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Gita Today: Dharma and Karma

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Gita Today: Dharma and Morality

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We have covered samskara, and how karma affects the samskara and how samskara influences karma. Through all this lies the thread of Dharma. Dharma is the thread which goes through the karma, samskara to give it the shape of the mala or a garland. You can also perceive it as the center of a circle. At the periphery is the samskara, the karma and the series of births and deaths. The center which has never moved is the Dharma.

A man should do karma according to his swadharma. A doctor’s swadharma is to heal and he has the means to heal or hurt. The medicines that he uses to heal can also be used to kill. His dharma does not allow him to kill a person using the overdose of a medicine. A soldier’s dharma is to kill the enemy. If he starts healing the enemy and the doctor starts killing then the swadharma is being violated. This is a very simplistic model but conveys most of the meaning of the word.

Dharma, in the broader sense, on the other had is a little more difficult to comprehend mainly because of the break in Parampara that we talked about earlier. We have the words but the words have lost the meaning. Let’s try to put some clues together.

There have been several ways that Dharma has been expressed in the east. Satyamev Jayate is one such bold statement and it has been the hallmark of India’s identity. It is part of the Ashoka pillar (stambh) and simply means that truth is eternally victorious. We stand on the side of and fight for this truth and believe in the fact that when you stand for the truth, along side you stand all the forces that protect it. It is worth exploring this and understanding it better by drawing upon our ancient history which we are so proud of. We have not fought wars for borders and boundaries but for the re-establishments and protection of this truth. Mahabharata was not fought for any personal or national interest, it was fought for values, call it dharma. Dharma is not the same as religion. Dharma is not an institution. A student's dharma is to study, a soldier's dharma is to protect and so on. In some ways it is your true nature, your inner self, and your conscience. There are two beautiful expressions of dharma, Sat Chit Anand and Satyam Shivam Sundaram and there is one statement of this dharma, Satyamev Jayate. These three words of wisdom (mantras) belong to the universal spiritual consciousnes and not to any organized religion..

We are what we think we are
All that we are arises with our thoughts
With our thoughts we make the world

In the east we realized and believed that the most powerful thing in the world is thoughts. The source of these thoughts is also important. A Hitler or a Stalin use the power of thought in a different manner than a Buddha, Nanak or Mahavir. Thoughts bring about certain concepts some of which are contemprary and some are eternal.

There are some concepts and words which have a composite meaning. They mean a lot of things simultaneously. If the word gets out of use for a long time then the meaning gets lost too. People do not see a practical utility of the word. The world runs perfectly without the concept or the use of the word. It can always be given a contemporary but wrong meaning. And, that may be the final blow. Dharma is one such word which was in common use for several centuries. There were division of people on the lines of dharma; one the dharmic (one who follows the dharma), and the othr were adharmic (one who rejects the dharma).

The word Dharma has been in use from ancient times. Budha used to say “Aeso Dhammo Sanatano. The largest collection of Budha’s sutras is called Dhammapada. Mahavir says:

Dhammo mangalmukkitum, Ahimsa Sanjamo Tavo
Deva vi tam namasanti, jass dhammo saya mano

Dharma comprising of Ahimsa (nonviolence), Tapa (austerity) and Sanjam (discipline) is the ultimate well-being. The one who is constantly engaged in the above mentioned Dharma is respected even by the gods.

It is of utmost importance that we understand the meaning of Dharma, the context it was and should be used. These are the bricks and mortars of our whole Indianness. There are differences in different thoughts and sects in India, but all agree on Dharma. We can argue if there is God or not, whether murthi puja is right or wrong but we do not differ on the concept of Aeso dhammo sanatana.

Let me use a contemporary example. What do you understand with the word ‘Basic Human Rights.’ Every one seems to understand it. Newspapers keep reporting of violation of basic human rights in China, India, Africa and where not. Really, what do you know about this concept. What are human rights? Did you know that the basic human rights consists of 29 articles as declared by General Assembly in 1948? The first article says, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…” Whoever says that this is true. We all know that all human beings are not born free but that is not the point, the point is the word has composite meaning, and is in common use.

On the other hand Dharma is again a word used universally in the past and has composite meaning. Gita starts with the shloka:

Dharmakchetre kurukchetre….
And one of the boldest statement of Krishna in Gita says:

Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata
Abhiyunarth madartheyam sambhavami yuge yuge (4..7)

Whenever there is decline of Dharma, and the rise of Adharma, I embody myself for the upholding of the Dharma.

We had wars for the upholding of Dharma. Dharma was placed on a higher pedestel compared to human life. Life happens again, but what is its use if the Dharma is not upheld. It is a very interesting logic and the people who talk about so called basic human rights may not like it.

So what does Dharma mean. As I implied earlier Dharma means many things. It means the ultimate law, the logos. By ultimate law is meant that which keeps the whole universe together. Invisible it is, intangible it is - but it is a certainty. Otherwise, the universe will fall apart. Such a vast, infinite universe, running so smoothly, so harmoniously, is enough proof that there must be an inter-current that connects everything. We are not islands; the smallest grass is connected to the greatest star. There is a relationship. Destroy the smallest grass leaf on your farm and you have touched something of immense value to the existence itself.

In existence there is no hierarchy, there is nothing small and nothing great. The greatest star and the smallest grass leaf exist as equals; hence the other meaning of the word Dharma. It also means Justice, the equality, the non hierarchic existence. Dharma knows no classes.

The third meaning is righteousness, virtue. Existence is very virtuous. Even if you find something which you cannot call virtue, it must be because of your misunderstanding. The existence is absolutely virtuous. Whatever happens in the universe is always right. The wrong never happens. It may appear wrong to you because you have certain idea of what right is, but when you look without any prejudice, nothing is wrong, all is right. Birth is right, death is right. Beauty is right and the ugliness is right.

Dharma also means and has been used as God. It also means discipline-different dimensions of the word. One who wants to attain truth will have to discipline himself in many ways. The word discipline means the capacity to learn, the availability to learn. The word comes from disciple. Disciple means one who is ready to drop his old prejudices and is willing to learn.

Dharma also means the ultimate truth. When mind disappears, when the ego disappears, then what remains is the ultimate truth. Something certainly remains but it cannot be called something or anything, Buddha calls it nothing. Nothing is easy to misunderstand and therefore it is better expressed as no-thing, it is not a thing. The ultimate law is not a thing. It is not an object that you can observe or perceive. It is your interiority, it is subjectivity. This is another meaning of Dharma, the interiority, the subjectivity, the truth. Truth is subjectivity. The difference between fact and the truth is that fact is an objective thing where as truth is subjective. In medicine the students are taught the difference between symptoms and signs. Symptoms are what patients report, he has a pain, he describes the pain. Pain is subjective and there are big dilemmas as how to assess pain and compare it from one patient to another. Signs are objective. Patient is tender at one spot on touching, the area is swollen. The swelling is obvious but the to the observer but not the pain. Pain is a common experience, but pain threshold varies from one person to another. It cannot be shared, or transferred and is difficult to express and it definitely is not a theory or a hypothesis. When it happens it is real. Truth is a different matter but there are some qualitative similarities. Truth is never a theory or a hypothesis. It is always an experience, your experience. Hence my truth cannot be your truth. You have to find your own truth. Truth is unshareable, untransferable, incommunicable and often inexpressible.


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