Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dharma and Networking

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Dharma is bottoms up system. and since it covers everything from social to spiritual aspect of life, it truly is an operating system. Political darwinism does not touch the spiritual aspect of life. Hence, one of the reasons why political darwinists too are drawn towards spiritual aspects of dharma, once their stomach is full..Here is the catch - a full stomach. 

Dharma as a system can function only in presence of certain degree of prosperity. This is what I alluded to my post in which I discussed the proportion of various segments of population in Indian society and how that ratio is of utmost importance to maintain that system of dharma. The top-bottom pyramid structure has necessity of being strictly heirarchial.. 

The description of Dharma is found in BG as a "Peepal tree which is upside down". (Urdhva moolah, adhah shaakha).. The description of system as tree gives added level of complexity as both aspects.

The networking pattern of tree in  branches and roots is similar. the axis (the stem) is the what holds this tendency of branching and complexly networking together. Dharma is the stem. It allows offshoots to exist. It allows to them great degree of freedom to intertwine, diverge, converge etc. But it itself remains still and intact. Hence if one OR many branches are cut down, as long as stem remains, tree regrows.

So far, the information derived from this metaphor is, the networking seen and networking unseen (of roots) is mirror image of each other supported by the shaft of stem (dharma). But what is the reason of this ulta business? why roots above and leaves below, hain ji?

Why invert a tree? The tree represents "Sat" - everything that exists. Most of the metaphors in shruti are designed in a way that they make sense on multiple levels. 

There are different dimensions of the "I" (aatman) in Indian world-view.. When we use "I", we either mean "I (as in pure ego popularly known as Aatmaa OR Ahamkaar)", intellect (Buddhi), mind (Maanas), senses (Indriya), body (SHarira), family (Kutumba), caste (Jaati), community (Varna), society (Samaaj), nation (Raashtra), civilization (Sanskriti), mankind (Maanav dharma), earthlings (Samashti), galaxy (Brahman), universe (Parabrahman).. 

These "I" or egos which I enumerated above are in increasing order of inclusiveness. The tree model is made to fit all these "I".. When considering Dharmaarthik (Socio-Politico-Economic) system or model, out of all these "aatmans", we are interested from family (Kutumba) to mankind (Maanav dharma) identities. Thus, out of these 15 levels aatmans, we are interested in the middle spectrum on only 8 levels of aatmans. 

I have been thinking how the inverted tree makes sense in these 7 aatmans.. In ego (aatman) and universe (Parabrahman) levels, it makes sense saying source (of these identities) is above and from it, the "srishti" and the "Prakriti (nature)" spawns. Again more than Kutumba, the Indic systems have always addressed the social models at "Maanava dharma (Humanity) level". 

So far as I have understood, the inverted tree is a universal case scenario.. out of which, for the 7 aatmans (identities) dealing with socio-politico-economic (Dharmaarthik) aspects of human life that we are interested in, the tree need not be inverted.

Looking at this image, it seems that tree also has a feature of top-bottom structure. the distribution of resources is hierarchical. So is collection of resources. The stuff going from roots to leaves(water and minerals) and leaves to roots (sugar) follow distribution channel which is almost a mirror image of each other. 

One close look at the shloka from Geeta

ऊर्ध्वमूलं अधशाखं अश्वत्थम् प्राहुरव्ययं
छंदासि यस्य पर्णानि, यस्तं वेद स वेदवित् - भगवतगीता अध्याय 15, श्लोक 1.

Roots above and leaves below, such Ashwattha (peepal tree) is called as avyaya (one which never diminishes). Chhanda (poetic meter OR interests) is the leaves. One who knows this, is the real "Knower". 

अध: च ऊर्ध्वं प्रसृतात् तस्य शाखा गुणप्रवृद्धा विषय प्रवाला:
अध: च मूलानि अनु संततानि कर्म अनुबन्धानि मनुष्यलोके.. 15.2

The branches have spread all over, above and below. These branches are constantly growing following their "Gunas" (Characteristics). These branches sprout new sub-branches dealing with various aspects of material life (Vishaya). Thus, based on karmas of these individual branches and branchlings, the perimeter of this tree goes on expanding on earth.

न रूपंस्येह तथा उपलभ्यते न अन्तो न च आदि: न च संप्रतिष्ठा
अश्वत्थमेनं सुविरुढमूलं असङ्ग शस्त्रेण दृढेन छित्वा - 15.3

The beginning, middle and end of this giant inverted tree is not easily discernible, although it is everywhere around us. To obtain it (understand it) one has to use a very powerful Saw known as "Non-attachment".

Krishna is inspired a lot from ideas from Upanishads and liberally quotes Ishavasya and katha upanishad in his geeta. Although, given the context of BG (in war, to motivate arjuna), Krishna has dumbed down this shloka a bit. While he refers to this inverted peepal tree in first line, he suddenly descends to meter OR interests as leaves. 

Lets look at the original verse from Shruti literature.

उर्ध्वमूलोवाक् शाख एषो अश्वत्थ: सनातन:
तदेव शुक्रं तद् ब्रह्म तदेव अमृतं उच्यते
तस्मिन् लोकाः श्रिताः सर्वे तदु न इति एति कश्चन
एतद्वै तत्... - कठोपनिषद - अध्याय 2, वल्ली 3, श्लोक 1.

Roots above and leaves below, such is this "eternally unbroken/continuous (Sanaatan)" Ashwattha (Peepal tree). That alone is pure "Tejas" (Radiance??). That is Brahman. That is what is known as "Amrita". All "Lokas" (people OR universes) are established in this only. Really, nothing can transcend this. This is it..

Thus, based on these four verses, we understand that the relation of the branches dealing with vishayas is determined by their Gunas and karmas (in other words, darwinian theory). While these verses make sense on multiple dimension (from biology, botany to astronomy, what about polity and sociology?) This is the question.

The pattern of areal roots competing with each other to expand the tree is comparable to various meme complexes in particular operating system which arise out of common civilizational core and compete and cooperate and neglect each other depending upon situation, their attributes and their deeds. This can be applied to the topic we are discussing in another thread (about ancient and medieval trade in India). 

The pyramidal structure of areal roots also tells us one more important thing. pyramidal "top-down" heirarchy is possible in various institutions of a civilization as long as the main shaft and overall pattern of tree (civilization) is like shown in figure. Thus, in limited scale, the political darwinism (as implied by pyramidal top-bottm org) is not antithetical to Dharma. 

In fact, it is inherent in Dharma. It is an essential factor in tree's expansion. Krivanto Vishwam aryam is a materialistic desire (a Vishaya) and happens according to Guna and karma of individual branchlings and leaves and flowers and fruits and seeds. The connection of two pyramids (formed by networking of roots and branches respectively) is through stem alone. This stem is Dharma. 

The areal roots refer to certain "extra constitutional" links between two pyramids which bypass the stem (in spite of how big the bandwidth of dharma is) in order to facilitate expansion, balance and make certain quick decisions which need to be executed but may not be dhaarmik..

What is limited scale - Everything which does not alter the gross picture, is limited scale. Of course, there are levels of "distortions" every system (tree) is prepared to accept, beyond which the relation between the main tree and the branch turns hostile. What that level of accentance is for the tree of "Dharma" is interesting to see. One of the indicators of that "acceptable level of distortions" is 1857.

In terms of Dharma as in civilization, the key word is networking and not hierarchy. This is also seen in actions of Sri Rama in those 13.5 years of exile. Creating, fostering and protecting (and learning from) networks of ashramas, gurukuls and other materialistic branches (institutions).. Few of these institutions can be (perhaps need to be) hierarchical. But not all, and not the core ideological base behind any of them.

The political genius of Sri Rama - Part 5

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Continued from Part 4

Journey of Sri Raama during his exile

This the peak of Rama's life. Thereafter there is a steady decline of his moral stature due to over-insistence on word of Law (dharma) and than spirit of law (Dharma). The agni pariksha, abandonment of seeta while she is pregnant (at age of 42). Yet he ruled for 31 years (36 to 77) and created a Raam-rajya and a new order in which all the power centres from AFG to SL were woven in common thread of interest and peace. 

One can say, Raama created a first "common market" in India by linking all the small-big power centres across the length and bredth of subcontinent. He renovated Dakshinapatha (the road linking Deccan and NI). the internicine rivalries between the river basins stopped for long time. Even during MBH time, the rivalries were not based on riverbasins and geography but between the DI-Axis (Dwarika-Indraprastha) and Magadha (with Kauravas playing secondary role).

The supporters of Rama were interested in status quo. Raama, in his last 6 months, abandonned this status quo and forced the establishment towards a radical change in fabric of dharmaarthik system (socio-politico-economic) of India. 

The actual historicity of Rama is as usual murkier due to lack of more resources. But what we know is, Raama is more popular in foreign cultures than Krishna. While ramayana is very popular in ASEAN region, MBH is not. Krishna is direly practical figure as compared to idealistic Sri Rama who can easily inspire john lennon to write "imagine". While this is not complete truth and Raama was ruthlessly practical too (Vaali episode) and streaks of jealousy (wrt Seeta), this is not how Raama is seen by Janta. 

Anyways, as usual, this story has immense information to assimilate as to how our forefathers behaved, how our kings, our ideals and our gods behaved under what circumstances and to achieve what. One has to learn as much as we can from these stories. There is plethora of information in MBH and Ramayana. This essay was just an aarthik darshana of this itihaasa. 

There are many more motivations for all the characters in this than "aarthik" motivations. The longing for kissing his wife, touching her, taking her in arms is equally motivating and arousing to do actions which Raama did. The longing to establish a common market and end tendencies of monopoly and establish dharma and becoming famous in annals of history can be equally motivating. the longing to achieve moksha by doing duty or dying while doing it (Veer-gati) is equally motivating. human mind is immensely complex and all those motivations are described (overtly or subtly) in our scriptures.

As I said, this was only aarthik exposition, which has been lost from the narratives of Hindus (Indics) in last 1000 years, especially after popularisation of Ramcharitmanas which is overly Bhakti rasa.

The political genius of Sri Rama - Part 4

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Continued from Part 3

Journey of Sri Rama during his exile

This is where something weird happens, although it is not seen directly. Rama starts going southwards and crosses Krishna river. The support from Ashrama network which  Rama received in previous 13.5 years is suddenly lost. Were there no Ashramas in South? Or were they not willing to support Rama's endeavour which had become personal now? As far as I know, he only Ashrama which welcomes Rama in post Seeta abduction phase was that of Shabari (which is an abandoned Ashrama). And Shabari was not a rishi in classical sense. 

As we see from the map, the path of Rama suddenly becomes well defined and straight and fast. He meets Sugriva and befriends hanuman. He kills Vaali by a sneak attack which is totally adharmik (according to prevailing ideas of dharma yuddha). The justification which rama gives to Vaali is that Vaali was an animal (Shakhamriga) to which Vaali replies in a caustically sarcastic manner and Raama has no retort to answer. Vaali was indeed a capable King and had defeated Ravana before. Although Vaali had taken Sugriva's wife as his wife, thus showing adharmik tendencies, he was  known to be a just king towards his people. As Vaali rightly says, if Raama had only asked for his assistance directly, he would have willingly brought back his wife along with Ravana to Rama's feet.

But Rama decided to back his renegade brother who was less possessive and more inclusive in mentality. He removed Vaali by crook  and installed Sugriva on his place. Sugriva took Tara, wife of Vaali has his wife, as revenge. Tara is one of the most intelligent ladies of Indian narrative. She is extremely underplayed and she speaks rarely. But whenever she opens her mouth, heavily concentrated wisdom pours out. Rama does not allow Sugriva to make his son as his successor but Vaali's son "Angada" as his political successor. This again shows the ruthlessly dharmik side of Raama. When Sugriva starts becoming indulgent and forgets the promise given to Rama about seeta's search, Raama sends Lakshmana to remind him that it would not be difficult for Raama to send him to meet his brother. Sugriva never misbehaves thereafter. The counselling of Sugriva by Hanuman and Tara is worth reading and ruminating for everyone interested in political science. 

One has to understand that all the intelligence, guidance from rishis to Rama has stopped. From MH onwards, Raama had become completely self-guided. And yet, apart from Vaali incident (which was necessity), he never looses his understanding of Dharma. He uses resources and technology of Vanara and Deccan to launch expedition against Kaveri basin and Lanka. He did not use or ask for single penny, a single soldier and a single word of advice from his homeland. Perhaps, it is logistically impossible, or perhaps out of moral high-ground OR perhaps due to refusal of his people to provide assistance. May be all of these. 

The technological superiority of Vanaras over Rama's people is seen in their ability to fly (many vanaras had capability of flying individually). Maybe something like gliders. They could built a bridge over favourable topography of Dhanushkodi (which also suggests their excellent knowledge of geography). Their superior knowledge of geography is seen in the guidance given by Sugriva to Vanara contingents which are dispatched in all 4 directions to search seeta. This chapter is one of the earliest records of India's version of geography. Sugriva describes north pole, deserts in west, pacific ocean and trident of pisco in peru (most probably). His descriptions get vague as he ventures away from India, but are fairly accurate descriptions of flora and fauna in nearby regions around India. anyways.

Taking advantage of Vibhishana's defection, he defeats Ravana. This is the only assistance provided to Rama by Devas when Rama is about to fight Ravana after killing indrajit, kumbhakarna that Indra sends his chariot and charioteer at service of Rama. What were devas waiting for? Devas here is the metaphor of power centres from Indo-gangetic plains which were supporting Rama's venture for first 13 years.

Continued to Part 5

The political genius of Sri Rama - Part 3

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Continued from part 2

Journey of Sri Raama during his exile

If we look at the travel path of Sri rama for his first 13 years, 6 months of exile, we see that he was simply roaming in the region between Narmada and Godavari basin. Killing an occasional rakshasa, asura; living with some rishi learning things, enjoying life. If he intended to kill Ravana, then why did he waste all his time in central India? The only explanation is, he wasn't supposed to do that.

The network of Ashramas spread across North and central India gave him instructions, counsel, advice and guidelines in his exile. They supported him with logistics, food etc. He is simply hopping from one ashrama to other ashrama, building his own ashrama in vicinity of some existing rishi-ashrama. The chain of gurukuls in central India is one of the backbone of this entire expedition. Something which should be thought upon in future. 

He stayed at panchavati (near Nashik) for 3-4 years. This was adjoining or was perhaps in the territory of Rakshasa colony in Maharashtra. Khara and Dushan brothers were governers of this colony. The sister of Ravana encountered rama and got mutilated at the hands of lakshmana. This resulted in escalating order of warfare between Ravana controlled MH and Rama. Khara sent armies after armies to capture these "outlaws and bandits". Like our response to Kargil incursion. at first it was not taken seriously. But when we knew that intruders are professionals, well equipped, well supplied and well entrenched, it was a full scale mobilization. Similarly Khara-Dushana escalated the war as they understood that enemy was well entrenched. 

The military genius of Rama is seen in his fight against these two. Like Shivaji, he takes refuge of a cave in Sahyadri mountain range. Just like Shivaji compelled Afzal Khan to enter his trap, Raama compels Khara Dushana to enter the hilly terrain full of forest and rocks. In such places, the military formations of armies break down into smaller units which were taken out by Rama's and Lakshamana's superior weapons one by one. In the end, when it becomes issue of Honor and Dignity, Khara and Dushana themselves enter the region and get killed. While this is a huge (and rather unexpected) victory for Rama (and his backers) one has to remember that this was not part of intended strategy. Rama was staying there for 3 years before this adventurism. He ordered Shurpanakha's mutilation to save his own wife. and He destroyed Rakshasa army of MH to save his own life. 

This is a huge setback for Rakshasa's plan of northward expansion. One entire army lost in futile fight in mountains. This is the beginning of chain of events in last 6 months of Rama's exile where his valour peaked. All the 5 exalted planets in horoscope poured all their auspiciousness in these 6 months. Since Ravana comes to know about this defeat, he plans to abduct Seeta. There are many motivations apart from lust, behind this act of Ravana. One is to breakdown the man totally. Shurpanakha tells how beautiful Seeta is and how much raama loves her. Secondly ofcourse to possess such a beautiful lady whose beauty is being wasted in forest. And since they are in his territory, it is easy to set up the logistics required for abduction. Thus, Seeta is abducted and Rama vows revenge. 

Continued to Part 4

The political genius of Sri Rama - Part 2

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Continued from part 1

Journey of Sri Raama during his exile

So, when he is 18-19, the drama in his life starts to unfold. Somehow, there are no pregnancies described in any of the brother's life in these years. What happened? why did rama-sita delayed the pregnancy till age of 42-43? all four brothers show similar behaviour. After exile, it is understandable, who will take care of young ones in forest. But what about earlier? Fear of Parashurama's return?

Kaikeyi, who is otherwise the most sensible woman in the epic, behaves the way she behaves and Rama is exiled. Kaikeyi was the most beautiful, smart and brave of all dasharatha's queens. She used to accompany dasharatha on wars. She hailed from Kaikeya kingdom in northern Punjab (today's Islamabad/takshashila). Her character development shows that she was extremely thoughtful and balanced woman and loved Rama more than Bharat. She falling to CT by a lowly servant-maid seems to be a bit of anomaly. yet, this is what it is. 

Was Rama chosen to reestablish the hold of kshatriyas over central India which was loosened due to Parashurama? While Rama is nearing Chitrakoot, Indra hastily leaves the ashrama of Sharabhanga Rishi saying rama is on way and he shall meet him only after "the work is done". What is this "job" that Indra refers to?

Why central India? The Sahastraarjuna was king in central Indian province of Nimad and Malwa. His capital was city of Mahishmati (modern day maheshwar which was also capital of Holkar faction of Marathas). He is described as very powerful king who had defeated Ravana and rakshasas. With time, he grew arrogant, and killed Parashurama's father and became autocratic. Whole bunch of Kshatriyas became like him and hence Parashurama did, what he did. Although Kshatriyas mellowed down considerably after chastising actions of Parashurama, the hold of north Indian power centres lost on central India. 

Now, I use the word "north Indian power centres" with extreme caution. There was some sort of competition between power centres of Kaveri basin and rest of India. Rakshasas were constantly trying to expand northwards. While they too were Vedic people (Ravana was a well versed Brahmin and a devotee of mahadeva), the political reasons between their fallout is difficult to ascertain.

1. Ravana was a brahmin and not a kshatriya, hence it was illegal of him to become king. But then the system then was based on guna-karma and not birth. Although Ravana was of brahmin lineage, he had chosen to be kshatriya by profession, just like a kshatriya vishwamitra chose to become a brahmin. 

2. Was Ravan Adharmik, yes. Was Rakshasa system adharmik? yes. simply because they wanted to control everything. There is a tendency of establishing monopoly in adharmik systems which makes them adharmik and hence necessarily expansionist. Furthermore, they expand by means of hard power, as opposed to soft-power of dharmik expansion (as implied in Krinvanto Vishwam aryam). 

But given all this, did Raama's job description include dealing with Rakshasas? no.. not at all. He was not supposed to defeat Ravana. 

Continued to Part 3..

The political genius of Sri Rama - Part 1

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Disclaimer: liberal usage of Occam's razor here. Raama is no longer the supreme vishnu here.. He is young prince who did something stupendous. 

Journey of Raama in during his exile

There are various races described by valmiki in his treatise. Manavas, vanaras, devas, gandharvas, rakshasas, asuras, daityas, yavans, hunas and what not.. Now, instead of taking literal meaning of the terms, one has to understand that Manavas are not human beings here, but descendants of Manu. Rakshasas literally mean "the Protectors". The negative connotations to the word rakshasa is later in origin, IMHO. Vanaras is the power-block in Deccan region (the Krishna Godavari region) with the headquarters somewhere in Karnataka and alternative power-seat (sugriva's exile) near Hampi in Karnataka. 

From descriptions  of Vanaras, they appear to be technologically superior to Manavas and almost comparable to Rakshasas.. They can speak grammatically correct "BHasha" (Sanskrit), well versed in Vedas (or was it just Hanuman), ability to build make-shift bridges, ability to fly (although not flawlessly like Rakshasas). The only faction which has defeated Rakshasas (Vaali defeating Ravana). Currently in state of anarchy with fight between two brothers for throne. 

Rakshasas are the power block from Kaveri  river basin and Lanka. Headquarters on the island of Lanka. They have their colonies in various places in Central and North India (Western MH and Marathwada where divisions of Rakshasa army is placed under generals Khara and Dushana). This army maintains a colony in modern day western MH-Marathwada region with headquarters at Janasthaan (modern day Aurangabad) near Pratisthaana (modern day Paithan and later capital of Saatavhanas). this has led to many historians suggest that elephanta island near Mumbai is real Lanka. anyways, there are many suggestions by many "Eminent historians" about site of Lanka. But tradition, Valmiki and primary sources are clear about Sri Lanka as actual Lanka. Nonetheless, this region was held by Rakshasas. 

Controlling Kalyan region (which is known ancient port of India) suggests Rakshasa's attempt to control western trade. Being from Kaveri basin, they have been inevitably linked to maritime ventures and trade. Furthermore, they are known to maintain an airforce. Vanaras although control part of Konkan and Malabar coast, are not suggested to be interested in holding any territory outside Deccan.  It is possible that Rakshasas controlled considerable region of Konkan from Bharuch downwards. Bharuch (known as Bhrigu Kachchapa) was the place from where Bali was dispatched to Patala. 

Manavas (descendants of Manu) seem to be vulnerable faction of all three. numerous kingdoms of manavas existed from Gandhar to Bengal and MP. There is no description of any bridge or any attempt to build a bridge over ganga or yamuna or sindhu river. Rama used the services of a "Kevata" to cross Ganga. 

A separate faction which is mandatory here to mention is the faction of Sages (Rishis). Now Rishis (intellectuals, professors, scientists, poets, researchers, spiritually awakened individuals) are the upholders of Dharma. They are known to motivate and enable and mobilize various forces keeping in mind the long term goal of Dharma's protection. Here, Vishwamitra gave Raama all sorts of weapons which are not possessed by any Maanava. It is primarily because of these weapons that Rama defeated such huge adversaries. Of course, OTOH, Vishwamitra gave Rama these weapons because he was suitable and Dharmik. 

Furthermore, one has to look in context of Parashurama's cleansing. Ikshwaku lineage was spared by Parashurama. This kshatriya culling is one of the reason of vulnerability of Manavas. Furthermore, Rama had proved himself to be successor of Parashurama by breaking both shiva dhanushya and Vishnudhanushya, thereby reducing the role of Parashurama as mere sanyasi teacher. There is some symbolism in making Rama break both dhanushyas (which are considered invincible). 

Marriage (at age of 17-18). By age of 17, he got all the weapons from Vishwamitra, had killed Subahu and injured Maarich, killed Tratika, liberated Ahilya, broken both dhanushyas, dispatched Parashurama to sanyasa. Thus he was set to be one of the interesting figures to watch and follow. He was set to do something stupendous in his life. 

Continued to Part 2

Monday, April 11, 2011


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If the red slayer think he slays, 
  Or if the slain think he is slain, 
They know not well the subtle ways 
  I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near,  
  Shadow and sunlight are the same, 
The vanished gods to me appear, 
  And one to me are shame and fame.

They reckon ill who leave me out; 
  When me they fly, I am the wings; 
I am the doubter and the doubt, 
  And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.

The strong gods pine for my abode, 
  And pine in vain the sacred Seven; 
But thou, meek lover of the good! 
  Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.

- Ralph W Emerson, 1857