Most of the Latin I have learned has been from Dr. Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory.” Having said that, I’d like to followup an earlier post which I titled “Reductio Ad Absurdum” with another piece on a Latin turn of phrase used by Dr. Cooper which I felt was pertinent, this time to the theme of the Bhagavad-Gita.
“Quod est Necessarium est Licitum” means “What is necessary is legal.” As you’ve probably gathered, it is a principle of our legal system which is often invoked when the accused had no other viable choice but to commit the act in question.
Many religious doctrines are quite stern on what is “legal” according to its Law, and what is not. But the Gita, I find, takes a more liberal stance. And by liberal I don’t mean anything goes. I mean that the circumstances are a crucial consideration, and justification for actions are made from that point of view. Nothing is predetermined. Nothing has to be done “because it is written.”
The Gita is clear that doing what is necessary is the highest dharma. Not ahimsa. Not a staunch pacifism. Black and white extremes do not come into play. The events leading up to the war at Kurukshetra is similar to a case of one defending one’s home from an invader. You may try to reason with the miscreant. You may demand that he put down his weapon. But if all else fails you have to implement means that you otherwise would not. I have always said I am a pacifist, but if I had to, to protect my wife I would bite an intruder’s legs off.
Maybe that was my way of telling gun rights advocates “there is another way, you know.” And hopefully circumstances would never warrant such an action. Because such an exaggerated response would surely only be “legal” in the unlikely event that I was able to prove that all other – more civil – options were exhausted.
The Gita never advocates “violence”, though in some translations, in which the term “righteous violence” is arrived at, it would seem so. The word “violence” itself with no context places itself, nay, invites itself into the realm of good/evil. The Gita advocates action. A perceived “evil” can be for a greater good. And the potential for a “greater good” is something that is often used as justification for what many would perceive as an evil. See “Nagasaki.”
And so you can see how the word “Necessary” is a word that is just as tricky to pin down as “good” or “evil” and is just as useless, out of context, as the word “violence”.
But in context, in practice with proper use and understanding of our own intuition, the theory goes that we will know when action becomes necessary. This is applicable to any action that society otherwise deems “uncivil” or “immoral”, again with no context, staunchly dogmatically. I believe herein lies an instance where “faith” comes into play. When it comes to “right”, we have to know, but we also have to know that we know what is the right thing. If you’ve never been, you wouldn’t believe how often a Bhagavad-Gita discussion group focuses its full attention on “how do we know what is the right action to take?” Picking apart certain specific instances too, but “how do we know it is right?” as a starting point. Then deciding whether an action meets certain criteria, and arriving at the comfort that we know what is right. But then, how do we know that our intuition is not flawed, aka “how do we know that we know?” It can be an awful process and we all go through it.
It would seem that the biggest problem we have as humans is not trusting our intuition. Not trusting ourselves. We assume that just because we wear this temporary human sheath, that somehow we fall short of…something. We place so much blame on ourselves, put ourselves through so much heartache, through gut-wrenching decision-making processes. But I think what we are truly missing is that which is important. The situation. The context. Not “is it the right thing to do?” but “Is it necessary?”
“Is it the right thing to do” lends itself to emotionalism which will often stifle true “right action”.
Every time I come to a natural stopping point in this post, I end up adding something. So I will just say “Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti!”
Jai Hari Aum