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Tuesday, February 10, 2015
True Concept of Dharma - An illustration
True Concept of Dharma
It may sound ironical, but it is my observation that those who know
English find it difficult to understand the true meaning of “Dharma”.
The reason is, the English knowing public, is accustomed to equate
“Dharma” with religion. A common man who does not know English is under
no such obsession. He knows the meaning of “dharmashala”. It is not a
religious school. He understands the meaning of “Dharmarth Hospital” .No
religion is treated in such hospital. He comprehends the meaning of
“Dharma Kanta “. It is not a balance that weighs different religions. He
knows “Raj-dharma” which is not a religion of a king apart from the
religion of his subjects. He understands that the “Putradharma” is not
the religion of the son, as distinct from that of his parents.
Go To the Roots
The above examples are sufficient to establish that “dharma” and
“religion” cannot be equated. The natural question is. what is “Dharma”?
To comprehend the full connotation of the concept of “Dharma”, we must
go to its root. We should follow the adage that when you are in
difficulty you should go to the fundamentals. The word “Dharma” is
derived from the Sanskrit root “dhri” which means to hold together, to
bind, to sustain. What does “dharma” hold together? It holds together
the whole universe. Therefore our Shastras say that “dharanat dharma
ityahuh” (it is called “dharma” because it holds together or sustains).
Now let us see what this universe consist of. There are four broad
entities or existences. The one is the individual, the other is the
society in which the individual exists and lives; the third is the whole
of the non-human world, both animate and inanimate and the fourth is
the soul or the spirit. Each of these is a part, nay constituent, of the
higher entity, and each of higher entities pervades the lower, the
smaller entity. An individual is a part of the society, at the same
time, the society pervades the individual. The human society is part of
the nature and the nature pervades both the individual and the human
society. All the three, viz the individual, the society and the nature
are parts of the soul and at the same time are pervaded by it. This
relation is expressed by our Shastras as “Yat pinde tad brahmande”.
These four existences are termed as Vyashti, Samashti, Srishti and
Parameshti. And Dharma is a string that binds or holds together and
sustains all these four entities. It is a bridge that joins these four.
When you build a house for your own use, it is no “dharma”, but when you
build a house for others to live in, a “dharma shala” comes up.
When you make arrangements for your own health, it is no “dharma” but
when you arrange for the health of others, then a “dharmarth” hospital
is created. This “dharma takes the form of one’s duty as in “Rajdharma”
or “Putradharma” but at the same time it gives the guarantee for the
rights of the subjects and the parents respectively. Prajadharma
connotes the duties of the subjects, but at the same time, guarantees
the rights of the king. Thus “Dharma” is a mutual moral arrangement.
“Dharma” is always in relation to something. It is a relative concept.
It exists and sustains in relation to something. When it becomes the
absolute concept, it gets the name of “Moksha.
How to bind an individual with society? It can be done through
coercion also. But it is beyond the domain of “Dharma”; it may fall
within the sphere of the State. Dharma enjoins voluntary relationship.
This relationship is created by a sense of mutual respect. It is
priceless, voluntary and ennobling. “Dharmashala” joins an individual
with the society without coercion or compulsion. It denotes an
individual’s concern and respect for the good of the society. In this
way an individual serves the society and the society in turn raises the
moral stature of the individual. The human society is required to show
the same respect for the Nature (Srishti) of which it is a part. The
Hindu Thought has raised this sense of respect to the highest pitch by
calling it “Mother” (Matri) .The nature is not a lifeless, emotionless
outsider. It is a living and as respectable and loving as a mother.
Therefore the nature is Srishtimata. The earth is Bhoomata, the river is
“lokamata”, the Cow is “Gomata”, the river Ganga is “Gangamata”, even
the Tulsiplant is “Tulsimaiyya”. It is the prerogative of the human mind
only, to think about such sacred relationship. There are many reptiles
that eat their own offspring’s. There are many animals that are ignorant
of the relation of the mother and child. Cows do have some sort of
affection for their calves. But a calf when it grows into a bull, loses
all intimations of mother or sister. It is the characteristic of the
human mind alone that transforms even an inanimate thing into a vibrant
living intimacy. Then the earth is not merely a conglomeration of sand
and stones, but it becomes motherland, “matrbhumi , it becomes mother
earth. Vishnupatnee and the seer says, “Vishnupatni namas tubhyam
padasparsham kshamaswa me” (Oh, consort of Vishnu, I bow to thee. Please
excuse me for treading on you). Because we have such an intimate
Dharmic view towards the Nature, we never thought of exploitation of
Nature. Our Hindu Thought never regarded that the man is the only centre
of the universe and that the whole of the universe is for his
enjoyment. Our attitude has been explained by the Bhagawad Geeta “
‘Devan bhavayatanena te deva bhavayantu vah Parasparam bhavayantah
shreyah paramavapsyatha (Ch 111, 11) (By this, foster ye the gods and
let the gods foster you. Thus fostering each other you shall attain to
the supreme good. ) This is the reason why there were no environmental
problems in this land.
The Hindu thought, believes in the existence of the soul also. It is
the primordial living principle. This principle as embodied in a human
frame is the same that pervades the whole universe. The Shastras say,
“Tat twam asi” (Thou art that). So aham ” (1 am that). In short, there
is this intrinsic, intimate relationship. An individual is intimately
connected with all the other three, viz society, nature and soul. His
relationship with the soul or the spirit is the domain of religion. His
relationship with all the three is the domain of Dharma. Therefore
Dharma is a much, more broad a term than religion; and because it
connects all these four with reverence and harmony, Dharma is called the
‘principle of universal harmony’.
By accepting this principle we do not become oblivious of the
differences and the diversities in the universe. They are naturally
there. But it is the Dharma that makes us conscious of inherent unity in
the midst of diversity. Man has certain economic tendencies (Artha) .He
has the sexual urges (Kama) .But these tendencies and urges, though
natural, have to run within the limits of the Dharma. Just as a water of
the river, when it flows within the limits of its banks is useful and
benevolent, but when it transgresses these limits, as in the time of
flood, it becomes destructive, so also the economic and the sexual urges
of man have to run within the banks of the Dharma. Then alone they are
benevolent; but once they transgress these limits, they lead to
exploitation and permissiveness and become an ultimate curse to the very
Even the State should confirm to the Dharma principle. The Hindu
Thought says that it should be “dharmarajya”. Dharmarajya is not a
theocratic state. Hindus never envisaged a theocratic state. No
Shankaracharya was allowed to become a king; and no king could become a
“Shankaracharya”. It is elsewhere that we find an emperor of a country
become a “Khalifa”; it is elsewhere that we find a Pope, a religious
head meddling with the affairs of the state. To the Hindus, the state
has always been secular, because it deals with the affairs of this
world. The state is and has to be this worldly. The other worldly
activities are outside the sphere of the state. It is religion’s domain.
But the state must be attuned to the Dharma. Our Dharma is both this
worldly and other worldly. Dharma is defined as “Yato abhyudaya
nisshreyasa siddhih sa dharmah” .It means dharma is that which brings
about this worldly prosperity as well as the final emancipation. All
Hindu books on Dharmashastra deal with both these aspects of human life.
More than half of the Manusmriti deals with secular topics, and yet it
is called “manava dharma shastra” .The state will naturally have its
primary law i.e., constitution. It all will have its physical laws that
govern the activities of its people. But above all such laws, there is
the Dharma. All laws, primary or secondary have to conform to the
Dharma. Dharma is the ultimate reference point. The law of the Dharma is
a moral law. All other laws must be in conformity with this ultimate
moral law. Hence in a state of Hindu conception, the sovereignty rests,
not with the “Parliament, nor with the people nor with the king. It
rests with Dharma. Dharma alone is sovereign, and all others have to be
attuned to it.
Dharma is the substratum of all of our social, economic and political
institutions. Marriage is not a contract for the satisfaction of our
carnal desires. It is a dharma, it is a “Sanskar, it is a duty and an
obligation. Therefore there is a stress on preserving and sustaining a
marriage. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan has rightly said, “that marriage is
successful which transforms a chance mate into a life companion”
.Therefore divorce is considered a weakness, a defeat. Our economic
activities must be guided by Dharma. Only then there will be no
exploitation. There is no conflict between the interests of an
individual and society or between two classes of society. Therefore,
Hindu Thought does not subscribe to class struggle. The worker and the
employer must cooperate. That is the order of Dharma. To do good to
others is Dharma. To cause pain to other is adharma.
In this broad sense, Hindu is a Dharma. The term “Hindu” has been
acquired through History. Its qualitative epithet is “Sanatan” i.e.
eternal. It was valid in the past, it is valid today and it will be
valid in the future. That is the meaning of “Sanatana” .Just as there is
an eternal aspect of Dharma, there is a practical and changing aspect
also. It may change according to times. We wear some clothes in summer.
They are changed in winter. This change is inevitable and we must accept
it. To stick to the same methapher, we can say that wearing clothes is a
Sanatana dharma. The quality and nature of clothes is Yugadharma i.e.
dharma of the times. There is also an “apaddharma” i.e. dharma in
exceptional circumstances. There is a pertinent story in the
Upanishadas. Once there was a famine. People began to migrate from their
place of residence. A Brahmin living in that village was also affected
by famine, therefore he left his village and went to another village in
search of food. But he was disappointed. While going out of that
village, he saw an elephant guard, sitting under a tree, an elephant by
his side, eating something from a cup of leaves. He was eating mustard
seeds. The Brahmin asked him to give a few seeds. The elephant guard
said, “Oh Brahmin, how can I give it to you. The seeds have been
contaminated by my mouth” .The Brahmin said, “Whatever it is, I need
them.” The elephant guard gave to the Brahmin the remnants of the
mustard seeds. He had some water in an earthen jar. The guard put the
jar to his mouth and drank it, after leaving a portion of it in the jar.
When the Brahmin finished his eating, he requested the Brahmin to take
the water in the jar. The Brahmin refused it, by saying that I don’t
drink water contaminated by your mouth. The guard said, “Oh Brahmin, you
could eat mustard seeds contaminated by my mouth, why are you refusing
the water?” The Brahmin replied, “Had I not eaten the mustard seeds, I
would have died of hunger. Now I have got some strength, I will go and
find out water from a nearby stream.” Eating contaminated grain is an
exception, an “apad dharma”. It cannot be a rule.
In short, Dharma is a principle of universal harmony. It creates
harmony where there is natural dissension. The power of the State is
effective only when it has the support of the Dharma. And in return, the
Dharma gets its sustenance from the power of the state. As in the case
of State, so in all spheres of human activity. Dharma is the cause of
mutual benefits. We observe Dharma and thus Dharma is protected by us
and in return Dharma protects us. Therefore, it is said that “Dharma
by - Sri M.G.Vaidya A prolific writer, an author of several books, Shree
M. G. Vaidya was a former national executive member of RSS. He is a
former editor of ‘Tarun Bharat’ Nagpur.