Saturday, April 28, 2007

Dharma is a hard row to hoe... just ask Wolfowitz

Shri Vishnu
David Seaton's News Links
If we study how Bush got "elected" and if we examine everything that he and his team have done since then and if we look at the financial scandals associated with his reign, from Enron to Wolfowitz and his girlfriend at the World Bank, they all hang together, don't they? If you were going to make a horrible little necklace of them. what single word would serve as a string to hang them all on? Sleaze? Corruption? War crimes? Words fail... or do they? How about "adharma"? What is adharma?

Adharma is the opposite of "dharma" which is a is 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.

Colbert I. King published a very good column in today's Washington Post about Paul Wolfowitz where he says,
"Now we have the spectacle of a World Bank president careering from meeting to meeting with groups of subordinates, copping pleas, admitting that he's "lost a lot of trust" -- even going so far as to offer to bring in a "coach" to teach him how not to alienate the staff. And next week he goes before a committee of the executive board -- accompanied by his lawyer -- to try to convince those board members that he should keep his job. How low must he go? It's embarrassing to watch. It's even more infuriating to think about the opportunity that Wolfowitz has squandered and the jeopardy in which he has placed America's key role in the bank."
Certainly nothing in Wolfowitz's behavior fits either the dharma of a banker or of a diplomat or of any other public servant imaginable.

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. In the article I've clipped from the Los Angeles Times that you'll find below you can read how American journalism has strayed from its dharma: the search for the truth and the publishing of the truth, whatever the truth might be. Upon this dharma rest all the other dharmas of a healthy democracy.

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. DS

U.S. media have lost the will to dig deep - Los Angeles Times

In an e-mail uncovered and released by the House Judiciary Committee last month, Tim Griffin, once Karl Rove's right-hand man, gloated that "no [U.S.] national press picked up" a BBC Television story reporting that the Rove team had developed an elaborate scheme to challenge the votes of thousands of African Americans in the 2004 election. Griffin wasn't exactly right. The Los Angeles Times did run a follow-up article a few days later in which it reported the findings. But he was essentially right. Most of the major U.S. newspapers and the vast majority of television news programs ignored the story even though it came at a critical moment just weeks before the election.(...) I'm not going to argue with Rove's minions about the validity of our reporting, which led the news in Britain. But I can tell you this: To the extent that it was ignored in the United States, it wasn't because the report was false. It was because it was complicated and murky and because it required a lot of time and reporting to get to the bottom of it. In fact, not one U.S. newsperson even bothered to ask me or the BBC for the data and research we had painstakingly done in our effort to demonstrate the existence of the scheme. The truth is, I knew that a story like this one would never be reported in my own country. Because investigative reporting — the kind Jack Anderson used to do regularly and which was carried in hundreds of papers across the country, the kind of muckraking, data-intensive work that takes time and money and ruffles feathers — is dying. I've been through this before, too many times. Take this investigative report, also buried in the U.S.: Back in December 2000, I received two computer disks from the office of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Analysis of the data, plus documents that fell my way, indicated that Harris' office had purged thousands of African Americans from Florida's voter rolls as "felons." Florida now admits that many of these voters were not in fact felons. Nevertheless, the blacklisting helped cost Al Gore the White House. I reported on the phony felon purge in Britain's Guardian and Observer and on the BBC while Gore was still in the race, while the count was still on. Yet the story of the Florida purge never appeared in the U.S. daily papers or on television. Until months later, that is, after the Supreme Court had decided the election, when it was picked up by the Washington Post and others. U.S. papers delayed the story until the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued a report saying our Guardian/BBC story was correct: Innocents lost their vote. At that point, protected by the official imprimatur, American editors felt it safe enough to venture out with the story. But by then, George W. Bush could read it from his chair in the Oval Office. Again and again, I see this pattern repeated. Until there is some official investigation or allegation made by a politician, there is no story.(...) I know some of the reasons why investigative reporting is on the decline. To begin with, investigations take time and money. A producer from "60 Minutes," watching my team's work on another voter purge list, said: "My God! You'd have to make hundreds of calls to make this case." In America's cash-short, instant-deadline world, there's not much room for that. Are there still aggressive, talented investigative reporters in the U.S.? There are hundreds. I'll mention two: Seymour Hersh, formerly of the New York Times, and Robert Parry, formerly of the Associated Press, who uncovered the Iran-Contra scandal. The operative word here is "formerly." Parry tells me that he can no longer do this kind of investigative work within the confines of a U.S. daily newsroom. One of the biggest disincentives to doing investigative journalism is that it jeopardizes future access to politicians and corporate elite. During the I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial, the testimony of Judith Miller and other U.S. journalists about the confidences they were willing to keep in order to maintain access seemed to me sadly illuminating. Expose the critters and the door is slammed. That's not a price many American journalists are willing to pay. READ IT ALL

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