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Monday, April 2, 2018

Truth, Compassion, Sin and Punishment - Maha Bharatha Series 69


Bhishma says (Book 12, Section 162) that Truth is the highest yoga, our duty and the foundation of all virtues and shreyas. Truth is Brahman itself. Shreyas means the preferable, the superior divinely virtue. It is in contrast to preyas, the pleasurable.

Truth is seen in different forms which include self-control, compassion, forgiveness and non-injury (ahimsa).

Then, there is an interesting point about compassion. Bhishma says that compassion carried too much leads to agitation of the heart.  It is true that excessive compassion may lead to suffering. This is one of the reasons for the burn-out among physicians and health-care workers. Bhishma says that this suffering has to be controlled by “learning dharma”.  What does this mean?

Compassion is the cornerstone of Buddhism. It is defined as one’s desire and ability to relieve the suffering of the other. Desire alone is not adequate. One must be able to act on it. I am more comfortable with this concept of compassion. If acts of compassion are done in mindfulness, there will be acceptance of things as they are and one becomes aware of too much attachment to being compassionate. That insight will help one let go of the secondary attachment and focus on the compassion. 

Section 165 is clearly a strange one. Various kinds of sinful acts and ways to clean off the sin are described. They are strange and cruel. They are completely off the noble teachings in the rest of this epic. Those of us who condemn barbaric punishments will be appalled at the list of suggested methods for repentance and punishment given in this section. No wonder several scholars think that this section was inserted by someone with an agenda and at a later period.

The agenda is probably to establish the role of the rulers in the hierarchy with threat of punishment. The concept of sin which is alien to the Vedic philosophy is brought in. The reality is that we humans will tend to break moral values. But, the hypocrisy is in saying that we can wash off our “sins” by penance and punishment.

 The punishments described are so horrible and cruel. And trying to make them all stick by putting them into the mouth of Bhishma? What a cheat!

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