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Some times, best of the lessons are learnt and taught, not in classrooms but in times and places where the distinction between life and death, is murkiest. Consider the example of Bhagvad Geeta - Who would have thought that the sublime song would be sung on the battlefield which saw death of forty lakh soldiers? Yet it did. This post today, will recount a tale of two such unlikely teachers who taught the characters in the story (and us, the readers and onlookers) the quintessential lesson of Dharma and Duty.
Tale One - Dharma Vyadha (धर्मव्याध) - From Mahabharata (Book three, chapters 206-216)
As a typical Indian story begins, once upon a time there was a poor Brahmin named "Kaushika". He learnt all that was to learn from Vedas and decided to do a "Tapas" to sharpen his Yogic prowess and gain knowledge and Siddhis. He began his Tapas. Years passed by. The glow of the penance started showing on his face and his very aura started becoming radiant. One day, while he was meditating under a tree, his concentration was disturbed when a sparrow started making noise while trying to build a nest on the tree. Angry, Kaushika glanced at the sparrow causing nuisance and lo! sparrow turned to ashes that very instant.
Pleased by his progress, he went to a town nearby to ask for Bhiksha. While asking for alms on one door, the lady of the house took long time to answer his call and give the alms. This angered our Kaushika who threatened to curse the lady and burn her down with his Yogic Powers. But to his surprise, the lady replied that she was neither a crow nor a sparrow, to be burnt. Kaushika is amazed to see that an average housewife had such sophisticated Yogic powers without having to do the stringent austerities. The Lady replied that by doing one's duty, one can achieve all that is to be achieved. She redirected Kaushika to a butcher living in the city of Mithila who, according to lady, would impart knowledge unto this learned Brahmin.
Curioser and curioser, Kaushika decides to check out this Butcher whom the lady referred to as "Dharma-Vyaadha". He reaches Mithila, tracks down the meat-shop of the said butcher and is horrified at the sight of blood and meat and death around. He gives up the expectation of gaining any knowledge, but now that he had come this far, he decides to atleast meet and talk with this butcher. The Butcher, however, guesses the intent of this brahmin and requests him to wait until his shop is closed, so that he can instruct the brahmin about the intricacies of Dharma as told by the housewife in another city. Kaushika gets second surprise of his life and his arrogance is thoroughly grounded and replaced by genuine curiosity, befitting an ideal student.
DharmaVyaadha starts his instruction,"Oh tapasvi, I will instruct you upon the nature of Dharma and Ahimsa by my own example. I am in this business because my family has been in this business for generations. Upon careful thinking, I found out that this business suits me well. I devote all my time to ensure that my customers are satisfied with my service. Furthermore, it allows me to take care of my old parents as well as family while ability to have a decent life in this good city. Do not judge an act as good OR bad. No act is of higher OR lower stature. It is higher OR lower based on the driving force behind that act. Right action is achieved by the means of coordinated efforts in two directions - Controlling the six enemies (Kaama/Krodha/Lobha/Moha/Mada/Matsara) and strengthening Dharmik intent of the mind. Any action under influence of these six enemies is bad action.
Ahimsaa (nonviolence) and Satya (truth) are the two main pillars of Dharma. A decision on what is truth, under difficult circumstances, should be made by choosing that course of action which would lead to highest good of all that is (Bhuta). And Ahimsa is when person wishes and acts for benefit of all keeping the true understanding of Justice (Nyaya) and virtues (GuNa)."
Knowledge and bliss dawns upon Kaushika who thanks the Butcher and bid him farewell. Butcher gives him final lesson,"Oh learned Brahmana, in quest of mastering Vedas and acquiring Yogic Siddhis, you have neglected your duties towards your parents, your family and have become ascetic. You learned from me, but you also have to learn from the housewife who sent you here. Dharma and knowledge can be achieved perfectly by staying in the society and fulfilling all the duties and earning all the Purusharthas. You have to pay back the dues to parents, to society before you are liberated (Mukta). Quit Sannyasa, go back home, take care of your parents, start family. You have my blessing, knowledge will shine upon you."
It is both interesting and humbling that one of the finest lesson on Non-violence given to a brahmin, not by some enlightened mahatma, but by a Butcher who's occupation is to kill animals. There is an elaborate story where the butcher tells Kaushika about is past life and how Shudras and brahmins are defined. They arrive upon a conclusion that good conduct alone determines who is brahmin and who is not. And good or bad is, is determined by the bold part in quote above. Possession of qualities like Purity, Discipline and adherence to truth alone makes one a brahmin, irrespective of the caste a person is born into and not the birth.
Tale Two - The story of Gopalchandra Mukhopadhyay aka Gopal Patha
Gopal `Patha' Mukherjee, Gopal the Goat was among the most feared of Calcutta's musclemen, with 800 boys at his command. He was an emperor and they were his army. Gopal Patha he got the name because his family ran a meat shop on College Street was, at the time of partition, a protector of his community.
When Direct Action Day unleashed communal rioting in Calcutta, Gopal Patha assembled his force. In his words, "It was a very critical time for the country. We thought if the whole area became Pakistan, there would be more torture and repression. So I called all my boys together and said it was time to retaliate. If you come to know that one murder has taken place, you commit 10 murders. That was the order to my boys.''
The words are uttered so softly, it takes a while for their import to sink in. Calcutta was in flames and Gopal Patha, in effect, took the opportunity to douse the city in kerosene. "It was basically duty,'' he said. "I had to help those in distress." Patha ripostes that his boys were always selective. "We only fought and killed our attackers. But why should we kill an ordinary rickshaw-wallah or hawker who happens to be a Muslim?"
"An year later when Mahatma Gandhi came to city appealing for peace, people came with their weapons and placed them at the feet of Gandhiji. Shabbily-dressed people came with swords, daggers and country-made guns. However not me. Gandhi called me twice, but I didn't go. The third time, some local Congress leaders told me that I should at least deposit some of my arms. I went there. I saw people coming and depositing weapons which were of no use to anyone out-of-order pistols, that sort of thing.
Then Gandhi's secretary said to me: "Gopal, why don't you surrender your arms to Gandhiji?" I replied, "With these arms I saved the women of my area, I saved the people. I will not surrender them. Where was Gandhiji during the Great Calcutta Killing? Where was he then? Even if I've used a nail to kill someone, I won't surrender even that nail.'' - click to view source of this story
I find a strange connection in these two stories. I think Gopal Patha understood the crux of Satya and Ahimsa in far better proportions than Gandhiji during those difficult times. The more I think about it, the more I realized that the words of Dharma-Vyaadha resonated in essence from words and actions of criminals and butchers like Gopalchandra Mukherjee.
As Dharmavyadha said in first tale, it is the driving force behind the action which determines its moral position. Satya is choosing a course of action which would lead to higher good in long term of living beings in the frame of reference. And Ahimsa is acting for benefit of all with true sense of Justice and Virtues.
What eventually happened to Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh? And What has happened to Muslims in India? This is the frame of reference to judge the higher an long-term good of humans. And this should be frame of reference while using the terms like Satya and Ahimsa in context of socio-politico-economic events happening in Indian subcontinent.