The mirror of epic

RAKESH PANDEY

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AN epic can touch one’s imagination in numerous ways. It could be invoked as a glorious historical age, a repository of lost ideals, or lush and abounding narratives. But, above all, it can be treated as a mirror in which people look for newer meanings and self-definitions for their own times. The epic Mahabharata is seen as exemplary in this regard as it has served all such purposes. It has always been difficult to explain as to how far the verbal maize of an ancient period could reflect the present. The Mahabharata is a rich tapestry and the tales interwoven in it are like carefully orchestrated narrative overlays, which demand a careful scrutiny for both their literary craft and the role specific characters, plots and narrative styles play in producing the epic meaning.

A different tack would be to treat these tales as narrative mirrors in which the epic’s philosophical and ideological meanings get reflected. These have been told in the epic by different people in a variety of ways, especially in the Aranyaka, Anushasana and Shanti Parvas, which are known for interpolations and command both a popular and scholarly appeal. Their structures seem to have a specific purpose and design as they become part of a mutually reflecting series of mirror frames of the larger narrative structure of the epic. They also seem to form a ring structure in which meaning circulates at different levels.

In one of her later works, the anthropologist Mary Douglas drew our attention to the importance of the ring method in ancient texts as a common way of writing, calling it ‘a construction of parallelisms that must open a theme, develop it, and round it off by bringing the conclusion back to the beginning.’ Douglas pointed out that one of the enigmas this structure throws up is regarding the location of the meaning, how it develops, and what constraints and imaginative openings it allows to the text.1 

A similar strategy could be envisaged with regard to philosophical ideas, the range of human emotions and sentiments, and various moral goals present in the Mahabharata. The epic seems to have a consciously designed sense of ambiguity in its structure. Even when it is historically rooted in its own time, it makes itself open to others as well through this power of ambiguity. The bard Ugrashrava puts this in no unambiguous terms in the very beginning of his poetic journey, when he declares that ‘some poets have described this saga (itihasa) earlier, and some keep telling it even now; in the same manner, this will be told on this earth in times to come.’2 

Ours, the time of modernity, is one such period in which the epic has shown an ability to speak through its ancient presence and weave a new interpretive horizon. A history of interpretive horizons, one presumes, would be different from a history of the reception of the epic, although that too will be an ineluctable part of it.3 More precisely, it will be a history of the shared lives of cultural imaginings across time, seeking to trace the ways in which elements of an epic tradition flow into the different cultural forms, thereby shaping notions of time and memory. This essay examines a particular form of imagination relating to morality with regard to which the epic’s role has been widely debated.

 

But one must be clear about an obvious objection to this method since many see it as an attempt at crude anachronistic explanation, which, let alone a historical perspective, all analytical exercises should avoid. But more than a charge of anachronism, what is crucial here is the textbook wisdom of historical explanation as an ‘enactment’.4 The recognition of this facet of the tradition, particularly the ancient tradition, hasn’t gone unnoticed in the area of moral thinking and its peculiar relation to the modern situation in the last two centuries.5 A more recent and vigorous attempt to foreground this issue is Bernard Williams’ attempt at exploring the philosophical limits of moral thinking in the present times. Williams particularly engages with the Greek philosophical and literary tradition, not as mere vestiges but for its simultaneity and reciprocity towards modern moral thinking.6 

Let us take up a few instances of the way Mahabharata has been used as a mirror to the modern moral imagination. But is this lure of the epic because of the assumption that people rediscover it in moments of crisis or great transformations? The epic figured prominently in modern times, if not in all moments of crisis then definitely during momentous transformation which India witnessed in its encounter with Europe beginning in the late 18th century. The key to this transformation was a gradual projection of the European Enlightenment’s discourse on civilization in the intellectual worlds of the East and the West.

 

The Mahabharata’s modern incarnation is marked by the twin trails of discovery of the epic as a mirror of civilization and antiquity of the nation. A rapid overview would tell us that the Mahabharata as an epic in the conventional chronology of the history of ‘modern’ India is part and parcel of the European discovery of Indian lore, mainly beginning in the late 18th century with the onset of the British rule. Almost a decade after Nathaniel B. Halhed’s translation of A Code of Gentoo Laws in 1776, a company official named Charles Wilkins published a translation of the Gita in 1785, underlining the ‘antiquity of the original’ and ‘veneration’ of the ‘greatest curiosities ever presented to the literary world.’

In a letter to Nathaniel Smith, Warren Hastings recommended Wilkins’ translation calling the Mahabharata ‘a very curious specimen of the Literature, the Mythology, and Morality of the ancient Hindoos.’ The author Vyasa, he contended, is accredited with writing several other books leading to the ‘invention of the religion itself’ as also consolidating the stray patterns of belief into a ‘scientific and allegorical system.’ Hastings clearly had in mind the French, English, and above all Greek classics while presenting a translation of the portion of the Mahabharata wherein he accepted the Gita as a work of ‘great originality’ and ‘a theology accurately corresponding with that of Christian dispensation, and most powerfully illustrating its fundamental doctrines.’

But despite extolling the comparative value of a Hindu epic, Hastings saw the labours of people like Wilkins in the realm of language and literature as helping showcase the moral and intellectual inclinations of a people, who have so far been in ‘the state of uncultivated nature.’ Such labours as illuminating the world of Indians were, according to Hastings, precious for the stability of the Company’s dominion.7

 

In a reference to Hastings’ remark regarding the translation by Wilkins, the German idealist philosopher G.W.F. Hegel found great merit in his attitude of letting the text speak with all its paradoxes and strangeness in comparison to European literature. But more importantly, Hegel remarked upon the peculiar nature of the Gita and the epic by noting the stark contrast between the European ideas of war, poetry and philosophy, particularly when compared to Arjuna’s doubt and despondency in the battlefield and his urge to seek counsel. The mode of dialogue in the Gita, Hegel commented, should also be seen as a mark of difference one could witness in the realm of religion and morality.8 In Hegel’s formulation, Krishna’s philosophy of ‘action without expecting any reward’ (nishkama karma), although leaving a deep impact shies away from giving ‘a concrete individuality’ and sense of purpose in achieving goals to the characters.

 

Indian moral theory, including its modern morality, has according to Hegel, failed to develop an idea of moral duties. But his more pertinent question is about the very nature of the ‘moral quality’ of Arjuna’s doubt towards his kinsmen. Unlike the European idea of family, where love in itself is a sufficient ground for morality, Arjuna invokes a notion of family bonding, which is shorn of love and thus fails to emerge as an idea of ‘moral obligation’. Rather, Hegel found it based on a superstitious idea that the soul’s fate depends upon the ritual offerings given by the relatives.9 

Krishna’s sermon on the immortality of the soul and his exhorting Arjuna not to bemoan the killing of these perishable bodies, Hegel argues, is not a ‘moral statement’. Hegel sees a curious turn in Krishna’s invocation of the Sankhya and Yoga philosophies to make his metaphysics clear, by which the European distinction between the ‘practical’ and the ‘theoretical’ is overcome by a theory in which action and knowledge become one.10 

Hegel’s remark, based on second-hand readings of the Indian texts, a result of what Raymond Schwab called the ‘Oriental renaissance’ flourishing in the philosopher’s salons in Europe and informed by the British discovery of India, seen from the parochial European intellectual traditions, nevertheless, poses a serious question about what is ‘moral’ in the Krishna’s sermon in the Gita and, by extension, in the epic Mahabharata. Beyond a general celebration of Krishna’s divinity and playfulness, some serious questions have been raised as to the kind of moral outlook Gita advances, which has been one of the key texts in Hindu culture for over two millennia.11 

Under the Hegelian lens, the much favoured Arjuna, instead of arousing sympathy for his doubts about waging war against his own men and revered masters is seen as lacking any clear moral intention. The sermon in the battlefield, however, is not devoid of any virtue; in Hegel’s opinion at least it scores high in comparison to European thought at large, so far as it is able to transcend the division between the practical and theoretical realms in the later portions of the Gita. Moreover, as he contends, religion and philosophy come together and thus a much cherished enigma of the non-European world gets a philosophical stamp.

 

In Hegel’s reading both the partners in dialogue, Krishna and Arjuna, lack a clear moral ground to stand upon, a lack which Hegel sees as deeply ingrained within the culture of which they are a part. However, Arjuna has recently received better treatment from the perspective of consequences of action and responsibility in moral philosophy in Amartya Sen’s treatment of the epic situation. Sen’s approach favours demythologizing the contents of the epic, as its mythic element would always give way to subterfuge for the responsibility and consequences involved in human actions. He introduces the idea of responsibility and thus turns the wheel of Gita’s message away from the divine and towards the human sphere, for which, he argues that the epic itself provides much leeway for.12 

Hegel’s real charge is the lack of true filial love on the part of Arjuna and a clear sense of moral duty and obligation. What goes unsaid in Hegel’s reading, and which is not clearly spelt out, is that this moral view singularly lacks any ground to be based upon. Sen, more generously, sees a modern human rights element in all this which is strengthened by Arjuna’s humanity and responsibility, and an ability to bring the question of choice to the forefront.

 

Just before the war, a jubilant Arjuna tries to console Yuddhishthira, who was scared of the prospects of war and the might of the Kauravas, by referring to the fact that with Krishna on their side, they will be victorious. Arjuna’s initial excitement is shattered once he is in the middle of the battlefield. But the root of Arjuna’s skepticism relates to two of the recurring themes of the Mahabharata, which are violence and the role of individual in the family and his social group. He doubts the sort of pleasure he would draw by killing his own people, though this existential anxiety about the war and violence is still couched in a certain vision of the current social order, about whose prospects Arjuna is deeply perturbed. The worry that the war would lead to the decline of this social order and its ideals with a rise of people of mixed blood is an important one, though Krishna adumbrates a larger cosmological and philosophical order and sublimates most of Arjuna’s doubts.

 

In the Mahabharata, these concerns have most strikingly been projected in the stories where characters belonging to the lower strata of society and sub-human beings appear to preach and practice the path of righteousness (dharma) by serving the demands of filial obedience and non-violence. A deeper exploration into the epic’s moral structure demands a reading from this side of the fence. One such well-known story is recounted in the third book or the book of forest, the section relating to the Pandava’s exile, which is replete with various stories covering moral philosophy of the epic. Some of the well-known episodes such as of Yaksha, Nala, Rishyashring, Rama, Ashtavakra and Savirti are treasures of this portion. But most of all, tucked away in this very portion, is a striking moral tale of a righteous butcher (dharmav-yadha) recounted by Markandeya to Yuddhishthira.13 The story is significant because of its ability to lay bare a certain vision of morality involving the bondage to family and kinsmen, which Hegel saw lacking in the Indian context.

The story begins with a brahmin named Kaushik who was known for his Vedic learning, penance and good conduct. The brahmin, deeply aggrieved by the curse which he had given to a bird, had as a result taken to begging. A lady whom he met while begging claimed to have attained virtues by serving her family, which she said were bigger than what could be achieved by serving the gods. Knowing the brahmin’s cause of anguish, the lady directed him to meet a butcher living in Mithila if he wanted to receive the true knowledge of dharma. Despite acknowledging the butcher’s generosity and wisdom, Kaushik felt that the butcher’s vocation was not fit for him. The butcher, however, replied that this is what his ancestors had done for ages and that he too treated it as his proper vocation. Despite leading the life of a butcher, he claimed to have served his parents, spoke the truth, and gave alms according to his capacity, and even as he sold meat, he never ate it. He ended his discourse on dharma by finally extolling good conduct (shishtachara). Good conduct, according to him, requires control over desire, anger, greed, arrogance and crookedness. But all this is surpassed by non-violence (ahimsa) and truth (satya); and even non-violence, the highest of dharmas, is situated in truth.

 

This is followed by the butcher’s discussion on violence and non-violence, which directly relates to his vocation of killing animals. His own vocation, he points out, is a result of his earlier deeds, which he is trying to rectify through his actions in this life. He himself is simply a medium (nimitta), as death is determined by destiny. Laxity in one’s own actions also leads to non-righteousness (adharma). Even those who indulged in cruel acts can get rid of adharma by constantly thinking and practicing right action, which is what he tries to follow.

But from here on the butcher’s story takes a curious turn, as he himself starts posing questions to the brahmin, questions which seem to be overturning the premises of the brahmin’s queries and seek a tacit rationalization of his vocation on its own. He cites the example of tilling of land, eating of grains, and of animals and birds killing living things to survive; actions which are necessary and involve violence. This whole world is full of living things and they are killed inadvertently, the butcher said. Despite the lesson of non-violence given by the wise people of olden times, he claimed that anyone who leads an active life on this earth, including the ascetics, indulges in violence. One sees so many paradoxical things on earth, when the values preached are not practiced, and even bad conduct is seen as tied to dharma. He concludes by stating that while one can say many more things about good and bad conduct, yet he who is engaged in his own vocation gets the glory.

 

He ends with the story of his earlier life, when he was a brahmin who after learning archery accidentally killed a sage. Before dying, the sage cursed him, but moved by his genuine repentance told him that though he would be born as a shudra in a future life, he would know about right conduct (dharmajna), and while serving his parents would become virtuous. The butcher told the brahmin that even he (Kaushik) was facing the same fate as him because he had not obeyed his parents. One who pretends, even if born a brahmin, is like a shudra, and a shudra following the path of truth and righteousness is like a brahmin, the butcher concluded.

The butcher’s story needs to be located in the larger narrative of dharma ethics in the Mahabharata, such as those expounded by Bhishma, Yuddhishthira, Vidura, Krishna and Vyasa. But let us introduce another mirror of moral imagination from modern times, where right conduct is judged on the basis of purity it entails on the one hand and its expediency on the other, as we see in the moral philosophy of Gandhi.

In a response to a young mill worker’s letter published in Young India in 1929, Gandhi recalled the above story. The mill worker had sought Gandhi’s advice on how to get out of his current job, which he detested though he was not skilled enough to find a new one. Gandhi advised him instead to move towards a simpler lifestyle and to adopt ‘exemplary purity, honesty and uprightness of conduct’, which would have a ripple effect among his co-workers. He thus came up with the analogy of the ‘compassionate butcher’ of the Mahabharata, who treasured pity within him despite his vocation, and who could be an ideal for young Indians.14 

 

But far more interesting is the notion of the relativity of violence which Gandhi proposes by invoking the epic, especially in relation to the notions of ‘pure ahimsa’ and the ‘ahimsa of the strong’ in his reply to another question. Confronting a government with such might as the British, Gandhi averred, has ‘the result of retarding the growth of pure ahimsa, so that today we are not even within the ken of the ahimsa of the strong.’ He accepted that given the force of authority India faced, a non-violent struggle would not yield much. Nevertheless, even as Gandhi expressed an inability to call for a collective act of civil disobedience as he was no longer in the Congress, he felt that the path of civil disobedience could still be pursued at the individual level. The importance of the philosophy of non-violence, he asserted, lies in its call to practice it in its pure form at the personal level first.15 

 

Another question related to whether non-violence meant simply ‘an attitude of the mind’ or ‘non-destruction of life’ as one faces the inevitability of some form of violence even in eating a simple meal or consuming vegetables for survival. In his astute reply Gandhi saw non-violence as having both characteristics as one cannot avoid eating vegetables; it was both a necessity and yet an act of taking a life. It was, however, acceptable. In the next answer, Gandhi said that even if a necessity, violence cannot be justified as a principle, let alone on the basis of ‘expedience.’ These replies ultimately seem to resonate with the idea of non-cruelty (anrishansya) of the Mahabharata – ‘I can consistently ask a person to give up his life for a cause and yet not be guilty of violence. For non-violence means refraining from injury to others.’16 

Gandhi had a clearer formulation of his theory of non-violence with regard to the case of a revolutionary. Here, he ‘urged non-violence, not on the highest ground of morality but on the lower ground of expedience.’ The key dichotomy here is between an act of violence falling under the sphere of ‘morality’ and one in the sphere of ‘expedience’. But Gandhi always weighed the ‘moral’ part higher in comparison to the ‘expedient’; it is apparent that he was apprehensive of the regression which may happen with the idea of ‘expediency’ of violence. For Gandhi, the purity of non-violence undeniably stood on a higher footing; it needed to be cherished as an anchorage, even if it remained a non-attainable ideal. The purer path of non-violence morality was slow and steep – ‘Warfare may give us another rule for the English rule but not self-rule in terms of the masses.’17 

 

And finally, a question with reference to the Mahabharata and Krishna’s failure to stop the war ends as – ‘How far can persuasion through self-sacrifice be successful in such cases?’ Gandhi agreed on the nature of brute force of English rule, but also indicated the way one should look at the epic for inspiration. Krishna, the ‘omnipotent’, Gandhi said, should not be treated as a mortal being.

‘Mahabharata is neither fiction nor history commonly so called. It is the history of the human soul in which God as Krishna is the chief actor. There are many things in that poem that my poor understanding cannot fathom. There are in it many things which are obvious interpolations. It is not a treasure chest. It is a mine which needs to be explored, which needs to be dug deep and from which diamonds have to be extracted after removing much foreign matter.’

But with these words Gandhi also cautioned the revolutionaries that he was not living in the mythical world of the epic and advised them ‘to keep their feet firm on mother earth and not scale the Himalayan heights to which the poet took Arjuna and his other heroes.’ Gandhi’s Mahabharata was by all means grounded in its own times and human limitations.18 

 

One may contrast Hegel’s view on the oddity of structure and vacuity of the moral philosophy of Gita with that of Gandhi’s. In a series of articles in The Statesman of Delhi, referring to the anti-war movement led by Christians leaders and groups in England, the paper invoked Gita wherein the two facets of the character of Arjuna – ‘conscientious objector’ and ‘knightly warrior’ – are seen to be resolved in the second book. Gandhi questioned this formulation and argued that Arjuna, unlike modern opponents of war, was not against it to begin with; it was only after viewing his own people in the battlefield that he developed doubts.

Gandhi found Krishna’s counsel as apt and underlined that the crucial message in the Mahabharata is more than a mere opposition to war, which comes out of its treatment of ‘the spiritual history of man’ turning a historical episode which may not have the same significance today. For Gandhi, the real message of the epic is far deeper, since it shows the eternal struggle between good and evil within man, ultimately leading to the victory of the good and right action.19 

Gandhi had no qualms in accepting, as he wrote while referring to his own rendition of Gita in Anasakti-yoga, that the book was not meant to denounce war or violence; nor had Hinduism on the whole ever critiqued these acts, as he did. And yet, he was sifting through the tradition to advance ‘a new but natural and logical interpretation on the teachings of the Gita and the spirit of Hinduism.’20 Gandhi reiterated a journey on the thorny path of non-violence, without shunning its ideality and purity. That indeed is a major difference between the epic ideal and one of the ways in which it was mirrored and recast in modern times.

 

In a set of observations based on his practical experiences in the collective living of his ashram, Gandhi, even as he stretched the lower limit of non-violence meaning ‘not to hurt any living creature by thought, word or deed, even for the supposed benefit of that creature’, also saw the inevitability of hurting while eating and tilling the land clearly falling under the category of violence according to his own definition.21 Gandhi refers to the example of poisoning a sick calf in his ashram as an act of non-violence. All this, he believed, could be more easily applied to ‘sub-human life’ compared to humans. Overall, the domain of non-violence remained open to experimentation, which despite its many failures could yet to be treated as ‘universal in scope’ and as a ‘foundation’ of the society.22 

Given that these stories are almost two millennia apart, one may well wonder what such analogies tell us about the moral vision of either the epic or our present. Though the purer concept of non-violence and moral action is well within the purview of the Mahabharata, and has even been extolled as the greatest dharma, nevertheless, in the overall moral theory of the epic, this is also a red-herring, since the path of moral duty towards the family and one’s social group takes one farther from this ideal. But it is also true that, unlike Gandhi, the epic doesn’t seem to be investing much in the sheer ideal of non-violence (ahimsa). For the epic, it is the non-cruelty (anrishansya) which would pave the way for worldly existence, as it embraces the human world of actions, rather than that of detachment.

 

With his emphasis on the ideal and purity of non-violence and yet allowing cruelty for the sake of well-being of the humans, Gandhi seems to be making room for the pragmatic ideal of anrishansya, and the ideal of three goals (trivarga) and worldly action within the overarching frame of ahimsa. The dichotomy between the two, that is non-violence (ahimsa) and non-cruelty (anrishansya), which the epic tries to grapple with is, in Gandhi’s moral imagination, mirrored as reaching reconciliation, as there can be no human action without retaining the imaginative potential of ideals in the larger view. Perhaps, this is how the bard had envisioned the life of the epic story, as retellings would also be a search for the deeper questions the epic poses.23 

 

Footnotes:

1. Mary Douglas, Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007, pp. X, 13.

2. The Mahabharata, Adiparva, 1:24

3. This has been established as a method which takes into account the interpretive aspect of tradition and its understanding most effectively in the writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, second revised edition, Continuum, London, 1989. An influential approach, which gives much weightage to historical processes in studying the way textual traditions speak through times and requires a patient illumination of the context, network, resonances of ideas and meanings together with concrete concepts is of Erich Auerbach, particularly his Mimesis (1953) and Literary Language and its Public (1965).

4. R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History, revised edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, especially the section on ‘History as Re-enactment of Past Experience’, pp. 282-302.

5. This is evident most prominently in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche in his On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) and Sigmund Freud in his Civilization and its Discontents (1930) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which ignited a renewed interest in this aspect in the later half of the last century. Closer home, we witness a different engagement with this issue in the literature on social and religious reform and cultural nationalism, even if it is not necessarily expressed in a theoretical vocabulary. Among the scholars one can think of are V.S. Sukthankar, Vasudev Sharan Agrawal, D.D. Kosambi and Durga Bhagwat, and among the prominent public figures such as Ram Manohar Lohiya moving on from the period of high nationalism.

6. Bernard Williams, The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford, 2006; Shame and Necessity, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2008, especially the introduction on ‘The Liberation of Antiquity’; Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Fontana Press, London, 1985, 1993, for a deeply reflective exploration on the possibilities of keeping the tradition in close purview while thinking of ethical issues.

7. Bhagvat Geeta: Or Dialogues of Kreeshna and Arjoon, Trans. by Charles Wilkins, C. Nourse, London, 1785, pp. 5-13.

8. G.W.F. Hegel, On the Episode of the Mahabharata Known by the Name Bhagavad-Gita by Wilhelm von Humboldt Berlin 1826, edited and translated by Herbert Herring, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi, 1995, pp. 9-13.

9. Ibid., pp. 15, 17.

10. Ibid., pp. 23, 25.

11. Bimal Krishna Matilal (ed.), Moral Dilemmas in the Mahabharata, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1989; Jonardon Ganeri (ed.), The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Ethics and Epics, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002.

12. Amartya Sen, ‘Consequential Evaluation and Practical Reason’, The Journal of Philosophy 97(9), September 2000, p. 499.

13. Mahabharata, vol. 2.: Vanaparva and Virataparva, Markandeyasamsyaparva, Geeta Press, Gorakhpur edition.

14. Raghavan Iyer (ed.), The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 2: Truth and Non-Violence, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986, pp. 74-75. But much before Gandhi came out with the above explanation based on the Mahabharata, in a response to Lord Curzon’s claim in 1905 that ‘the highest ideal of truth is to a large extent a Western conception,’ and the primacy of truth in the Western ideals of morality in comparison to the Eastern’s ‘craftiness and diplomatic wile,’ Gandhi gleaned the portions relating to the above topic from ‘Oriental Scriptures and Epics’ and requested Curzon to ‘withdraw his baseless and offensive imputations.’ While truth according to the Mahabharata, as Gandhi countered, was the foundation of Righteousness as mentioned in the Shantiparva, clxi, 8.9, where Bhishma described thirteen forms of truth such ‘truthfulness, equability, self-possession, compassion, and harmlessness,’ among others. Bhishma also proclaimed, Gandhi reminds, that ‘truth weighed heavier than a thousand horse-sacrificer.’ Ibid., pp. 150-52.

15. Ibid., p. 245.

16. Ibid., p. 307.

17. Ibid., p. 310.

18. Ibid., pp. 310-11.

19. Ibid., pp. 476-77.

20. Raghavan Iyer (ed.), The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 1: Civilization, Politics, and Religion, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1986, p. 514.

21. M.K. Gandhi, Ashram Observances in Action, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1955, Chapter iii: ‘Ahimsa or Love’, p. 40.

22. Ibid., pp, 44-45, 47.

23. Mukund Lath, Dharma-Sankat, Raka Prakashan, Allahabad, 2004, pp. 9-11, 183-84. But as for the larger moral framework of dharma ethics and its ideals, Lath suggests an inbuilt sense of crisis which is central to it. He further explains that this is redressed by cultivating an attitude of incessant inquiry by keeping awake one’s conscience (prajna), which doesn’t allow one to slip into a stage of indifference (nirveda). Also, for a discussion on a similar theme, Alf Hiltebeitel, Rethinking the Mahabharata, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002, especially chapter 5: ‘Don’t Be Cruel’.

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