- Hindu philosophy's depth and intricacy often lead to its misinterpretation, particularly in the Western context. At the heart of this miscomprehension lies the stark contrast in foundational principles.
Hindu philosophy, with its rich tradition of deep introspection, debate, scholarship, empirical practices has produced profound narratives and teachings, and offers invaluable insights into contemporary socio-political dilemmas. Spanning topics from abortion to gender roles, gun rights, and the nature of strategic response, this age-old Sanatana (eternal) philosophy emphasizes nuanced, context-driven interpretations aligned with nature, karma, and dharma.
Abortion, Life, and the Hindu Perspective
Hinduism acknowledges the sanctity of life, taking guidance from concepts like karma, dharma, and the natural rhythm of nature. Nature inherently possesses mechanisms of balance—some entities flourish, while others perish, all within the divine scheme of things.
An illustrative tale from the Mahabharata revolves around Ganga, the divine river, who, due to obligations from previous lives, sacrifices seven of her sons. While, at first glance, this could be likened to infanticide, a deeper understanding reveals an extraordinarily nuanced narrative. The children she sacrifices are Vasus, celestial beings, who were cursed to be born as mortals. To alleviate their suffering, Ganga, as their mother, ensures their immediate return to their celestial abode by ending their earthly lives swiftly. Here, Ganga’s actions are informed by a mix of her duty (dharma) towards her children, the intricacies of karma, and the overarching cosmic order.
Similarly, in the Hindu narrative, discussions surrounding abortion are permitted and should be considered within one’s personal dharma or duty. Such as the tale of Kunti abandoning her son Karna. These stories underline the necessity of situational ethics, emphasizing that decisions regarding life are deeply personal and intertwined with one’s understanding of karma, dharma, and the broader cosmic order. While the preservation of life is paramount, there are scenarios where actions akin to abortion might be deemed necessary based on the complex interplay of duties and responsibilities. Hinduism, therefore, rather than advocating a rigid stance, calls for a deep understanding, responsibility, and alignment with one’s dharma in making such choices.
Gender Fluidity, Roles, and Responsibilities in Hindu Thought
Traditional Hindu philosophy underscores the existence of two primary genders: male and female. However, Hindu scriptures have often depicted a more fluid understanding of gender, sometimes transcending these binaries.
The story of Amba from the Mahabharata is a profound testament to this. Amba, one of the three Kashi princesses, along with Ambika and Ambalika, was initially abducted by Bhishma for his half-brother Vichitravirya. Distraught by the trajectory her life took due to these events, and unable to reconcile with her previous love, she holds Bhishma responsible. After various endeavors, she undergoes transformations and emerges as Shikhandi, a male warrior, but retains her original female essence. In this form, she plays a pivotal role in Bhishma’s demise during the Kurukshetra war.
Importantly, Shikhandi was wholeheartedly accepted by the society of that time, exemplified by his inclusion in the Pandava’s fighting force. The broader narrative here underscores the idea that the ancient Hindu society valued individuals based on their duties, responsibilities, and commitment to upholding dharma—the cosmic order. The prime focus was always on one’s duty to oneself, family, society, and the larger goal of preserving dharma—the sustenance of the natural order and life. Thus, while societal roles might have been defined, they were not rigidly enforced, and the fluidity in gender roles was accommodated as long as the individual upheld their dharma.
Arms, Responsibility, and Self-Defense in Hindu Thought
A striking feature of the vast pantheon of Hindu deities is their depiction with weapons. These weapons, wielded by the gods and goddesses, are symbolic of the perpetual state of readiness, emphasizing the importance of always being prepared to defend dharma—the cosmic order and righteousness. Such a portrayal underscores the acceptance that malevolent forces exist, and one must be equipped, both mentally and physically, to combat them without hesitation.
Hindu philosophy goes beyond the mere possession of arms. It accentuates the duty to protect the innocent and maintain the natural order. Thus, while it is critical to be skilled in combat, self-defense, and offense, the foundation of these skills lies in mastering one’s own mind. By achieving an evolved state of consciousness, one can discern reality with clarity, ensuring actions taken are in line with the preservation of dharma. The wielder of the weapon should be anchored in a consciousness that can dispassionately act to protect dharma, keeping personal biases and prejudices at bay.
This emphasis on mental discipline is reflected in practices like yoga and meditation, which aim to control the mind, fostering clarity and unclouded judgment. Only when one achieves this mental equilibrium can arms be used responsibly and ethically, ensuring that the primary aim is always the protection of the righteous and the maintenance of cosmic order.
Strategy, Response, and the Essence of “Purva Paksha”
“Purva Paksha” emphasizes the imperative of thoroughly understanding adversaries and their ideologies. In today’s times, numerous global platforms attempt to misinterpret Hinduism, portraying it with a regressive brush. Such skewed representations proliferate through media, academia, and political discussions, both within India and internationally.
Drawing parallels from ancient wisdom, Kautilya’s “Arthashastra” stands out as a treatise on political governance and strategy. Written by the ancient scholar Kautilya, also known as Chanakya, this ancient scripture delves deep into the art of governance, military strategy, and economic policy. Notably, it underscores the importance of understanding the strengths, weaknesses, intentions, and actions of foes—a principle that resonates with the “Purva Paksha” doctrine. For the vast Indian diaspora, it’s crucial not to view these issues in isolation but to realize their global relevance. Embracing both the “Purva Paksha” tenet and the strategic teachings of the Arthashastra means adopting a proactive stance, understanding the intricacies of geopolitics, and strategizing rather than merely reacting to misconceptions. Unfortunately, the Indian diaspora often perceives these issues as solely ‘Indian’, focusing more on local issues. This approach, arguably, lacks strategic depth. Since Hinduism is replete with nuanced teachings, it is our responsibility to decode, construct, and make it relevant to modern political discourse. The essence of “Purva Paksha” reminds us that being reactive is not enough; a proactive strategy is imperative.
Hindu philosophy’s depth and intricacy often lead to its misinterpretation, particularly in the Western context. At the heart of this miscomprehension lies the stark contrast in foundational principles. While Western ideologies often stand on a framework of rights, rules, salvation, heaven, and hell, Hindu thought dives deeper, immersing itself in the profound waters of introspection, duty, and dharma.
Hinduism, in its essence, emphasizes duty before rights. The idea is not about individualistic pursuits but about preserving dharma—the universal order that binds everything in harmony. Unlike the Western notion of the separation of church and state, Hindu philosophy weaves spirituality into the very fabric of governance and societal structure. This is not a simple theocratic imposition but rather a holistic approach that seeks to align the individual, society, and cosmos in a symphonic dance of coexistence.
Within the expansive tapestry of Hindu philosophy, evolved consciousness stands as a central pillar. Before assuming stewardship over a family, society, or even a nation, one is first beckoned to master the labyrinth of their own mind, recognizing and anchoring their position in the vast cosmos. This emphasis on self-awareness and internal evolution extends beyond mere introspection; it becomes a clarion call for action, a solemn responsibility. The intricate weave of nature, comprising countless entities, is revered as an embodiment of the divine in Hindu thought. Every individual, as a part of this philosophy, shoulders the sacrosanct duty to not just identify but also venerate this divinity, safeguarding its sanctity and ensuring its continuity.
The profundity of Sanatan (eternal) philosophy in Hinduism extends beyond just providing the intellectual framework or conceptual understanding of these intricate themes. It lays down a comprehensive roadmap, offering systematic methodologies to transcend ordinary perceptions and ascend to this elevated state of consciousness through empirical experiences. While myriad paths lead to this zenith of understanding, Yoga stands out as an emblematic beacon in this journey. Rooted deeply in spirituality, Yoga isn’t merely a set of physical postures; it’s a holistic practice that integrates the mind, body, and spirit. This traditional discipline acts as a conduit, enabling aspirants to cultivate and achieve that heightened state of consciousness, harmonizing the individual soul with the universal essence.
In a world increasingly dominated by divisive politics and narrow agendas, the nuanced, introspective approach of Hindu philosophy offers a refreshing perspective. Instead of dwelling on individual rights alone, it encourages us to view ourselves as an integral part of a larger cosmos, pushing us towards harmony, responsibility, and a higher state of consciousness. It is an invitation to understand life not as a binary of rights and rules, heaven and hell, but as a continuous journey of spiritual evolution, duty, and a harmonious coexistence with the universe which ultimately will lead all to “Moksha” and that union that is the natural state of all life.
Hindu philosophy’s vastness is eloquently captured in the Bhagavad Gita, a dialogue between Lord Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. As Arjuna grapples with ethical dilemmas in the midst of war, Krishna imparts knowledge spanning the Upanishads, Yogic principles, and “Brahma Vidya.” Yet, even after enlightening Arjuna with profound wisdom, Krishna stresses individual agency, underscoring that the ultimate choice of action remains with the individual. This ethos of self-reflection and personal responsibility is a timely reminder in today’s rights-centric political environment.
The Bhagavad Gita encapsulates this sentiment in the verse:
“yashta yogeshwara krishnaha, yastha partho dhanurdharaha,
Tatri shir vijayo bhutihi, dhurva neetir matir maha.”
Simply put, wherever there is divine wisdom and righteous action, success is inevitable.
Shashi Kusuma M.D. is a practicing Plastic surgeon in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, FL. He is an active member of the Hindu American Foundation and a co-founder of the Hindu American PAC of Florida.