by Shashank Rao, active member
असतो मा सद्गमय
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय
मृत्योर मामृतम् गमय
ॐ शांतिः शांतिः शांतिः
“From untruth, lead us to truth
From darkness, lead us to light,
From death, lead us to life everlasting,
Let there be peace in the world.”
On the occasion of Ugadi, it is important to remember the need for solidarity among our communities, to express compassion for every one of us. Just as the pachadi our families prepare contains a combination of tamarind, chili, neem leaves, salt, and jaggery, we are reminded that life itself is complex.
Our world has never been simple, but rather has been vast, variegated, and vibrant for a long time, but it is only visible now. To practice solidarity in our communities, we must acknowledge the great variety of peoples and cultures that inhabit our world, which bleed into one another, and create the beauty of humanity. We must take care to remember the most downtrodden of our communities: caste-oppressed groups, Muslims, and Adivasis, among others. We all contribute to the world in diverse ways, and support each other in ways that are sometimes not visible.
Just as the experiences of life are interwoven thus, communities are as well. Whether we like it or not, our communities consist of various sorts, all of whom depend on one another for different things. I am reminded of a passage in the Vyadha Gita, a passage from the Mahabharata. While certain details of the text are anachronistic relative to us, there are some important lessons that we can learn from this.
In the story, a Brahmin named Kaushika goes to a house in a village and asks a woman for alms. After waiting for some time, he becomes angry for being kept waiting. The woman too is angry, for she was feeding her husband inside the house, and chastised Kaushika for his impatience and lack of understanding of her position and duties to her home.
The woman instructs Kaushika to go to Mithila and find a certain butcher, known for a keen understanding of dharma without being well-read in the śāstras and Vedas. Kaushika heeds her advice, and goes to listen to the butcher expound at length.
Maintaining politeness and decorum, the butcher acknowledges that he does indeed sell meat, and that taking life in itself is wrong. However, he is cognizant of the needs of people around him. Warriors and workers eat meat in order to have strength to do their work, and all merchants like the butcher occupy an important place in society in supporting society. Every part of society does something valuable for the whole, as well as things that are objectionable.
Despite the apparent disgust of his profession, the butcher realizes the omnipresence of Brahman as antaryami (the in-dwelling) as well as in the food that people partake of as prasāda (offerings to God). God as Brahman is omnipresent in all of us, and so dhyāna (prayer) brings our attention to that divinity in all things. Through the basic divinity that undergirds our existence, we are connected to one another without qualification.
The butcher demonstrates greater commitment to dharma than Kaushika, because even though Kaushika is so well read, he has only taken from society and not given back to it. The butcher sagely remarks:
“The injunction that people should not do harm to any creature (ahimsa), was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of biological facts. For there is no one on the face of this earth, who is free from doing injury to creatures. After full consideration, the conclusion is irresistible that there is not a single person who is free from the sin of harming animal life.
“Even the sages whose vow is to do harm to no creature, inflict injury on animal life. Only, on account of greater attention and mindfulness on their part, the harm is less.
Men of noble-birth and outstanding qualities perpetrate wicked acts in defiance of all, of which they are not at all ashamed.” (Vyādha Gīta 2.28-30)
The butcher’s sermon is instructive in reminding us that all parts of society are valuable in teaching and learning, that we are dependent on one another for survival and flourishing in life. The oneness of Parabrahman is revealed through this interwoven whole, through understanding this we are stripped of delusions of grandeur, separation, and hierarchy.
We depend on one another for our well-being, and should actively recognize that codependency. These lessons that the butcher teaches Kaushika allow us to appreciate the meaning of the famous verse from the Īśavāsya Upaniṣad: “To see oneself in others, and others in oneself is to be free of sorrow and delusion” (Īśavāsya Upaniṣad 6-7). Being present and recognizing others for where they are and what they do brings us closer together, to co-experience love and grief, bitterness and grief, clarity and confusion.
May these lessons and reflections be valuable to us on this occasion of Ugadi, may our hearts be stirred to compassion and justice, and may we always recognize the Eternal One, ever-present and all-pervading, in ourselves and in others.
ॐ पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥
“That is full, This is full, from fullness emerges fullness.”
“Taking fullness from fullness, naught remains but fullness.”
“Let there be peace in the world.”