Context is important whatever we say, read and interpret. But this function more smoothly where we have to define a clear principle and policy. But where pluralism and relativism is the centre of the worldview, there, however the important of the context is insisted, yet it is easily overlooked when self interest become more important than the context. Particularly in our Indian worldview where pluralism and relativism dominate every walk of life, we cannot avoid the way context is easily over looked. The reason for me to say this is that some non-Hindus, quoting certain points from Indian scriptures question the lack of morality in such teachings. If context is ignored all kinds of immoral and unethical teachings could be traced in every scripture.
Let us take one thought from Mahabharata to understand this. In the famous story of Kunshika (a Brahmin) and the Fowler (hunter), the latter, answering and giving teaching to the former even went to the extent of saying: ‘I even do that which is not virtuous, to please them (my parents)’. But if miss the context such saying will shock us.
In order to remind and point out Kunshika’s duty towards his parents, which he neglected, the Fowler (who of course was a Brahmin in his previous birth, otherwise a Fowler cannot, according to Mahabharata give such teaching that too to a Brahmin like Kunshika).1 says this. So there is no point of blaming Mahabharata for giving such teaching. Similarly one can read several contradicting statements in Mahabharata. And if we quote them out of context, to use them for our immediate (selfish) purpose, then we will miss the meaning and purpose of those teachings completely.
For example Mahabharata says: That person who desires to celebrate a sacrifice is regarded as righteous even if he happens to be a thief, a sinner of the worst of sinners. [Bhishma to Yudhisthira].2
Here the context is to emphasis the importance of sacrifice. And Mahabharata not promotes or approves sin or theft here.
Dayanand Bharati, Gurukulam, February 10, 2010
- 18. …No vicious-minded man can ever expound the mysteries of virtue and vice.19. As it is very difficult for a Sudra to learn the mysteries of eternal religion. I do not consider you to be a Sudra. There must be some reason for all this. 20. You must have been born as a Sudra as a result of your past Karma (in a previous birth). O high-souled one, I eagerly desire to learn truth of this matter. Tell this to me with attention and according to your inclination. [Kunshika to Fowler]… 22. …I was a Brahmana previously (in my another birth); I was well-read in the Vedas and learned in the Vedangs. 23. Through my own fault I have been degraded to my present state… [Fowler to Kunshika].— M.N. Dutt, Mahabharata,Delhi, Parimala Publications, 1988,Vol. 2.Vanaparva,Ch. CCXIV. p. 323
2. ibid. Vol. 6. Shanti Parva, Ch. LX. p. 90