The concept of rna

31 Aug
The concept of rna

(Inspired by Giridhar Gopal’s blog My wishes on Friendship Day and his responses)


You know that living this life to the fullest, is its own secret.
You be assured that if you do so, your life would be worth living.
You do so, without doubts, without fears and without regretting.

–      Giridhar Gopal –

The concept of rna, the human indebtedness or the primary obligation that every being carries with him or her, is rather unique to Indian tradition. They are the debt one owes – to his ancestors (pitr); to the sages/teachers (rishi); and to the Gods (deva).  The Shathapatha Brahmana adds one more; the debt one owes to his fellow beings.
The Shathapatha Brahmana further says that the fulfillment of these obligations, which add value to ones life, should be the preliminary aim of a human being.
The Atharva remarks, pursuit of the four purusharthas would be meaningful only when one fulfils one’s primary obligations or is in the process of doing so.
Chandogya Upanishad (2.23) describes the duties in three stages of life- student, householder and retired – as “off shoots or branches of Dharma” (trayo dharma_skandha). Rna is at the core of this trayo dharma.
Rna is, thus, the sense of commitment to your family, your teachers, your fellow beings and your environment. The concept emphasizes that whatever be your goals and priorities in your life, you cannot overlook your basic commitments.
Sri Shankara, though a sanyasin, came back to be with his mother in her last days/moments. It was an expression of natural love and affection; and also fulfillment of his basic commitment (pitr rna), whatever might have been the other calls in his life.
The Rishis of the ancient times were householders who enjoyed and celebrated life amidst their family and disciples. The rigors of asceticism came at a much later age. The Buddha too did not find merit in such heartless living.
The Vaikhanasa which claims to be the more orthodox of the two Agamas hails the life of the householder as the best among the four stages of life. Because, it is the householder that supports, sustains and carries forward the life and existence of the society. It does not pay much prominence to a Yati or a Sanyasi. It deprecates a person seeking salvation for himself without discharging his duties, responsibilities and debts to his family, to his guru and to his society.
The Emperor Asoka (272 to 132 BC) in his edicts highlights a person’s indebtedness (rna) to parents and elders and calls upon the people to live in accordance with the dharma and not interfere with the natural order (rta).
The rna , the sense of commitment , was emphasized in the larger interests of the society. Without such commitments a society would cease to be a healthily place.

There is, therefore, a certain glorification of what we call the ordinary life, in the ancient texts.

For some reason, it seems easier to brave the elements or starve for weeks or force the body to endure pain. It might be possible; but, it is pointless.
It is far more difficult to pay attention to your spouse and kids; to be generous with one’s friends; be patient with a child when you least feel like it; and go about your daily chores, with equanimity, even while placed in dire circumstances. The ability to work silently, without malice, for years, for a lifetime; with no demands or expectations for reward or recognition, is truly heroic.
It is said, the real heroism is not under the limelight, but is where the less noticeable tasks had to be done. It is in the corners, in the shadows the true results of your efforts appear. One’s true test is in one’s daily life; and in one’s reliability and integrity as a human being.
God does not dwell in some day-glow heaven realm of seeker’s fantasy; but, right here, right now, in the day-to-day challenges and tasks of our everyday life.
Therefore , any sort of experience, no matter how ecstatic, if it does not transform you in to someone who knows how to be with children, how to be with your family, how to be with your mates in a loving, deeply caring way and how to be with all of life – is not worth hankering after. 
The divine is not meant to be discovered in heaven; if it were to be so, we would all be there and not here. The natural and honest living is the crucible of life. That is what all the texts try to say.
What seems to grow fairer to me as life goes by is the love and the grace and tenderness of it; not its wit and cleverness and grandeur of knowledge – grand as knowledge is – but just the laughter of children, and the friendship of friends, and sight of flowers, and the sound of music



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