An absurd and groundless argument pertaining to the Ramayana and Mahabharata, is that they should not be taught because of the unhealthy paradigms the scriptures portray. Many incorrectly understand that the epics teach illogical submission to authority or brutal disrespect towards elders. In fact, some audaciously claim that keeping the Mahabharata in one’s residence gives rise to conflict and disharmony amongst family members – as if without it the household ambiance is like paradise!
However, in reality, the dharma tradition is very clear in its foundational thought process. Respect is for the position that the superiors have; the position of father, mother, teacher, king, president, etc. Yet, the principal of respect does not entail giving up our intrinsic logical and discovering nature, nor does it necessitate blind submission to irrational decisions. While dharmik principals approve of debating a senior’s misguided decisions, they do not sanction questioning or displacing the position of an elder that may act unreasonably or make bad choices. Hence, dharma shastras empower one to respect superiors in all conditions, whether they are right or wrong; the same dharma shastras also entitles one to raise valid questions to apparent wrong moves of life. One is connected to culture and the latter to systems. Culturally, we offer reverence without thought and in systems we need to debate before acting.
Srimad Bhagavatam best illustrates this principal with the episode of Prahalada. He had a father who was extremely unreasonable and arrogant. His ideas were not only senseless, they were cruel – and he was powerful. Albeit rebelling against the ideology of his father, Prahalada never disrespected him. Hiryanaykashipu was unable to handle this concept, but Prahalada beautifully reconciled between respecting and not submitting to craziness. Consequently, Prahalada’s final victory benefited his father more than anyone else.
Additionally, in the Mahabharata, the Pandavas not only argued with their grandfather Bhisma, they also loved and affectionately respected him. All the same, they had to shoot Bhisma with arrows due to the wrong he represented. What can be a greater conflict then that faced by the Pandavas – simultaneously respecting and shooting? They perfectly harmonized all discords by the grace of Sri Krishna. If they can achieve the impossible, we can surely achieve the difficult. Does it make sense?