Wednesday April 25, 2018

Decoding Adharma: How one should not speak

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Gleanings from Hindu scriptures: Part 15

Hindu scriptures classify actions into Dharma (righteousness and duty) and Adharma (unrighteousness and prohibited) depending upon whether an action leads to the overall welfare of the person and the society, or whether the actions result in harm, pain, and sorrow respectively. These actions can further be classified into three ways: actions committed through the body, through speech, and through the mind.

In the last installment, it was seen how a person can commit various Adharmic actions through his body, which will ultimately lead to sorrow and suffering for the individual as well as for the society. In this installment, let us take up the unrighteous actions that should be avoided. Manu Smriti (12.6) says:

pArushyamanrutam chaiva paishUnyam chApi sarvaShaH |

asambadda pralApashcha vAngmayaM syAchchaturviDhaM ||

Abusing others and speaking harshly; speaking untruth; gossiping and backbiting, and talking idly and without context, shall be the four kinds of (unrighteous) verbal action.

In a single verse of two lines, Manu Smriti beautifully captures the very essence of human conduct. It clearly gives guidelines about what one should not speak and how one should not speak.

The very first action of speech which is considered unrighteous is ‘paarushyam’, which means speaking harshly such that it causes hurt to the listener. In other words, Manu Smriti is asking people to speak sweetly and calmly. But, in the present society, we witness the very opposite of this. Fathers abuse their sons, daughters talk back to their mothers, bosses shout at their employees, house owners shout at their servants, and even strangers abuse each other over trivial things.

Use of Abuse and harsh language, in many a sense, has become an inseparable part of the current social norms and media narratives. On TV, one can easily witness panelists and anchors shouting at the top of their voices, movies that are full of people using expletives in frustration. The assimilation of the act of shouting and cursing has seeped in so deep that they are today recognized as a ‘normal’ way of expressing frustration and anger.

Then, of course, there are people who cannot speak even a single sentence without inserting a word or two of abuse and there are those who love to insult and humiliate others. Harsh speech not only refers to using expletives, but also to using speech as a medium to insult and humiliate others. Humiliation has become the single most important tool used by corporate bosses to get works done in their offices.

Thus, speech and communication in the present society has been completely contaminated with harsh speech. People do not realize that hurting someone, or causing stress or depression to a person is as unrighteous an action as causing physical violence. For this reason, Manu Smriti has upheld ‘harsh speech’ as the very first of Adharmic actions through speech and has advised people to avoid it.

The second tenet is ‘untruth’, lies, and distortions. Hinduism has given highest importance to Satya or Truth. Thus, the famous saying ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’. The present conditions often force people to lie day in and day out. Sometimes speaking falsehoods are a compulsion and at some other times, they are done for simple fun. The habit of speaking falsehood becomes so ingrained in some people, that they become compulsive liars and actually end up being dishonest to their own selves.

Lies and distortions are the foundation of dishonesty and corruption. Speaking truth is at the heart of practicing righteous Dharmic life. And falsehoods take one to exactly the opposite destination- Adharma. Hence, the scriptures urge people to try to adhere to the truth, and cultivate pure, pleasant, and truthful speech. It may not always be practical to speak the truth in the present complicated life circumstances. Yet, one must strive hard to adhere to the truth to the best of one’s abilities. Otherwise, once a person gives himself to falsehood and corruption, it is very difficult to return to the righteous path and such a person will ultimately end up in pain and suffering.

The third tenet of Adharma is ‘gossiping and bitching’, another very common phenomenon that can be observed in the society. Manu Smriti explicitly asks people to avoid wasting time in this useless activity. Rumor mongering can be considered as one of the worst kind of actions that a person commits. Backbiting and spreading rumors are nothing but verbal violence committed on the victim, which has the potential to defame and ruin the reputation of an innocent victim. Thus, this behavior must be completely avoided.

The final tenet of Adharma through speech is speaking idly and without context. This phenomenon can often be observed among people who visit temples for example. Temples are places of worship and meditation. Yet, most people who visit temples are engaged in conversations on a wide range of issues, ranging from household works to political issues. A similar scene can be witnessed in a marriage or at a funeral ceremony as well. Then, there are some people who are compulsive speakers, and some, who love to intervene in any and every conversation that other people are having, to show off their knowledge. This behavior is being called as ‘Adharma’ because it is sheer nuisance and disturbs others.

Thus, Manu Smriti pretty much sums up the whole art of speech. These actions of using swear words, speaking falsehoods, gossiping, and talking too much, may appear small and trivial things. But, to avoid them in everyday life requires constant vigilance and self-control. Though they appears trivial, these may lead a person to great trouble and suffering. The best example can be scores of defamation cases that are filed across the country every year. Perjury or speaking falsehood under oath is treated as a great crime.

These actions of speech are considered as Adharma not only because they are unethical and unrighteous, but also because they cause huge discomfort and pain to others and ultimately land the perpetrator in hardships and suffering. Thus, people should strive hard to adhere to Dharma and avoid Adharma in body, speech, and mind. We will take up the Adharmic actions committed through the mind in the next installment of the series.

More in this segment:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 12
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 13
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 14

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Right of Nature: Are Rivers Living Beings?

Should rivers be considered Living Entities?

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Right of Nature
Many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

By Dr. Bharti Raizada, Chicago

Science says that water bodies are not living entities, as water does not need food, does not grow, and reproduce. Water is required for life, but in itself it is nonliving.

However, many cultures across the globe believe that rivers are living beings or Gods/Goddesses and they just take the form of water bodies.

The Maori tribe in New Zealand considers the Whanganui River as their ancestor and the Maori people fought to get it a legal status as a living being. In 2017, a court in New Zealand gave this river the status of living being and same rights as humans, to protect it from pollution. Thus, now if someone pollutes in it then it is considered equivalent to harming a human.

ALSO READ: Worshiping mother nature part of our tradition: Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Right of Nature
Rivers are sacred in many religions, including Hinduism. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

Rivers are sacred in Hinduism also. Hindus believe that the Ganga descended from heaven and call her Ganga Maa. A few days after New Zealand’s court decision, Uttarakhand high court in India gave the Ganga and Yamuna rivers and their tributaries the status of living human entities. The Court-appointed three officials as legal custodians. However, the court did not clarify many aspects related to this decision.

After this verdict some of the questions, which naturally came to mind, were:

Can Hindus still do rituals of flowing ashes, leaves, flowers, diyas in river or no? Can a dam be built on the river after this judgment? If some damage, to a person, animal, plants, or property, occurs because of river e.g. overflow, hurricanes, flooding etc., how the river will pay the liabilities? What if all rivers, oceans, ponds etc. are given the status of living beings? Will drinking water from river become a crime? What about taking water and using it for routine needs,  agriculture or building structures? Will it be illegal? If a child throws a stone in water, will it be a criminal act? Will fishing be considered stealing? What about boating? If someone is using heat near water and water evaporates, is it equal to taking the body part of a human being? What about taking a bath in the river?

Right of Nature
If the river gets a living status, as human, then we cannot use it for anything without its permission, so everyone has to stop touching the water. Image courtesy: Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: Decoding supernatural: What is the nature of entities and gods who influence human behavior

Other queries, which arise, are:

Will animals and plants get the same status? What if you kill an ant or a chicken etc. or cut a tree? Will all animals and plants get a legal custodian?

Where is all the waste supposed to go? It has to go somewhere back in nature, right?

Uttrakhand state government challenged the judgement in Supreme Court and the latter reversed the judgment.

Right of Nature
So where do we stand? In my opinion, granting living status to nature is a different thing than giving protected status or preserving nature. Image by Dr. Bharti Raizada

ALSO READ: How nature destroys the negative tendencies in a positive manner

Ecuador’s constitution recognized the Right of Nature to exist, specifically Vilcabamba river, in 2008.

Then Bolivia passed the law of the right of mother earth and granted Nature equal rights as humans.

Many communities in the U.S.A. passed the Right of Nature law.

These laws are creating a dilemma or quandary also, as people need to use these resources. We cannot live without using natural resources. However, there is a difference between using natural resources and afflicting or destroying these. So, please use natural resources very diligently. Try not to vitiate nature.

On World Water Day (March 22), please start taking care of rivers, so that there is no need for future celebrations. It should not be a one-day celebration anyway, we should scrupulously look out for nature all the time.

Dr. Raizada is a practicing anesthesiologist.