By Karan Singh
April 4, 2020,
The grave crisis that has developed worldwide due to the spread of a tiny, invisible virus, reminds me of the samudra manthan story, the mythological churning of the milky ocean. Continuous churning went on for centuries, in which devas and asuras, both participated in the hope that great gifts would emerge. Instead, suddenly, a dark and deadly poison, the garala, emerged and spread worldwide. Devas and asuras fled in terror, and it was only when Shiva, Karunavataram, the incarnation of compassion, collected the poison in his hands and swallowed it, thus containing it in his own throat which turned blue (hence his name Neelkanth) that the churning continued and great gifts began to appear.
If we consider the violent churning that the human race has indulged in over the last few centuries – the ruthless exploitation of nature, the cruel destruction of millions of plant, insect and animal species, pollution of air, earth and oceans, the unsustainable high protein diets and consumption of strange animals and reptiles – it has, at last, thrown up a new garala that threatens the very existence of the human race. Perhaps this is nature’s way of telling us to slow down worldwide for a while so as to enable her to regenerate, which she seems to be doing rapidly, during the human lockdown period.
To expect Shiva to appear once again and contain this poison is, to say the least, unrealistic; nonetheless, we urgently need the compassion he embodied so that together, we can meet this challenge. This must extend not only to victims of the virus but to those millions whose lives have been uprooted in the process. The sight of lakhs of migrant workers desperately trying to walk hundreds of kilometres to get back to their villages was heartrending. Have we seen a countervailing upsurge of compassion? Shakespeare’s immortal words in The Merchant of Venice are apt: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven / Upon the place beneath : it is twice blest / It blesses him that gives and him that takes.”
That is the karuna we need. The present crisis has taught us that firstly, despite attempts by several world leaders, notably President Trump, to trash globalisation, the fact remains that in any major worldwide crisis we will all sink or swim together. The ancient Indic ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam remains valid.
Secondly, it shows that our basic health infrastructure remains woefully inadequate. ‘Sharir madhyam khalu dharma sadhanam’ – the body alone is the foundation for all dharmas. Unless we triple the percentage of GDP that is at present allotted to health and education, we will never be able to safeguard the welfare of the weaker and most vulnerable sections of society. A restructuring of our national priorities is long overdue.
Thirdly, this crisis has given us the opportunity to stay home, look within and develop our intellectual and spiritual capacities, regardless of which religion we may belong to. We have to find within ourselves, springs of compassion – karuna – that alone will be able to confront this deadly Corona challenge. We do not need large congregations; just quiet prayer and meditation are much more effective. As the Upanishad says, “Within the furthest golden sheath resides the immortal Brahmn. That, effulgent, light of lights, that is what the knowers of the Atman know.”
DISCLAIMER: Views expressed above are the author's own.
Original Headline: Corona is here, but where is karuna?
source: The Times of India