Arrogant Charity

“…Joy in philosophy was never considered incompatible with the pleasures of culinary art. It is true that there grew up also taboos and practices as regards to eating food, which became enormously complicated, often to the point of insanity. But they are not to be found either in the Upanishads or in the Mahabharata. But however complicated they grew to be, and however ludicrous the forms that they took, many of the practices displayed nevertheless the belief that the act of eating is not a solitary affair; one’s life is linked with the life of others. Eating is not complete until the food that one eats has been shared with others….” (p.39), says Chaturvedi Badrinath writing in the context of “Food, Water and Life” in his recent book: The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the Human Condition, (New Delhi, Orient Longman, {2006} 2007.

Both the Mahabharata and the Upanishads reflect the ideology of a perfect society, whereas the practical life is determined by other rules and regulations (that too guided by Dharmasastras). So the Mbh., like any other (ethical) scripture/literature does not necessarily reflect reality but gives guidance to an idealized situation for humanity. 

For example, the following points given by Kane, and his justification are not acceptable as one man should not so treat another human being in this way, especially in the name of charity:

“…the householder should lightly (so that no dust will get mixed with it) offer on the ground some food to dogs, to outcasts, to Candalas, to those suffering from loathsome diseases (such as leprosy), to crows and insects.  Yajavalkiya.I. (103) calls upon the house holder to throw food to dogs, Candalas and crows on the ground…..These directions to give food even to outcastes, dogs and birds were the outcome of the noble sentiment of universal kindliness and charity, the idea that One Spirit pervades and illumines the meanest of creatures and binds all together.” P.V. Kane, History of Dharmasastras, vol. II, part II. p. 746.

It is a sad fact that Prof. Kane, who generally gives an impartial analysis on various subjects, could not see that there exists no nobility in this kind of charity, rather only arrogance.

This reality reflects the dichotomy between idealism and reality in Indian society (or in any other society). For me what the Mbh. (or any other scripture/literature) says about idealism is not that important (although a knowledge of what it says can help us score some points against our critics).

The goal should be ideology becoming reality. This can be achieved by a teaching that helps individuals and society work out this pursuit of perfection through personal regeneration, all the while being aware of the sore realities of practical life. These teachings must be accepted voluntarily, not imposed arbitrarily through force, threat, or a guilty conscience.

October, 21st 2007