Friday, April 04, 2008

Dharma bums: Gore and McCain

Borrowed from:

Chinese character for: Dharma

I had a mail asking me to justify how I could be willing to vote for Dennis Kucinich, Al Gore and John McCain and not for either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

First congressman Kucinich:
As I've often said, if the tooth fairy could give me three wishes Dennis Kucinich would be President of the United States and with a mandate large enough to enact his full program. I would love to live in a country that someone who thinks like Dennis Kucinich could be president. I do, in fact, live in such a country, but that is another story.

In the case of both Gore and McCain, I read them as men of dharma in the Hindu sense, a
apparently esoteric term which, if you pardon me copying and pasting myself, I will explain below.


"Dharma" is a very useful Sanskrit word, that Wikipedia defines as "the underlying order in nature and human life and behavior considered to be in accord with that order." Some would translate that as "right" as opposed to "wrong", or "duty" but those words might carry a little more "Judeo-Christian" freight of "sin" and "guilt" than dharma might feel comfortable carrying. "Appropriate", might be closer, but such a very powerful version of that word... so powerful that the word "dharma" in the original version would be more precise, so I'll try to explain dharma, as I understand it, through some examples.

Once a famous rishi, or Hindu holy man, was sitting in meditation next to a flowing river accompanied by his disciples. His reverie was interrupted by the sound of the death struggles of a scorpion that had fallen in the river. Filled with compassion the rishi reached out his hand and lifted the drowning creature out of the water, but no sooner did the scorpion feel himself safe, it stung the rishi's hand and the pain of the sting forced the rishi to drop it back into the water, where of course the scorpion began to drown again... and again the holy man reached down to pull the scorpion out and again he was stung for his pains, this was repeated several times till one of the disciples managed to get a leaf under the scorpion, lift it out of the water and set it on dry land, whereupon the scorpion stalked off into the grass without so much as a backward look.

The disciple approached the rishi, who was nursing his swollen hand, and touching his guru's feet in homage asked, "Master, why did you continue to attempt to save the drowning scorpion, when each time you did so, he stung you for your pains?

The guru replied, "It is the scorpion's dharma to sting and it is my dharma to save."

Perhaps that example might be a little confusing because of the rishi's saintliness. The following story might clarify it.

Once upon a time in India there lived a king who was both a patron of the arts and of religion and a young actor resolved on getting a job at the court theater.

Disguising himself as a mendicant holy man with matted hair and smeared with ashes, the actor appeared before the palace gates, where the guards, knowing the king's penchant for conversing with saints, promptly ushered him into the royal presence. The king and the rishi/actor had a long conversation about spiritual matters and the king received some valuable pointers on his meditation techniques. At the end of the interview the king clapped his hands and a servant brought in a tray with a hundred gold coins upon it, which the king humbly offered to the rishi/actor, who with saintly modesty refused it, only accepting a bowl of rice before blessing the king and going on his way.

The next day the actor appeared before the palace dressed as a dancing girl and accompanied by a group of musicians. The guards knowing the king's love of music ushered the troupe promptly into the royal presence.

To the rhythm of the tabla and the whining of the sitar the actor/dancing girl whirled and stamped his/her bangled feet, striking coy poses, combined with lascivious undulations that drew enthusiastic applause from the king and the entire court. At the end of the performance, the king clapped his hands and again, as before, the servant appeared with the tray covered in gold coins... but this time the actor/dancing girl shook his/her tresses, stamped his/her feet in indignation and pouted with offended displeasure and asked for more money in a rough, high pitched voice.

Now, the king was no dunce and something in the voice of the dancing girl rang a bell and he leaped from his throne and shouted, "I know you! You are the same person that came here yesterday posing as a rishi!" The actor whipped off his wig and threw himself at the king's feet saying, "Yes, your majesty, I was the rishi yesterday and I am the dancing girl today. In reality I am an actor who wants a job in the royal theater and this was the only way I could think of to show you my art."

"Well, said the king, "you are indeed a wonderful actor and not only am I going to give you a job in my theater, from today you are its director." The king paused and lifting the actor to his feet asked him, "But tell me one thing first: Why as rishi did you refuse a hundred gold coins and as a dancing girl protest that they were too few?"

The actor replied, "Your majesty, it is against the dharma of a rishi to accept money for spiritual advice and it is against the dharma of a dancing girl to ever be satisfied no matter how much money she gets... and, of course, it is the dharma of an actor to behave in the dharma of others" So the actor stayed on at court and as the years passed became one of the king most trusted advisors.

Living in dharma can be quite complex, however. Take this example: A judge can also be a grandfather. At home, in his grandfather dharma, his little grandson rides him around the living room like a pony, spurring him in the ribs. In court, in his judge dharma, the accused tremble in his presence. Each role has its dharma.

Institutions and organizations also have their dharmas. Take General Motors for instance. Toyota Motors has just passed GM as the world's biggest car maker. The dharma of a car maker is to make good cars. Toyota makes good cars, GM makes lousy cars.

The opposite of dharma is "adharma". The problem that faces the United States today is that while it postures as "dharma swarupa" (the embodiment of dharma) it is now perceived as adharmic and this could cause a catastrophic collapse in America's positions in a host of situations to come.

In Hindu mythology,
Vishnu, the god of preservation and nurturing, incarnates from age to age to restore and to foster dharma. In a secular democracy, however, I'm afraid we'll just have to do it ourselves.

Lord Vishnu


So what about Gore and McCain?

First the one I think would make the best president: Al Gore.

I confess that I was not really a fan of Al Gore's until he had the presidency stolen from him by Bush. I cannot think of any more bitter experience for anyone to face. I thought his reaction, his attitude, serene and institutional was completely "dharmic". I think he put the welfare of the country before his own ego, which is at the heart of presidential dharma. That his sacrifice was repaid by eight years of the worst, most adharmic, president in American history takes nothing away from the merit of Gore's abnegation. Dharma to be really dharma has to be Nishkam Karma, self-less or desireless action performed without any expectation of fruits or results.

On to McCain. Obviously at the center of McCain's dharma are the years he spent in a Vietnamese prison. What most exemplifies dharma in this case is that McCain could have been released years before he was, because his father was the Admiral commanding the Pacific Fleet and the Vietnamese were eager to exchange him. McCain refused to be exchanged before his comrades. I can't think of a better example of nishkam karma or Dharma than that.

Tom Engelhardt quite reasonably inquires what McCain was doing when he got shot down. Again, the son and grandson of admirals was fulfilling family dharma. The Gita will inform any who are interested in the dharma of a Kshatriya.

I prefer Gore to McCain because I think he will follow more progressive policies, but I could be wrong. Yesterday there was an interesting article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, that I'll quote:
Of seven major industries that have been the most reliable Republican resources, Sen. McCain has beaten Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama in only one, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization. Even that one, transportation, is a close call. Among the seven combined, the expected Republican nominee raised $13.1 million through February, compared with $22.5 million for Sen. Obama and $27.1 million for Sen. Clinton.(...) Health-care and pharmaceutical firms have given three times as much to each of the two Democrats as to Sen. McCain. Defense firms put Sen. McCain ahead of Sen. Obama, but behind Sen. Clinton. Energy, construction and agribusiness firms have given more to both Democrats.
I don't know about you, but I smell a rat. These people know what they expect for their money and if there is anything people like this don't like and don't understand it is Nishkam Karma in any shape or form.

Summing up: The most important quality in any person of power, as Bush so well illustrates negatively, is dharma. I think that both Al Gore and John McCain are men of proven dharma and I know for sure, as do most Americans, that both the Clintons are adharmic in the extreme... and, as to Obama, to tell the truth, I have no idea what or who Barack Obama really is and I'm not sure even he does either, and that is simply not good enough for me.

Krishna Universe

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