Updated: May 17, 2012 16:52 IST

Lessons from the Mahabharata

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The Labyrinth of Solitude, A Comparative Exposition of Dharma as Ontology acciording to the Mahabharatha. Author: K.D. Prithipaul.
The Labyrinth of Solitude, A Comparative Exposition of Dharma as Ontology acciording to the Mahabharatha. Author: K.D. Prithipaul.

When Adi Sankara wanted to convey his Vedanta for the increasing number of disciples who gathered around him, he simply went to the Mahabharata. His commentaries on Sanat-Sujatheeyam, Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam and the Bhagavad Gita are all based on Vyasa's texts. Sankara knew that to get high philosophy across, one needs to have a strong base in reality. The Mahabharata was seen as carrying the very essence of experience, on what is right and what is wrong, the varied colours of human nature, and the subtle pathways of Dharma.

The same is the case with Professor Prithipaul, whose study of a few strands in the epic, The Labyrinth of Solitude, is essentially one man's journey to understand Dharma by seeking answers from the approaches deliberated in various branch stories in the epic. With more than 5,000 years of experience of man as a social animal, the author is necessarily burdened by all the past and the absolutely confounding present. What is right and what is wrong? The America-sponsored Resolution against Sri Lanka: is it right or wrong to vote against it? Indeed, as Bhishma said, Dharma's ways are sukshma, subtle. Nevertheless Prof. Prithipaul makes an attempt with his unambiguous titles for 49 chapters. ‘Dharma and Social Good,' for instance. How lucid is Yudhishtra's vision of Dharma and how turbid the verbiage inscribed in the Indian Constitution?

Tracking a term

Throughout the book, Prof. Prithipaul uses the term ‘Brahmanical' in identifying the Vedic culture. Persisting on defining the immoveable dharma in its various formations, the author seeks to identify the exact contours of the term, ‘sanatana dharma.'

According to him, the varnasrama itself was a call for self-discipline and selfless service. Violence was limited to the battlefield, for war itself was bound by fine-tuned rules. There was always space given for contrary opinions in religion and philosophy, he claims.

“In no centre of higher learning in Brahmanical India did it ever dawn in the mind of a single acharya to pronounce a sentence of death as punishment for the crime of affirming diverging or differing philosophical or spiritual convictions… The legendary tolerance of the Brahmanical tradition derives its substance from the metaphysical premise that the divine essence is present in all forms of life.”

The author is astonished that a nation with such a rich study of Dharma in Vyasa's epic should flounder in the air-conditioned nightmare of material success. His argument is that the ontology of the Brahmanical (Hindu) culture has always tended towards fulfilment, not mere achievement in worldly terms.

This book seeks to offer a stimulus to formulate a new vision for India in this century, drawing lessons from the Mahabharata.

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