The failure of dharma

Bowles, Adam (2010) The failure of dharma. Seminar (New Delhi): the monthly symposium, 608: 26-31.

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Author Bowles, Adam
Title The failure of dharma
Journal name Seminar (New Delhi): the monthly symposium
ISSN 0971-6742
Publication date 2010-04
Sub-type Article (original research)
Issue 608
Start page 26
End page 31
Total pages 6
Editor Tejbir Singh
Place of publication Janpath, New Delhi, India
Publisher Seminar Publications
Collection year 2011
Language eng
Formatted abstract
The four points developed in the readings from the Mahabharata in the preceding discussion can be summarized as follows. First, the proposition that there is a ‘decline’ or ‘failure’ of dharma’ must be interrogated as part and parcel of broader arguments about social, cultural and civilizational values. How one thinks about such an assertion ought to take into account how that dharma and the values it implies are conceived by those making the assertion.

Though it is often treated as such, dharma is neither a neutral term nor a given. Thus, when contemporary politicians heading into electoral battles keenly evoke the Mahabharata in support of their own cause as a metaphor for a righteous battle (dharmayuddh) in which the good shall triumph, they would be wise to consider that the righteous battle in the Mahabharata decimated the good and bad alike. Such evocations should be warily treated, not least because surely not all politicians can be Pandavas.

Second, if a decline of dharma is conceded, as indeed at times it must, it is some consolation to observe that (as in the case of Bhishma) human endeavour, while playing a role in its decline, can also participate in its revival. Like dharma itself, the course of dharma is not a given, and the capacity for humanity to do something about the state of dharma constitutes an important part of its intellectual fabric.

Third, when dharma is in decline, important provisions are contained within it enabling individuals to sustain themselves and thereby participate in the restoration of dharma. If authentically applied, the principle behind this flexibility, rather than compromising the values that underpin dharma, goes towards establishing conditions in which it can thrive once again.

And, finally, to continue this line of thought, discourses concerning dharma ought to be amenable to new social and cultural attitudes and conditions. Nothing would ensure that dharma fail more than if this would not be the case.

Separating good from bad is often a specious task, and the Mahabharata, in its famously argumentative way, is frequently uncertain of such things. And if it does fall on one side or the other (as in the end it must), it at least acknowledges the price of its qualified certainty. In its long and grand exploration of a devastating fratricidal war and the moral and ethical questions it provokes, I like to think that the Mahabharata prosecutes the former so that we do not have to, and the latter in case we do not want to.
Q-Index Code CX
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ
Additional Notes Special Issue: "The Enduring Epic : A Symposium on Some Concerns Raised in The Mahabharata".

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Non HERDC
School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry
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Created: Tue, 22 Mar 2011, 13:22:40 EST by Dr Adam Bowles on behalf of School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry