Dr. Raj Balkaran - ‘The Mahābhārata and the Dharmic Double Helix: Epic Wisdom for Modern Life’

Dr. Balkaran began his lecture by explaining ‘What is Hinduism?’ Here, he explains the complexity that surrounds Hinduism and says that these primarily arise is because there is no one founder of Hinduism, there is no single body of the text. Hinduism is, Dr. Balkaran explains is not a single species, it’s not a genus rather it’s an entire jungle of thought. Further he explained that there are various strands (social, philosophical, theological and so on) woven together. These various strands work together in a manner that depicts the whole system massive amalgamation of thoughts. Explaining the same, Dr. Balkaran talked about the Hindu Tapestry where he mentioned about various strands. Through these strands he explained the tapestry of Indic civilisation and Dharmic tradition. Various strands he mentioned were: The Vedic Strand (where he talked about house holder, fire sacrifice), ascetic Strand (which comprises of renunciation and contemplation), Epic Strand (which comprises of Sanskrit texts), Tantric Strand (encompasses Mantras, śakti and Siddhis) and Devotional Strand (which has purāṇās and Devotion). These strands, Dr. Balkaran, explained are not exhaustive but are generative.

Moving on further, Dr. Balkaran, talked about ‘How to read a story?’ Here he explained the significance of narrative. By saying that he explained that there are so many teachings, so many expositions, but they are not layed out on a chart. They are not commandments. Since they are encoded in the tales, the stories and the characters, one have to crack them with a rational mind. He then explained a little bit more on ‘Storytelling’ and addressed few questions such as, why is story telling ubiquitous in the human experience, thriving across history, geography, cultures? What types of stories are there? Is storytelling an effective mode of communication? Why or why not? Does the human mind interface differently with narrative (myth, story, etc) than with instruction? Explaining briefly on each point, Dr. Balkaran, talked about ‘Application’ where he explained the power of storytelling and how stories have profound impact on humans. Mahābhārata he says is one story which have from long moved the human consciousness. It has profound impact on human mind and thus it is considered to be the greatest story ever told.

Dr. Balkaran then explored the question of ‘what is epic story?’ and indicated towards many different areas which are often understood or described as another word or concept for epic. To name a few of them are: History, Fantasy, Metaphor, Human experience, or Aspects of Self. Here, Dr. Balkaran, said that the story of Mahābhārata is way much more than this as it’s a narrative which teaches about values, it posits various ideologies which tells about life and gives paths to follow or at least understand the messy and complicated human life.

Dr. Balkaran, then began to talk about the Dharmic double Helix where he talked about integrating the opposed values. When he explained the opposed values he explained that the structure of the double helix is one. But a thorough investigation shows that there two completely opposed values in that structure. These values, addressed as two strands by Dr. Balkaran never touches each other and thus they are the reason for creative tension which results in the rotation of the double helix. Dr. Balkaran, thus uses this notion of Double Helix to explain the notion of Dharma. He began to explain the notion of Dharma, but he explained it three dimensions namely: the sociological dimension, the ethical dimension and the existential dimension.

Dr. Balkaran then explained the notion of strand one where he talked about the vedic tradition. Here he explained the fire sacrifice. It is here he talked about various vedic hymns in the Sri Suktam. Then, Dr. Balkaran, talked about the notion of second strand where he talked about the renouncers religion. Here he mentioned about the lord of the yogis (śiva) and here in the period of renouncing he explained the Upaniṣadic period, the inclusion of Guru, ethical mode of conduct and so on.

By showcasing the vast difference in the two strands, Dr. Balkaran, asked how one can reconcile the divergent point of views. It is here he talked about the epic period. He explains that Mahābhārata is one epic which aims in this reconciliation which focuses in folding these religious extremes. Here he also explained the problem of violence and explained how Hinduism explains and encompassed both notions of A and ~A. Mahābhārata showcases systematic reconciliations of Pravṛtti and Nivṛtti religion. After explaining briefly on this, Dr. Balkaran, discussed few points related to ‘the justification of War’ and here he gave few references from the Mahābhārata to explain the same.

Dr. Balkaran, also discussed the problems of renouncing and also explained the mention of various paradoxical figures in the Mahābhārata. After explaining these, Dr. Balkaran, came to the last segment he talked about the teachings of the Mahābhārata where he discussed about ‘epic wisdom for modern life’. Dr. Balkaran, then explains the instances of double helix in the Mahābhārata and gave many references of the quotes, characters and stories which show cases the double helix.

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