Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam, Not a Deer but a SEER

  • Article explains the story of a deer and jackal (taken from Panchatantra) and relates the story the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam to tell the downside of this Indic concept. Eventually, it relates the story to Yog Sadhana and the Individual.

There was a dilemma in my mind as I wrote this blog post that it should not come out as a rant but as a study of the subject of this philosophy in present day context. As always I have followed a stream of thought in my mind and anyone is welcome to disagree with the prognosis I have attempted to arrive at.

This thought process started when I heard this beautiful rendition of an ancient chant performed by The London Symphony and various artists. The process of the thought though went from feeling mellow at the auditory experience of this divine chant to the intellectual interpretation in today's context to a realisation far beyond in the spiritual field, in course of a few days from the first moment of thought contact. 

(You can listen to the performance by clicking on the mantra below)

अयं बन्धुरयं नेतिगणना लघुचेतसाम्।
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ॥

Meaning of the mantra.

"This one is a friend; this other does not count, is for the small-minded. For those of a magnanimous character, the entire earth is one family.”- Mahōpaniṣad, VI.71.

My mind marvelled at the antiquity and the depth of the Sanatan philosophy in which is rooted the modern day ism of the hindus. At a time when the world is talking of "lives" matter, of women's and LGBTQ+ rights, of environmental degradation; this wisdom of the earth as family was prevalent on a land thousands of years ago, expressed simply and succinctly in a language as ancient as the thought. 

But what is more of a marvel is that both the language and the philosophy is still a living phenomenon as a prayer and an adage even today. Also to be noted the shlok says vasudha meaning earth and not just manav humans.

Called one of the loftiest Vedantic thought, this shlok is etched on the entrance of the Indian Parliament. Many Vedic chants show this inclusiveness in their realisations. More on this in another article. 

Modern Usage 

The term "Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam," the world as a family, is a popular saying often repeated by present day Gurus and Saints and even politicians in India as they try to showcase the all-encompassing nature of the Hindu religion to the world, the politicians to emphasise the secular nature of the country. 

In their eagerness either due to real innocence or carelessness or craftiness, they forget to warn their followers of the pitfalls of such a philosophy applied without filters in today's sectarian world.
However, this sentiment of caution had been expressed in a story from the Hitopadesha I had heard as a child and which came to mind when I heard this music and was mulling over the philosophy behind it.

The Hitopadesha is a compilation of stories for children, drawn from the more ancient Panchatantra written by Vishnu Sharma dated 1200 BCE to 300 CE. The Panchatantra were written as lessons to teach the art of ruling- (raj) niti- to three princes, who were sent by their father the King to a Brahmin in the forest.

In order to make it interesting to the young princes the stories involve animal figures and were woven together to educate the children in the intricacies of politics and ruling a kingdom. It talks of friends and foes, of making allies and causing dissent amongst enemies for benefit, of war and peace, of loss and profit from alliances and results of hasty actions.

As an adult I went back to read the original unabridged version and was quite literally blown away at the elaborate detail with which the lessons were taught. A  treatise on politics, it is worth inclusion as text in school and college curriculum, which will of course get labelled a move towards Hindutva, seeing the state of the country today.

The later Aesops fables, the Arabian Nights, Grimms fairy tales and many western ballads draw from the Panchatantra for their inspiration.

The first known translation is into Persian and Arabic around 750 CE, while one version reached Europe in the 11th century. Versions are also found in Indonesia, Laos and Thailand. The french teller of fables, fabulist La Fontaine acknowledged his indebtedness to this work.

"Sanskrit literature is very rich in fables and stories; no other literature can vie with it in that respect; nay, it is extremely likely that fables, in particular animal fables, had their principal source in India."- Max Muller, On the Migration of Fables (source Wikipedia for this info).  Max Muller is credited with systematically trying to demolish the Hindu education system replacing it with the Christian Missionary schools, one of whose product is me. Obviously his intent to subvert the Bharatiya mind has sort of backfired with many like me now able to express better our rooted sentiments about Indic philosophy, in English language!

Lesson of the Panchatantra/Hitopadesha

However, coming back to the present chant of vasudhaiva kutumbhakam, in the story the wily jackal quotes this very shloka to befriend the naive deer. 

To calm the trepidation of the deer and gain confidence the jackal keeps repeating that we can be friends, for after all we are all one family, that people who think otherwise are mean spirited. The motive being to lead the deer to the pack to be killed and devoured.

The crow, a former friend of the deer keeps warning the deer who foolishly follows the jackal in a euphoric state of bonhomie. In the childhood recital of the story the deer escapes through the intervention of the crow.

The lesson of this story was to beware the princes of foes befriending them by quoting and professing a philosophy of inclusiveness with an ulterior motive of defeating them.

India and Earth family

Leading from there I thought of India in present day scenario, struggling to upkeep her image of a secular country and society. Battered by narratives of pseudo liberals and a far left determined in its hatred of Hindu thought and philosophy, by majority and minority appeasement politics, struggling still to free herself from the emotional burden of 700 years of Islamic rule and then over 400 years of the French and Portuguese in certain parts and the British in the rest of the country.

A country that gave refuge to the persecuted Parsis, the family of Prophet Mohammed and the Tibetans to name a few, is today being called to prove her inclusiveness! I was moved to tears at this thought.

In this context the story of the jackal and deer needs to be more understood, I felt.

When in the name of Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam (secularism) forces with an agenda (the jackal) lead the good at heart and easily misled folks, who are majority of people, (deer) and the wise seers (crows), who keep warning and are either ignored and called names or are in fact labelled anti peace forces and conspiracy theorists, it is time to take note.

I feel one reason for India's being conquered time and again has been an adherence to this deep rooted mind set of Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam and the dilemma it creates in the mind of its people.

This was the first extent of my process of thought how when the philosophy of a country and its majority people is inclusiveness, has to deal with narratives that are fashioned to prove otherwise by forces whom they have to be warned of and somehow exclude from this earth as all-embracing family philosophy. A very difficult task indeed and which could cause a mental psychotic breakdown in the sensitive or make them put their head in the sand and refuse to engage or keep on embracing the fox as they are torn apart.

As I practice and teach Yog Sadhana and heart centre expansion, unconditional love is a by-product of the yog sadhana as the human transforms into the divine.

It is a moot point to understand how to amalgamate the qualities of a warrior with a lover without losing either.

But I am emboldened when I think of our texts like the Bhagavad Gita which extol to fight to protect the weak, to uphold dharma, of personages like Adi Shankaracharya who came at a time when the Buddhist outlook, it was felt was robbing the Bharatiya mind-set of its warrior like qualities. May be foresaw the future, I wonder!

The invasions and the long stint of being ruled by foreigners subjected Indians to genocide and systemic conversions and economic loot, to famines, taxes and subjugation of our culture? Our Sikh Gurus started preparing well in time for the great fight, gurus like Swami Samarth Ram Das took heed and started training soldiers and warriors for the war.

There was no dichotomy in being a spiritual practitioner, warrior and saviour.
As a result of which India is one of the only country to have survived with its indigenous culture and ancient customs still alive and thriving, visible from the shlok, the subject of this blog. The rest of the world crumbled under Islam and Christian conquests. 

Deer and Jackal in the Marketplace

Then cruising along this thought stream my mind came to the field of the market of ideologies, spirituality and religion.

The simple seekers (deer) who are led on a merry dance by charlatan saints, priests, gurus, granthis and maulvis, by mentors and influencers (jackal), do include any others I may have forgotten here! Promising the followers everything from a state of eternal bliss, to virgins in heaven, to a promised land, an egalitarian society. In their greed for name and fame they quote vasudhaiva kutumbhakam or its equivalent! The seer who warns the seekers of the ulterior motives of such charlatans is often shamed and brought down. (That does not mean everyone who is brought down is a seer!)

As a deer today, the danger may not be about being killed but you may be recruited, inducted, radicalised or indoctrinated into the ideology or religious belief system of the jackal, whoever it might be, left or right. Without being aware you become a means for attracting more deer to be slaughtered or recruited.

The corporate world is not free from this phenomenon either; the world seemed to me to be divided today, into deers and jackals with very few seers, people with the ability to see with clarity.

In our personal inner spheres too the senses, and the mind (deer), led outwards by sensual and material attractions (jackal) and our vivek buddhi - the discerning intellect seer (crow) can keep warning us in vain.

At a time like this how can one be sure one is the deer and not the jackal?

When the deer sees without doubt, the jackal for what IT is, the deer becomes the seer.

For me, this clarity of perception only comes as our biases and conditioning is cleared. This can be achieved in many ways, the path of Yog Sadhana being one of them. It is the heightening of our intuitive perception that cuts through the obvious and the apparent and can get to the core motive of the other, and yes of oneself.

Constantly introspecting to see if one is a deer being influenced by a jackal or a jackal recruiting other deers. A seer is a person who is neither but has the wisdom to be aware of both.

 The seer, in my realisation, is always rooted firmly in the soil of vasudhaiva kutumbhakam, seeing the earth as one family and embracing all. And though the seer, warns about the fox, can see clearly the motive and agenda and can take any action to deter the jackal from devouring the deer, emotionally, physically and mentally, there is no hate for nor fear of the jackal in the action.

Until this final realisation comes, one swings like a pendulum or seesaw between deer and the seer unless one is the jackal, in which case we are part of a larger pack and may require an immense effort to self-extricate and get away or paying heed to a seer may help us do that.

In conclusion, for me, applied introspection in every situation is the way to identify our roles as deer, jackal or seer.

Author is a Kriyacharya.

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