Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Principles of liberty, equality, fraternity: The Hindu way

Published here with the kind permission of the author and courtesy Niti Central
By Ram Madhav on December 28, 2012


Liberty, equality, fraternity: The Hindu way
A Hindu view of human rights and dignity – II
Ishavasyamidam sarvam yatkinch jagatyam jagat! 
Tena tyaktena bhunjeethaah ma grudhah kasyaswiddhanam!!
We shall open this discussion on human rights and human dignity with this golden key of Mahatma Gandhi — the first verse of the ancient text of Ishavasyopnishad — a philosophical treatise of the later Vedic period. This verse asserts that all that is apparent or extant in this world and beyond, is the abode of the divine. It then exhorts human beings to detach themselves from this world and only take what is essential for their righteous sustenance. It concludes with a prohibition to keep away from what is not yours.
When all that exists is divine for you, when you have no attachment to possessions, when you limit your wants and covet nothing from others, you are a true Hindu or a follower of Sanatan Dharma, as Gandhi liked to call himself. That is how he discovered his path of Satya and Ahimsa or truth and non-violence — a weapon so potent it has no antidote, a guarantee of human dignity in all its glory and the essence of any manifesto of human rights.
Hindu tradition is focussed on similarities and shared traits rather than differences and exclusions. This makes its identity indefinable yet definite in its features. This means that despite its universalism there are a plethora of beliefs and practices that can be uniquely identified with Hinduism. Without doctrinal rigidity, the Hindu mind has engaged itself with questions that beleaguer the entire humankind rather than issues limited to Hindus. A Hindu identity cannot be sought through conversion or differentiation between believers and non-believers. It has to be acquired through acculturation and assimilation through the recognition of such principles and disciplines that would lead any human being to become a better person and live in harmony with Dharma — the natural path of righteous conduct. Thus Hinduism bows to the potential of every individual to attain enlightenment, to become a messiah unto herself or himself.
Ethical-spiritual identity of human beings
Amritasya Putrah Vayam” – (We are all begotten of the immortal)
This is how Hinduism introduces human beings.
“Every individual soul is potentially divine,” proclaimed Swami Vivekananda.
It is necessary to delve into the fundamentals of Hinduism in order to comprehend its position on human dignity, human rights etc. The fundamentals of Hinduism are in those great dialogues that took place in the Himalayas or on the banks of the sacred Sindhu river some four to five millennia back, very much like the Socratic dialogues. They are not commandments but informed suggestions.
Hinduism doesn’t recognise human beings as mere material beings. Its understanding of human identity is more ethical-spiritual than material. That is why a sense of immortality and divinity is attributed to all human beings in Hindu classical thought.
“Consistent with the depth of Indian metaphysics, the human personality was also given a metaphysical interpretation. This is not unknown to the modern occidental philosophy. The concept of human personality in Kant’s philosophy of law is metaphysical entity but Kant was not able to reach the subtler unobserved element of personality, which was the basic theme of the concept of personality in Indian legal philosophy,” observes Professor SD Sharma. (Sharma SD, Administration of Justice in Ancient Bharat, 1988)
An invisible Atman – the soul – dwelling in each body as the quintessential identity of all creatures forms the basis for all discussion on the status of human beings in Hindu classical thought starting from the times of the Vedas, indisputably the ancient-most literature of the world.
It is on the principle that the soul that makes the body of all living organisms its abode is in fact an integral part of the Divine Whole – Paramaatman – that the Vedas declare unequivocally:
Ajyesthaaso Akanisthaasa Yete; Sam Bhraataro Vaavrudhuh Soubhagaya
(No one is superior or inferior; all are brothers; all should strive for the interest of all and progress collectively.)
– RigVeda, Mandala-5, Sukta-60, Mantra-5
The RigVeda is the first of the four Vedas and is considered the essence of all knowledge – Jnana. In fact the Vedas emphasise the quintessential oneness of the entire creation.
Samaani va Aakootihi Samaanaa Hridayaanivah
Samaanamastu vo Mano Yathaa Vah Susahaasati
(Let there be oneness in your resolutions, hearts and minds; let the determination to live with mutual cooperation be firm in you all.)
– RigVeda, Mandala-10, Sukta-191, Mantra-4
It is worthwhile to mention here that it was much later and very recently that the world had come up with the ideals of French Revolution or for that matter the first Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that exhorts: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
Three famous ideals that inspired the French Revolution — liberty, equality and fraternity have subsequently found place in almost all the democratic constitutions of the world including that of Bharat. Liberty and equality are the ideals that can be achieved through constitutional means. But for achieving fraternity we need more than constitutional means.
“What does fraternity mean?” Dr BR Ambedkar, the architect of Bharat’s Constitution asked, and went on to explain, “Fraternity means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians – of Indians being one people. It is this principle that gives unity and solidarity to social life.” (BR Ambedkar and Human Rights, Complete Works – 8)
(Photo courtesy: JoVivek)

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