Devdutt Pattanaik: Is God judge or accountant?

By  Devdutt Pattanaik | Posted  18-Dec-2016

In Abrahamic mythology, God is the judge. In Hindu mythology, God is not a judge; he is an accountant. Ask yourself, who do you instinctively respect more, the judge or the accountant? How do you see yourself: as judge or accountant?

 

Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik
Illustration/Devdutt Pattanaik

The answer is probably judge. In fact, an accountant — the munim — with his meticulous bookkeeping often evokes exasperation, if not outright disrespect. Could this be an indicator of how strongly we are influenced by Abrahamic mythology compared to Hindu mythology in contemporary times?

The approach of the judge and the accountant is fundamentally different. The judge seeks to be right. His righteousness is rooted in a set of rules. In Christian mythology, after death, one has to face God on His high throne, and argue the decisions one has made in one's life. These are measured against rules, the commandments revealed by God through prophets, angels and messengers.

The judge then decides if you have followed the rules, or not followed the rules. In Islamic mythology, to follow the rule is 'halal' and to not follow the rule is 'haram'. Thus, a judge creates a binary world of rule-followers and rule-breakers, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. The good are rewarded and sent to heaven and the wrong are punished and sent to hell. The judge who can condemn you, also has the power to forgive you, if you appeal, or repent. With the judge comes authority.

The accountant checks your debts (rinn) in society. In Hindu mythology, Yama oversees the dead, and his assistant, Chitragupta, maintains the book of records, accounting every deed. Although there is tendency nowadays to classify actions as good (punya) and bad (paap), the traditional Vedic model was simply to check if what a living creatures owes to the world. If there is debt, you are bound to be reborn.

If there is no debt, you are liberated. So, the binary is bound and free. The monastic orders — Buddhists, Jains, Naths, Yogis, Tapasvis — all sought freedom. They concluded that all craving for food, security and pleasure involves feeding and dependence, hence debt. Traditionally, every human being was indebted to ancestors (pitr) and so had to raise a family. They were indebted to gods (devas) and so had to feed the gods through ritual (yagna). They were indebted to nature (prakriti) and fellow humans (manavas), and so had to take care of nature and be civil members of society (dharma).

Here, the key word is obligation, not morality. When you nourish another being, they owe you. When you deprive another being of nourishment, for your own nourishment, you owe them. Thus, we live in a web of debts. Debt leads to rebirth. No debt leads to liberation. Fortune means we are receiving loan repayment; misfortune means we have to pay for loans incurred. Wisdom lies in not expecting repayment, writing off loans, and not incurring loans.

Liberal society in modern society means being a liberal judge — one who does not try to control human behaviour through rules, monitoring and punitive action. What if it meant liberal accountant — who keeps clearing debts, and does not believe people 'owe' him their money, their time, their loyalty, their admiration or respect? A simple paradigm shift makes us think deeply about our lives and question the very nature of our relationships.

The author writes and lectures on the relevance of mythology in modern times. Reach him at devdutt@devdutt.com