The idea that one is ‘other than oneself’, or one is different from what one should be, brings various sorts of anxieties in the mind of the people. However, this perceived alienation from oneself is also the cause for the development of civilisation. Thus, unlike animals who live in ready- made world, man constantly struggles to create a world where this dualism can be overcome. One of the institutions that has helped man in this endeavour is religion. Religion provides man with some sort of certainty about what he is, what he should be, and also prescribes what he should do to overcome this dualism, thus providing meaning to the life and livelihood. However under the onslaught of modernity and Enlightenment, the sacred canopy of religion has been vanishing. Max Weber foresaw a world where there was continuous erosion of what he called ‘value rationality’ (the intrinsic value of something that is non-negotiable), under the onslaught of instrumental rationality (primarily driven by means end relation, where everything was negotiable). Weber saw this process beginning from economy and finally entering into the social life.
The biggest consequences of these developments is uprooting of man from his niche. While man has always been concerned about what a good man and good society would be, this anxiety has become more severe in recent years. Today one is not sure what he should be, and constantly look towards others as reference point. In search for an identity man is constantly chasing some models, whom he can emulate, but this search remains elusive. Every day we try to find ourselves in others way of life and action. We never try to be model for others. And here comes the role of mass media and advertisements through which different interest groups, with sole purpose of profit, sell their models of man. A process called ‘thingification’, whereas a man is made or unmade by his material possessions, is stark reality of social life. As more and more decision-making power, backed by technology is falling into the hands of few technocrats and experts, man has become part of an ocean of mass society, which only absorb, not reflect, only consume, not produce, only react, not act, only listens, and never questions. The way we are trying to shape our thought and action as per the demand of the instrumental rationality, one day man would be labelled insane simply because he behaved like human.
The need of the hour is to think about a moral man. In simplified way moral means something different from our natural desire and instinct. A moral man adheres to his dharma that is performing his duty religiously. This is the message of Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Arjun was more concerned about his inner desire and instinct that was restraining him from fighting against his relatives. But then Krishna preached, that as a member of society, Arjun should be a moral man and his morality demands that he must fight against his relatives. A man becomes social by performing his duty. Let’s see how Durkheim, Tocqueville, the Constitution of India, and Gandhi have similar idea about society based upon dharma.
Durkheim who talks about the universality of sacred-profane dichotomy in the history of mankind concluded that religion and society were two sides of the same coin. For Durkheim, society is a moral system and religion is the most important source of morality. By underscoring the importance of religion as a universal institution across time and space, Durkheim opined that there was no future for a society without religion (morality). Society is the relation between different statuses, and every status is a combination of rights and duties. Thus a social man is not only concerned about his right but also of duty. Right and duty are not antithesis to each other, but complementary.
All over the world people are aware about the ‘Bill of Rights’ enshrined in the American Constitution, however people are not that much aware about certain duties Americans fulfil voluntarily. A young Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville was fascinated by the working of American democracy. After visiting America for about nine months (1831-32), he wrote a timeless classic named ‘Democracy in America’ (1835). America was a highly individualistic society, but democracy, that is a social institution, was working so well there. For Tocqueville two factors were responsible for that. One was that Americans were highly religious in nature. They had left Europe due to religious persecution, but when they founded America they were of the opinion that only a secular state would ensure their religious freedom. The second was the unique ability of Americans to form associations. ‘In democratic countries the science of association is the mother of science: the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made’, Writes Tocqueville. American don’t wait for the state to do everything and believe in self-help. Both these habits instil a sense of duties among the Americans towards their country as well as fellow countrymen. Probably the most important observation of Tocqueville was that, ‘Americans helped each other in time of need’. One can see that most of the wealthy Americans are involved in one or another form of philanthropies.
There was belated recognition of importance of duty in Indian Constitution. The Constitution of India has bestowed certain rights to the citizens in the form of Fundamental Rights. However Art. 51A, Part IVA named ‘Fundamental Duties’ was inserted in the Constitution through the 42nd Constitution Amendment in 1976. These Fundamental Duties are not enforceable, if a citizens violates it, but these Duties are moral obligations on every citizen to adhere to the ideals of India as enshrined in the Constitution. By inserting a chapter on Fundamental Duties the state has tried to make a balance between the rights and duties of the individuals.
A great nation is born when people are equally, if not more, concerned about their duties as well as about their rights. The foundation of Gandhiji’s idea of India was Ram Rajya, and this Ram Rajya basically was a society in which man was committed to his dharma. Ram, for Gandhi, was Maryada Purushottam, meaning one who follows his duty religiously. So Gandhi imagined a society where everyone would stick to one’s duty, leaving no scope for the fight for rights. One can say that it was a utopian ideal, but utopia provides a reference point in which one moves. We cannot live without utopia. How to build a dharma based society. For me it is Buddha who is a guiding force. Budhha said that the main source of our misery is located in our desire. Until we don’t control our desire, we don’t have any chance to live in peace. And for Buddha, “peace comes from within”, and he advises, “don’t seek it (peace) without”. By limiting our desire religion helps man becoming a selfless and fearless subject, who can think, act, and provides reference points for others. There is need to bring the sacred back in our social life. And that is the only hope for the humanity.