The opening words of the Bhagavadgita are ‘dharmakshetre kurukshetre’. It follows from these words that the locus (kshetra) of dharma and karma is identical. For an individual this locus is his/her body-mind. There is trite saying in Sanskrit: shareeram adyam khalu dharma sadhanam, meaning that body-mind is our prime apparatus for performance of activity, ie. Karma, while observing all the tenets of Dharma. Dharma and karma therefore appear to be the obverse and reverse of a coin. Dharma is also one of the four aims of life–purushartha, as mandated in Veda. The other purushartas are artha Kama and moksha. Purushartha means something for which one has to deliberately strive-purushena arthyate iti purusharthah. Out of these four we, by and large, know what artha and kama mean but there is some confusion regarding dharma – ‘dharmasya tatvam ihitam guhayam’
The aim of this article is to discuss various dimensional aspects of dharma. The Indian wisdomtradition (vedic life style) has various dimensions and multiple definitions of dharma. One well known definition is ‘dharayati iti dharmah ’or ‘dharanat dharma ityahu’– dharma is that which sustains life. But it is also a truism that ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitah’ – dharma that has been kept alive protects its follower. We would do well, therefore, to tailor our behavior in accordance with the cosmic order and do not transgress any Law of the Land as well, in our own interest.
Each individual is unique, though there are common characteristics between individuals. And yet there is variety. No two siblings, even twins, are the same in every detail. We have to remember this well. Since I am unique my needs and talents are unique and hence my self- development requirements are also unique. So it is with other individuals. From this it is clear that the uniqueness of individuals is a cosmic Dharma (law). If I know my uniqueness I can develop my self–expression accordingly and make a contribution to the world.
What is Dharma
As already mentioned Dharma means many things and there is multiplicity of definitions. We may define dharma as a set of written and unwritten laws and rules purported to keep order in the society. These rules and laws include the natural laws, such as law of natural justice, as well as those made by humans, and which are be observed to maintain order in society. Adya Guru Shankaracharya, in his commentary on the Gita, defines dharma as “jagatah sthiti karanam praninam abhyudaya nishryasa hetuh varnibhih ashramabhih shreyorthibhih anushthiyamanah dharmah” Dharma is a system of discipline meant to maintain order in the world and to promote spiritual and material wellbeing of all creatures and to be practiced by people according to their psychological disposition and station in society and their stage in life. Dharma in this sense can be viewed to be meticulous adherence to broad universal principles and values which sustain all beings animate and inanimate while nurturing uniqueness of individuals.
Dimensions of Dharma
Svabhavo Dharmah. This relates to the uniqueness of every individual already alluded to above. It is our duty to respect one’s uniqueness and behave with dignity. The Bhagavadgita says, “svabhava niyatam karma kurvannapnoti kilbisham”, and “sahajam karma kounteya sadoshampi na tyajet” (BG Ch18/47,48)
Pravrtti and Nivrtti Dharma
Pravrtti is extroverted while nivrtti is inrtroverted. Former is proactive while latter is meditative.
Ashrama Dharma as the name suggests is the discipline to be observed depending upon one’s ashrama ie. one’s station in life. There are, as is well known, four Ashramas viz. Brahmacharyashrama, Grhasthshrama, Vanaprasthashrama and Sannyasashrama. The incumbents in each of these stations have to conform to the disciplines and austerities for the respective Ashrama.
Ahimsa and Satyam.
Mundaka Upanishad says “Satyameva jayate nanrtam” It further says that the path of dharma is paved with truth. Mahabharata declares ‘ahimsa paramo dharmah’ Satyam connotes honesty with oneself and others. In other words it is total integrity-of behavior, of mind and of spirit. Ahimsa means not to create disturbance in the environment. The oft used prayer ‘lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu’ at the end of worship in a temple, is based on the principle of Ahimsa
This is contextual application of dharma, depending upon, one’s occupation, age and place in life. This means one’s duty in the given circumstances. The Gita says, “svabhavaniyatam karma kurvannapnoti kilbisham” (BG 18/47)
Apat dharma refers to response required in a contingency
This concludes the brief discussion on Dharma