In page 1 of this thread, Arun_S had invited inputs defining Dharma vis a vis Religion. I am tempted to present a copy of a letter I wrote to my grand daughter in performance of my duty of transmitting traditional knowledge on her turning 16. I request the forum members to please remember that though I may not have fully succeeded in my efforts, the aim of the letter was to present the essentials of Dharma (as I know them) to a 16 year old. Therefore, if one finds over-simplification one would know why it is so. Here goes
Very soon you will be sixteen years old. We have been told by our ancient seers that a child should be cuddled and petted for the first five years and then be brought up under strict discipline for the next ten years. For you we have followed these injunctions quite well. Now, when you attain your 16th year, the seers tell us, you deserve to be treated as a friend. I welcome you into my closest circle of friends. On this occasion, I must offer you a gift. What better gift can I offer you than the wisdom that I have inherited from my forefathers? You are my grand child, the fittest person to receive the most precious gift that I have received in inheritance: the freedom to be myself!
What is this freedom to be your self? What is that? We live in a society where from all sides we are bound by rules and regulations, law and order, conventions and taboos. We have peer pressures and parental pressures to behave in a defined manner. We have career priorities and the inner urge to â€˜succeedâ€™ in life. We have competitions and the need to survive in a rat race where the laggard will only be trodden upon. In such a society, where is the scope for â€˜being yourselfâ€™? Well, my dear, I have news for you. You have had the luck to be born into a culture that has the knowledge of Dharma and the knowledge of Dharma gives you the unbridled freedom to be yourself. Nay. The knowledge of Dharma encourages you to discover who you are and then it gives you the freedom to be yourself.
Dharma? Isnâ€™t that Religion? Oh Dadu! I am only sixteen. Isnâ€™t it too early to bother about such things? If that is the question in your mind then I can say that the answer is No and NO. Dharma is NOT religion. Religion deals with divinity and faith and a code of conduct for life. Dharma does not deal with any of these. By definition, dharma means property, as in attribute. Surprised? It is the property (dharma) of light to permit vision and the dharma of fire is to heat and singe. It is the dharma of wind to flow and to carry heat and to carry scent. It is the dharma of the mother to tend to her children and to protect them and it is the dharma of a child to love respect and seek succor from the mother. When we think in an Indian language we use dharma in this sense effortlessly. However, when we think in English and use the Sanskrit word Dharma, we tend to confuse it with religion because the English language does not have a proper translation for Dharma.
So, if I ask any one, â€˜what is your dharma?â€™ and s/he replies that s/he is a Christian or a Moslem or a â€˜Hinduâ€™, s/he will be in serious error. If I ask that same question to you, you will have to first identify your primary condition. Then, if you tell me that primarily you are a human being, what would your dharma be? Can it be any thing other than â€˜humanismâ€™? Can your dharma be any different from another person who also considers himself or herself primarily as a human being? Notice how â€˜dharmaâ€™ is independent of how you pray or do not pray, how you dress, how you greet another person, how you choose your food or how you want your body to be treated after you are dead. Those are mere social customs and usages. Those have nothing to do with dharma. And yes, it is not too early at 16 to inquire about the knowledge of dharma as you would have to use that knowledge constantly from that age to grow into what you ultimately will become.
As you may have noticed, dharma cannot be uniformly applied to all persons. The dharma of a child is somewhat different from that of a mother. The dharma of a soldier is quite different from that of a scientist just as the dharma of a poet is unlikely to be the same as the dharma for a butcher. More importantly, the same person may have more than one dharma at the same time. The king who must perform Raj-dharma or the dharma of a king may also be a father needing to perform Pitr-dharma (the dharma of a father) and a son who needs to perform putra-dharma (the dharma of a son) at the same time. Often times there are conflicts between the dictates of those dharma and the person has to compromise. This is called a â€˜Dharma Sankataâ€™ or a conflict of dharma. However the person is not able to deny the existence of the multiplicity of dharma that he is subjected to. The wind carries heat and it caries scent, it caries dust and it carries fallen leaves all at the same time.
Now we come to the difficult bit. What constitutes dharma? How does one know what the dharma of a human being is or should be? This is truly a difficult question. It is so difficult that Manu, the chronicler of our social laws, shied away from defining dharma. Instead, he listed a set of indicative traits that a person who follows dharma aught to have. This list is rather interesting. I will record it for you so that you may see it and have a chance to critique it if you disagree with Manu.
First letâ€™s get the text.
DHRITI, KSHAMA, DAMAH, ASTYEYA,
DHEE, VIDYA, SATYAM, AKRODHA
--- These are the ten indicators of a person performing dharma
Next, letâ€™s get the meanings:
1. Dhriti is your ability to identify what in you own opinion makes you what you are and your ability to stick to them. These are your own fundamental values selected and maintained by you. You may have learnt of these values from your parents or teachers or friends, you may have learnt of these values from reading of books or from hearing others speak, or you may have set up these values through your own judgment of right and wrong. These values are not immutable. You may want, from time to time, to change one or more values as you grow older and wiser. But, for any given moment, the values you hold must be unquestioningly acknowledged as your own values and be practiced by you; as otherwise, you would cease to remain your own self by your own reckoning. Dhriti therefore means â€“ literally â€“ your ability to hold on to your own fundamental values.
2. Kshama, in modern Indian languages, means forgiveness. However in old Sanskrit it carried a different meaning. The word is derived from the root Ksham which means power and ability. (You may be familiar with other words derived from the same root where the meanings have not transmuted as much, such as kshamata meaning ability or power, saksham meaning a person who is able, aksham meaning a person who is unable to perform and so on) In the context of dharma, kshama would mean your ability to achieve your objective with tenacity and persistence without passing on the blame for any temporary failure or impediment to any one elseâ€™s performance or to your own perceived inability to perform well.
3. When you have a clear objective and a vision for yourself, and you develop tenacity and perseverance to enhance your power, you are likely to face one problem. You might become intoxicated with your own power. This is a common pitfall. In our scriptures, this problem of intoxication with ones own power is identified by the name â€˜MADAHâ€™. Madah detracts from your ability to be just and fair. Therefore, Madah is an impediment to dharma. DAMAH is the reverse of MADAH. DAMAH is your ability to control MADAH. If you want to follow dharma, you will have to develop DAMAH.
4. ASTYEYA is about recognition of property rights. When one is powerful, it is always tempting to usurp other peopleâ€™s property. If you succumb to such a temptation you would be unjust and unfair. Therefore, to practice dharma, you will have to refrain from usurping others property rights. Theft, pilferage etc are not accepted within the behavior limits of dharma. Astyeya in the present context is therefore your ability to refrain from theft and such other misdemeanor.
5. SHAUCHA means cleanliness. The cleanliness here refers to the body, the mind, the environment and the thought process. It is not possible to perform dharma with an unclean body or unclean mind or in unclean surroundings or with unclean thoughts. SHAUCHA in our context therefore means your ability to cleanse and permanently keep clean you body, your mind, your surroundings and your thoughts.
6. INDRIYA-NIGRAHA is a complex concept but is easy to understand if you begin with the basics. Human beings have five INDRIYA or sensory organs: that of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. These organs provide you with information necessary for the functioning of your mind and body. These organs are also programmed to initiate bodily function through movement of muscles or release of chemicals in the bloodstream whenever any relevant information is recorded by any of the sensors. For example, the pupils of your eyes will contract if the ambient light is too bright, your muscles will react if you are pricked by a pin, you will be filled with fear, joy, excitement, apprehension or desire as the sensory organs receive appropriate signals. Thus, not only are the INDRIYA organs useful to you for your day to day life, they are also very powerful instruments. Because the INDRIYA are powerful, they are sometimes able to overwhelm you with information or instinctive reaction. You may thus be overcome by fear, delirious with joy, unsteady by excitement, stupefied by apprehension, unstable by desire and so on if you do not have an appropriate mechanism to filter and control the inputs from the INDRIYA. To ensure avoidance of improper behavior under the influence of an overdose of INDRIYA activity, you will need to develop a filter and control system. The prefix NI indicates a negative while the root verb GRAHA means to accept. INDRIYA-NIGRAHA therefore means your ability to shut out or not to take in the information and related instinctive reactions from the INDRIYA at your own choosing. To practice dharma, you must remain the master of your own actions. You cannot yield control even to your own INDRIYA. Therefore, you must develop INDRIYA-NIGRAHA.
7. DHEE is your intellectual analytical ability. All your actions, other than instinctive reactions, are caused by your desire to act based on your evaluation of available information. If you are unable to analyze the available information then you may act incorrectly and thus go against Dharma. If you wish to remain within the ambit of Dharma, you will have to constantly try to sharpen your analytical ability.
8. VIDYA is loosely translated as knowledge + ability + skill. But more accurately, VIDYA is your ability to identify, store, index and retrieve information from a knowledge base. If you have a task to perform and you know how to do it efficiently and you can command your physical and mental skills to perform the task well, you have the Vidya required for the task. A performer of Dharma will never act without Vidya, since that may cause the task being performed non-optimally. Ergo, if you wish to remain within the bounds of Dharma, you would have to learn the required Vidya for each and every task you are required to perform. In our current context then, VIDYA denotes your ability to gather all the required knowledge, skill and expertise for any task that you may have to perform.
9. SATYAM is the Truth. It goes without saying that to stay within the bounds of Dharma one would have to discern between truth and untruth. Funnily though, truth has the habit of being inconsistent as it is heavily dependent upon contextual environment. Then again, the extent of contextual environment enlarges with the expansion of your own knowledge base. In the current context then, SATYAM would denote your ability to discern between truth and untruth, consistent with the current limit of the contextual environment. For this to happen, you will have to call upon your Dhee and Vidya to function at their best.
10. Krodha is anger. AKRODHA is therefore non-anger. Now why is control over anger so necessary for performing acts of Dharma? The answer is straight forward. As an emotion, anger releases chemicals in the blood stream that inhibit the functioning of your brain. Your judgment and analytical abilities are impaired. Your actions under the influence of anger will positively be sub-optimal. Therefore, you must have the ability to control your anger if you wish to remain within Dharma.
Interesting this list certainly is. However, it has a few peculiar characteristics that need to be noticed.
Firstly, it looks like a â€˜to doâ€™ list rather than a â€˜how to do what must be doneâ€™ manual. It tells you what attributes you are likely to be in possession of if you manage to remain within the ambit of Dharma in your actions but it does not tell you how to acquire these attributes. I wish it did, it would then be easier to tread the path of Dharma more confidently. But the fact is that it does not do so. We shall need to debate as to why Manu chose to be reticent.
Secondly, there is an undertone in the list that implies that if you wish to remain firmly within the bounds of Dharma, you shall have to become mentally, physically and intellectually strong. Indeed, if you manage to acquire all the abilities listed, you can hardly remain a doormat! At the same time, you are constantly cautioned not to become a bully. (Remember the need for DAMAH ASTYEYA and AKRODHA?). Thus, with unspoken words, Manu has painted a picture of a follower of Dharma who is strong, compassionate, just, equitable and wise. This picture is supposed to be your role model if you wish to follow Dharma.
Thirdly, Manu makes no mention here of Divinity, Prayers, Rituals and Social codes. He makes no mention of any Messengers of God or of any Holy Book. He does not talk of fasts and sacrifices. Indeed, he does not even talk of your soul! He deals with Dharma solely in terms of your ability and actions as a human being. To remain within the ambit of Dharma, you may or may not even believe in GOD. Are you surprised? If you do believe in GOD, then where within the list will you fit HIM in? The answer is of course easy. He can only be a part of your Dhriti because you consider His presence to be an essential part of your own being. If you do not believe in GOD, even that fact will have to be a part of your Dhriti.
It seems to me that Dharma actually revolves only around your actions. As a matter of fact, this whole process of following Dharma is called Dharma Aacharan or walking through Dharma. The individual actions taken by any individual is called Karma. Like many other Sanskrit words transported into English, the meaning of the word karma has also got distorted. Karma is the exportation of your energy and effort affecting your environment. To be called your karma, an action must originate through your own efforts. It also must have some effect either on the environment or on the people around you. You can perform karma through three methods â€“ by your body, by your mind and by your speech. If you can make sure that the effects of your karma on other people and on the environment are benign or uplifting then you may be pretty sure that your karma is within dharma. Hey.. but karma is a big subject by itself and we must not get side-tracked from our quest of understanding what Dharma is. Let us get back to our subject.
We were wondering a little while ago as to why Manu has not provided us with a how to do manual or even a simple definition of Dharma. We find no direct answers from his book. However, it is possible that he thought it would be better for us if we found the ways and means to tread the path of Dharma by our own efforts. Then, we would automatically know what dharma is; no one else would have to define it for us! Of course there were many other sages who have attempted to define or explain Dharma. Some of them fell upon its word meaning and declared that Dharma is nothing but your inherent property. Others defined it differently, some in a very complex manner and some others more simply. One of the more simple definitions was that dharma is something that lets you live and grow. I some how feel that it would really be best for us if we could find our own meaning and definition for dharma. Let us see if we can reconcile the check-list given by Manu with what the other rishis have said. Your own abilities and knowledge are of course a part of your own property or qualitative attribute. To that extent, if I say your dharma is your property, and Manu says that if you follow Dharma you are likely to develop such abilities, then there seems to be no conflict. From fundamental knowledge of physics we know that properties of a matter are determined by its atomic arrangements. Tempering of steel through heat and cold makes it stronger. The arrangements atoms in a mass of carbon dictate whether the matter will be a chunk of coal or a piece of diamond. The properties of matter thus can change from within. What Manu and others are trying to tell us is that if we consciously perform our karma within the bounds of dharma, our properties will change for the better. May be, we shall turn into a piece of diamond from a chunk of coal?
Now let us see if we could tweak the list a bit and convert it into some sort of Ten Commandments! Being a grand father, converting comments in to commands come easy to me.
1. Be conscious about your fundamental values and stick to them
2. Be tenacious and persevering: whatever be the impediments, stick to your goals
3. Do not be vainglorious. Guard against the intoxicating influence of power and self-importance.
4. Do not usurp other peopleâ€™s property (and rights).
5. Be clean in body mind thought and surroundings.
6. Always be in control of your actions. Do not succumb to misleading sensual inputs.
7. Consciously and constantly sharpen your intellect and your analytical ability.
8. Learn all the skills and gather all the knowledge required to perform any and every task you have to perform.
9. Stick to the truth to the best of your judgmental ability.
10. Keep your anger subdued.
There. That sounds much simpler. It is almost do-able with a little bit of effort. Is that not so? It almost sounds like a script from a management course of a B-School; as if Dharma is in reality a part of the management sciences. But wait. Do not jump too fast. There are loose ends still dangling that need to be tied up before we proceed further.
Let us begin at the very beginning. As Maria said, it is a very good place to start. It is all very well for a grandfather to advise you to be conscious about your fundamental values; how on earth do you begin to identify them? Well, our ancient seers are there to offer you some help. Human life, they have said, consists of a number of well defined stages. Firstly, there is infancy. They named it as shaishava, the stage of being a shishu or an infant. At this stage you are totally at the mercy of the adults around you. You can just about breathe, drink and grow. You do not need to bother about your fundamental values here. Your inborn instinct is good enough. Next you pass through childhood or baalya, the stage of being a little boy (a Baalak) or a little girl (a Baalikaa). Even at this stage you are not required to look for your fundamental values. You are still dependent upon the adults around you. Your instinct teaches you to observe and learn the basic facts of life. You need to eat at regular intervals or else you will feel hungry. You must not eat when you are already full or else you will fall sick. Do not touch fire, it will singe you. If you feel cold, covering your body will help. Such like and many other facts will be noted by you and will be recorded in your knowledge base without your conscious effort. The adults around you will variously tempt you, cajole you, induce you or even bully you to learn many other things. The more you get such adult help, easier it will be for you to learn the essential skills and knowledge for life. You are not yet called upon to plan your own life.
Life however gets a little tougher as you get into 16. You enter a stage of transition. In Indian expression, you enter kaishore, the stage of being a kishor or a kishori. There is no exact English word for this stage, though some people call it young adulthood. In this stage of transition, you are called upon to transform yourself from a dependent child to an independent adult. To start with, of course you are not yet independent. But emotionally and physically certain changes take place in your mind and body that force you to reconstruct your relationships with others around you. You look somewhat different and you feel somewhat different. Slowly you realize that the others are treating you with a little difference too. You realize that you are slowly becoming a person. Not yet an adult, but a person all the same. It sets you thinking or at least should set you thinking: who am I? For the first time in your life you feel the need to define yourself. You are not yet an adult. The reference platform for defining yourself naturally turns towards the most important adults in your life so far. I am a daughter to my parents, you say tentatively, and immediately the penny drops. Does being a daughter to my parents entail some responsibility on my part? The quest for your fundamental values begins here. What do I have to do to be good daughter to my parents? See how easily you get enmeshed in karma in the search of your fundamental values. What do I have to be to be a good daughter to my parents translates unconsciously to what do I have to do to be one! This unconscious, subconscious, semi conscious and then conscious assumption of responsibility is the beginning of your journey to adulthood. This behavioral metamorphosis is the hallmark of the transition that kaishore is all about. As you go along in your journey into adulthood you realize that you are playing many roles on this stage of life all at the same time. You are a student in a school. The scripture says: chhaatraanaam adhyanam tapah â€“ for students, the most sacred endeavor is to study diligently. Viola! Another fundamental value relevant to your current status gets recognized. You have a younger brother. â€˜My brother needs some guidance in his current state of boyhood learning and growing,â€™ â€“you judge. â€˜I think I shall try to be his friendly guideâ€™ â€“ you decide. Bingo. You have set yourself another task that you think needs to be done. Now, you shall have to become a competent and friendly guide to a pre-teen boy! Thus it goes on. You define a role for yourself or you realize that there is a role you are already enacting in real life. You then search for the values attached to that role and attempt to attain those values because you want to perform every role, be it assumed by you or imposed upon you, to perfection. This process of assumption of responsibility, of recognizing the roles you play, of realizing the implications of the events around you slowly generates the personality that you shall assume as a person in adult life. This conscious adult person within the society is named a Vyakti in Indian philosophy. The person or the vyakti has three identifiable strands to his/her personality or inner self. The first part hankers after truth and knowledge. This part of the inner self is called Sat. The second part of the inner self hankers after justice, betterment, equality and freedom, all based on logic. This part of the inner self is called Chit. The third part of the inner self is attached to joy. It loves art and culture. It wants to enjoy dancing and music, it relishes a novel or a painting, and it freaks out on good food and drinks. It wishes to meet with friends and walk in the hills. In short, it identifies with unbounded joy. This element is Aananda. A well rounded personality has a well balanced mixture of these three strands â€“ Sat Chit Aananda â€“ in the inner self or the Antaraatma. This inclusion of Aananda as a recognizable desirable inescapable part of a personality sets the Indian way of life apart from many other philosophies that sometimes consider enjoyment as sinful.
Let us digest this mouthful that might need some chewing. Firstly, as a young adult, a Kishori, you are in the process of becoming a person. This process is a natural progression that will happen to you whether you like it or not. You have however, the power to influence the kind or person that you shall ultimately become, by your own deliberate actions, which is sometimes called your karma. Secondly, you have a broad choice to utilize the powers that you are born with to influence the growth process to become what you want to be or let the nature and the environment take its own course and take you wherever the social current drifts you, soaking you with whatever the values are that are present around you. In that case, you might not know while you are growing whether you are heading towards a cesspool or a sweet water lake. Step one is therefore to decide whether you are ready to make a choice about the values of life while you are in the process of growing into adulthood. If you do, it will be your step1A into Dharma: Identification of your Dhriti. Then Step 1B will be your effort to stay within the values you have selected. We have just seen that the persona of a vyakti has three strands: Sat Chit and Aananda. You will need to choose the colour and the texture and the strength, and the taste and the aroma of each of the strands that you would like to have in the weave and waft of your persona, if you choose to choose and act that is. Please note carefully that I am not leading you into any one set of values. The values that you choose, if you decide to choose any values at all, must be totally your choice. That is the essence of this freedom to be yourself that I was talking about.
I think that by now I have gathered for you a workable set of tools to potter around with Dhriti if you so desire, except for one little thing hiding in one corner: your interaction with Divinity. Do you believe in God? It is a personal question that you may be prompted to ask yourself. If you do, how do you perceive Him? If you do not, then what prompts you disbelieve? These are a set of questions that have been debated over thousands of years with no final answers. Our ancient seers concluded that this is a question that can be answered only by an individual to him or herself. Logically, there can be two answers: Yes I believe in God, and No, I do not believe in the existence of anything called God. There is of course a possible third option: â€œDo not ask me that question, I am not prepared to bother my self to find an answer.â€