On Corruption and Karma

“The great seers of ancient India saw so far ahead of their time that the world has to wait centuries yet to appreciate their wisdom, and it is this very inability on the part of their own descendants to appreciate the full scope of this wonderful plan, that is the one and only cause of the degradation of India.” Swami Vivekananda Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata: Advaita Ashram, 1986, pg.466-7.

Introduction

There is no argument with the fact that corruption is rampant in India.  Perhaps its greatest manifestation is the fact that so many Indians accept it passively as something they have to live with.  Recent efforts in careful cataloguing of the incidence of corruption have highlighted the very poignant fact that even the poor are forced to pay bribes.  Thus a report by Transparency International and Centre for Media Studies available at http://www.cmsindia.org/cms/highlights.pdf shows that households below the poverty line (BPL) paid as much as Rs. 900 crores (Rs. 9 billion) during 2007 as bribes: in terms of numbers about a third of all BPL households paid bribes during 2007. What adds further misery to this macabre fact is that even after paying such bribes a significant section of BPL households could not avail the services for which the bribes were paid. This is indeed a shocking state of affairs and calls for serious introspection.  What kind of people are these that demand and accept bribes from such deprived people and even then, often, not provide them the services paid for?

To add insult to injury it has now been revealed that India slipped 13 places (from 72nd to 85th ) on the International Corruption Index during the past year.  This is indeed a very sorry state of affairs.

This is merely the incidence of corruption. In reality in India dishonest conduct is a hydra headed monster manifesting itself in a number of ways – from adulteration of foods and medicines, to cheating on government and private contracts to name just a few. India’s body politic is now quite criminalised with a number of hardened criminals in the national Parliament and state legislatures and lower levels of government and the help of criminal elements considered almost essential for winning elections and sustaining power.  Over time, the criminalisation of politics in every conceivable way has progressed to previously inconceivable extents. Concurrently, however, we have become less and less able to arrest this decline.

Do our cultural values, in particular the values of Sanatana Dharma, condemn us to be corrupt and behave in devious ways?  This is the principal issue covered in this essay. This essay argues that the precepts of Sanatana Dharma are our best ally and guide in creating a moral polity in India.

Sanatana Dharma is the essence of India’s cultural heritage.  It is essential to understand the term “Sanatana Dharma”.  A dharma that is “sanatana” is universal and timeless, in other words, it transcends the confines of space and time. “Dharma” refers to moral and spiritual values and implied duties (henceforth duties).  Thus Sanatana Dharma refers to the universal and timeless duties, based on moral and spiritual values, of humankind.  It realizes that human beings have been evolved from other forms of life. In other words human beings have progressed.  They can progress significantly in their human form and move closer to godhood.  Indeed the potential exists in every human to attain the ultimate, i.e., a state where that human is indistinguishable from the divine. In this context Swami Vivekananda writes “The one idea the Hindu religions differ in from every other in the world (is that) man must realise God even in this life. And the Advaita texts logically add, ‘To know God is to become God.’ “

Swami Vivekananda Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata: Advaita Ashram, 1986, pg.481.

This the human being can do by following dharma. But it is up to humans whether they want to follow the path of dharma. Even after nearly 700 slokas of the Srmadbhagwadgita Lord Krishna left it to Arjuna to decide whether he wanted to follow the path of dharma.  Our ancient shastras, in particular, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide examples of duties of humans in various areas: as brother, father, mother, sister, spouse, friend, king, among several others.  Apart from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Vedas and the Upansihads enunciate the principles of dharma and righteous living.  Dharma is the voice of one’s soul and sense of discernment (viveka) regarding one’s duty.  Our ancient shastras listed above provide excellent illustrations of the application of one’s dharma.

Those of us who want to know the true forms of our spirituality and culture must, of necessity, study our ancient shastras.  There can be no other touchstone for understanding the principles of Sanatana dharma.  The views of latter day commentators should be taken as just that – views of some commentators. Some of these commentators may indeed have expressed their private opinions.  Further, some of these opinions may have been inspired by self-interest or the interests of a particular group (e.g., caste and/or gender) and, hence, should not be considered to be shastras.

In particular, religion should not be equated with dharma. Religion often represents a set of beliefs, which its followers regard as the truth.  Some religions, but not all, allow for the possibility that they may not have not have a monopoly on the truth. No matter what the set of beliefs, though, quintessential human duties do not vary.   Religion can be founded on Sanatana dharma, but the dharma itself is bigger than it (since dharma subsumes religion) and the two are inherently separable. The practised beliefs of a religion may undergo change; that, however, does not change dharma.  

In this essay I now comment on a few key issues. These include (i) the impossibility of escaping from the consequences of karma, (ii) realizing that hypocrisy is anathema to Hinduism, (iii) listing some evils mentioned by our shastras, (iv) realizing that our shastras encourage us to indulge in endeavour rather than be fatalistic, and (v) realize that, in the views of our shastras, truth is the greatest virtue or dharma. In doing so I have collated some quotations from the scriptures and writings of some of the great thinkers of Hinduism into an argument and claim no originality of views.

 

The Impossibility of Escape from the Consequences of Karma

Corruption and dishonest, even criminal, conduct are not only rampant but, more tragically, widely accepted in Indian society and polity. There is a sense of resignation that Indians cannot behave otherwise. Many people who engage in such conduct often consider their transgressions forgiven if they offer prayers, gifts (e.g. sweets and the most perverse practise of animal sacrifice) and donations at temples. Prayers, gifts and donations inspired by bhakti, love for God and/or the uplifment of  society cannot be praised enough.  Human beings are enjoined by our shastras to do this very meticulously.  This message rings loud and clear in all our shastras.  Daana to the deserving and needy and giving one’s all for God’s work and the uplifment of society lead to a true sense of renunciation, bhakti and oneness with the divine.  However, if the same gifts are inspired by a desire to cover one’s transgressions or to “bribe” God to forgive one’s transgressions, then they become doubly harmful.  Not only does the original transgression remain intact but also the act of trying to deceive God is extremely reprehensible in its own right.  And how can one deceive the antaryamin who is privy to and witness of our innermost thoughts?

As Lord Krishna Himself says:

“My dear Uddhava, persons dedicated to sense gratification … cannot understand that I am situated in everyone’s heart and that the entire universe is nondifferent from Me and emanates from Me. Indeed, they are just like persons whose eyes are covered by fog.”

Srimadbhgwatham 11th skanda; chapter 21; sloka 28

Our shastras make it very clear that it is impossible to escape the consequences of one’s karma.   The clearest enunciation of this principle is by Bhishmpitamaha in his last sermon (while he was lying on his bed of arrows in Kurukshetra) to King Yuddhisthira.  I quote two passages from this to underscore this point.

“Every man’s karma always follows him. If the man runs fast, the karma follows him fast. When the man sleeps his karma sleeps with him. When he stands his karma stands close to him and when the man walks his karma walks behind him. A man’s karma does not abandon him even or a moment no matter what the man does. A man’s karma follows him like his shadow.”

Mahabharata- Shantiparva 48th chapter slokas 6-7. (Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi). Translation from Hindi is mine.

“Just as a calf is able to recognize its mother in a flock of thousands of cows so does a previously committed karma reach its doer.”

Mahabharata- Shantiparva 48th chapter sloka 14. (Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi). Translation from Hindi is mine.

Furthermore, the fruits of karma will necessarily occur in due course of time as the following quote reveals:

“The fruits of one’s karma are like an inheritance kept secure by the karma-induced unseen. At the appropriate opportunity kala (time) drags the fruits of his karma to man.”

Mahabharata- Shantiparva 48th chapter sloka 9. ((Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi).. Translation from Hindi is mine.

The Mahabharata itself is an excellent illustration of the fact that everyone has to bear the consequences of their karma.  To take just two examples – the great Dronacharya sided with adharma (injustice) and took up arms against the Pandavas. This karma of his was punished through his blind attachment to his son.  Ashwasthama had the boon of long life but such was Drona’s attachment to his son that when the falsehood about Ashwashtma’s demise was spread his faith was shaken and he believed it.  This intense attachment to his son was the cause of the Acharya’s demise.  My second example draws upon the life of Bhsihmapitamah.  He was a man of the highest moral character and spiritual attainment yet he had to pay the price for siding with adharma and remaining silent in the face of gross injustice to the Pandavas, indeed mankind.  When breaking his vow of being loyal to the throne of Hastinapur would have been just and saved millions of lives (maybe even the Mahabharata war would have been prevented; if Bhishmapitah had withdrawn from the war, Duryodhana’s urge for war would have dissipated) he stuck to his vows. This shows that his vow was more important to him than justice or saving millions of lives. As a consequence of his karma, he had to lie on a bed of arrows for fifty-eight days. It was his greatness that he realised the truth of this and willingly accepted this most extreme of pains in order to accept the consequences of his karma. That he also attained moksha is a result of his other great qualities including undiluted love for Lord Krishna. Contrast Bhishmapitmaha’s adherence to his vows with Lord Krishna giving up his vow not to take up arms in the Mahabharata war in order to defend Dharma. Readers will remember that when Arjun was finding it hard to overcome Bhishmpitamaha in battle Lord Krishna picked up the wheel of a chariot to attack Bhishmpitmaha. Arujuna dissuaded Him from doing so but this act of Lord Krishna shows that He was willing to break His vow and pick up arms in defence of Dharma.  That this also showed His love for Bhishmpitmaha since the latter had resolved to make Lord Krishna take up arms is another matter.

There is no escape from the consequences of karma.  True remorse and retribution through one’s conversations with one’s inner self and consequent follow-up action (and not necessarily through karmakanda) provide the only avenue to have the impact of one’s transgressions reduced. There are several instances in the shastras where true devotees of the Lord (indeed those who have even seen the Lord) had to live through the consequences of their karma, which often extended into their next life.  Even, the Lord does not interfere in the operation of the law of karma.

Hypocrisy is Anathema to Hinduism

Several Hindus do not work according to the precepts of Sanatana dharma, although they preach these values. There is thus a strong sense of hypocrisy in aspects of cultural and religious life in Hindu society.  The Sanskrit term for hypocrisy is pakhanda, which, itself, is the conjunction of two words: papa (sin) and khand (section). 

This does not mean that there are not people representing and practising moral, even saintly behaviour in India. To be sure, there are many millions of people in India who lead honourable lives. However, the few who are wayward often tend to dominate the popular vision and obfuscate the conduct of the truly religious. Yet, there is widespread belief that dishonest conduct has come here to stay. Perhaps, they argue, there is something cultural about it.

The truth is that hypocrisy is anathema to Hinduism.  Our key religious scriptures are full of references to be wary of the slightest hints of approaching hypocrisy.

Lord Krishna equates hypocrisy with the demoniac state and states further that: 

“Ostentation, arrogance and self-conceit, anger and also harshness and ignorance belong to one who is born, O Partha, for a demoniac state.”

– Shrimadbhagwadgita, chapter 16, sloka 4

One only has to recall the behaviour of several of our public figures to realise that they fit this description perfectly.

Evils recognized by Our Shashtras

Contrary to the popular view that Hinduism carries with it no systemised set of wrongs and rights many evils are listed and forbidden in the texts of Sanatana Dharma. They appear in many places but the most cogent collection is in the Shantiparva of the Mahabharata where Bhishmapitmaha, while lying on his bed of arrows, instructs King Yudhisthira on the principles of dharma.

In the eighth chapter of Anushsana Parva Bishmpitmaha lists some sins as very deadly. These deadly sins include not fulfilling one’s promise and duties for society, robbing people of their livelihood, obstructing water supply to thirsty cows, criticising the Vedas and other shastras without even understanding them, among several other.

The 41st chapter of Shantiparva lists thirteen faults as evils and strong enemies of man. These are:

(i)Uncontrolled sexual desire, (ii) Anger, (iii) Unwarranted grief (shoka), (iv) Undue attachment (moha), (v) the desire to work in a manner contrary to the shastras (vidhitsa), (vi) the desire to kill others (parasuta), (vii) arrogance, (viii) greed, (ix) envy, (x) jealousy, (xi) undue criticism, (xii) ascribing faults in others’ good qualities, and (xiii) miserliness.

There are other evils listed in the Mahabharata and only the most significant are mentioned above. 

Other major shastras have also proscribed certain types of behaviour. For example, in the Ramayana, Lord Lakshmana describes the absence of gratitude towards someone who has done one a favour as being a grievous sin.

If anyone is in any doubt whether and how transgressions get punished he/she should read the 26th chapter of the 5th Canto of the Srimadbhagwatham. Let no Hindu claim that his religion gives him the freedom to do anything and then wash his sins off by “appropriately” propitiating God.

Superiority of Purushartha (Endeavour) over Bhagya (Fatalism)

The analysis above should not leave one with the impression that Hinduism favours any kind of fatalism (bhagyavad). Hinduism recognizes that our karma are the results of our past action (endeavour).  Through one’s current purushartha it is possible for one to change one’s current condition. In fact the shastras extol the superiority of purushartha over fatalism. There are several passages in the Mahabharata to suggest this but I quote just one here. Again there is no contradiction among the shastras about this view.

Bhishmapitamah quoting the Creator Brahma says in the Mahabharata

“Just as without planting seeds one cannot expect a crop from arable land, destiny (bhagya) cannot be realized without endeavour (purushartha)”.

Mahabharata- Anushashan Parva 3rd chapter sloka 6.. (Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi) Translation from Hindi is mine.

In fact purushartha and bhagya are recognized as essential constituents of one’s success.

However, purushartha is praised as high virtue. Thus Bhishmapitmaha says:

“Just as a small flame can under the right wind conditions becomes a huge blaze, the strength of destiny, when supported by able purushartha, is greatly enhanced.”

Mahabharata- Anushashan Parva 3rd chapter sloka 20. (Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi). Translation from Hindi is mine.

Truth is the greatest dharma

Our shastras not only list evils and wrongs but also mention a number of virtues.  To attain these virtues is the dharma (moral and spiritual duty) of every human being.  Some of the virtues listed in the Mahabharata include respecting parents and satguru, protecting cows and leading a life in accordance with the principles of shastras, among several others.

Among these various virtues, however, Bhishmapitamaha lists truth at the top. Says Bhishmapitmaha

“If one keeps the virtue of a thousand Ashwamedha yagnas on one pan of the balance scale and truth on the other, the pan of truth will he heavier.”

Mahabharata- Shantiparva 40th chapter sloka 24 (Publisher Vijaykumar, Govindram Hasanand, Delhi). Translation from Hindi is mine.

This finds resonance in the motto for our nation “satyameva jayate”. It is worth reporting the full sloka embodying this motto, especially to understand what it says about hypocrisy:

“Only truth wins, not untruth. This implies that God is embodiment of Truth; thus a man who wants to attain God must be truthful. Not only is adherence to truth a necessary condition for attaining God, even in other activities ultimately it is truth which triumphs, not untruth. Those who wish to progress through lies, hypocrisy, and deceit are ultimately bitterly disappointed. Any appearance of truth in untruth and in deceitful conduct, and because of which some people may consider these as part of truth, may derive some monetary gain from it. But its ultimate result is not good. In the end truth is truth and untruth is untruth.”

Mundokpanishada, Khanda 1, sloka 6. 

Conclusions

Those who think that Hinduism is permissive, in regard to what, according to any reasonable standards, would be considered transgressions are sorely mistaken.  Further, by pursuing this line of thinking they cause immense damage not only to their own prospects but also mankind.  In Indian society this has led to a myriad of evil social practices such as unbridled caste system, criminalisation of politics, and dowry system. (For discussions of gender and caste issues in Sanatana dharma please see

http://raghbendrajha.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/01/women-and-the-vedas-by-raghbendra-jha.htm

and

http://raghbendrajha.sulekha.com/blog/post/2008/01/india-s-conjured-caste-conundrum-by-raghbendra-jha.htm

Although the many hard working and honest people who observe dishonest people thriving may get disheartened, they should realise that dharma is with them. As for the “happiness” of the dishonest people only they themselves know whether they are truly happy and, most assuredly, there is a time limit for such “happiness”.

The problem addressed in this essay has become so complicated that many people are disillusioned.  But truth cannot be denied. Those among us who have a sense of dharma have a duty to address this problem and continue the auspicious task of ridding society of this cancer.  In this task the principles of Sanatana dharma are our unflinching allies.  These principles have been used time and again to rejuvenate India.  When acceptance of India’s colonial domination was near complete Swami Vivekananda used these principles to awaken Indians.  His efforts, helped along by several modern seers like Sri Aurobindo, constituted the spiritual force behind India’s independence movement.  At this juncture we would do well to remember the following words of Swamiji:

“The more, therefore, the Hindus study the past, the more glorious will be their future, and whoever tries to bring the past to the door of everyone, is a great benefactor to his nation.”

Swami Vivekananda Selections from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Kolkata: Advaita Ashram, 1986, pg.466.

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