What are Vedic values, aka ‘Indian Ethos’ of the Hindus?

rishiPublished on 27th August, 2016, on dailyo.in

The concept of “values” comes from the corporate world. And every corporate world, even the most corrupt, has “values” printed on its annual general report. This can be traced to the notion of “commandment” which comes from Abrahamic mythology, where God of Abraham puts down a set of rules (and values, when there are no rules) of how humans are supposed to live their life. This set of rules is transmitted by messengers known as prophets. Sadly, no one is sure what the correct set of rules and values are which is why Jewish people fight with Muslims and Muslims fight with Christians. And there are fights between various Jewish, Islamic and Christian subgroups. The “secular” nation state simply replaces God with “We, the People” or the “State” and uses the same model of governance based on a rules/values that everyone is supposed to follow.

The Vedas look at the world differently. As we study the transformation of Hinduism from Vedic to Puranic times, we notice an obsession with concepts such as infinity (ananta), diversity (aneka), and impermanence (anitya). This is the very opposite of Abrahamic or Semitic thought which seeks to “fix” the world by a set of fixed “rules/values”.

For the Vedas, nature came first, before culture, before humans even. And nature functions as per “law of jungle” where might is right, only the fittest survives, and so driven by hunger and fear animals establish food chains, pecking orders, and territories.

Humans don’t have to subscribe to this jungle way, thanks to our ability to imagine. We can help the helpless. We can provide resources to help the unfit survive. We don’t have to form packs, or herds. We don’t have to dominate, or be territorial. We can use our imagination to outgrow our hunger and fear, and help others cope with their hunger and fear. Humans have the ability to think of others (para-atma) and so can reach the infinite divine (param-atma) beyond the self (jiva-atma). When we do that, we are in line with our potential. This is dharma. When we don’t do that, when we are not in line with our potential, we are following adharma.

In the Vedic worldview, the focus is not on rules/values and obedience and punishment. The focus is on engaging with others with awareness and working towards reducing our hunger and fear. High hunger and fear nourish ego or aham, and take us away from divinity or atma. When humans seek to dominate and control other people for self-aggrandisement, it is aham at work. When we enable people to empathise with each other, and seek to delight, rather than defeat and control others, then atma is at work. Rules/values are just hygiene.

And so in Ramayana, we have the rule-abiding hero (Ram) and a rule-breaking villain (Ravana), and in Mahabharata we have a rule-breaking hero (Krishna) and a rule-abiding villain (Duryodhana). The problem is not rule/value. The problem is not obedience or disobedience. The problem is “where are you coming from”, “what is your intent”. Are you working only for self (jiva-atma) or are you concerned about the other (para-atma)? Ram and Krishna work for others, Ravana and Duryodhana work for the self. We are all in between, hopefully moving towards dharma and atma (Ram/Krishna).