Millennials And Dharma

Author: Divya Nagaraj.

The term “Difference Anxiety” as defined by Shri Rajiv Malhotra in his book ‘Being Different’ is as follows:

 “The mental uneasiness caused by the perception of difference combined with a desire to diminish, conceal or eradicate it”.

This phenomenon holds profound relevance in the lifestyle of millennials today. As a millennial, enlightened by the works of erudite public intellectuals such as Shri Rajiv Malhotra,I would like to analyze the following questions through the prism of my generation,

  • Why are the millennials in the relentless pursuit to blur the boundaries with the West?
  • Why are the millennials ashamed of their own culture and heritage?
  • What is the relevance of Dharma in today’s life?

The above are some of the significant questions that need to be addressed for the welfare of our future generations. When I look around with my IK lens, what I learn is that many of my peers seem to suffer from deep identity crisis. This may also be at the subconscious level, as a result of which they are relentlessly trying to fit into the largely accepted Western framework. One of the reasons to alienate from an Indian identity is to distance oneself from the negative and inferior narrative that feeds the colonized public discourse of India. We are yet to decolonize this ecosystem. Amidst this environment, one is ready to forgo Dharma, and I often find the millennials questioning the relevance of religion/dharma in one’s life. Shri Rajiv Malhotra in ‘Being Different’ explains the difference between religion and Dharma in great detail. To appreciate the fruits of Hinduism, we should understand the framework of Dharma. However, in today’s context Hinduism is classified as a religion and therefore it is important to understand how it starkly differs from the Abrahamic faiths. I am confident that once we understand the Dharmic framework of Hinduism, nobody would want to move away. Therefore, the knowledge of Dharma is the void that needs to be filled in academia today. One of the profound contributions of Dharma is contextual ethics. Here is an excerpt from the book ‘Being Different’ highlighting the difference between Dharmic and Western ethics :

  “Dharmic ethics are formulated in response to the situation and context of the problem in a way that makes Western ethics seem unduly codified, rigid, monolithic and even simplistic”.

Dharma emphasizes context and situation based judgment on what is right and wrong. This judgement is dependent on various factors such as time, place, emotions and so on. As a result, a fair and logical judgement is produced. Here is another excerpt that highlights the role of Dharma in facilitating an ethical life :

“Dharma provides an ethical framework for the conduct of individuals and groups that enables both worldly pursuits and evolution of consciousness. Dharma is critical to the maintenance of social stability and harmony and is the ethic governing the pursuit of wealth and pleasure. Its values are founded on metaphysical and cosmic principles yet are applicable to common social life. It tries to prevent human beings from falling into crooked and unbridled impulses, desires, ambitions, and egoism. The contextual nature goes hand in hand with the spirit of openness to multiple answers to complex ethical questions.”

We often find that millennials who lack this Dharmic wisdom are stuck at crossroads in life. They are unable to decide what’s good and bad as the binary categories cannot be applied to all situations and often end up making regretful decisions.

Understanding Dharma and the Vedic philosophy eliminates stress and anxiety from one’s life, which is one of the significant problems today. For instance, the Gita emphasizes on working hard to achieve a goal but without any expectations, as results are decided by the Karma calculus, which a layman cannot comprehend. Understanding this basic tenet of life eliminates all aspects of stress and tension, and this law holds true universally. But on the other hand, English education convinces the child that he/she is only to blame for all the failures in his/her life. This results in undue stress driving teenagers and young adults to resort to temporary solutions such as alcohol, drugs and so on. Therefore, Dharma is of utmost importance in making the right choices for long-term happiness and success. Albeit, Dharma is not to be confused with escapism as it distinctly emphasizes on the aspect of working hard irrespective of the results.

Now one may wonder, in the age of blurring boundaries and the world becoming a global village, wouldn’t it be nicer to fit into the majority framework and make our lives easier? But I would like to ask, at what cost? Definitely not at the cost of our cultural identity and profound Indic wisdom, because to compromise on our identity is foolishness when the West has built a significant knowledge system based on Indic wisdom. With our roots uprooted it’s impossible to survive. The element of inferiority needs to be shed, because when it comes to knowledge systems and modernity we are at par with the West, perhaps even higher. It is possible to stay rooted in our spiritual values, culture and at the same time adapt to modern times. Like Shri Rajiv Malhotra has constantly emphasized in his book ‘Being Different’, Indians can be traditional, modern and post-modern at the same time. We don’t have to give up our traditional roots to be modern for the current times.  

Divya Nagaraj from Bangalore is currently a Research Assistant at Infinity Foundation. She is a Computer Science Engineer from PES University, Bangalore with a Post-Graduate degree in management from SP Jain school, View More…

1 thought on “Millennials And Dharma”

  1. Very precise and succinctly written. The perception (dharshana) gap is too much among the youth. It can only be corrected through Dharmic upbringing. Shifting them between two world views at a very young age leads to confusion and they are inclined to take western thought as it is too simplistic, popular and considered “progressive”.

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