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July - September 2023

Andhaparampara Nyaya by Vijay Joshi

Andhaparampara Nyaya || अन्धपरम्परान्याय ||
Nyayas in Sanskrit language are a great source of knowledge and also lead one to ‘mananam’ ( reflection) and ‘nididhyasanam’ (meditation) even when these are being viewed from their usage in day to day life. The ‘nitya nutan’ (ever new) facets of these nyayas are to be experienced by every individual and cherished in their applications in today’s material world.

अन्धपरम्परान्याय‘ is a maxim of a continuous series of blind men. It is also one such maxim which has been used extensively, over centuries to decry followers of another faith with a view to place one’s own faith as supreme. Each religious leader has used the maxim to hint that scholars and believers of other religions were responding to their respective spiritual teachers like blind men.

Adi Shankaracharya has used this maxim in the Brahmasutra Bhashya to demolish the Buddhist Sankhya theory. It also appears in Padamanjari, a 11th Century commentary on Panini’s grammar and in Tantravartika by Kumarila Bhatt , Panchapadika of Padmapada, Bhamati of Vachapasti Mishra and Nyayamanjari of Jayanta Bhatta.

The story behind this maxim goes something like this. There was once a group of blind men. They were moving in one direction. The last person caught the skirt of one before him, he of the next and so on and that they all walked infallibly straight without making one false step, though all were blind. Interestingly, they later fell into a pit as they were also led by another blind man. The essence is continuous series of blind persons following the blind (i.e. blind tradition of ignorant people ) following thoughtlessly without proof. Hence, when people follow others’ advice blindly, without thinking or application of mind, this maxim is applicable.

If we look at the maxim more deeply, we come across the set of words ‘Andha’ and ‘Parampara’. The word Andha denotes a person who is ignorant, unaware, and not alert. On the other hand, Parampara denotes the series of acts carried out periodically exactly in the same manner as carried out earlier with as much close resemblance as possible. Thus, combined reading leads to the essence depicted above.

This question mainly arises when following various traditions or rituals in Sanatana Dharma. It is invariably asked why it is necessary to follow or comply with a particular custom or tradition or ritual when viewed in the perspective of current scenario in everyone’s life. The controversy leads to frictions in family members and sometimes even leads to extreme situation of breaking of the family bond. The question therefore, arises is whether the great thinkers of yester age, i.e. sages (rishis) erred in prescribing these rituals in Sanatana Dharma and going ahead to yet further extreme, whether the rituals prescribed in Vedas, Shrutis and all the holy texts are applicable even today and if yes, how to follow them keeping the entire family bonded and without every generation feeling such rituals as something of a burden thrust on them.

Various issues arise in following and upholding Sanatana Dharma. There are arguments put forward that all are equal and inequality in dharma should be ended as GOD has created everybody equal and so on. It is also clear that equality exists only in ideal state. On the other hand, the history and experience tells us that inequality that exists in material world actually leads to the development of society and people, through the adherence to dharma. Due to these components, one does not inherently realize the fact that dharma is ‘अपौरुषेय‘. The inherent characteristic of dharma originates from a natural source. It is a revealed wisdom. However, the moment we use the term ‘apauresheya’, it does not mean we should bow down to blind beliefs surrendering reasoning and examination.

AndhaParampara Nyaya teaches that every Parampara, tradition or custom should be followed with open eyes and not blindly. It is interesting to note that the upanishads which are part of Vedas contain various orders and code of conduct to be followed by every individual under different circumstances and these are simple to understand and easy to follow. A reference is drawn to Shiksha Valli of Taittiriya Upanishad  which  prescribes: ‘सत्यं वद धर्मं चर..‘ However, at the end of the portion, the learned rishi, also states: यान्यनवद्यानि कर्माणि । तानि सेवितव्यानि । नो इतराणि । यान्यस्माकं सुचरितानि । तानि त्वयोपास्यानि ।। which means though we assign divinity to mother, father, teacher and guest, only their good qualities are to be taken, not others. It is a sign that even the conduct of the teacher is not always exemplary. Through one’s own discretion, a person should decide what is worthy of emulation and what is not and behave accordingly. There should be no blind following and no blind worship. Thus, this upanishad gives very practical advice of worship only whatever is noble.

There is yet another view. Following traditions or customs is also essential as it is an identity of a family or a sect or even a society established over a period of time. Thus, it is also necessary to uphold and preserve various traditions or customs (Parampara) but even in such cases, an individual ought to keep in mind the changes in the society and follow the advice of Taittiriya Upanishad cited above.

The maxim of ‘AndhaParampara Nyaya’ teaches that blind allegiance is dangerous.