front is that none of this should be a reaction to the presence of other ecosystems and think-tanks, be it Left or Right.
The agencies and elements established for the Dharmic cause must work in a proactive manner, for a positive message and idea that has as its essence Dharma, and not primarily as a reactionary force.
This knowledge- and truth-based approach can be highlighted through the modern-day means of dissemination and sharing, particularly with social media. This shall hopefully reduce the occurrence of uninformed and directionless communications by those standing for Dharma that rather harm the cause than helping it.
Lastly, one must follow a balanced approach to stand for Dharma that involves assessing the position and power of Dharmic elements vis-a-vis others, at each point in time. We must broadly categorise the level of adversity-to-cause, from close friends and allies to adversaries of the cause. At any point in time, we must ally with those with a lower adversity-to-cause to stand against those with higher adversity-to-cause, without compromising on the fundamental definition and characteristics of Dharma. We must work together, proactively, and with the right intent for the welfare and progress of humanity, and only work (assertively, might I add) against those who oppose these principles and values.
Building Awareness, Resilience and Strength within the Dharmic Movement
There is a need to make the Dharmic movement to be beyond the political structures of today. There need not be any expectation from political leaders or government. Even if the movement does get patronage and support from any such entity, it must be on clear terms of association for the best interest of the cause.
Dharmic activists must strive towards building non-government Dharmic organizations and institutions, besides standing against any and all regressive media-elements as well as politico-economic entities.
Dharma must be promoted across society in a proactive and dedicated manner. Right from childhood, everyone should be inculcated with Dharmic values and ideas. You may ask how this is any different from secular, liberal ideas and values? They are all that and more. The primacy, when it comes to Dharma, is on seeking of truth, without absolutely any preconceived notion and fixations on doctrinal, dogmatic or parochial ideas. Even liberals in the modern day have a fixation on certain ideas, particularly around what they feel is `politically correct’. Everyone can be informed of principles and values derived from various religions, ideologies and schools of thinking, but with the active understanding that those are a selected few among various others. The emphasis has to be on extracting the essence of anecdotes, traditions, rituals, beliefs and ideas, when it comes to these various frameworks, particularly religion. The difficult question of how can one reconcile exclusivist traditions with Dharma cannot be answered, since negation of exclusivism is also exclusivism. What one can do within such traditions is to probably highlight and promote the ideas and elements therein that actively accept the presence and efficacy of other traditions, besides the innate humanity of their followers.
People often wonder what was it in Dharma that led to it being inherently as resilient as it was historically. Besides the obvious (and slightly metaphysical and philosophical) answer that the substratum over which all the diversity in reality is expressed must be inherently resilient, there is one practical aspect that has helped the most: decentralisation and modularity.
Decentralisation and modularity are key to making the Dharmic movement more resilient.
As much as central leadership is important, the guardians of the essence of Dharma (these need not be the clergy and can be from the common people, who distinguish themselves in a comprehensive understanding of Dharma) at the grassroots, at the doorstep of the common (wo)man, must always come first, above the politicians and socio-political leaders. Within each such ‘module’ or unit, there must be three primary activities: awareness building, innovation and implementation.
In the first activity of awareness building, every member of the module must be made aware of the nuances of Dharma, but most importantly the essence of Dharma itself, through engagement and discussions with various strands of Dharma. We must promote meditation and mindfulness to help individuals be aware of their own thoughts, ideas and tendencies, besides attaining peace and calm in their lives. This can be followed by group discussions with other members, where the idea is not as much to debate but rather to come to a consensus on topics such as the realisation of Dharma while dealing with real-life problems and issues. This could be followed further by discussions with other units, particularly those who have significantly different backgrounds and membership. The second activity of innovation is crucial.
Innovation of interpretation, discourse and implementation, when discussing Dharma, preferably in a real-life application, is imperative to survive and thrive in evolving times and with newer forms of threats and opposition.
This invariably has an element of research, comprehensive thought and critical reasoning (that hopefully can lead slowly to Jñāna). Academia, think tanks and public intellectuals can be collaborated with, to help construct water-tight and yet novel modes of applying Dharma. Innovation is crucial for strategy since one must always be one step ahead of those opposing your cause.
An important point here is the need to atleast be aware of the tactics of opponents of Dharma and formulate counter-tactics, besides trying to acquire and be able to use all the (primarily conceptual) munition possessed by the adversaries of the cause. reconnaissance and cutting-edge research can help in this.
Last but definitely not the least, we have to be able to implement practices and steps aligned with Dharma in the real world. If there are any opponents to a move or step, one has to bank upon one’s resource-persons as well as allies to tackle that effectively. In the real world, this could range from lawyers to help with needless litigations that may be filed by the opposition to distract us from the cause or innovators and entrepreneurs to help offset any Adharmic and regressive market and/or scientific pursuit, with the use of proactive competition and merit. At every step, the actions and steps undertaken must have an associated feedback mechanism to assess their efficacies, even at the unit level. This could be a sub-unit of the modular research and innovation cell, and could possibly be undertaken using modern technology including AI and machine learning that could help in also mapping possible trajectories of actions from a given starting point.
Being proactive and peace-loving does not mean that one is passive. On the contrary, any and every form of aggression from opponents must be strongly stood against. To do this,
Outflanking and outmanoeuvring adversaries is key. This can be done with the rigor of argument and thought, consistency and innovation in interpretation and implementation of Dharma, latest conceptual as well as material tools and methods to coherently present and promulgate the message of Dharma.
We must maintain harmonious ties with low adversity-to-cause entities to trounce those with higher adversity-to-cause. Non-cruelty must be a primary pillar of the Dharmic way, even in the conceptualisation of a `just war’, which in itself is a tricky concept. Such an occurrence must always be a last resort. One of the most important concepts when considering the justness of war has been that of proportionality – the idea that the aggression must be based on the means of the other side and proportional to the capacity of the other side to fight. Needless to say, one has to be strong enough to withstand a large onslaught from an attacking side. The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be weighed with its expected evils or harms. Murray Rothbard, anarcho-capitalist scholar, stated: “a just war exists when a people tries to ward off the threat of coercive domination by another people, or to overthrow an already-existing domination. A war is unjust, on the other hand, when a people try to impose domination on another people or try to retain an already existing coercive rule over them.” Force, either conceptual or actual, should be used only to offset a grave public evil, particularly around any colossal violation of the basic human rights of human beings. An important point to note here is that we must remember that there can be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict. Someone’s right can be another’s wrong, just as many-a-times in history, a revolutionary for a community has been a terrorist for those ruling their lands.
A war is just only when it is undertaken to address the occurrence of injustice suffered by one side that significantly outweighs that by the other. It cannot be undertaken in rage, for selfish interests like economic dividends and definitely not as a political tool. Force should not be used when one requires disproportionate measures to achieve success. In modern times, just war is waged only in self-defense or defence of others, with sufficient evidence. That is, however, not the end of the story. A Dharmic struggle must have clear, morally correct ways of how combatants act. One must identify who enemy combatants are and only direct an offensive against them, not against innocent non-combatants. The 1945 nuclear bomb dropping by the United States on Japan was one of the darkest chapters in the history of humanity and as Adharmic as anything can be. If restraint can be exercised, it must be. This applies even to social media warriors who must never hound or harass any opponent, especially when they have a very low adversity-to-cause. The most important element of a Dharmic struggle is that we must never use any means malum in se. Combatants must never use weapons or other methods of warfare that are considered evil, such as unfair mass-reporting on social media to block out a voice when it comes to social media warriors or violation of the individual’s body and dignity or use of weapons whose effects cannot be controlled by the physical combatants.
If the danger posed by the opposition is insurmountable and threatens the very existence of the Dharmic fold in any place or time, one cannot but regard it as a conceptual and/or actual war and undertake a just but strong response, all the while maintaining Dharma and the idea of non-cruelty.
An important aspect in this is the use of interdisciplinarity in conceptual warfare. If there is a power struggle ongoing on one premise or aspect of Dharma, push forward with the strength and merit of thought and truth of other aspects of Dharma, wherever there is a natural advantage to do so, to trounce out the opposition. The Left has mastered a more crude version of this, in regularly shifting the goalpost as and when they begin losing a point of discussion or debate. They will bring in environment and human rights, nationalism and internationalism, all manner of the `politically correct thing’ to do, when none of them may even be directly relevant to the discussion at a point in time. What I propose is a more comprehensive approach to use interdisciplinarity:
Connect, contextualise and comprehensively present any and all diversifications of arguments and the premise(s) thereof.
In actual warfare, this is seen as pushing a war-front where the enemy resistance is weaker. Even in this, one must be mindful of never harming non-combatants and maintaining the principle of non-cruelty. It is only and only when we are mindful of all these aspects while fighting for Dharma that we can put forth our best foot, in a manner that is consistent with our inherently framework and formalism, with the required potency in our statements and actions, all the while maintaining coherence and comprehensiveness.
Dharma holds a promise for tomorrow. For a sustainable future and a harmonious today. There are a number of opposing forces that seek to destabilise the march of Dharma, and due to the manner in which the shadow war they wage is one of shifting goalposts and general cowardice, one must use strategy, nuance and coherence to counter their onslaught. The ideal scenario is to convince them, naturally and organically, to embrace the essence and rationale of Dharma, which transcends identities, ideologies and religion. However, if they remain adamant in mindlessly harming and destroying the Dharmic cause and movement, causing widespread suffering and injustice, one has to wage a (conceptual) battle and/or a just war for truth with strength and resilience, always maintaining Dharma and the principle of non-cruelty.
I hope to see a nuanced, Dharmic front that can effectively and responsibly stand for truth and the diversity thereof, in the days ahead, around the world. That is what India needs, that is what the world and humanity itself needs.
A Dharmic tomorrow.