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Concept of rna in Indian tradition

Concept of rna in Indian tradition

The concept of rna, the human indebtedness or the primary obligation, is unique to Indian tradition. It is in fact the source of dharma, because it weans one away from desire-gratification and leads towards duty-fulfillment.

Rna, according to Panini the great grammarian, signifies a want or a deficiency.

Taittiriya Samhita (TS) speaks about three kinds of basic indebtedness every human being carries with him or her. They are the debt one owes – (a) to his ancestors (pitr), (b) to the sages/seers (rishi) and(c) to the Gods (deva).

The Shathapatha Brahmana (SB) adds one more .The fourth one is the debt one owes to his fellow beings.

These texts suggest the ways of liquidating the debts or fulfilling the obligations one is born with. These are briefly, as under.

Pitr :   by bringing up a family, by getting and raising children in a proper manner.

Rishi : by study and by understanding the cultural context into which one is born.

Deva : by honoring , worshipping the elemental and natural (environmental) forces like sky,air,water,earth,rivers, mountains , plants etc.(Rig Veda refers to these Devas as “luminous ones”.) and

Fellow beings: by cultivating compassion, fellow- feeling (saha bhava) and by showing hospitality.

 SB further says that the fulfilment of these obligations should be the preliminary aim of human beings and it would add value to their life. The Atharva remarks, pursuit of the four purusharthas would be meaningful when one fulfils ones primary obligations or is in the process of doing so.

 Chandogya Upanishad (2.23) describes the duties in three stages of life as “off shoots or branches of Dharma” (trayo dharma_skandha). This mentions the obligations and privileges of a householder, hermit and a student. Rna is at the core of this trayo dharma

The Emperor Ashoka (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). In one of the edicts, he points out that practice of dharma is not possible for a person devoid of good conduct. In another edict he proclaims that if a person practices great liberty but does not possess self-control (sayama_bhava), purity of thought (sudhi) gratitude (kitaranta) and firm devotion (dridhabhatita), it is of no avail.

In Indian tradition, the practice of art, be it music, dance, literature or other forms art, is an act of worship. The traditional artist through his creation pays homage to his ancestors (pitrs) and rishis (his teachers). He views the public services he creates (temples, dams, tanks, buildings etc.) as fulfillment of his obligation to his fellow beings. Even poets, philosophers and writers conclude their work with a prayer seeking welfare of all beings.

The fulfilment of three purposes of life (dharma, artha and Kama) acquires meaning only in the context of felt obligations. Rig Veda (8.1.6) gives a call, “Man, you must reach upward, not go down below”.

In the present context, the concept of Rna could perhaps be better appreciated as commitment to certain obligations, causes and ideals including those discussed above.


 Note: In the Edict of Ashoka referred to above there is a brief mention of rta. This rta is again a concept in the Indian tradition. It signifies natural order or cosmic order or an orderly occurrence of things.

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Posted by on September 1, 2012 in Indian Philosophy


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