Tag Archives: Dharma

Dharmacracy in Mental Health

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 20% of all teen hospitalizations in the US between January 1 and March 31, 2021, were due to psychiatric emergencies. In addition, a University of California San Francisco study found a “75% increase in children requiring immediate hospitalization for mental health needs” in 2020 over a year before. The study also found a “130% increase in the number of children requiring hospitalization for eating disorders” and a 66% increase in the number of suicidal adolescents (ages 10-17) in the emergency department.  

The Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a ‘State of Emergency’ for youth mental health.

 The last 18 months have been one of the toughest for kids in recent times, no matter how we look at it. However, we can also argue that most of the pain and suffering inflicted upon them during this period have resulted from politics and unscientific policies of school closing. Kids stuck at home; not able to go to school for the whole year; not able to play sports, participate in tournaments, plays, and musicals; not able to visit family and grandparents; not able to see faces hidden behind masks; not able to attend or host birthday and graduations parties —  they all have had a cumulative effect on children’s mental health and overall wellness. 

Add to this the news of socio-political strife; violence; lawlessness; non-stop pictures and videos of burning funeral pyres being played on our TV sets, newspapers, and social media feeds; scarcity of oxygen and other medical supplies for COVID patients, including our friends and family. These combined, present a commentary of a stark, bleak, and gloomy situation of the world we live in.  

How we explain what is going on around us depends on the way we look at the world. Most of our present-day ideas have been shaped by the Western worldview. This worldview is predominantly atomistic that uses binaries such as ‘either/or,’ ‘true/false,’’ ‘left/right,’ ‘for/against,’ ‘liberal/conservative. These antagonistic binaries are in constant conflict with each other. It is also a worldview of excluded middle. 

The ordering of the world, in this worldview, is anthropocentric. Human beings are considered the central entity of the universe where only human life has intrinsic value. In contrast, other entities are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind. 

On the other hand, dharma is the universal law that connects the individual to the rest of the world in a quantum way — that is, it is the same righteous law that binds each element of the cosmos. The Mahabharata defines dharma in the following manner:

  • dharma is so-called because it sustains and upholds the people: hence whatever sustains is dharma.
  • dharma is propounded to secure the good of all living beings: hence, whatever fulfills that aim is dharma.
  • What comes from the love for all beings is dharma. This is the criterion to judge dharma from adharma.

dharma is the spirit of Indic culture. The very essence of a Dharmic life lies in maintaining the equilibrium of the opposites. The opposites, including good and evil, are seen as complementary. Neither can be denied or completely suppressed without running the risk of creating dissonance, both within individuals and in the world around them. This duality of opposites creates and maintains the equilibrium throughout cosmology.

dharma sees conflicts and dissonance as ‘burdening of the Earth,’ which is the disturbing of the equilibrium at multiple levels.  These conflicts are a product of one’s relationship with oneself (not all conflicts are with others) and other elements of the cosmos. Hence a solution must also arise from that relationship. For inner conflicts, one has to look within oneself. Blaming others doesn’t help. Beyond self, as the dissonance and chaos get louder and stronger, the earth gets even more burdened. When the burden gets to unbearable levels, an avatar takes place to unburden the earth finally. Everything starts again afresh. The Dharmic time is circular (kalachakra), not linear.

The concepts of dharma, karma and klesha form the understanding of the cause of all sufferings. The doctrine of karma is defined as the result of an individual’s intentional action through body, speech, or mind. One of the most potent assumptions of the doctrine of karma is that one is in complete control of his/her destiny. Therefore, whatever happens to an individual is a predictable outcome of his/her own choices over time. The theory of karma also states that life does not end at the death of the physical body, and the result of one’s action can be felt in the next lives to come. 

The ultimate goal of life, according to dharma, is Self-realization — the realization of one’s inner Self.

In the Dharmic tradition– Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism– meditation, yoga, and the interplay of philosophy and life occupy a vital place. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (2nd century BCE) explains the yogic techniques to overcome klesha (human misery) and achieve the desired union between self and Brahman, the Supreme Consciousness. The source of klesha is raga, the attachment to worldly desires, and dvesh, the repulsion we feel towards objects that give us unhappiness. The two, combined with avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), and abhinivesh (attachment to life and fear of death), are the sources of all kleshas.

dharma has a lot to offer in every possible field and situation, including mental health. But, unfortunately, we tend to gloss over the basic Dharmic tenets and their profundity. However, these tenets take on new meanings when applied with conviction during extraordinary uncertainty and trouble. 


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

Prakriti and Shakti: The Nature of Feminine Divinity in Hinduism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

With over one billion followers worldwide, Hinduism, also known as the Sanatan Dharma, is the third-largest faith tradition globally. It is also the oldest tradition with an unbroken and recorded history of over 5,000 years. Hinduism is also the only significant faith tradition that recognizes and then manifests through various rituals and worship, the divine form of feminine. In Hindu cosmology, both feminine and masculine forms are accorded equal status. 

Womanhood is generally associated with the notions of fertility, benevolence, and bestower in most indigenous traditions. As symbolic of life and fecundity, motherhood is viewed and celebrated, both conceptually at an abstract level and manifest, in fertility rites throughout the indigenous ‘pagan’ cultures. Hinduism being one of them, is not different in this aspect. 

In the Hindu tradition, the notion of Divine is a complex interplay between purusha — the Self, the Spirit — and prakriti — Nature, the undifferentiated matter of the Universe. In addition, shakti (power) is recognized as the energizing principle of the Universe. It is feminine, and it represents both creation and divinity. It embodies the primordial Energy of the Universe – the ādi shakti.

In the Hindu scheme of things, the notion of purusha and prakriti represents the opposite creative tension that renders them inseparable. They end up being the mirror image of each other. On the other hand, brahmana is the ultimate Consciousness that transcends all qualities, categories, and limitations. 

Mata (mother) Sita, one of the main characters of the epic Ramayana by Valmiki, embodies prakriti. According to Lavanya Vemsani, a professor of Indian History and Religion at Shawnee State University, the symbolism of nature prakariti in Sita’s life events is “unmistakable.”  The spontaneous nature of Sita, Vemsani writes, “can be understood as the natural expression of prakriti (nature), symbolized by forest and female spontaneity in classical Indian literature, especially the Ramayana.” 

According to the legend, Sita was born out of the earth, not from a womb (ayonija). She is described as the daughter of bhūmi (the earth). In the Ramayana, when Raja Janak, Sita’s father, plowed his fields, she sprang up from behind the plow. This, according to Vemsani, “brings to mind the spontaneous sprouting of plant life from the earth in its most natural form, as in the wild… [and thus] the birth of Sita indicates… her closeness to the spontaneous life and her affinity to nature (prakriti).” 

Sita spent 14 years of her life in a forest as vanavāsa (forest exile). During this period, several events such as Sita being dragged off by Viradha, the proposal by Shurapanakha, and the “golden deer” — represent the unfulfilled desires of forest dwellers. Though these desires result in a loss for Sita, it is “in conformity with the nature of the forest where one can desire anything that is likable, spontaneously,” writes Vemsani. 

Sita’s end of life is as natural as her birth as she returns to the earth upon her death. 

On the other hand, shakti is seen as the abstract supreme creative power, the cosmic Mother, out of which all creations come about. It is a universal energy force. While the ultimate reality in the universe is considered and conceived as a powerful, creative, active, and transcendental female, it manifests itself in various forms: mother goddess, warrior goddess, etc. As Uma or Parvati, she is the gentle caring consort of Shiva. As Durga, she rides a tiger which represents the ego and arrogance that must be tamed. In shakti form, the feminine divinity is seen as the fierce savior and protector of the cosmos when in danger. 

Durga (Image from VedicFeed)
Durga (Image from VedicFeed)

Hindu epics are full of Devi (goddesses) stories of the protectors of the righteous and the destroyer of enemies. Kaikeyi and Satyabhama accompanied their husbands to the battlefield. Chandragupta Maurya (century 3rd BCE), the founder of one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent, had his bodyguard corps comprised exclusively of women. 

The underlying duality of the Hindu feminine divinity allows us to understand the role of women in Hindu society. This role is conceptualized through shastras (treatises), puranas (legends and lore), and itihasa (record of important events). Through examples of behavior, these texts establish explicit role models. However, a general rule of thumb in interpreting Hindu texts is to avoid exclusive reliance on foreign translations and academic works as they are often fraught with inaccuracies.  


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


 

In the Mighty Presence of Gandhi Ji

Every October 2nd, August 15th, January 26th, I fondly remember Gandhi Ji.

I was twelve – a young idealist with big dreams for my own life and a compelling desire to see India as a free and prosperous nation, free from the bondage of two hundred years of subjugation by the British.

Then in one of the rarest moments of my life, I had the good fortune to meet the most admired person in India, and the world –the Apostle of Peace and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The revered Father of India!

On massive, public grounds called the ‘Maidan’, a crowd of thousands had settled down on the ground.  All from far and near were there. I sat along with my sixty schoolmates and teachers, anxiously glancing in every direction to catch the first glimpse of this magnificent hero of mine. I was viewing over a sea of Muslim caps, Congress Party’s Nehru caps, turbans of every color, shape, and size. Occasionally, heads popped up here and there. A bunch of people would stand up abruptly, as if aware of an arrival.

Then, as if magically, there appeared a diminutive figure, sparsely clad in a white home-spun cotton ‘Khadi Dhoti’, tucked in between the legs, giving the appearance of a loincloth.  His narrow shoulders were wrapped around in a white, home-spun shawl.  I was immediately reminded of Gandhi’s image, sitting on the ground with folded legs, spinning cotton yarn at a Spinning Wheel.  He inspired Indians to be self-reliant, so as to be independent of the need to import cotton from the mills of Manchester, in Great Britain.  Gandhiji’s images had inspired me, as they had done millions of others.  I looked around at my friends.  We were all wearing white saris with blue borders – a fabric of five and a half yards of hand-spun cotton.  I was proud of myself.

As he got seated on a small, raised platform in the middle of the vast grounds, there was a hush, a deafening silence!  Could this be Gandhiji? The same towering figure, which had shaken the foundations of the British Empire?  Where was the augur who had incensed the Rulers to a fiery rage?  Could this slight, slender frame endure all the hardships of endless imprisonments – sleeping on cold, cemented floors; fasting endlessly to make a point, and subjugate the mighty master’s will?

Yet this was Mahatma Gandhi, whom I had heard again and again over the loudspeakers, who had endeared himself to me, as to millions of others!

He spoke. Stillness prevailed. From microphones all around, his every word rang loud and clear – entering my consciousness.  The echoes rolled from soul to soul.

As he spoke, I did not hear a lion’s roar.  Yet, this calmly persuasive, magnetic voice was energizing and compelling:

“Arise, my children, rise!

Rise to your soul’s call!

Rise in Freedom, every waking moment!

Remember. When India introduced Zero to the Science of Mathematics, the possibilities became infinite, unlimited, un-limiting!

One small zero – one individual at a time, small or big, can magnify the possibilities a thousand-fold. 

Each small voice, when joined by millions of your heroes, can reach across seven seas.

Do not underestimate the power of zero.  The power of even the smallest, the gentles of you.”

The crescendo of his tone and message rose from perceptibly calming to invigorating, to uplifting.  It was a magical moment; a mesmerizing experience! I was awed by the strength of Gandhiji’s convictions; the appeal of his persuasion across a wide spectrum of society.

“Follow you Dharma, your moral duty.

God’s truth demands Liberty and Justice for all.

We all are the children of one God.  We Hindus, and we Muslims invoke the one and the same God, whether we call Him Ram or we call Him Allah.

We, all Indians, deserve the right to be in charge of our own destiny.”

Gandhiji’s inspiring, invigorating word liberated the downcast souls and challenged the masses.  Even the faint-hearted, the indifferent felt an enthusiasm to take up the cause.

“There are times when you have to obey.

A call which is the highest of all, that is the voice of conscience.

Even though such obedience may cost many a bitter tear,

And even more, separation from friends,

From family, from the state to which you may belong,

From all that you have held as dear as life itself.

For this obedience is the law of our being.”

A fine mix of elation and enthusiasm hung in the air.  I was witnessing a rare moment in eternity, a moment bigger than life, infinitely bigger than myself!

Gandhi Ji’s message rings just as true today.

On becoming citizens of the United States of America, by birth or adoption, we have pledged to uphold the principle of ‘Inalienable rights of Liberty, Equality, and Justice for All’. In expressing our voice by casting our vote to elect the President and Congress, we fulfill our civic duty. Follow our Dharma. Our decisions on societal issues have an impact on our lives. They give direction to the destiny of the Nation too.

Remember, your one powerful vote has the power to change the course of history! 


Usha Dhupa has lived extended periods of her life in Africa, India, England, and America.  Her rich experiences over eight decades give us a panoramic view of her life. Find the rest of this story in her recently published book ‘Child of Two Worlds‘.

Happiness Beyond Mind: An Individual Experience

Simplicity is not simple. It takes a lot of thought and effort to condense complex concepts to a simple, practical, and easy to follow recipe for getting to “contentment” or “happiness”. By distilling the essence of ancient Indian philosophy, practicing it himself, and sharing his experiences as he travels the path of dharma (good life conduct), Rajesh Sengamedu has created a forehead-slapping page-turner of a book.

Happiness Beyond Mind gives us a clear path to rethink, structure, and execute our entire life in “thought, word, and deed” to journey to a state of contentment and happiness. As Gandhi once said “the path is the goal”, Rajesh’s book is the path.

As soon as I flipped through Rajesh’s acknowledgments, I found it thoroughly engrossing as he takes us on a journey of deep thought and introspection on why, with all worldly accomplishments and success we still feel empty and conflicted, with examples from his own life. It is this trait of personal experience that immediately sucks you into his journey into spiritual realization — you can connect with him as you look back on your own life. His language is simple for us to understand and relate to. He does revert to colloquialisms which really help emphasize and drive his points home. You really get it.

The stories and anecdotes deserve special attention. Rajesh beautifully blends quite complex analogies from the ancient Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita with his own experiences with family, friends, and colleagues — and I found myself with a big lump in my throat or nodding or simply going “now I’ve never thought of it that way!” This is not an easy thing to achieve.

Author, Rajesh Sengamedu

Rajesh also makes it clear that Indian thought and philosophy are monotheistic, contrary to lots of misconceptions promulgated by iconoclasts. The key is to follow dharma in thought, word, and deed and ultimately merge with the Absolute Reality, the one Supreme Being.

The ratha kalpana analogy from the Kathopanishad was what I would call mind-blasting (no pun intended). It would take a lot to erase the characters from memory; the passenger (ego), the charioteer (intellect), the reins (emotional mind), and the horses (five sense organs). This analogy and the function of how the entire chariot (human body) functions may appear so obvious AFTER you’ve heard Rajesh describe it. And of course, great examples are the letters to his daughter and son actually at the end of the book in three Appendices, but they’re like The Gita (the core essence) of the book! You could just read those and consider them a synopsis of the entire 185 pages preceding them.

The prescriptive part of the book where Rajesh insists that we follow the path of dharma (right life conduct) dives deep into how to think, how to handle day-to-day life situations with words, and of course action — with yoga and meditation, and finally how to approach the goal of understanding oneself and that we are part of the larger whole. “Do try it!” goes his persuasive, characteristic nudge throughout the book, you can almost picture him smiling benevolently over you. I personally found this portion extremely helpful. This will be a practical takeaway for me for years to come. This is the enduring portion and can only be realized through action. You know the author is already on the path and is speaking from his personal experience and transformation. You also realize the importance and reverence Rajesh gives his Gurus, showing a deep sense of learning, understanding, and gratitude.

I strongly urge all readers, young, old, innocent, not so innocent, brash, arrogant, big-hearted, small-hearted — to read Rajesh’s work. For each one of us reading will walk away with our individual experience and messages, and it automatically becomes The Happiness Beyond the Mind WE know for ourselves.


 Raj Gopalaswamy has over 18 years’ leadership in innovation, business strategy, account management, and new product development.