– Ranga Hari
All India Baudhik Pramukh (EX)
Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh
Regarding the word Dharma there cannot be any confusion if one faithfully adheres to the Sanskrit tradition. According to Panini, the father of grammar, “the soul who wants to express an idea sends its command to the intellect to find out appropriate word and the intellect having found it passes it on to the mind which in turn obeys the soul and expresses it outside” Dharma a very important word, as old as Veda is such an expression. Let us go to its root.
Dharma sprouts from the root Dhru meaning to support, to sustain, to maintain and to hold together. The question arises to hold together what? The answer is everything in the world, the very creation. ‘Dharati Lokan’ is the etymology of Dharma. It means Dharma keeps intact the intrinsic identity of each item of creation. For instance, fire has the intrinsic qualities of heat, light and burning. If fire is devoid of any of these qualities it will not be called or considered so. So it is said that ‘heat, light and burning’ is the Dharma of fire. So too, it is the Dharma of air to blow, to leave no space unoccupied. It is the Dharma of water to flow down, to find its own level, to evaporate under heat and so on. So it is said every element has its own Dharma. Its identity depends on it.
Same holds true regarding the animate world too. Each animal or plant has its own Dharma. It is that which identifies it. It is a kite’s Dharma not to see in the night and owl’s Dharma not to see during the day.
Dharma has got a wider functioning also. It does not operate in singular. It interconnects and this interconnection is eternal. For example the solar system where planets revolve round the sun, moons of each planet revolving around them. There is a never faulting rhythm about the whole system. It exists in the animate and the inanimate world alike. Originally in the Vedas it was called Ritam, but later the word Dharma gained prominence. So the definition came into vogue ‘that which holds together is Dharma’. As the Vedic phrase goes it is the Ritam or Dharma that rules the universe.
How did this Dharma originate? From where did it spring? This was the probe of the Vedic seers and they got their answer. The Primordial Being had a vibration within to become many. Those many had an inter-relationship irrevocable and non-negotiable. This means the original One split into many, not as absolute independent entities without any kinship what-so-ever. There existed an interconnecting integrating force of the Undivided in all the Divided. That was like the existence of magnetic force even in the broken pieces of the mother-magnet. That indwelling force or energy, existing but invisible like electricity was recognized as Dharma. So to go back to the illustration of the solar system it is the Cosmic Dharma that keeps the terrestrial bodies moving in perfect harmony. It came into existence simultaneously along with the process of One becoming Many. Allegorically, Mahabharat says Dharma was born to Brahma the God of Creation. Because it is for the sustenance of the creation as a whole, the allegory further says this Dharma came out from the right breast of the very same Brahma. So verily Dharma is as old as Creation.
Thus Dharma is the adhesive, balancing and maintaining force of the entire Creation including man who is an inviolable part of it. So it is said that Dharma is the support of everything existing in the world. Virtually everything lives in Dharma and so it is considered supreme. Dharma is the substratum of the created world.
Then comes a purposive shift. Those ancient seers for clarity of conception and practical application, keeping aside mankind termed Dharma that concerns the rest of the Creation as Prakruti – Nature. The word Dharma was especially reserved for mankind. In this context Dharma became that which holds together human groups at different levels.
There is a valid reason for this differentiation. Man is the one creature endowed with intelligence. He can make or mar himself on the strength of that. He can evolve a society out of a herd. He has got an individual existence as well as collective one. Both the individuality and collectively have to develop harmoniously and simultaneously. No such condition exists regarding rest of the creation. Only in the case of man the unpredictable factor counts. It is because unlike animals he is sent in this world un-programmed. So Dharma has to be on better guard to mould ‘man.’ Dharma has to take into consideration the specialty of man where as Nature has to think only of the commonality of creation.
There is another specialty about man. Since the dawn of human history man in general has been found having spiritual craving. In heart of hearts every man thinks that there is someone greater than him and he looks up to him in reverence. Here lies the seed of spirituality which gradually develops, ultimately to search for a Supreme Being. This is in addition to the natural propensities he possesses has in common with animals. So it boils down to this: – a) Regarding man, Dharma has to cater to the well -being of an individuals’ material requirements and spiritual aspirations, b) it has to guarantee a harmonious collective life at various levels. Both these aspects were well -realized by our ancient Seers called Rishis.
Attending to the first point they defined Dharma as that which brings about Abhyudaya – material well-being and Nishreyasa – spiritual attainment. Here most happily, the spiritualist Sankara and atom-proponent Kanada give almost identical definitions Since ages this twofold conception of Dharma has continued to hold its sway upon the Hindu psyche. In the light of this, the most famous lexicon Amarakosha declares in its very first verse that its purpose is to provide ‘Sree’ (prosperity) and ‘Amrita’ (immortality) to its students. is the phrase. The same idea is expressed by a common Malayalam idiom to mean all the articles required to live along. The idiom is ‘from salt to karpooram.’ Here it can be easily understood that salt represents the most primary food–article where as karpoora represents the most essential Pooja article.
The second function of Dharma is to knit together loose individuals into a corporate body without curbing or cramming their inborn faculties. The smallest corporate body in the human world being ‘family,’ Dharma to fulfill its mission appears as Putra Dharma, Pitru Dharma, Matru Dharma ie Dharmas regarding every member of the family. Emphasis is not on the rights of the individual but on his duty. So to run the family with harmony and happiness father has a duty towards his sons and daughters and that is known as Pitru Dharma. So also duty of a son is known as Putra Dharama. Thus every kith and kin in family have his or her bounden duty. To recall the definition, here it becomes and becomes. Similarly each spirally enlarging circle of assemblage has its own Dharma as Kula Dharma, Jati Dharma, Grama Dharma, Desha Dharma and so on. And all these Dharmas converge in the individual. To arouse in him genuine Dharmic consciousness and mould him into a Dharmic Man is the secret of the success of a virile creative society.
These duties are based on eternal values and not on ever changing human needs. So these duties as a rule do not clash with each other. In case they do so exceptionally, the directive is that the lower duties should make way for the bigger ones. This is what Mahabharata meant when it said that in case of conflict, for the sake of family individual should be given up, for the sake of village family should be given up, for the sake of earth village should be given up and for the sake of Cosmic Self earth should be given up. Again, that is what Prahlad did when he disobeyed his father in order to submit himself to Narayana.
In the back ground of this when we further go deeper into Dharma, we find that Dharma is a word with a plural purport. To explain, Putra Dharma presupposes the existence of a Pita and Mata. So too Pitru Dharma or Matru Dharma presupposes the existence of a wife or a husband and at least one son or daughter born to the couple. Without a sishya Guru Dharma has no meaning and in the absence of a Guru Sishya Dharma is meaningless. So Dharma logically rests on mutuality. To maintain and sustain this mutuality is Dharmic and to disturb and damage it is Adharmic.
What are those Dharmic qualities as against Adharmic ones. We can safely call them as humanizing qualities and de-humanizing qualities. To draw a small list, not at all exhaustive, in the first list are purity of heart, control of senses, compassion, uprightness, non-injury, gentleness, modesty, forgiveness, fortitude, adherence to truth, non-acquisitiveness, absence of jealousy, love and so on. In the second list are arrogance, self-conceit, harshness, violence, hate, anger, jealousy, hypocrisy, selfishness and so on. Srikrishna qualifies the first mentioned qualities as divine – Daivik – and the latter ones as demonic – Asurik. Qualities in the first list attract and those in the second list repel.
To build up Dharma, Dharmic qualities have to be inculcated in man, and Adharmic ones have to be weeded out. For this all the societies all over the world have their own in-built mechanisms – history, art, literature, music, tradition, mythology and such other disciplines are effective agencies. In addition there are evolved institutions like Gurukuls and Ashrams. Then there is the religion. Psychologically religion is the most potential of all. Values get easy entry and safe anchorage in human heart through religion. One gets at other agencies by choice and aptitude. But regarding religion, man universally adheres to it by innate pull or heredity. It has the most irresistible appeal. Surely religion is the fastest vehicle of Dharma, the most powerful medium.
As a result, in practice, in due course of time the qualities that instill Dharma themselves came to be known as Dharma. Kartavya, Satya, Daana, Nyaya, Sadachara and such other qualities became the synonym of Dharma. So also, noble personalities who lived a life of Dharma came to be known as Dharma personified. Yudhishtira was known as Dharmaputra, Yama who never swerved an inch from the path of Dharma was called by the very name Dharma. Mahatma Vidura who lived Dharma in an atmosphere of rampant Adharma came to be considered as the son of Dharma. Similarly Panth, Sampradaya or religion the most dynamic agent of Dharma itself was labeled Dharma. For example ‘Jain Sampradaya’ became Jain Dharma and Buddha Sampradaya became Buddha Dharma and in sum the very religion became Dharma. It is just like Moorti or Messiah eventually becoming God.
While appreciating this fact of super-imposition as natural, one must not fail to understand that Dharma by itself is different from these co-operating factors. Dharma is the end and these factors are the means. Religion is the means and Dharma is the ideal.
To focus a little more on Dharma and religion, it can be concluded that religion which promotes Dharma is not by itself Dharma. Further, when religion demands that belief in God is non-negotiable Dharma stipulates condition for a harmonious peaceful happy life based on humanistic values. So strictly speaking, even non-believers in God can be Dharmic as many of the world-famous scientists of Europe were and a steadfast believer in God can be Adharmic as Ravana was. But normally men of religion easily turn Dharmic for fear of sin and reward of virtue. Dharma is adaptable according to climes and times. Religion on the other hand is rigid and strait jackets its followers in its steel frame. Dharma basically being a value system to hold together humanity is universal. So by great thinkers it is called Global Ethics. It integrates and is inclusive. Religion being rooted in a theological doctrine is status quoist and non-accommodative of its counterparts. It differentiates and consequently is exclusive. Dharma is abstract, more an energy without form but dynamic. Religion by its very origin and development gets itself readily institutionalized with all the limitations of an institution. It is not unlikely that it might forget its soul in order to keep up the body. So to club together Dharma and religion without discrimination will end up in confusion and loss of direction.
For clarity of understanding it may be very beneficial to know that in the Malayalam language that leans heavily on Sanskrit there are two different non-interchangeable words for Dharma and religion. They are Dharmam and Matam. So for a Malayalee it is Kristu matam, Islam matam, Buddha matam, Jaina matam etc. Kristu Dharmam would mean Christ’s Duty. For much misunderstood secularism the Malayalam word is ‘mata nirapekshata’. Sarva mata sama bhavam is the word for equal consideration for all religions. Religious conversion is mata parivartanam and not Dharma Parivartanam. I am given to understand that in all the other three southern languages Telugu, Kannada and Tamil, for religion mata is the word used and not Dharma.
So to sum up, man is born with both types of qualities positive and negative. For a good happy social life he has to reject the negative qualities and develop the positive qualities. This is done by the help of various agencies like history, literature, religion etc. By that Dharma, the fundamental value that holds together the society without allowing it disintegrate comes into operation. It is this Dharma that becomes the very sap of the society and the individual, its primary component. Ultimately it is this Dharma that blesses mankind with both types of well being, material and spiritual.
Finally Dharma is the elixir of life. It is as old as creation. It holds together the multiplicity and leads it to realize the intrinsic unity. It holds together the entire creation, animate and inanimate in a single unbreakable bond of fraternity. It elevates man, to borrow the words of poet Bhartruhari, to address earth as mother, air as father, fire as friend, water as cousin and ether as brother. It goads man to think, speak and act right without any external agency of state and law. In fact it alone can be the foundation of the human race evolving into a global human family in days to come. Rightly Bheeshma Pitamaha began his advice to Dharmaputra saluting this Dharma putting it on par with Srikrishna who incarnated for the very re-establishment of Dharma.