“Power” is considered an ability, the exercise of which can influence or control behaviour, in our context, of people. The term “authority” is often used for power perceived as legitimate by the social structure. The exercise of power is accepted as fundamental to humans as social beings.
The importance of power in a dharmic sense can be observed in –
atidharmad balam manye balaad dharmah pravartate
bale pratishthito dharmo dharanyamiva jangamam
Shanti Parvam 134.6
Power is considered superior even to dharma; for it is through power that dharma is sustained. But power must be exercised in accordance with the dharma, and not arbitrarily, since the objective is to establish order and not to accumulate wealth, which anyhow is secondary, as stated –
vibhajya dandah kartavyo dharmena na yadruchhaya
drusthanaa nigahodando hiranyam bahyatah kriya
Shanti Parvam 122.40
An analysis of “power” ‘can start with the statement that the origin of power is in biological evolution. All natural beings exist in hierarchies; there is no equality in Nature.
Within the dharmic belief system, with the group as the unit of society, hierarchy takes the form of structured cooperation, both within and between groups. However, the modern framework of political economy, with the individual as the unit of society, even as it disavows hierarchy fosters it through unstructured winner-take-all competition.
The quest for mundane power since ancient times finds cultural expression through many forms (e.g., birth / wealth / knowledge / physical strength). The world has always witnessed apparent shifts in power structures, and some striking instances are:
- Political missions (like Alexander’s invasion)
- Missions with the support base of faith and religion ( like Islamic invasions)
- Religio-politico-economic expansions (like missionary-colonialism and imperialism)
- Multi-dynamic power struggles (like the World Wars and the Cold War)
- Modern geopolitical and politico-economic struggles via institutions of global governance (like the UN and the Bretton Woods system)
- Identity assertion via universal claims aiming at global intellectual hegemony, rooted in the deracinated individual as the unit of society, irrespective of context (like the so-called ”liberal” hegemony over the American intellectual space)
In very recent time, conventionally-accepted powerholders are so badly shaken by the elections of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump and the referendum for Brexit they still cannot fathom the cause and are finding fault with everyone except themselves, and they label it the rise of the Far Right. .
Let us try generally to explore this as follows-
- Left Wing and Right Wing
- Game of Identity
- Denial versus Transcendence
- Dharmic perspective – dharma and the order: no wings, right or left
1. Left Wing and Right Wing – The French Revolution is the genesis for most modern political jargon and discourse like liberty, democratic rights, and so on. The terms Right and Left were first used in the French Parliament, post-French Revolution. Essentially, those seated to the right of the chair were cultured, rich and not odorous as they could afford perfumes, whereas those seated to the left were the opposite. Cosmopolitan versus vulgarian today, forgetting that democracy is about the vulgus, the praja.
This ritualized arrangement has gained a central role in narratives today, which cuts across the political margins of disciplines. However, these terms are used absolutely out of context in civilizations like that of India, because –
i. Dharmic civilisation is dynamic and evolving and over thousands of years older to the modern concept of the nation-state. Dharmic tradition already has a profound and rich collection of literature and terminology, which can be drawn on to suit contemporary contexts appropriately.
ii. Dharmic civilisation institutionalised a system of checks and balances, including the hierarchy of the purusharthas and the dynamics between the ruler (power) and the renunciate (dharma) to ensure the ruler’s rajdharma (a word the import of which has been recognised more than once by our Supreme Court).
Therefore, there need be no conflict of “wings”, as there is space for all hues of belief and this is why, for example, we recognise communism as a legitimate electoral option, whereas in the USA the communists are devils incarnate.
dhaaranaad dharmamityahudharmena vidhrutaah prajaah
yah syaad dhaaransamyuktah sa dharma iti nishchayah
Whatever has the characteristic of dharana, that is, upholding, bringing together and sustaining all the praja, certainly is dharma.
iii. Dharmic tradition believes that there is no right or wrong, but only appropriateness to the context, i.e, desha, kaal, patra, towards harmony within the entire cosmos. It is through vivekbuddhi (the discriminative intellect) that the distinction between dharma and adharma must be investigated, which essentially depends on the context, with the best interest of the cosmos (sarva bhuta) as an overarching guideline –
tasmat kaunteya vidushaa dharmaadharmavinishchaye
buddhimaasthaya lokeasmin vartitavyam krutatmana
Shanti Parvam 141.102
By using the discriminative intellect one should discriminate between dharma and adharma and act accordingly in this world.
advaidhagyah pathi dvaidhe samshayam praptumharti
budhhidvaidham veditavyam purstadev bharata
Shanti Parvam 142.8
Depending upon the context, the same act can be dharma in one instance and adharma in another. One encounters the dilemma by not understanding this essential yet fundamental relativity. This dilemma can be overcome only by using vivekbuddhi and understanding the relativity.
manasam sarvabhutanam dharmamaahurmaniishinah
tasmaat sarveshu bhuteshu manasa shivamaachareta
Shanti Parvam 193.31
Learned ones are of the opinion that dharma is whatever is done keeping in view all the beings. Therefore, let one do with conscience what is in the best interest of all beings.
iv. Dominant perspectives in dharmic traditions have an essential character of the spiritual. All endeavours, be it artha or kama, essentially must lead to the realisation of the ultimate self, i.e., moksha. However, in asuric civilisations both the Left and the Right are materialist i.e., confine themselves to artha and kama, thus having no spiritual character in their socio-political narratives.
Today, the so-called RW and LW have morphed into positions contrary to the original ones. The Left believes itself to be civilised, learned, and claims to be the saviour of socio-politico-economic rights of the people. The Left trashes the Right as being regressive, obscurantist, and generally moneygrubbing for itself. Yet both operate within the overarching hegemony of asuric materialism – kama and artha as the goals of human existence.
2. Game of Identity – The recent so-called RW populism is widely seen as an economic and political phenomenon; however, there lies a deeper psycho-cultural phenomenon, which seems to be the real driver in this game of identity.
Identity is the sense of one’s own understanding of self, and it is constructed through psycho-socio-cultural factors. Therefore, when there is a multiplicity of identities, the most dominant identity has to be the one which an individual will not compromise because, in the absence of that dominant identity, the very existence of the psychological being becomes a question mark.
Identity in a dharmic sense is the self as Brahman. Therefore it transforms into all; and whoever among the gods realises it, also becomes that, and similarly the sages and men, as stated –
brahma va idamagra aasiit tadaatmanamevavet aham brahmasmiti
asmaatttsarvambhavat tadayo yon adevanaampratyabudhatyat
sa evatadbhavat tadashiirnaam tatha manushyanaam
In order to be secure in our own psychological existence, humans as individuals strive to assert this identity with the means at our disposal. The pattern replicates itself at the macro level when the collective identities of individuals are in question. Communities strive to assert their identities through various means, soft and hard, available to them. So, for example, in the UK, India and the USA, it was the application of soft (democratic electoral) means that resulted in Brexit and the rise of Modi and Trump.
3. Denial versus Transcendence – Humans are animals. This is biology. Humans are culture-producing animals. Humans as sapient are the consequence of the interaction between our biology and our culture. Dharmic civilization perceives this consequence as arising from our transcending our biology and that all creation is interconnected; asuric civilizations perceive this consequence as arising from our denying our biology, and that the animal is to be subjugated to the human. Power in the former is to be sought ultimately over oneself; in the latter, over others. In the most basic terms, dharmic civilization sees kama and artha as being our animal nature and dharma and moksha being the endeavour to transcend this; asuric civilizations see kama and artha as human ends sufficient unto themselves.
4.Dharmic view – Dharmic tradition believes that the entire creation itself is the transformation of energy (which is power) into manifest and un-manifest forms.
Adi Shakti – The energy which powers adi (beginning, creation) by transforming itself into bhootas (panchabhoot- agni, prithvi, aap, vayu. akash) and thus the cosmos.
yaa devi sarvabhuteshu shaktirupena samsthita
Aparajita Stuti 12
Omkaar – The whole cosmos is a manifestation of OM, which is vibrations or energy. Therefore, all beings and non-beings too are a manifestation of the vibrating energy called OM –
omityetadaksharamidam sarvam tasyopvyakhyanam bhootam bhavad vishyaditi
sarvamomkaar eva yaccaanyatratrikaalatitam tadapi omkaar eva
Brahman – The entire cosmos is Brahman. The universe is an expression of Brahman; human and other beings are a manifestation of Brahman –
sarvam hyetad brahmaayamatma brahma
The adhyaksha is assumed to have ordered (i.e., arranged) the cosmic play (leela) of creation, preservation and destruction in an endless cycle. This is the macrocosm. In the microcosm, this cyclical play finds its expression through the yugas and the dharma appropriate to each yuga in the maintenance of order, that is, harmony, shanti.
aum dyauh shantirantariksham shantih
prithvi shantirapah shantiroshadhyah shantih
vanaspatayah shantirvishvedevah shantirbrahma shantih
sarvam shantih shantireva shantih
sa ma shantiredhi
aum shantih shantih shantih
May there be harmony in antariksha; on earth, in water bodies, in herbs, in vegetation, among devas, in the cosmos, harmony within and among all realms [which in turn reflect hierarchy].
Perceivable order can be understood to be that which relates human beings to other aspects of srishti. So, in the political realm, in order to overcome the state of anarchy (matsyanyaya) the concept of the rajya, as the highest mundane organisation of the group, came into the picture. The rajya, which replicates the cosmic order, is for the best interest of all, even those who are left a little behind (in our perception) in the dharmic cycle.
prabhavarya bhootanam dharmapravachanam krutam
yah syatprbhavasamyukta sa dhrama iti nishchaya
Whatever has the characteristic of securing the prabhava (nurturing, sustaining, bringing together, and prospering) of all beings, certainly is dharma.
Therefore, power in the dharmic perspective is about transcending our biology, not denying it, and for working towards the best interest of the world and the cosmos. In the macrocosmic realm, the order governing the universe is rta. In the microcosmic, i.e., the mundane realm, rta finds expression as dharma. Thus, dharma is but a worldly arrangement derived from the cosmic one, aiming for harmony in the world, which otherwise would exist amidst conflicting identities as in the asuric civilisations.
Artificial equality is imposed to overshadow fundamental natural differences. It is actually fatally destructive to human nature. Artificial constructs to deny the fundamental nature of structured cooperation and the asuric urge to subordinate others leads to conflict when the powerful exploit the weak, whereas the dharmic conception agrees that, while at the physical level we are all different, this difference is merely superficial, since all the diversity is merely an illusory manifestation of the unity. This creates natural space for transcending the differences to realise unity in all diversity and thus avoid conflicts to claim superiority. And it is for the citizen to understand and for the ruler, with the check and balance of the renunciate, to foster it. This is rajdharma.
The choice is between contrasting lenses. One claims universalism, which is artificially constructed to suit the wants of the few. It proceeds only in a linear fashion with inherent core rigidity. The other is flexible and adaptive, believes in real equity and not artificial equality, and proceeds in a non-linear multi-dynamic setup.
As we reflect on the situation of and within our own country in a world dominated by adversarialism derived from an asuric ethos that rived us apart some 70 years ago – and that is designed to continue to rive us – we need to understand that White solutions to Brown problems will not work for us. We need to learn from and draw on the best from within our own brown-ness to sustain ourselves in the evolving Brave New World.