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Dharma, Righteousness, Halal – Means and Ends

October 15, 2009

‘The term dharma (SanskritdhármaPāḷi dhamma), is an Indian spiritual and religious term. As far as ancient India is concerned it referred to the universal law of nature, which is equally applicable to each and every one. For sectarian point of view that means one’s righteous duty or any virtuous path in the common sense of the term. In Indian languagesit can be equivalent simply to “religion”, depending on context. The word dharma literally translates as that which upholds or supports, and is generally translated into English as law.

The various Indian religions and philosophy, such as HinduismBuddhismJainism, and Sikhism, have all accorded a central focus to Dharma and advocate its practice. Each of these religions emphasizes Dharma as the correct understanding of reality in its teachings. In these traditions, beings that live in accordance with Dharma proceed more quickly toward dharma yukammoksha or nirvana (personal liberation). The antonym of dharma is adharma meaning unnatural or immoral.’

‘In the Hebrew Bible: Righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. Its chief meaning concerns ethical conduct. (E.g., Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:1; Psalm 1:6; Proverbs 8:20) It is used in a legal sense; while the guilty are judged, the guiltless are deemed righteous. God’s faithfulness to His covenant is also a large part of His righteousness. (Nehemiah 9:7-8)

Righteousness also relates to God’s role as savior; God is a “righteous savior”; (Isaiah 61) and a deliverer. (Isaiah 46:12-13) The righteous are those who trust that they will be vindicated by the Lord God. (Psalm 37:12-13).’

‘In Arabic-speaking countries, the term Halal is used to describe anything permissible under Islamic law, in contrast to haraam, that which is forbidden. This includes human behavior, speech communication, clothing, conduct, manner and dietary laws.’  Source: Wikipaedia

This is not an attempt at saying that all religions say the same – that is a universal truth. Because truth is one, it can never be many. Untruth can be many. This is also not a philosophical treatise. This is an attempt at understanding as to how and why there is so much needless loss of lives, violence and strife. The truth of the matter is that we as a society, as a civilization (in this modern day world of shrinking distances, we are one being, one huge civilization. There is not much difference between New York and Mumbai and Sharjah and Dublin) are losing focus. We want instant results and instant gratification. The path of Dharma, Righteousness and Halal is tedious and full of challenges. We do not have the time or the inclination to insist on following the right path. Getting to ones objectives is important, the means are overlooked. What is true for individuals is true for nations in all walks of life – from politics to economics to societal behavior. And when nature’s laws take their course we wonder what hit us. This is not to point fingers at any one person or society nor is this an attempt to sermonize. I hate sermons. Generally those bereft of any moral rectitude are the ones that are the loudest at sermonizing.

The recent global recession that has hit the world economy when dissected and studied by the economists and markets analysts came to the conclusion that the basic reason of this downturn was naked greed of some people who were in the position to influence the markets. Let’s understand this – the recession has been a bane for most but this has also been a bonanza for some. People have cut corners, played dirty, made their money and got out of the market for others to hold the bag of no value bonds. People like Alan Greenspan have said that such downturns will occur in future too because of the basic human nature. He goes on to say that we need to have checks and balances in place so that such shocks do not disturb the balance of the economy so thoroughly. He was basically talking about lack of Dharma, Righteousness and actions that were Halal. He was talking about ethics.

In politics too such examples abound. Pakistan has today admitted, at least their Interior Minister Rehman Malick did, that the LeT, the Lashkar e- Toiba and Tehrik e- Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were all in touch and are basically the same organizations. These are the same organizations that have wrecked havoc in India and thousands of Indians have died as their victims and hundreds of our security forces died fighting them. Pakistan has all along been supporting them without a thought and their glee knew no bounds when they attacked India. The viper has turned on its master. Now they do not know how to react. Pakistan is one country where the government and their security forces have bombed and attacked their own population in Swat and Bajaur.

The American actions have also been myopic and were unjust, Adharma, sinful or Haraam. The way they created the Taliban in the late eighties and early nineties is well known. Today they are fighting the same force they helped create. Innocent American men and women are dying fighting a little known enemy in a foreign land called Afghanistan. The chickens have come home to roost. The invasion of Iraq will lay heavy on the American conscience for a very long time. They have created a mess in a country that was not hostile to them and a dictator who had nothing to do with terrorism. Time will tell as to how difficult it will be for the west to manage Iraq in the coming years. It was not a righteous invasion. It was sinful. Undiluted greed was the sole reason for the invasion of Iraq. It was for oil and nothing else. The west has already lost more than 4000 men and women fighting in Iraq. The country will come to a boil once the west withdraws completely. Americans and their allies won’t know what to do then. They will be in no position to reenter the country nor will they be in a position to manage the situation from thousands of miles. Bush and Blair went on their knees and prayed together before they embarked on the Iraq war. But both knew that Christ was nowhere near that room in the White House. It was an empty gesture and they brought in the name of Jesus when they knew that what they were going to do was completely and wholly unlawful. The story in Iraq has not ended, though Iraq may have been put on the back burner by the world media and the focus has shifted to Kabul and Afghanistan since Obama came to power.

Here in India there have been political acts of omission and commission – Adharma, Sinful and Haraam. The creation of the monster of Bhindranwale was a most vile act to overthrow the Akali government in Punjab. Indira Gandhi was killed by her security guards who were Sikhs. Rajiv Gandhi invaded Sri Lanka and waged a war against the Tamils. He was the victim of a suicide attack in Tamil Nadu. Taking revenge this horrible way was not a righteous thing either. Prabhakaran and family were wiped out. The way the Tamils are being treated by Sri Lankan government now is also Adharma. The repercussions will follow.

Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize not for doing anything outstanding but because he abjured the path of sin. He is trying to bring peace in the world. That was good enough for the Noble Committee to award him the Peace Prize and rightfully so. I guess it is good enough for the world too.

This fight between Dharma and Adharma and Righteousness and Sin and Halal and Haraam will go on forever. Such a tug of war is mentioned in most mythologies including the Hindu mythology. Hinduism with all its glitches and warts which have cropped up with the passage of time still remains open to new thought and acceptance of a divergent point of view. It is the intrinsic plurality that makes Hinduism ready for constant dialogue. With time I hope the one scourge of wretched casteism will also go.

Christianity had a phase of Renaissance which gave philosophers and scientists. This regeneration within the faith saw a healthy debate and acceptance of philosophers who would have been called heathens not too long ago. Christianity became more open to new ideas and found a flexibility within itself that has helped them accept different points of views. Most Christians accept that their way is not the only way – that others shall not be condemned to utter damnation. Joel Osteen is not the only preacher who does not insist that the Christian way is the only way. Yet those who accept such plurality remain devout Christians. It took the Church centuries to accept that Christ was a Jew. I am sure that the day is not far when the Church will accept that non-believers have as much chance to go to heaven (if there is one) as the believers if they choose the Righteous, Dharma or Halal as their way of life. Chances are that if the Church is more flexible and open and accepts various points of view and moves with times, making Christianity not an absolutist faith, the congregations will swell and the number of Christians may increase exponentially. It impresses no one when it is claimed that Jesus was the only Messiah.

With Islam the things have been rather different. From times when the madarsas were a place of scholarship and exchange of ideas, of science and medicine, now the situation is such that these are places where any dialogue is Haaram. This degeneration of a beautiful way of life has cost Islam a lot. The emphasis on the literal meaning without understanding the essence of the message, or perhaps ignoring the message completely has been the bane of a faith that has given the world so much. The tragedy has been that like the Christian Renaissance there has been no churning within Islam. Islam has taken a step back and tried to hang on to times that have passed. Any faith must have the flexibility and the resilience to adapt to times. Nothing is static. Even faith must be allowed to change with times. That is not to say that truth has changed. No it has not. But what was acceptable some centuries ago has become Haaram now and vice versa. This does not mean that we should see everything upside down in the name of change. Orthodoxy has its own charm, its own value. But that should not be construed as the emblem, the rasion d’etre of a society, a way of life that refuses to move. Islam has a lot to offer to the world. But then Islam will have to refurbish itself, clean the cobwebs and give a lead to the world in all walks of life. Absolutism in any form in today’s world is anathema. Islam has a role to play and it needs to show the fortitude and the resolve to take the lead.

All these faiths have this one thing in common – that the means are as important as the end. That is the righteous or the Dharma or the Halal way of life. How one goes about achieving one’s objectives is as important if not more important as reaching the goal itself. That is a tortuous path. Sometimes when we take the Dharma, the Righteous or the Halal route to achieve our goals, one finds that things are so much easier as people respond more positively and what seemed like a mountain to climb was really just around the corner. The good news is that most people in today’s world understand the value of the right path. Such values must be inculcated in our children to be able to make this world even more beautiful.

One last thought. The above should not be construed as a call for peace at all costs. Sometimes it is important to wage war to achieve peace. There are times when war is the Dharma, the Righteous the Halal thing to do. And the one that shies away from his duty at such times is the one that has lost his way. But then, war is waged when all doors are closed. When there are such times, then we must not hesitate to act, to fight for what is right, what is the true way. This is explicitly mentioned in the Bhagwat Gita. I am sure such a thought is mentioned in texts of other faiths also. What has changed however is to bring the ‘unbeliever’ to one’s own faith through violence or war! In today’s world that is Sinful, Adharma or Haraam. Pluralism is the gift of these times as is debate and exchange of views across oceans and mountains – something that has never happened in human history. In that these are exciting times. These are emancipating times. We must not allow our leaders in all fields (not just politics) of life to take the path of Adharma, Sin and Haraam. That is the call of the twenty first century.

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