On July 31, we discussed the Three Ways to Liberation in the Eternal Dharma. In that article, we described the major movements that established the primacy of each of these ways in Indian society. Today, we take a non-dhaarmic look at the successes as well as unintended consequences of these ways on Indian society.
The way of Karma or Direct Action as described in the Vedic Texts was a very different Dharma than what is found today in India. It was a martial dharma and the Vedic Sages combined the Dhaarmic or Scriptural Objectives with the earthly objectives of expanding Eternal Dharma across many boundaries. The great Sage Agasthya went south, Sage Jamadagni went to the Narmada River area and his son, Parashu-Ram went as far south as Keral. The great epics of this period were Ramayan and Mahaa-Bhaarat.
In fact, it can be argued that the Mahaa-Bhaarat War, a fratricidal war of great destruction in which virtually an entire generation died, marked a pivotal point in the Karma or Direct Action Tradition. During the several centuries that followed, we see the slow ascendancy of Karma–Kaand or Ritualistic Tradition of Eternal Dharma.
Emergence of MahaaVir & Buddha
The next major development we see is the birth of Mahaavir and Buddha. Mahaavir established the Jain Dharma, a non-violent and ascetic path to liberation. Then Buddha extended this path to expound his own doctrine of Nirvaan and non-violence. It may be noted that these paths rose after a period of relative prosperity and absence of foreign influences. Both the Jains and Buddhists shunned use of Samskrut as the language of Vedic elites. The Jains developed the language Ardha-Maagadhi and the Buddhists developed Praakrut as their main language. Samskrut fell into relative oblivion in which it remained for about 3-4 centuries.
The rise of Buddhism to the dominant position in India and the surrounding world began with the conversion of Emperor Ashok. This was the Chand-Ashok or the Evil-Ashok who had conquered the entire Indo-Afghan region up to the boundaries of Iran and Central Asia before his conversion. Ashok became as energetic an evangelist as he was a conqueror. For the next 3-4 centuries, Buddhism ruled in India and in the surrounding world.
The Buddhists took the Vedic tradition of Samnyaas or Renunciation to the next level. In Eternal Dharma, Samnyaas was a personal decision and a vocation. The Buddhists organized this concept and established orders of Bhikshu (monks) and Bhiskhuni all over India and Asia. Later, this became the model for orders of Christian Priests and Nuns. The Bhikshu and Bhikshuni would live a simple, celibate, unwordly lifestyle and do good. They were respected and honored.
But after 3-4 centuries, the Buddhist Orders became stale and the Bhikshu-Bhikshuni began having problems with celibacy and their simplistic lifestyle. This is eerily similar to the recent disclosures of problems with Christian Catholic priests.
Re-Emergence of Samskrut and Vedic Religion
Around 150CE, Rudra-Raman of Gujrat composed a massive inscription in what was to become modern Samskrut, a wonderfully poetic language of Kavya or poetry and Vangmaya or literature. For more details see the article Emergence of Samskrut from 500 Years of Rejection in India.
Simultaneously India saw establishment of Kingdoms dedicated to Vedic Dharma all over the country. Within a century, came the Gupta Empire and the Golden Age of Indian Civilization with Mathematicians & Astronomers like Aryabhatta, creators like Bana (who created the concept of a novel in his Kadam-Bari) and great poets like Kalidas.
By the 8th century, the dominant doctrine of the land was Karma–Kaand or Vedic Ritualistic Practices. This was the other concept of Karma we described in our Three Ways to Liberation article. The pinnacle of this movement came with the dominance of Kumarilla-Bhatta , the great Vedic lion as he was called.
But Indian society still respected and favored the Buddhist Bhikshu tradition of simplicity, morality and asceticism. In contrast, the Karma-Kaand practices were splendourous, complicated and elite in nature. Unfortunately, Karma-Kaand became the preserve of the elite of Eternal Dharma.
Into this picture stepped Shankar-Aachaarya.
Shankar-Aachaarya and the Dominance of Samnyaas
In our opinion, the greatest contribution of Shankar-Aachaarya is that he made Eternal Dharma accessible and appealing to the broad Indian Society. To do so, he needed to rescue Eternal Dharma from the control of the elite.
He first step was to defeat the Karma-Kaand elite by defeating them in their own arena, the arena of Vedanta debate. Kumarilla-Bhatta was near his death when Shankar-Aachaarya approached him. The next step for Shankar-Aachaarya was to debate Kumarilla-Bhatta’s torchbearer Mandan Mishra. The story of Shankar-Aachaarya’s victory in this debate was told in Story from the Past – 9 on this Blog. Soon, he was recognized as the greatest Vedanta authority in the world.
Shankar-Aachaarya minimized the use of ritualistic practices and established Samnyaas and Jnyaan as the dominant doctrine. He preached simple ascetic living and established Matha in the four corners of India. This doctrine was the right path for the times and Indian society embraced this ascetic or Samnyaasi path as the Way to Liberation.
This was a great victory and the result was the total defeat of Buddhism in India. Shankar-Aachaarya passed away at the young age of 32 in early 9th century. Due to his epoch-making work, Buddhism essentially disappeared as a major religion from India.
The Unintended Consequences of the Shankar-Aachaarya Path
What we write in this section are simply and exclusively our reflections. These do not reflect the thought of any authority of Vedanta or Indian Dharma. These are not even reflections but questions we pose to ourselves.
If you look at the history of Indian Kingdoms from 200 CE to the pre-Shankar-Aachaarya period, you see a tradition of conquest beyond the territory of India. For example, Samudra-Gupta and Chandra-Gupta II extended Indian rule to areas beyond today’s Afghanistan. But we rarely see this attitude post Shankar-Aachaarya. History shows that after a long period of conquest, societies tend to get rich, complacent and lose their drive for further wars in pursuit of greater riches. So the decline in the conquering spirit could be explained in this manner.
But we do wonder whether the Samnyaas doctrine established by Shankar-Aachaarya and the philosophy of Brahma Satyam, Jagat Mithya (Brahman is the ultimate truth and life is an illusion) persuaded Indian Kingdoms and Indian Society to look down on foreign expeditions and conquests. If Jagat is Mithya or if wordly life is an illusion, how can one justify expensive foreign expeditions simply to expand kingdoms and bring home wealth?
If true, it would explain why there is no record of Indian Kingdoms invading Afghanistan or areas beyond after the Shankar-Aachaarya period. This proved to be tragic.
Because within a century of the death of Shankar-Aachaarya, Mahmoud of Ghazni attacked Panjab, Rajasthan and Gujrat. He sacked the enormously rich temple of Somnath and plundered it without any retribution from Indian Kingdoms. The pattern of Ghazni was repeated again and again by Kingdoms of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, all areas captured previously by the Gupta Empire.
No Indian Kingdom attacked Attock, Peshawar or Kandahar from 800 CE to 1758 CE, a period of almost 1,000 years. Every Indian Kingdom in North India stayed in its boundaries and waited for the next attack by the invaders from the North-West. Yet, none of them thought of uniting and attacking the homelands of the invaders to forestall further invasions.
This is so radically different from the attitude that prevailed in the pre-800 CE period that it gives us pause. It makes us wonder this lack of desire to invade others was an unintended consequence of the Samnyaas doctrine of Shankar-Aachaarya.
The Great Success of the Bhakti Movement as the Savior of Eternal Dharma
Ever wonder why the neighbors of India to the left and right succumbed to Islam and are now Muslim countries, but, India despite about 600 years of Muslim rule, did not convert to Islam and remained true to its founding Dharma.
The answer, according to us, is the Bhakti movement.
The Samnyaas movement of Shankar-Aachaarya defeated Buddhism and regained the primacy of Eternal Dharma. But after a couple of centuries, the Samnyaasi tradition lost its luster and the Matha established by Shankar-Aachaarya became isolated from the common people of India.
In other words, the Eternal Dharma was again in danger of being relegated to a religion dominated by the few. The language was Samskrut, the concepts were difficult to grasp and there was a lack of every day relevance for the common people.
It is the magic of Eternal Dharma that when there is a need, there rises a figure or a movement that rescue Dharma. The Bhakti movement began with the Vedanta doctrine of Ramanuj-Aachaarya in the 11th century and was backed by Maadhav-Aachaarya in the 13th century (see our article The Four Aachaarya ). These were movements that began in South India.
Then, in the 13th century, arose Dnyaaneshwar in Mahaarashtra who translated the Bhagwat-Geeta into Maraathi. This was a pivotal step, an act of enormous significance. Dnyaaneshwar brought the Eternal Dharma and the Bhagwat-Geeta to the common people of Mahaarashtra in their own langauge, in simple easily understood concepts. This local language Bhakti movement spread to all parts of India with Saints in each region speaking to people in their own language. This was the movement that made Eternal Dharma the proud possession of the common people of India. They embraced it as their own and modified it for their local use.
This was a mass movement of continental proportions. The Muslim Rulers could not compete however hard they tried. The smart ones realized very quickly that trying to change it would force the wrath of the majority and they chose to co-exist with the religion of the majority.
This we believe is the reason why despite centuries of Muslim Rule, India never became Muslim. The Eternal Dharma in its Bhakti form had become a deeply held personal religion of the common people of India. The British tried to change Indian society and impose their culture. They succeeded with many of the elite. But the common people of India never embraced any other philosophy or religion.
The Unintended Consequences of the Bhakti Movement?
The Bhakti movement transformed Eternal Dharma into a personal religion, a path to be practiced by each person in spiritual harmony with a personal God. It was a path that taught that devotion to God was the way to liberation while doing one’s daily duties. Its great success was uniting the country into one religious path and protecting the Eternal Dharma & Indian Culture from foreign pressures or influences.
Its drawback was that the personal and devotional nature of Bhakti Marg preached contentedness and elimination of anger. Its personal nature minimized the need for a common earthly goal or objective.
Ala-Ud-Din Khilji, the greatest Muslim conqueror of the last 1,000 years, was coronated in Delhi the year Dnyaaneshwar passed away in Mahaarashtra. It was Ala-Ud-Din Khilji who invaded and conquered South India. He and his slave general Malik Kafur ran rampant with their armies all over India just as the Bhakti Marg was expanding and conquering the minds and souls of Indians all over India.
The Bhakti Marg saw no inherent contradiction between the rule of Muslim Afghan, Uzbeck invaders and the practice of Bhakti for eternal salvation.
Let us be clear. This is not a critique of Bhakti Marg. The spread of Eternal Dharma across all sections of Indian Society and the protection of Indian culture from foreign influences is an enormous success of Bhakti Marg. All of us owe our eternal gratitude to the Saints, Aachaarya and disciples of Bhakti Marg for their enormous achievement.
But we do wonder whether an unintended consequence of Bhakti Marg was a meek acceptance of Muslim rule.
The Re-Emergence of Karma
In 1650, a young man called Shivaji stood up and proclaimed his goal of a Hindu Swaraj. This was different from many of the other local revolts or wars against Muslim rule, including that of his own father. The goal of Shivaji was not his kingdom but a kingdom of Hindus, the prevalent name at that time for Eternal Dharma.
He transformed the entire state of Mahaarashtra into a movement for Indian Swaraj. He won big, big enough for Gaga-Bhatta. the Head Priest of Varanasi, to travel to Pune to persuade Shivaji to become Chakravarti or Crowned Emperor. Poet Bhushan left the court of Aurangzeb to travel to Pune to become the Raj-Kavi or Chief Poet of the Maraathaa Kingdom.
The torch of Shivaji was carried by his entire people and his successors. Baji Rao, the greatest general of India for the past 1,000 years, reconquered all of North India. His son, Raghunath Rao took his army into today’s Pakistan and Afghanistan. They conquered Lahore, Multan and Attock.
This campaign led Ahmed Shah Abdali to come down to Delhi. A section of the Maraathaa Army marched from Pune, this time under an inexperienced general. The battle of Panipat in 1761 was the largest battle in the world of the 18th century. The Maraathaa Army lost this battle but they won the war. Ahmed Shah Abdali realized he was lucky to win and swore never to come into India again. The Maraathaa Army under Mahadaji Shinde captured Delhi and made the weak Mughal King as their protectorate.
This ended the 1,000 year history of Afghans invading India. It was prompted by embracing the martial components of Eternal Dharma as a supporting doctrine to the Bhakti Marg. It was an embrace of the Karma philosophy of Bhagwat-Geeta and of Vedanta. It was an embrace of the conquering prowess of Shri Ram and the anger of Bhagwan Shankar and Bhawani.
One hundred years after the battle of Panipat, Bal Gangadhar Tilak was born. It was he who resurrected the Karma doctrine of the Bhagwat-Geeta in his monumental work Geeta-Rahasya or the Secret of Geeta. He wrote this treatise during his six-year prison term in Mandalay, Burma imposed by the British.
His teachings were incorporated and modified by Mahatma Gandhi who called himself a disciple of Tilak. Gandhi embraced the Karma philosophy (his entire life teaches us that) but expressed it in the language of Bhakti Marg.
Gandhi was the genius who converted the personal nature of Bhakti Marg into a national movement for Swaraj. His favorite phrase वैष्णव जन तो तेणे कहिये जे पीड परायी जाने रे (Vaishnava Jana To Tene Kahiye Jo Bid Parayi Jaane Re) or the True follower of Vishnu is one who understands the trouble of others.
At that time, every Indian was troubled by British rule. This simple Bhakti statement made common cause against the British a dictum of the devotion to Vishnu. It made the nonobedience of British rule into a path of Bhakti. It worked and the British left India in 1947.
The above is our interpretation of the Three Way to Liberation, their history in Eternal Dharma, their successes and their unintended consequences.
With this behind us, we are ready to embark on our reflections on the Bhagwat-Geeta.
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