Brāḥmaṇa by Rabindranath Tagore (Part II)

 Brāḥmaṇa by Rabindranath Tagore (Part II)

(continuing from Part I)

A discussion on whether the European society is indeed operating this way may seem unnecessary, but it is not entirely futile.

It is difficult to uphold the ideal of duty in a set-up where each moment every man has to fight under the compulsion of competition, driven by the urge to surpass the man standing next to him. And within such a set-up, it becomes truly difficult for people to draw a limit to their aspirations.             

Presently, the great empires of Europe are desperately trying to outdo each other. Amidst such a state of affairs, no one can really utter things like “I would rather accept a fall from the first class to the second class, but I will never act unjustly.” Neither does anyone think such things as: “we would rather reduce the armament on the land and on the seas and thus accept a status inferior to our neighbours in terms of royal power, but our focus should be on spreading comfort, happiness, enlightenment, and piety within the society.” The momentum generated by the pull of competition drives one recklessly – and running at this great pace is called progress in Europe; we too have learned to call it progress.

But the movement which is not regulated by pauses at measured steps cannot be called progress. The metre that does not have punctuation is no metre at all. Day and night the sea may be turbulent with plunging waves constantly seething and crashing at the foot of the society, but at its highest peak, the society must maintain the eternal ideals of peace and stability forever.

Who are the people who can steadfastly defend those ideals? Only those – who have hereditarily stayed aloof from the conflicts arising out of a pursuit of self-interest; only those who have found glory in economic deprivation, who do not see good deeds as a commodity, whose minds, permeated with pure knowledge and upright virtue, dwell in the lofty regions beyond the skies, and who have attained holiness and reverence by abandoning all else to accept the noble duty of protecting the highest ideals of the society.

In Europe, too, a few sages appear in the scene from time to time in the midst of relentless turbulences of action, and upholds the ideals of stability, ultimate goal, and ultimate end. But who cares to stand a while and listen to them? How can one or two such individuals stop the tremendous momentum of this aggregate self-interest of gigantic proportions? Fifty-nine sails of the merchant ship have caught the wind; on the outstretched field of Europe, surrounded by frenzied spectators, rows of war-horses are racing against each other –who will now stop for a moment?

The argument that spirituality may arise even amidst such frenzy, even from within such desperate and excessive churning of one’s own power, does arise in our mind too. The attraction of this momentum is too great; it tempts us, and we fail to suspect that it can lead to catastrophe.

What sort of temptation is it? It is like a group of bark-clad men who identify themselves as sadhus and sādhaka-s and take their cannabis addiction to be a pursuit of spiritual bliss. Intoxication increases one’s concentration, generates excitement; but it reduces spiritual independence and vigour. And though all else can be abandoned, one cannot quit the excitement generated by this addiction – in fact, one is compelled to go on increasing the level of intoxication as one’s willpower gradually decreases. It is also artificial to indulge in the luxuries of religious fanaticism by dancing round and round or by playing loud instruments, thus exciting oneself and almost fainting. When such a habit takes root in us, it continues to haunt us like the intoxication of opium at our moments of depression. Without self-absorbed, quiet, and single-pointedly steadfast devotional pursuits, nothing of truly lasting value can be achieved and neither can anything of enduring worth be preserved.

But no work can happen without passionate motivation and no society can function without work. That is why India had attempted to bring about harmony of movement and stability in its society. The Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas, etc., who carry out, first-hand, the works of society, had a definite boundary for the domain of their actions. That is why Kshatriyas could consider their duty as a religion by defending the ideals of Kṣātra Dharma. When duty is placed on a foundation of Dharma way above the petty self-interests and instincts, one finds room for respite and spiritual gains even in work.

The ways in which the European society functions push most people towards a particular tendency to keep moving. There, the intellectuals tend to get attracted to the affairs of the state, and the common people are drawn towards the tendency to make money. At present, imperialist greed has possessed everyone and there’s an ongoing scramble for colonies all over the world. It will not be strange to soon stumble upon a time when the quest for pure knowledge will not attract enough people. Similarly, there may come a time when troops will not be available even when they are necessary. For, who will check this instinctive tendency? If the Germany that was a scholar till the other day becomes a merchant now, who will preserve her erudition? The Englishman, who had once upon a time taken the vow of the Kshatriya to protect the afflicted, is presently rushing to set up and run his shop all around the world by brute force. What power could now possibly bring him back to his old generous spirit of the Kshatriya?

Instead of conceding all authority to this tendency, the Indian social system confers the burden of authority upon restrained and well-ordered provisions of duty. If the society is alive, if it is not overwhelmed by external attacks, then, in accordance with the provisions of this system, there will be harmony in the society at all times – there will be no sudden rush to any one direction and a total evacuation from the other. Everyone would defend their ideals and would be proud of what they do.

But work does have a momentum of its own. Due to this momentum, work obscures the outcomes that it produces. And then work becomes an end in itself. There’s a certain kind of bliss in letting go of oneself with the flow of work’s momentum. The ghost of action often possesses the man of action.

And that is not all. When the accomplishment of an action becomes too pre-eminent an end, the discernment of the means wears off. Then the one who acts has to make various compromises with the world and with the exigencies of his times.

Therefore, any society where there is action must also have a set of provisions to regulate action. There has to be an ever-vigilant watch such that humanity does not come under the sway of blind action. To always show the right path to the men of action, to hold on to the pure note in the midst of the cacophony of actions, we need a group of people who will keep themselves free from actions and interests as much as possible. These are the Brahmins.

These Brahmins are truly independent. They are the ones who devotedly and sternly defend the ideal of true freedom in the society. Society gives them the leisure, the capacity, and the prestige to that end. This freedom of theirs is but the freedom of the society itself. The society in which they are able to keep themselves free (from the compulsions of actions and interests), is a society that has no fear or danger in mere foreign subjugation. Such a society can always experience the freedom of its mind – the freedom of its very soul – within its Brahmin section. If the present Brahmins of our country had defended this greatest treasure of the society in a firm, upright, and uncovetous manner, the society would never have allowed any insult to the Brahmin; and neither could such a thing have ever come out of the mouth of a judge that beating up a decent Brahmin with a shoe is a trivial matter. Even being a foreigner, the judge could have understood the prestige of the esteemed Brahmin.

But the Brahmin who works in the office of a sahib with his head bowed in obedience, the Brahmin who sells his leisure and abandons his great authority, the Brahmin who becomes a merchant of knowledge in the university and a trader of justice in the court of law, the Brahmin who insults his own Brahminhood for money – how will such a Brahmin uphold his ideal? How will he preserve the society? Why would we go to him with due deference in order to obtain the provisions of Dharma? After all, he has mingled with the crowd in the scrimmage and his sweaty body is now indistinguishable from those others who participate in the daily fracas! Such a Brahmin does not pull the society upwards by virtue of the reverence for him, he takes it to the pit.

(To be continued..)

Sreejit Datta

Sreejit Datta is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Centre for Civilisational Studies at the Rashtram School of Public Leadership.

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