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The Moorings of My Morality

[Trish asks me to talk about morality. My morality. The cockeyed morality of the spinner of edgy tales and dubious theories about what’s right and wrong with man-woman relationships.

And I’ve promised Sreelatha, in the context of her storytelling, that I would tell her the Islamic story of creation, which I consider as a touchstone of my own personal dharma. No, it’s not the story of how animals were created, but about how Man (of both sexes) and the The Evil One were created simultaneously in a single incident… and most importantly, what it is about The Evil One that man must fear most.

That’s my excuse for this post. Forgive me, Amit Khanna, for cheating you yet again out of that new fix of verbal viagra that you’re so eagerly waiting for. I promise I’ll try and deliver the contraband next time. In the meantime, kindly adjust.]

A Beautiful Koranic Story — my telling of it

Many million years after God had finished creating the universe, and earth with its flora and fauna, and humankind, he summoned all the malaks (elemental spirits such as Fire, Water etc.) and asked them to bow before Man. “Bow to him, for him I have placed above you,” said Allah.

The malaks hesitated, protesting, “We have served Your Will at all times, and in all these eons, we have never disobeyed. But this forked creature, this new creation, whom you set above us, has disobedience at his very core. He is rebellious, and will question Your Word at every step. How can you place him above us and ask us to bow before him?”

But Allah was unrelenting. “Bow, for I am the Maker of the Earth and the Heavens, and I know better what lies in this creature’s heart,” he commanded. “I shall not set you above him, and he shall bow to me alone, and to no other.”

All the malaks meekly obeyed. All except one, whose name was Iblis. Iblis rebelled. “I shall not bow before Man. I shall approach him from various directions, in various guises, as various entities, and I shall turn his heart away from You. Again and again, Man shall bow before me, and thereby, I shall prove to You, Allah, how flawed is this creation of yours.”

Iblis, the rebellious one, whom we now know as Evil, was at once cast out. But he continues to approach Man and make him bow before himself. Man, Proud Man, who was ordained to bow before none other than his Creator, is thus reduced to the state of a craven dog, bowing before a multitude of things.

Key points that I take from this story

Humankind is pre-ordained to hold its head high, and bow BEFORE NONE OTHER than the Creator, the One & Only, the Supreme. And Iblis continually deludes humankind in various guises… approaching them as wealth, love, honour, happiness, order, peace, as well as the more obvious vices, such as jealousy, anger, vanity and love of comfort.

Whenever we become so attached to any of these that we can be said to bow before them, we cease to be above them. For instance, can you take a 500-rupee note and tear it up, just like that? Or let it go free in the wind, just like that? No? Then I would say you’re bowing before it, that Iblis, in the guise of money, has enslaved you.

You love your Honour. How much? Do you love it so much that you will not do anything to jeopardize it, no matter what? Then congratulate Iblis, for it is he in the guise of Honour. And he won again. You lost. As for Allah, he neither wins nor loses, no matter what the outcome.

Your peace, comfort and the status quo – do you attach so much importance to it that it is paramount in your life? That nothing will induce you to disturb the peaceful everyday continuity of your life? Then Iblis — Evil — has struck at your heart again, and paralysed it. You now hold your peace and comfort to be above Allah. And you have lost that singular dignity that Allah bestowed upon you.

This is my religion. It is a religion that jealously guards Liberty — the liberty of Man to bow to nothing — Sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahin — except the Ultimate One. The nature of liberty is such that it must be jealously guarded, day and night, deep down within you, in your heart… because it is in your heart that the banner of liberty first rises, or ultimately falls. No government, no law-and-order, no religion, no Guru, no doctrine, no parents, no collective or individual morality – NOTHING will preserve that liberty for you if your heart lays it down, and lies down in the relative comfort of slavery.

This is a religion of the fierce. The religion of those who will preserve the wildness in their heart, and will not be tamed by circumstances.

Bhagwad Gita

You can see this same truth through the prism of the Bhagwad Gita, and you will see nish-kaama karma — Action sans Attachment to consequences. Then you’ll see me saying, do your dharma at every given moment. And your dharma, my friend, is not written in any holy textbook or manual. At every given moment, you need to look deep within your heart, your soul, and seek to know what YOUR dharma is.

There are a few useful pointers in this regard. One is the injunction, Para-dharma bhayavaha: Fear the dharma of others. (No, it does not mean something silly like, “Hindus, beware of Islam”.) It means, don’t look to others to know about your dharma; what others say may be their truth, but it will not be YOUR truth, your dharma. Your dharma is what you must do; beware of seking to do what other people say.

And what, my friend, is YOUR truth? How do you seek it at key moments of your life — the moments when you come to a fork on the road, and must decide whether to take the “Road Less Travelled By?”, or the “Straight and Narrow Path” or the safe “Middle path”? And how do you act upon it?

I’ll give you the answer to this as a bunch of riddles and questions. And I’ll give you a big hint. But not the answer.

I hope you have a certain amount of familiarity with the Mahabharata.

The Riddles:

1) Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava, was the most truthful and honest one. He clung to the Truth, and was synonymous with Dharma. His other name was Dharmaraya. And yet Lord Krishna befriended not Yudhisthira but Arjuna, the middle brother, whose claim to fame was not his Truth, but his archery. Why?

2) Arjuna was the one who won Draupadi for all his brothers (Ah, lucky Draupadi with five different types of studs for husbands :))) and he won her at a unique archery contest. It was a contest where the archer had to look down into the pool of water but shoot up at the eye of a turning fish. Bearing in mind that Arjuna was Krishna’s chosen one, tell me what this archery situation symbolizes.

Hint: Think of hitting the eye of the fish as the ONE right action that you must perform in a given difficult set of circumstances.

I’ll tell you my interpretation — my answer — after all my friends have responded. (Hopefully, that will be today or tomorrow.) In the meanwhile, let’s all have a ball, arguing back and forth in the comment book and our guestbooks.

Posted in Philosophy.

25 Responses

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  1. sreelatha chakravarty says

    contd…”bow” and ”arrow” are our weapons in life called “conscience” and “beliefs” which we can use to seek the higher truth(so, look down inside you to find the higher truth above everone else”s truthi.e. the society”s truth!)

  2. sreelatha chakravarty says

    My answer to riddle2 remains almost the same-Arjuna”s perception was focussed(play the ball at the merit of the ball kind of… targetting just the eye..kind of)and this the coach(Krishna) knew-his ”crisis man” ,whose hands would not shiver though he knew the truth of the big picture where as others cannot focus on the target coz they mostly have the big picture in their minds.Symbolism?Water is ”society”(what will people say and all those fears included);”fish” is our reflection in the water as perceived by everyone(very mobile and malleable to perceptions)e”eye” is the one unique truth in all of us that only we can see but only if we look carefully!

  3. dee vine says

    …….Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly…… Ok Ghost, we”re all here… now give your gyan, get your kicks…

  4. dee vine says

    this is getting WAY too philosophical for my pea brain………..

  5. amit khanna says

    archery requires considerable degree of skill and subtlety unlike wielding an axe or throwing a spear.That is why krishna took the top archerer and not the top spear thrower.
    Reflections are a mirror image of the truth. Reflections may lie therefore it is upto the beholder to make sense of lies, images,reflections and obtain nirvana.
    The eye sees the truth.Although later the truth may be colored by perceptions, leanings, education etc. But the image recorded by the pupils is the truth.
    Perception is the filter through which colors the images you see. And it is a sum of lifes experiences. So one may interpret images in different ways depending on perception.
    Truth comes in shades and the way u see it depends upon your perception. Arjuna had to see through the haze(reflection) and see the truth in its correct avatar(revolving eye) aided by his super knowledge(archery).

  6. amit khanna says

    That was some explanation Trishna. I am still wet behind my ears but i do understand parts of it. But it is good.

  7. Trishna Mumbai says

    “Still, I”d like you to examine the metaphor of the water, bow-pulling, looking down, reflection, shooting, arrow flying, rotating fish, fish”s eye… and finally the archer himself. ” – Ok heres an attempt…water has two properties, being able to reflect and being an universal solvent.. “the truth” is seamlessly mingled into our lives…we sometimes need to take a perspective from a distance, a neutral perspective without adding emotion, to be able to view it in its entirety….the fish rotates – just the way our truth evolves, takes on new meanings…the fish”s eye is reflective of that moment of finally being able to say I now see the core, the only truth through the evolving phase…the bow is the dharma which sets the directions and acts as a launch pad…the arrow is the karma we indulge in, to target the truth (fish”s eye)…and finally the archer…there is a GOD in you, the truth dwells in you, you are not separate from the truth…. cheers, T

  8. Trishna Mumbai says

    Metaphorically speaking the eye of the fish, I think is the “one truth” we seek…the water is symbolic of our life, the reflection of the truth is what we see in our life…the one truth is never visible in its naked form, we see reflections/traces of it in our daily life…the bow and arrow is symbolic of being the device (karma) that we use to get to the truth…in the bhagwad it is mentioned that “pandavralli, arjuna nanu” – which translates to Krishna saying that, among the pandavas, Arjuna is me…cheers, T

  9. amit khanna says

    ”Are we saying here that God favours love of TARGETTED ACTION over love of TRUTH?”. My answer to that is yes.Gods take sides too. And he is mighty choosy too. He is this scheming fella who loves to be in an win win situation. Therefore he allies with the fastest, the strongest,the fittest and the most malleable. I dont see how u can say that He gives precedence to truth over might. The concept of truth is colored by which side of the fence you are sitting. Truth exists in shades of grey and not in black or white. Krishna had his own interpretation of truth and arjun suited his scheme of things.

  10. Friendly Ghost says

    REPLY TO AMIT: Amit, read some of the other replies (and my responses to their replies) and see if they give you more of a clue. Nobody has hit bull”s eye yet. But please don”t involve Karna and other story characters in the answer. For the second riddle especially, think in abstract terms, and articulate what each thing symbolizes. What does the fish”s eye symbolize? The water? The bow? The arrow? Why must Arjuna look down at the reflection in the water and shoot up at the target? Are we doing something similar? When, where, how? Socho, dost, socho! :) FG

  11. Friendly Ghost says

    REPLY TO DEE VINE: Dee, you wrote: “The manipulator that Krishna was, he might have been on the lookout for a sharp foot soldier, who was impressionable enough to believe in his mighty theories. Krishna made him believe that killing his own bretheren was just his karma. He clouded his foresight by convincing him to just do play his role well and not bother about the fruits it bore. Maybe Arjuna had the right amount of valour, naiveté, skill and loyalty that Krishna could play upon. Yudhistir had a staunch, irrational disposition. He would”ve proved too conditioned, too rigid for Krishna to play upon.” Dee, not too many people criticize the Mahabharata and Bhagwat Gita. I”m glad to see a fellow-critic. You just articulated my own thinking: overall, Krishna”s argument was WRONG, and Arjuna”s qualms about killing his own family were 100% RIGHT. Krishna confused him with his philosophy, and caused a bloodbath. However, as far as the riddles go, that ain”t bulls-eye.

  12. Friendly Ghost says

    REPLY TO SREE: Arjuna was a “Man of Action”- a ””Doer””. That”s a pretty good answer to question one, Sree. But why did that make him Krishna”s favourite? Are we saying here that God favours love of TARGETTED ACTION over love of TRUTH? To hit the bull”s eye, give me your reasoning :) FG

  13. Friendly Ghost says

    REPLY TO TRISHNA & DEE: Charge of arrogance — I plead guilty. This is an arrogant philosophy. I have many other soft, gently, humble philosophies that keep me sane and humble, but this is the philosophy that enables me to perform surgery on myself and on others in my life. So naturally it”s like a sharp instrument. It”s the one that helps me choose MY path when I come to turning points and forks — junctures at which sentimentality and gentleness usually cloud one”s reasoning, and reluctance to cause pain to near-and-dear ones prevents one from acting decisively. Think it over; it”s a good philosophy.

  14. dee vine says

    Yup and I second Trishna”s observation of ”arrogance” lurking in ”This is my Religion” part…..

  15. dee vine says

    Ok so Arjuna was a Doer. Good that’s point A. With my limited knowledge of Mahabharata I”d like to say – The super politician, manipulator that dear Krishna was… he might have been on the lookout for a sharp foot soldier, who was impressionable enough to believe in Krishna”s mighty theories [Bhagwat Gita]. Krishna made him believe that killing his own bretheren was just his karma. He clouded his foresight by convincing him to just do play his role well and not bother about the fruits it bore. Maybe Arjuna had the right amount of valour, naiveté, skill and loyalty that Krishna could play upon. Yudhistir despite his lofty degree of sorts in Dharma, had a staunch, irrational disposition [Why did he not walk out of the gambling fiasco while he still had his palace and wife?]. Also for his ”dharma” he did twist the ashwathama”s death announcement. He would”ve proved too conditioned, too rigid for Krishna to play upon.

  16. sreelatha chakravarty says

    “Man of Action”-a ”Doer”- that”s why!Is that the one answer that can hit the bull”s eye.Quiz-master it”s me again who has sounded the buzzer!

  17. Trishna Mumbai says

    Dear FG, I get that in loud words, sar jhuka sakte nahin…and i smell an arrogance in that…there lies an arrogance in your declaration of liberty…i cant quite put my finger to it, but its lurking there…i have found in my own experience that most spiritual encounters are humbling…so it puzzles me…hmm, I need to think about what my truth is…honestly, never given thought to it…it certainly is in the realm which involves the lives that touch mine too, though “our truths” are personal, I guess they touch our stake holders too…archery to my mind, symbolises single minded devotion to a goal…the eye/centre of the target is the only thing which is visible to a true archer…i need to think some more… T

  18. Soaring Eagle says

    every blog has these characters: buddy memon, amit, friendly ghost, sreelatha, and wisest of them all Trishna. A good circle and a caucas. Nothing wrong with that but you fellas leave a comment on my “self description” one too. Petty intelligent people too.

  19. sreelatha chakravarty says

    Riddle one:If Yuddhistra”s dharma was” truth”,me thinks,Arjun”s was “Justice” and so Krishna chose one who was ready to act for justice than one who just knew how to accept the truth!

    Riddle two:Arjun kept his focus on the work at hand rather than focus on the bigger picture i.e. winning the contest & marrying draupadi!(like Sachin Tendulkar should-play the ball on the merit of the ball rather than concentrate on trying to win the match for India-something that me thinks, Dravid is capable of doing better.)

  20. Monishikha RoyChoudhury says

    FG: The story is called “Lets be Frank” by Brian W Aldiss, it”s a favourite of mine…and since I spent some time finding it on the net and very little pasting it on my blog, maybe you could have a read….

  21. amit khanna says

    The other riddle is tricky and i honestly havent a clue. But lemme try…….hmm. ok maybe it was the case of the best man winning. but then karna was a better archer than he. i am forgetting did karna participate,i think he did participate but if he was indeed the best archerer then why and how did he lose. Anyways arjuna won draupadi coz he was doing the right thing at the right time nothing less. I think it was a question of motivation,preparation and luck.

  22. amit khanna says

    why did krishna choose Arjun? Well it is quite simple isnt it. Krishna chose arjun becuse in the field of the battle he needed a doer. Since Krishna was a world class management guru he chose a pupil who had the requisites for the job. Arjun was a world class archer only bested by karna so he took him under his tutelage. IN the field he motivated arjun and brought out the best in him. Yudhister was a honest man a good man and his skills at archery were nothing to crow about. Morever he was more of a thinker than a doer. IN the heat of the battle it is actions that count. Braver the man bigger his deed.

  23. Monishikha RoyChoudhury says

    FG,read this one,have to do the whole morning routine thing and for a change my hubby”s got a chutti..,so will reread and comment in a while:)

  24. amit khanna says

    ok i understand the role of the elements like water fire wind etc but what about iblis.I mean he was evil rite so what did he do before he was shown the door. If he was indeed gods creation then he must have felt neglected. I think he had enough of his superiors and since he had considerable talents he decided to run his own show where he would be his own boss. The rest were too dumb to strike it alone and hence remained put in His team.I think it was a question of bad management. He should have been shown the door. Unfortunately he was the top man and his will ruled.

  25. amit khanna says

    no its allrite with me. i find it interesting and illuminating.carry on

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