Wednesday February 26, 2020

Practicing dharma through Asteyam

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post-5By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5

The Hindu philosophy which is rooted in the Vedas is very vast and diverse. The diversity is not only present with respect to philosophy but also in the practice of those philosophies. There are various darsharnas (world-views) that portray a very different perspective of the Universe; there are different kulas (cults) and paramparas (lineages) that practice different branches of spiritual knowledge; and various schools of philosophy that reveal different aspects of truth and knowledge.

But, what is common to all of these diverse, but complementing and sometimes overlapping traditions is the foundation of dharma. The concept of dharma is fundamental to the Indic traditions and Indian way of life. It is through dharma, that people can attain material success and spiritual solace. Hence, every tradition, every cult, and every school of philosophy that has its origin in India aligns itself with dharma. Therefore, dharma (along with other purusharthas) is the guiding light, the very basis from which Hinduism or as it is rightly called “Sanatana Dharma”(eternal path) derives its unity, its wholesome existence despite of having diverse traditions and practices.

In the previous articles, I took up tenets of dharma like Ahimsa and Satyam. In this article, I wish to write about another important tenet: asteya (non-stealing). Kurma Purana (Uttara-Bhaga11.17) describes asteya as-

paradravyApaharaNam chauryAdatha balena va stEyam tasya anAcharaNAdastEyam dharmasAdhanam ||
Translation: Taking away of objects belonging to others through stealing or by using force is considered as “steyam” and not practicing such stealing etc. is “asteyam” which is a means of practicing dharma.

The verse captures the gist of the practice of asteya. Steya is not just about stealing, it is about taking what does not belong to one, which may be done by stealth, by the use of force, or by employing any other means. Therefore, asteyam constitutes non-hankering for possessing things that does not belong to one. A proper practice of asteyam in action is only possible when it is accompanied by words and thoughts. Therefore, even a thought that is induced out of jealousy and lust for others’ belongings constitute steyam.

It is important to understand that steyam does not just refer to thieves stealing objects from someone’s house or dacoits looting a bank. Even apparently small actions that infringe on other’s rightful ownership of an object, or what prevents others from having what rightfully belongs to them constitutes steyam. Few examples will illustrate:

  1. A person mistakenly gives Rs 70 for an item whose cost was Rs 60. The shopkeeper noticed this, but he pocketed the extra Rs 10 as profit. This is as good as stealing and constitutes steyam. The vice-versa is equally considered to be steyam. If a person pays Rs 100 for a product of Rs 60 and the shopkeeper mistakenly returns Rs 50. If the person does not return the excess Rs 10 given to him, then it becomes steyam.
  1. Bribery is a very good example of steyam. A government servant or any other person in power is already paid salary to do his work. If he asks for a bribe to do his job, then it means he is forcing people to part with their hard earned money which truly belonged to them. Hence, he commits steyam.
  1. Similarly, an auto driver who refuses to put the meter or charges extra than what the meter says is committing steyam.
  1. A son who forgets the “will” of his father to take over his lands, a brother who murders his brother for the sake of property, a student who cheats in exams are all examples of committing steyam.

Therefore, any action, howsoever small or big, if it attempts to unrightfully possess objects that belongs to others, or if infringes the rights of others to possess what rightfully belongs to them constitutes steyam. Avoiding all such actions and being dispassionate towards other’s wealth is the essence of asteyam.

Bu steyam is not just limited to objects. In the verse, the word “dravya” though literally refers to objects; in the given context it can be understood as anything towards which a person has a sense of belonging, an attachment, a personal level of commitment.

For example, a story which a writer creates, an idea that an entrepreneur implements, or a scientific product that a scientist invents. People have sense of belongingness to their own creations and inventions. People consider their own ideas belong to them. It is for this reason that concepts like patents and copyrights have been introduced. Therefore, stealing of an idea, an invention, or a story in whatever manner it may be, constitutes steyam.

The term dravya can be further expanded to include people as well. We all share deep emotional ties with our family. The feelings of belonging, love and attachment exist between family members, be it parents and children or between spouses or friends. Therefore, even acts like kidnapping and trafficking can be considered as steyam wherein the victim is separated from his/her family and both are made to suffer.

Similarly, adultery which is nothing but cheating on one’s spouse/partner constitutes steyam.

If one were to analyze human activities from a holistic perspective, most human actions constitute steyam in one way or the other. Various human activities like mining, deforestation etc. have led to the death of many animals and birds and made many others bereft of their homes. Similarly, we have contaminated the air and water as well that has deprived access to clean air and water to many organisms.

Therefore, if people ought to practice dharma, they must embrace asteyam and integrate it into their lifestyle, into their speech, thoughts, and words. For this reason, the practice of “asteyam” is the means for practicing dharma.

Glossary:

Dharma: It means “that which upholds” i.e. the essence. In various contexts, it may refer to different things. With respect to human actions, it means duties and righteousness, as they alone uphold human life. Therefore, Sanatana Dharma means “Eternal Dharma” or the traditions and religions that are rooted in these eternal principles of Dharma which are always valid.

Purusharthas: It refers to the four goals of human life as propounded in Hindu scriptures. The four goals are: Dharma, Kama (desires), Artha (wealth) and Moksha (liberation).

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

Next Story

Here’s how the BJP Regime Affects Hindus and Muslims

India rescues persecuted Hindus

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Amit Shah BJP
Shri Amit Shah taking charge as the Union Minister for Home Affairs, in New Delhi on June 01, 2019. Wikimedia Commons

BY D.C. PATHAK

The alacrity with which Union Home Minister Amit Shah has pushed the new Citizenship Amendment Bill through the two Houses of Parliament reflects the determination of the Modi regime to implement its larger national agenda in its current tenure — unfazed by the ramblings of a disparate opposition. For decades, this country witnessed a polity of permissive corruption, majority-minority divide and unwillingness to deal with the lingering problems of Kashmir, illegal migrants and faith-based militancy.

After adopting an unambiguous policy towards Pakistan that ruled out talks with this roguish neighbour — unless it stopped cross-border terrorism against India — and getting Article 370 abrogated through an Act of Parliament to pave the way for the Centre to take direct responsibility for the development and security of the crucial border state, the government has now made a bold announcement through the CAB that members of the long persecuted Hindu minority of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan driven to taking shelter in India, would be granted membership of this country on a preferential basis. Interestingly, all these path-breaking policy measures of India are likely to continue receiving a response of understanding from the world community even as they came in for criticism from sections of the opposition at home.

The contrast between the fast moving ways of this government and the inhibitive, lacklustre and ambiguity-ridden approaches of the earlier regimes would not go unnoticed by the observant citizens of this country. The rampant corruption prevalent at the top then is largely gone — Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet colleagues have not invited questions on personal integrity even though not all of the ministers had created an image of leadership and efficiency. It is in the sphere of domestic politics that the opposition — starving for numbers — has taken to ‘vote bank’ appeal to the Muslims somewhat in a blatant fashion, having made a stark calculation that in a situation of caste and regional divides afflicting the majority community, consolidating the large Muslim minority for votes would effectively counter the political gains of the BJP.

BJP India
BJP has made a bold announcement through the CAB that members of the long persecuted Hindu minority of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan driven to taking shelter in India, would be granted Indian citizenship. Wikimedia Commons

The Congress leadership shunned recognising the fact of India being a Hindu majority nation and forgot that in a democracy run on the principle of ‘one man one vote’, the demographic distribution of communities did not affect any citizen so long as the elected political executive did not carry a denominational stamp and the state provided same development and legal protection to all. The opposition coined the term ‘majoritarianism’ to imply that a democratic governance in a Hindu majority country would not be able to safeguard the minorities.

It is because of this pre-occupation with minority politics that in the years before the advent of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, the government followed a warped policy on strategically important issues like Pakistan, Kashmir and illegal migrations. There was no good reason for the government of the day not to express deep indignation over 26/11 and not respond to the horrendous attack on Mumbai organised from Karachi, with at least a suspension of talks with Pakistan. It seems the soft approach to Pakistan was conditioned by a strange notion that tough handling of Pakistan would not sit well with the Indian Muslims. The same thinking runs through the opposition’s responses on Kashmir. The world recognises — not only the Indian Parliament –that the state of Jammu and Kashmir was an integral part of India.

The dispute with Pakistan — rooted in the illegal occupation of what is POK, by Pakistan — is at best a ‘territorial’ matter and certainly not a ‘Muslim issue’ as Pakistan claims it to be on the strength of the state’s Muslim majority. The opposition has not only gone along with this communal approach for a state that houses multiple faiths but assiduously abstained from denouncing Pak ISI-sponsored cross-border terrorism in the Valley. They have not faulted the Valley-based political parties for colluding with the pro-Pak separatists for gaining power and for advocating talks with Pakistan even for maintaining internal order against stone pelters. The deterioration in Kashmir was, apart from terrorist violence, also due to the misgovernance of a corrupt local leadership which could not identify and pick up Pak agents behind the organised stone pelting. Kashmir is a matter concerning all Indians — why is the opposition linking it to Indian Muslims in a manner that puts the latter on the side of Pakistan’s communal claims?

BJP leaders
Prime Minister Modi and other BJP leaders have not invited questions on personal integrity even though not all of the ministers had created an image of leadership and efficiency. Wikimedia Commons

The debate in Parliament on CAB has seen the opposition led by the Congress taking a stand that it might regret in the days to come. This legislation specifically seeks to safeguard the Hindus who were compelled to leave the Islamic states of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan because of the atrocities they were subjected to as non-Muslims — the Taliban-led Emirate of Afghanistan installed at Kabul by Pakistan in 1996 had become particularly notorious in this regard. The pilloried Hindus naturally chose to seek shelter in India as their country of origin. Their arrival in India does not alter the status of Indian Muslims as the equal citizens of this democratic country and the grant of citizenship to the non-Muslim refugees, including Christians, is by no means at the cost of our Muslim minority.

The Congress narrative, branding the Indian action and not the doings of the neighbouring Islamic states as ‘communal’, beats logic but more than that it makes the Congress look totally heartless towards the suffering of the Hindus and exposes its blind pro-Muslim politics — considering the fact that it is the Muslim leadership in this country that primarily took offence to the legislation. No doubt the matter has a bearing on Assam and the North-East where illegal migration of Muslims mainly from Bangladesh — prompted by economic reasons — had been a known problem. Home Minister Amit Shah, while presenting the Bill, made two politically clinical points: that an Islamic State does not have a Muslim minority and that there has to be a difference made between ‘refugees’ and ‘infiltrants’. However, it can also not be denied that both had to receive humane treatment and care till, after identification, they were either granted citizenship or deported. In this interregnum they would not be eligible for voting.

These issues related to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) may become the subject matter of an acrimonious debate but the CAB’s objective stands on its own as an unexceptional initiative of Indian democracy — that also happened to be the home of Hindus. Denunciation of this legislation by our own opposition parties, just because it might add to the BJP’s political numbers in elections, draws attention first and foremost to their insensitivity towards the uncalled for atrocities committed by our neighbouring countries in the name of religion. Also, this connects with the outcome of Partition of India on communal lines that saw a million innocent people dying in riots.

Also Read- German Translation of a Book on Indian Ancient Wisdom

It would, therefore, be extremely unwise of the critics of the Bill to oppose it in the name of India’s Muslim minority whose fortunes as Indian citizens with full personal, socio-cultural and political rights stood totally assured in India. Domestic politics here should steer clear of communal tracks and the Ulema and the elite guiding the community should try to keep it that way in the interest of our democracy. (IANS)