Saturday, April 11, 2020

Karma, Seva and Instilling Resilience - Some Rough Thoughts

Purushartha in human life is essential to the goal of moksha and mukti or ultimate freedom from bondage. To achieve the purpose, the four pillars of dharma, artha, kaama and moksha are to be attained in one’s life. The tools to enable the cultivation of the four pillars have been clearly identified by several scholars in the triage of sadhana, seva and swadhyaya, one not being mutually exclusive of the other. In all of this, the key underlying philosophy of seva or service clearly becomes paramount to the cause.

The Philosophies of Dharma, in particular the Indic philosophies, have always attached a high degree of importance to service alongside devotion and liturgy. Service is an outcome unto itself, defining the manner in which we relate ourselves to the outer world. Despite the various astika (Vedanta, Veda, Advaita, Dvaita or Vaishnava, Shakta, Shaiva Siddhanta and others) and nastika philosophies (Jainism, Buddhism) that have existed around for millenia, the consensus on seva or selfless service have always been unequivocal among all them, perhaps being one sole point of consensus despite the wide range of varying differences of their views of looking at life and the universe or darsana.

It is interesting to observe the idea of seva because of the intertwined nature it creates with karma in itself. Being the one offering service or the recipient both have an impact on karma, are a manifestation of karma and also result in the accumulation of karma, good or bad based on intentions driving them. What makes karma unique in itself is that the philosophy of karma is self fulfiling in itself - the sense of fatalism does not define Hinduism, as karma brings in a degree of independence to what the eventuality of your being turns out to be. You are your own fate’s driver to that extent - the nature and origin of your birth do not necessarily determine your eventual achievement and the path of salvation, as the key messages from the kavyas emerge. Therefore, one can also see that there is a definition on the limits to the idea of free will as well, bounded as it is by the idea of karma.

The nature of seva is also defined in its impact, both on the physical level and the metaphysical. It is well recognized that the conflict of what constitutes seva, the boundaries within which it gets defined, and its connection to karma are all limited in how individuals and societies relate within themselves and with other systems of belief and forms of social setups. Scale is appreciated, but not at the cost of the bhava or the emotion that drives it. This seva bhavana in turn helps to therefore fulfil both at the physical and the metaphysical requirements of humans, and has driven philanthropic efforts in India for millenia now.

Given the inherent nature of karma and the concept of service, there is also a sense of will that darsana also explain your interconnection with the universe. Irrespective of the philosophy school, it is clearly enumerated that mankind is certainly not at the centre of the universe. However, mankind is given the special gift of sensory perception and the ability to realize the inherent integrity with the cosmos. Being one with nature that surrounds you is critical for understanding your own insignificance, and thus lets you evolve an understanding of the concept of ‘living within your limits’ and ‘in harmony with your surroundings’. This in turn pushes through the concept of inherently therefore invoking the concept of karuna or kindness in dealing with everyone and everything around us. This is not to say that there is no space for violence - however, the essential idea is to deal with the framework of kindness at the initiation. Only if the reaction has adversity in it does one need to respond in kind.

Further, the inherent necessity to deal with the material and spiritual worlds create another important aspect - with the differentiation and classifications its brings in, a sense of strength and resilience is cultivated within different segments of society. An adaptive process to respond to varying degrees of adversity ranging right up to social trauma and disasters is thus driven by these intertwining ideas of karma, seva and interconnection, making the communities identify opportunities to respond in normal as well as in emergency times. However, this is different in a metaphysical sense because the idea of karuna is not mandated; rather, the various darsanas believe in cultivating that as an instinct within the spiritual realms. Thus, in essence, the lack of single doctrine as Popper’s paradox would notice is not entirely correct - the idea all along is that the doctrine has to be derived from within, subject to your intellect and understanding, and the philosophical realm guides have the job of cultivating them and guiding them on the path. Beyond the cultivation, the preceptor's actions are to determine the perceptor’s subsequent journey on the path to mukti. This perception or anubhava thus brings in individual scale resilience, which permeates into social resilience among the various sects or sampradayas in dealing with each other, barring physical conflicts that arise with non-Indic systems entirely. With respect to the physical conflict, the paradigm changes altogether, and the response mechanism has also changed, ranging from intellectual challenge to the actual physical challenge.

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