Purushartha and Punishment

A shift in education from rights based approach to a focus on fulfillment of purusharthas will lead to a paradigm shift in the way we function as a society.

Purushartha and Punishment

The debate of individual freedom vs ‘greater common good’ has always existed in all societies. It is important to find the best balance for harmonious existence. Too much individual freedom threatens the freedom of other individuals. Whereas too much emphasis on the ‘known and accepted’ limits creativity and individual expression.

Indic thought always implored an individual to “do right” and good will happen to you according to the will of powers beyond human comprehension. This helped the individual to assimilate newer situations whenever he had to bear any sort of injustice. He would simply reboot to the new circumstances and still continue to “do right”. The focus in a person’s mind always remained on whether s/he would be found wanting in duties or not. When individual rights were trampled upon either by state or by other people, the mechanism for redressal was not always used – people would assign the misfortune to fate or ‘act of god’ and make peace with their circumstances. Some argue that this drifted to an extreme position that was not sustainable in the long run.

On the other hand, the western world has acquired a very sharp focus on individual’s rights. Any group of ‘similar people’ can claim their rights. This has also gone to such weird extremes that some perverted adults are claiming paedophilia as a right. This weirdness stems from a high-focus on individual’s rights, which are to be protected REGARDLESS of whether the concerned individuals fulfilled their duties or not. So, nobody raises queries like “what are the duties of individuals in a garden” towards other individuals using the same garden. “My rights are paramount, and to hell with other people’s rights” seems to be the tacit assumption in many situations.

The Indic ethos however, is based on individual’s duties rather than rights. Religion was law. The state was for administrative purposes, so the dichotomy between state and religion was not as acutely polarized as we see it today.

It was the prevalent belief that you would achieve Moksha only by fulfilling your duties, regardless of how the world treated you. Your duties were your obligations which you owed to the world. The duties involved:

  1. Following your dharm (profession),
  2. Generating income (arth) ONLY out of your dharm, and
  3. Enjoying that arth (taking kaam) only after clearing all obligations would lead to
  4. Freedom (moksh) from the worldly concerns and give you peace of mind.

These four purusharths of Dharm, Arth, Kaam and Moksh can serve as the eternal guideline to all people of all religions all over the world, whether they follow Hinduism or not.

Let us understand them in brief:

Dharm, in this context, is your avowed and declared profession, your declared way of making a living. Through this channel, you contribute value to society and society returns value to you. Now a black-smith can add value only by doing smithy jobs, a computer programmer can add value only by writing programs. The value returned by society (fees, salary, profits, etc.) nowadays is in the form of cash, which enables you to provide for your life. The key idea is that you should make money ONLY through your dharm, and not by adharm (whatever is NOT your dharm is adharm).

If a practicing doctor starts selling plots of land that becomes adharm. Why? Because a doctor has declared that he will make money by practicing in the medical domain. Let us analyze this. One of the most essential ingredients of selling plots is “earning the trust of the customer” for which, the normal legitimate plot-sellers have to go through a long-drawn effort. So, if a doctor competes with them on the basis of trust earned through his medical competence, that becomes an un-equal competition with other legitimate plot-sellers – that becomes adharm. Adharm leads to paap (loss of merit). So, it is possible that at some time, some plot seller might get frustrated due to loss of deals, and may be provoked to kill that doctor (this killing too is not right, but is bound to happen sooner or later due to adharm committed by the doctor.)

Then should a doctor never sell plots? No, he can. But he should adopt and declare plot-selling as his dharm. Let him put up a board which says “Dr. Jumbo, real-estate-dealer” and then try to sell plots. Now he will come on par with the other plot-sellers and they will deal with him as legitimate competition by their usual tools (talking about his reputation, etc.) These tools were denied to them as long as he was a practicing doctor doing real estate ‘on the side’.

If being a ‘musician’ is his avowed profession, then he will have to gain the trust of the music producers and people who arrange music programs through the usual channel. If he is doing this as a side-business, he is encroaching on the rights of those people who subsist only on music. Today, we find many retired women (men too) pensioners asking for bit-roles in TV serials. They are willing to do it for free too – just because they want to brag about it in their friends and relatives. But this creates an unfair competition for those artists who have to make money by acting. This is adharm.

So, the computer programmer should make money by writing computer programs, not by selling designs to competition; the black-smith should make money by making the best swords for the king and not by deliberately making them brittle to give advantage to the enemy. A teacher should make money by teaching, not by running coaching classes in the evening – simply because these two roles lead to conflict of interest.

So, the key idea is simple – any money you make outside your declared profession becomes adharm. All your income (arth) must come from your legitimate and declared profession (dharm). This dharm is not the religious aspect, but simply a matter of professional duty.

Arth: Such money (arth) produced through dharm has to be cleared of obligations before you can enjoy (take kaam from) it. The obligations were intended to cover all sections of society and were to be settled primarily into four accounts:

  • God – represented by temples, etc, where the money is spent for the society’s poor and down-trodden; they give free food and operate shelters for homeless or travellers, etc.
  • King – representing the administration – taxes, etc. for all of the kingdom’s operations, army, policing, justice, etc. and also upholding the king’s stature – as that reflected the common stature of the entire nation.
  • Guru – support for the future generations, i.e. your own children and their needs and other children of the society, through ashrams, gurukuls, and other activities which had an academic orientation or purpose
  • Parental – your own parents and others in your ancestral lineage who need support in their old-age and cannot make money for themselves for whatever reasons.

This design evolved on the basis of an understanding that at all times, the productive people in the society will have to carry the burden of the others who are not economically productive. Hence, the design allowed everyone to have a fair share of the society’s produce regardless of their status. Everyone was integrated in the socio-economic fabric and passed through various stages in their lives with dignity.

Each of these accounts was supposed to have a claim of 20% on your income/profits, and only after clearing this 80% due, was one allowed to enjoy the fruits of their own labour. With that 20% one could do whatever – no questions asked! Generally people would use it to fulfil their innate desires – or kamanas.

Kaam is about fulfilling your desires. The word stems from kaamana – desire. A person and his spouse(s) could enjoy (fulfil their desires) from the 20% of their income in any manner they deemed fit – as they had cleared all the obligations by giving away 80% to other members of society. So, if you spent a few lakhs on touring Europe when people are dying of thirst here, should you feel guilty? If you are spending those few lakhs out of the remaining 20%, the answer is “No need to feel guilty, you can enjoy that money in whatever way you want!” After you have cleared all your obligations towards the poor and the state, nobody can question what you do with your 20%. Now, the state would be tasked to make arrangements for food and drinking water for the poor, etc.

Moksh is freedom. It is more about the internal state of mind rather than your external state. It is not something which happens when we die. The Indic ethos says that you get freedom from desires ONLY when they are enjoyed legitimately with a clear conscience. If you have enjoyed a wholesome meal from a huge banquet after clearing all your obligations, you will enjoy freedom from food for the next few hours. Our major cravings come from our desires, and hence we need legitimate ways of satiating those desires to achieve peace of mind. When your obligations are DESIGNED to be cleared before you can enjoy your desires, the chances of those obligations being met are very high and all sections of society will get their provisions. This will lead to harmonious co-existence of all elements and groups. By designing redistribution of 80% of resources from the productive people to those who cannot produce for themselves, everyone is able to co-exist peacefully and with dignity. Also, since everyone is bound to pass through the consumer-producer-consumer cycle as they go through childhood-adult-old-age, they are assured of help in their times of need.

The whole design is based on a simple fact: Everybody is NOT equal. Only equals are equal before society and laws, so the unequal on both sides (very rich and very poor) must be motivated to move towards a state of more equilibrium. However, they cannot be coerced to give up their wealth; hence they have to be inspired to do so. The rich cannot be threatened to give up their wealth; they have to be inspired to do so for respect.

We just have to look at the havoc wrecked on society in all forms (social, legal, political, economic, etc.) by the falsehood of “everybody is equal before the law” which is propounded as a doctrine of justice. This doctrine itself is perpetrating untold injustice. For breaking a traffic signal, the fine of Rs.500/- represents 10 days of food for a poor man while for the rich, it merely represents “one more bottle of beer”.

This simple principle of Dharm-Arth-Kaam-Moksh, if followed properly contains enough guidelines for living a peaceful life. However, the original design got embalmed in various practices which only served the selfish interests of a few politically motivated people who misused their authority. Cartelization followed and the fluidity became trapped in rigid customs and traditions where the original meaning was lost. This degeneration can be reversed if right thinking people propound these simple concepts from right platforms. From the Artic circle to the Antarctic and every place in between, these principles will generate peace, if followed, simply because in every society there will always be people who cannot produce for their own consumption – so redistribution of wealth HAS to be designed into the customs and practices followed. This redistribution of wealth already happens in some or the other form – Dharm-Arth-Kaam-Moksh helps by formalizing it in duties and obligations which people would follow voluntarily from an inner commitment rather than external legal force.

This model was voluntary, people had to subscribe to it and most respectable people did. However, for peaceful social existence, some things have to be made mandatory. Often, people transgress boundaries and are hauled up for the crimes they commit. In such circumstances, after a trial when someone is found guilty, punishments have to be awarded.

PUNISHMENT has strong negative connotations which are never expected in a teacher-student or a parent-child relationship. There is a big difference between handling a mistake and punishing a crime. Mistakes result from lack of COMPETENCE, whereas a crime results from a dishonest INTENTION.

Long before 1900, the then British masters commandeered the Indian education system. They were used to resorting to force whenever their students did not comply with instructions. So, even students who made mistakes were PUNISHED.

Actually, the Britishers did not even have different words for the treatment for:

a. students when they made mistakes (SHIKSHA – शिक्षा) and

b. criminals when they were awarded a punishment (DAND – दंड)

In Ancient India, teaching had always been a refined art and the gurus loved all their disciples immensely. The best word approximation for guru is teacher. The word Master can NEVER capture the essence of the word guru. Master is another misused word in the teaching context as it focuses on the power in the relationship. Power was irrelevant to a teacher-student relationship which was full of love. Whenever a student made a mistake he was given a Shiksha by his guru. This shiksha tended to make sure that s/he did not repeat the same mistake again. Making a student solve the same math problem 100 times is not a punishment, it is a shiksha (teaching dose) about the problem! This is so simple – if you don’t understand something, of course the teacher will give you a teaching dose – not a punishment!

However, criminals were awarded a dand. This was awarded by the King (or administration) and it carried a shame or guilt factor. A person committed a crime when he went against the law with a dishonest intention. Crimes carried punishments. Teachers could / can / should do only one thing: Teach! Punishing someone never entered the guru’s role at all. In fact, in the rare cases when a guru had to award a dand (punishment) to one of his students, it was a major blow for the guru himself.

When the cane-brandishing British masters (with sayings like ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’) came to India, they didn’t even have the mental faculties to differentiate between these two completely different things; so they used the same (dirty) word for both: Punishment. We in modern India have been complacent enough to follow them to a point that we have lost the delicate sensibility between these two meanings ourselves. Our teachers too today behave like ‘masters’. Prefix the word ‘ring’ and you get the correct description of what these fellows exactly were (sometimes are): Animal trainers.

Today, everybody is talking of good days – but good days cannot come unless people become good. Goodness cannot come from a system, it can only be personal or individual. Goodness is that which motivates one to act beyond personal benefit towards greater common good. Goodness is appreciated and respected by society because essentially, the person who does “good” incurs a personal loss in order to benefit all others. These good days will come when people start putting others’ needs before their own. We have to migrate away from a self-centric image of the world to a more objective one which enables us to view ourselves as “just another citizen vying for respect rather than merely money.”

If such higher ideals are fostered upon us by calling to the “noble within”, we will definitely see a marked improvement in our social and general life too. e.g. why do we need signboards in city-buses reserving seats for pregnant women and elderly? These signs actually demean the people as uncouth enough to sit when a pregnant lady is standing. What happens when a third lady arrives when only 2 seats are reserved for them? Instead of signs, can we not appeal to the “nobler instincts of chivalry and others” to let people decide to help each other? So, along with removal of signs, there has to be a strong communication which implores people to be good out of their own self-respect, not because of external forces. This self-motivation can come from promoting models like Dharm-Arth-Kaam-Moksh.

When we understand the DAKM model, we realize that there’s nothing saffron about it. It will work equally well for all societies regardless of their religious inclinations or beliefs. For it to work, people have to feel proud of themselves. And that self-esteem is constantly denied by the advertisements, which constantly keep harping upon our insecurities about body, looks and style in order to sell a few more things.

About Author: Atul Kherde

Atul Kherde is a thinker who has been fascinated by our rich cultural and intellectual heritage since childhood. He tries to understand the wisdom behind many old practices with a view to find their relevance and applicability in our daily lives. Presently, he is heading Thought-Craft Pvt. Ltd. which helps organizations achieve business and operational scale-ups by implementing some of his own models. He also offers individual coaching to business owners and career oriented managers through their flagship program Swayambhu. He has a Master's Degree in Computer Science, a Grad in Law, and also figured in the merit list of All-India Physics exam. He stays in Pune with his wife and two children.

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