I have been pondering about the news that has been been making its rounds recently, namely Brexit and the US elections. On the heels of this comes the damning evidence about the Iraq war, and how decisions were taken that led to so much suffering for an already beleagured people, and probably fueled terrorism.
What constitutes Dharmic Leadership?
What kind of leadership is demonstrated in these dramas that unfold on the world stage? Are they Dharmic? To answer this question let us briefly examine the idea of Dharma. Actions that either regenerate that which has fallen, reinstate that which is falling or replenish that which is standing is called Dharmic action. Another related idea states that actions that simultaneously enlivens me, you and our context is Dharmic.
The kind of debate leading up to Brexit or the ones that are now on show in the US are clearly not dharmic. Why? For a very simple reason, they are profoudly polarizing. A simple yes/ no binary can not uphold Dharma. Nor can human impact of a Brexit or the US election be determined only by the people of that country. Take the US election for instance. The primary discourse is around the question “how do we sustain/ improve the American way of life?” Trump says “recreate its greatness”. If you have not already done so watch
It will be obvious to you when you watch this documentary that the American way of life costs the earth an awful lot! Yet, this will never be part of the discourse, nor will the questions regarding the American way of life and its consequences on its own people and their happiness. The debate, (and it was a debate not dialogue, not a process of meaningful enquiry) for and against Brexit descended into xenophobic emotional manipulation.
For a discovery of what is dharmic, one has to listen to many voices, the ones directly inside the issue as well as ones that will be impacted by the way the issue is resolved. This listening and deep concern for what these voices are reflecting leads to a “dharma sankata”: a decision making double bind where there is a price to be paid whatever decision is arrived at. The only way out of the dilemma is to discover a larger shared meaning where the voices cohere and converge.
There seems to be no leader in the horizon, nor a process that can ensure the emergence of a truly human and global mind. And, clearly we are dealing with decisions that profoundly and often irreversibly impact the world and all of humanity.
The Iraq war was decided on the idea of “energy security” of the US of A and its allies. Evidence seems to have been concocted about the weapons of mass destruction and the public lied to. This is clearly criminal, not even just Adharmic!
It provokes anxiety and helplessness when we see that all the issues that now confront human beings are global issues and there is no serious dialogue that is holistic: global warming, depletion of resources, terrorism and so on. Thinking that is fragmented and divisive causes all of them. Worse still is that the fragments that think in this way see the “whole” either as an evil to be destroyed, or as a resource to plunder! The so-called ‘Leaders’ of these fragments pander to the narrow self-interest or emotional motivations of their followers. When they appear in global forums they are grandstanding to their own support base.
Our Wisdom Tradition
Vikramaditya was a mythical king whose dharmic conduct is idealized and exemplified through many stories. The most popular ones are the “Vikramadiya and Vetal” and the story of Bhoja Raja’s attempt to ascend the throne of Vikramaditya. What is interesting about the Vetal stories is that they are all double binds. Vikramaditya is placed at the centre of a double bind when the puzzle which is also a double bind is put to him: if he knows the answer and does not speak, his head will burst into a thousand pieces, and if he does, the vetal will go back to the top of the tall tree from which Vikramaditya fetched it to start with. The stories that Bhoja is confronted with when he tries to ascend the throne are of the greatness of Vikramaditya. They are not stories of war, but are stories that illustrate the genuine concern Vikramaditya showed to others and the whole kingdom, his anchorage in dharma not his problem solving capability. Through explicating the nature and structure of a double bind, and the insightful nature of thought required in solving them these wisdom stories were used to train leaders. A dharma sankata is a double bind that has profound implications for many human beings. Understanding an issue from a holistic perspective is fundamental to recognizing the dharma sankata. Personal integrity and a capacity for contemplative enquiry are necessary prerequisites to engage with a dharma snakata.
When the whole is not understood, where is the question of dharma? When ‘Leaders’ focus on manipulating opinion to grab power, how can a Dharmic leader emerge? When religions are vying to harvest souls, who will teach real dharma?
The way forward?
We have probably exhausted all existing human capabilities to manage the dangerous effects of our own recent advances in thinking. Our ability to convert scientific discoveries into weapons or war or consumer goods in greater quantity than life enhancing products has brought us to this point. Inner development where a large percentage of people understand global issues and are concerned about humanity lags behind. The hope for the future lies in mindful and simple living as well as the use of education to enlarge people’s minds and hearts. Divisive thinking and action must end. There are no national and sectarian problems to solve any more.
My work revolves around helping individuals, groups and organizations discover their Dhamma, and become “the best they can be”. This aligns with my own personal saadhana. I have restated this question for my self as follows: “how can I be in touch with the well spring of my love for the world and my love for my self simultaneously”