On 5th September 2015 in our weekly discussions, one bhakta asked, “What are the hidden social norms and values which could help a Hindu bhakta find a solution to everyday issues where the Muktiveda is silent?”
I said that a Hindu need not approach life’s issue based on the philosophical or theological reflections to scripture. The ‘faith’ of a bhakta of the Lord demands (or expects) that decisions in life should be endorsed by Muktivedic principles, or at least they should not oppose them. While a Christian has regular fellowship with her church where she can get help and guidance, in our mandali most of the bhaktas are scattered without any regular physical fellowship. Therefore, practical life issues can become challenging.
We should understand that while a church provides physical fellowship to its members, it cannot provide solutions to the issues of each member. Most Christians go to church to worship the Lord, not seeking solution to their life’s issues. Interestingly, at least in India, Christians also live in a dharmic society where they find their solution in the family, community and society.
Even if they approach the church or local leader, without understanding all her family norms, the leader can give only an artificial solution in the name of Muktiveda. This can be dangerous because the individual member of the church is controlled by the church, whereas she has to live in a society which is outside the influence of the church. A Hindu finds her solution within her family and community without often seeking it from her religious leaders or even spiritual gurus.
My personal view in this regard is that no religious leader or spiritual preceptor should give any ready-made solution to practical issues in life. They should always remain more of an inspiration than a guide when it comes to people’s social needs. Of course, life cannot be divided into water-tight compartments, and a Hindu may seek social answers from her guru, but the guru should be sensitive (and matured) enough to point out that she need to seek the answer within her family and community which alone provides identity and security.
When someone asks me for a solution to a life problem, my standard response is, “If you cannot learn from your parents, elders and relatives, I cannot give you a better answer.” From my practical experience I can say that even if so-called gurus give a solution, most people are not going to implement it since the solution is more objective and philosophical and doesn’t apply to the specific context.
And as a joke, when someone asked the question, “What is the final solution that any Swamiji or guru can give?”, there was only a two-word solution to all relationship issues: ‘ADJUST MAADI’ [Just adjust]. Everyone knows this solution, but everyone expects the OTHER to adjust.
Coming back to theologizing every issue, thankfully the Muktiveda never prescribes any ready-made solution to every issue in life, but rather left most of them open to God-given social norms. Where the Muktiveda is silent, a bhakta should seek that solution.
The question will then come: What if social norms go against the Muktivedic principles? From my understanding, God has created order both in society and creation. Any solution that distrubs or destroys that order will bring harm both to the individual and to the society. We shouldn’t do that.
Next anything that separates me from the Lord is a sin, and we should not do that as well. At the same time we must be careful to never allow anyone to create a guilty conscience by giving an incorrect interpretation of a Muktivedic principle.
When a bhakta is not sure, she should approach her mentor, well-wishers and preceptors. If she is still not clear then the mandali can be approached. In a few cases the majority decision may not be correct and then the individual should do as per the guidance of her conscience.1 According to the Hindu scriptures, when ‘scriptures, dharma, achara (right conduct of noble people) fails, then conscience is the best pramana (criteria) to take decision on any moral issue2.
Here a Hindu bhakta has an advantage over converts and other Hindus. Most converts remain victims because of the Christian solutions to her social problems. A Hindu, for whom the life is not divided in water-tight compartments, can set aside her scriptural solution without a guilty conscience as she has her dharmic solution. But for us, our approach is ‘God-centered’, but sometimes we need to look beyond the Muktivedic principle as God has given the social order for us to find the solution. Let me again insist this: THE MUKTIVEDA NEVER GIVES (Ready-Made) SOLUTIONS TO ALL ISSUES IN LIFE.
As usual, marriage is a good example. Family came first and marriage rituals (including marriage as a samskara/ceremony) came very late. Converts are wrongly guided by the wrong interpretation of the verse ‘don’t be yoked unequally’ (2 Cor 6:14). According to my understanding, the Muktiveda is silent on this issue. And the God-given social order is: don’t do anything that will disturb or destroy that social order, which may vary according to place and time. In other words, in the name of ‘theologizing’ don’t bring ‘faith’ as the criteria into it.
- Democracy, which works based on concessions arrived with majority decision, is un-Muktivedic. Sometimes our moral obligation will force us to go against the majority view. Taking the personal risk, for which the individual should accept all the responsibility (and the majority may or may not come to her rescue, if she ends up disaster) is the only option left. Though this cannot be a universal principle, it should be decided case-by-case. In a home or mandali, ‘who is right and who is wrong’ is not the question, but ‘what is correct what is not’. Outside the home and mandali, both ‘who’ and ‘what’ can be the issue.
- Another point we must note is that in these very perplexing moral situations, Rama and Sita do not take refuge in the ‘authority’ but use their reason and try to do what is best under the given circumstances, i.e., when the voice of authority failed to guide them, they found conscience to be the best guide.— Benjamin Khan, The Concept of Dharma in Valmiki Ramayana, Delhi, Munshi Ram Manoharlal, 1965, p. 143.
…The authorities enumerated are as follows: (1) Scriptures, (2) dharmasastras, (3) Virtues cultivated by the (Vedic) scholars, (4) The good conduct of the honest, and (5) Satisfaction of the heart, or own conscience. Here the intended rational basis of dharma is clearly endorsed. The commentator Kulluka quotes the view of Garga, another author of dharmasastra: Satisfaction of the conscience is the only authority in cases of (unresolvable) conflicting alternatives. The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Ethics and Epics, ed. Jonardon Ganeri, New Delhi, Oxford, 2002, p. 76