Our Palace of Purusharth: Journey to a Dharmic Framework for Parents and Children
There are many doors into the rabbit hole of comparative religion but this one stands out for its clarity.
What the Deformed Baby tells us about Christianity, Islam and Liberalism
Consider these questions –
Why are some of us born into kind families and others into cruel circumstances? Why are some people luckier than others? And Why do bad things happen to good people?
These questions are all actually variations on the same theme. There is even a pure distillate available – “Why are some babies born with deformities?”
Common Muslims, Christians, Liberals of both flavours and Hindus will all agree that the baby is an innocent, suffering for no fault of his. But how do the world-views of each of these groups stand up to the test of the deformed baby’s plight?
- Christians make the claims that God is good and just, and loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son to die for us. I’m sorry but the deformed baby is evidence to the contrary.
- Christians and Muslims make the claim that God is all-powerful and takes a special interest in human affairs, especially the affairs of the adherents of his favourite religion/s. They even say that he acts upon individual prayers. I’m sorry but deformed Christian and Muslim babies and the unanswered prayers of their mothers are a slap in the face of these beliefs.
So what do we make of these contradictions?
- We can conclude that God is neither good nor just, nor does he love us. If he were good, just or loving then there would be no deformed babies in the world.
- Or we can conclude that God is not all-powerful and he sometimes makes mistakes. This is an unacceptable explanation that undermines the very definition of God.
- Which brings us to considering the idea that the deformed baby was not a mistake but a deliberate act of God. We now have some interesting ideas to consider – that God “tests” us (as Christians believe) or that God is our master and we, as his slaves, must submit to his will unquestioningly (as Muslims tend to believe).
In other words, God is fooling with us and we are pawns and/or slaves. Some find meaning in this vision but without doubt it is a demeaning vision of human life.
- Liberal Atheists have grappled with this problem and these contradictions for 400 years and have attempted to construct a meaningful worldview ironically centered around the idea of meaninglessness. Their philosophers and scientists have given it their best shot and finally, this is what they’ve come up with – everything is a matter of random chance dependent solely on the interplay of impersonal physical laws and chemical reactions none of which have anything to do with any transcendental entity, God, or spirit. The baby was born deformed because of pure bad luck, a faulty mutation perhaps.
So what do we make of this position? We have to ask the liberal atheist –
- Why he cries when his father dies? Why he exults when he falls in love? Why he is proud of the work he does? Why he kisses his baby goodnight?
- And in fact, more directly, the essential question – Who are you? Are you a chance meeting of cells, which in turn are a chance arrangement of chemicals? Is your love a chance eruption of hormones? Is your baby, the physical manifestation of that love, nothing but a play of chance? If yes, then why do you love your baby?
Liberals, like Christians before them, live a life of deep contradiction. Their worldview tells them one thing but daily life experience tells them something else.
The Christian belief that their God is good is refuted every single day when bad things happen. The Christian cope to escape this awful breakdown of their worldview is to invent a fiction called the Devil, a convenient fall guy when things don’t go too well for them.
Similarly, a liberal, if he is true to his worldview, must commit suicide immediately – Why live after all? Why expend effort on living when life is meaningless? The fact that the liberal doesn’t kill himself, tells us that in the depths of his heart he is unable to truly accept that everything is meaningless. To escape this inexorable conclusion, atheists such as Dawkins have gone so far as to write an entire book pushing the theory that our will to live is hard coded into a string of sugar and phosphates called the Gene. Like the Devil of the Christians, the Gene is the liberal fall guy, an entity that has responsibility foisted upon it whenever the liberal mental model breaks down…those surprising moments when liberals realize that meaninglessness cannot give them meaning. It is this existential contradiction that has taken a huge psychological toll on liberal society – depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, sociopathy, you name it.
Is it any wonder then that liberal society is simultaneously the most lawless and the most policed society in the history of humankind? No society in the history of human affairs has broken its own laws with such frequency as liberal society. At the individual level, these ruptures are brushed under the carpet of psychology and at the macro level under the carpet of “defence”. This lawlessness is living proof of the inner contradictions of the liberal worldview and the sheer inability of its structures in ensuring compliance without the use of extreme physical force.
Bhakti – What Natural Religions tell us about Life
You see, Life has to go on, it has a logic and a magic of its own. By submitting to it, we submit to the idea of meaning. Humans crave meaning, we need meaning, we need a worldview that is seamless with our lived experience.
All pagan cultures or natural religions know, from birth, the correct attitude to Life. These are the immutable axioms of pagan life –
- Life is a magical gift from the unknown (respect for Life)
- As recipients of this gift, we are eternally grateful (Bhakti)
- We show our gratitude by making offerings of beauty to the unknowable (Puja)
- We know that the gift is not for us to use and squander but for us to safeguard and pass on to our children (Family and Dharma).
Hinduism, is a unique confluence of pagan well-springs from the bottom-up and civilizational meltwaters from the top-down. Our religion displays both, the correct bottom-up pagan attitude to life as per the above axioms as well as the correct top-down explanation of life that offers us meaning without contradiction.
Karma and Purusharth – What Hindu Thought tells us about Life
The Hindu intellectual answer to the problem of the deformed baby is multi-birth Karma. This explanation offers us the most logical and water-tight vision of life’s events. It situates our “bad luck” within ourselves. It does not raise unanswerable questions about God. It does not attack God for incompetence. It tells us to accept our own pasts and look forward to better futures based on our actions in this present life – a superior explanation that fills the mind with positivity and provides society with individuals who have an in-built moral framework that needs minimal policing.
Surprisingly, like true Hindus, true Muslims too live contradiction-free lives, they believe they are slaves and they act as slaves to a master. This aspect of theirs gives them both meaning and intent. But for us, Hindus, such a demeaning imagination of Life is unacceptable. Our rishis didn’t stop with giving us Karma that filled our lives with meaning and positivity; they looked further…towards purpose and divinity.
They gave us Purusharth. This remarkable framework can be read at multiple fractal levels but I will look at it in its most simple form- at the level of the individual. Every individual is encouraged to engage in all four aspects of Purusharth – Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha, for a personally fulfilling life that also upholds and protects the best possible society.
The Hindu Take-Down of Liberalism
A vast number of us Hindus have lost intellectual clarity about our own religion and are floating in the liberal kool-aid of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and their first order derivative – Human Rights. We must start by first putting Liberalism in the right Hindu perspective. For that we use the lens of Purusharth. Imagine, for a moment, the religion of Liberalism without the shine of Hollywood, without high technology, without America’s armed forces. Stripped down to its essence, what is this thing…this religion that goes by the name of Liberalism?
This, then is the liberal recipe – Take Kama and reduce it to Hedonism, then take Artha and reduce it to Greed, put those two ideas together and what you get is a debased Purusharth, a subset of Kama and Artha without the guiding lights of Dharma and Moksha (see diagram below).
Perhaps you know some “good liberals” who are conservative or still carry shades of their Christian or Hindu origin but make no mistake, in this generation or the next or the next, the full force of their chosen religion (Liberalism) will manifest in their cultural bloodstreams. Liberalism states that the aim of life is a debased Kama (defined as physical and sensory experience manifested as Hedonism) and to achieve this aim it argues that we need a debased Artha (defined as competitive economic activity manifested as Greed). This debased Artha- the cog in the wheel existence, is seen as a necessary evil, something we have to get through in order to indulge in still more Kama, the ultimate reward.
This, from a Hindu perspective, is the sum total of all liberal life. Though they may fill their bookshelves with tomes and tomes of “philosophy”, ultimately the only true way to judge a set of values is by the society that those values engender. It is greed, pornography, drugs, alcohol, selfishness, casual sex, early childhood sexualization, violent games, consumerism, the Kardashians…that define the empty core, the crux, of liberal society. Liberty and Equality are smokescreens to cover up the deeper philosophical underpinnings of Liberalism – Empty Materialism…the cold steel bars of Western Science applied to human affairs.
The Hindu view, on the other hand, offers us Dharmic Kama, Dharmic Artha and Dharma itself (right action at multiple levels). It goes even further to offer us Moksha (self-realization leading to true freedom – the merging of the Atman and the Paramatman). Dharmic Kama and Dharmic Artha are viewed as essential pillars upon which the edifice of Dharma stands. And it is the performance of Dharma that leads one over multiple lives to Moksha.
In the Hindu context, Kama and Artha are not allowed to run amok but kept within the boundaries of Dharma. The “Dharmic Kama-sphere” refers to family life, procreation, art and music in the service of divinity, the seeking of perfection in our engagement with materiality whether it is agriculture, animal husbandry, ayurveda, sculpture or architecture. The “Dharmic Artha-sphere” similarly refers to work, business and trade that allows for the maintenance of family and for support of dharmic activities such as festivals, temples, education, Anna-Daanam, the running of a dharmic state etc.
As for what constitutes Dharma itself, do read Nithin Sridhar’s excellent book Samanya Dharma for an overview. Essential and inspirational though it is, Dharma gets all its substance from the fact that it is the stepping stone to something even more incredible and desirable – Moksha. It is this ethereal Moksha that lends dharmic acts their magic. When we act out Dharma, without thought of reward or personal gain but with our focus on transcendence, it is then that life and living on Bhoo Devi matches the peerless generosity of the gift of Life itself.
Locating Liberalism within the Palace of Purusharth: A Framework for Hindu Parents
As Hindu parents stuck in an overwhelming liberal world, how do we counter the liberal cage that is descending everyday upon our children with every cartoon they watch, every Bollywood song that they hear, every cool friend they speak to? I offer a suggestion. Look again to Purusharth. Talk openly to your kids about Purusharth.
Though Liberalism looms over our children’s imaginations, it is but a speck…a miniscule portion of Kama and Artha that has unfortunately gone viral. We need to put this genie back in the bottle…intellectually at first, then practically. By guiding our children through the wonders of our Palace of Purusharth, we can start to situate Liberalism where it belongs…in one small corner of our palace (see diagram below).
We must help our kids conceptually locate the entire edifice of liberal sensuality – TV, movies, coolness, unhinged fun, alcohol, addiction, fast food, video games, overt sexualization in media…all of that stuff, as a small segment of the Kama-sphere even though our media portrays it as the aim of Life itself.
Debased Kama is the life goal of Liberals not Hindus (see diagram below)..
Help them also to conceptually locate the entire edifice of liberal greed – TV advertisements, selfishness, limitless ambition to accumulate personal wealth, consumerism, enslavement to corporations in exchange for meaningless holidays in Europe…all of that stuff, as a small segment of the Artha-sphere even though our media portrays all of that as the aim of Life itself.
Debased Artha is the life enabler of Liberals not Hindus (see diagram below).
Also important, until we run our own dharmic schools again, is for us and our kids to remember that school, college, all academics as we know it today…that beast, that devours the early part of our lives, is also but a small part of entire Artha-sphere (see diagram below).. Deep inside, we know that 20 years of a punishing academic schedule may or may not help us get a good job but we have to go through it nonetheless because we live in a liberal cage and sometimes we have to work through the cage in order to step out of it. Very few of us ever will. To be able to leverage liberal knowledge to buy your family a dharmic life requires a rare combination of talent, luck and years of enslavement. It is a far better option, for most of us who do not have the means or courage to simply step out of the liberal cage, to lead parallel lives at this point in history. Work within the debased “Liberal Artha-sphere” to earn our livelihoods, socialize to the extent needed in the debased “Liberal Kama-sphere” to maintain connections, but consciously spend the rest of our time in strengthening dharmic activities within the family and in the larger Hindu community eventually aiming for the establishment of a dharmic state.
We must show our children that the sum-total of what the media and their cool friends are selling them day and night are but small corners of our magnificent Palace of Purusharth. Coercing them to never engage with the debased “Liberal Kama-sphere” and “Liberal Artha-sphere” will probably backfire, but perhaps if we do teach our kids to put all of that stuff in perspective, our perspective, then our kids will grow up to be dharmic Hindus.
Our kids have to learn to walk in and out of the liberal world and come back to Dharma throughout their teens and early twenties. Ideally, high school onwards, even as they prepare to enter the liberal world, they should be involved in dharmic activity and certainly by their late-twenties, even as they keep their liberal jobs, they should actively have turned their backs upon debased Kama and Artha, using their liberal incomes for dharmic purposes including raising a family.
In these days of involuntary lockdown, I offer you a Dharmic Timetable to structure your kids’ activities. Modify this to suit your needs and your kids’ interests. It will be of special interest to parents of homeschooled kids but partially useful for parents of kids who attend conventional school. Restructure the way you think about life activities. Hindus must take back power from the Liberals. Work with this framework to help your children think about all the inputs they are receiving. Controlling inputs is a losing battle, but being able to arrange these inputs is a powerful way to gain control over the Liberal religion’s ubiquitous propaganda.
Author’s Note: Thanks to Nithin Sridhar ji for his book Samanya Dharma, @Shatruntapa and @19141919 for their relentlessness on Twitter.
Featured Image: Sathya Sai With Students
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