Ch. 2 Yoga of Discernment of Reality (Part 6)

This article is part 22 of 25 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

Dharma is a word not used just by the vaidikas but also employed reverently by the Buddhists and Jains. The vaidikas have employed this term in different śāstras and as part of different terminologies. Śrī Śaṅkara gives the following meaning:

jagataḥ sthiti-kāraṇam prāṇināṃ sākṣād-abhyudaya-niḥśreyasa hetuḥ yaḥ sa dharmaḥ...
Śāṅkara-gītā-bhāṣya upodghāta

The system and set of acts that bestows

(i) Welfare upon beings in the world now and

(ii) Salvation in the hereafter

is dharma.

Dharma sustains not only the jīvas but also the universe. The jīva and the world have a mutual relationship. Hence, the body of practices, qualities, rules, and regulations that

1. Suitably ensure that the jīva’s abilities and qualities do not degrade in contact with the Universe, but on the other hand ensure that they flower and help the world and

2. Also ensure that the Universe is unhindered by its contact with jīvas and benefits the jīva

constitutes dharma.

This is an ancient explanation. The vaiśeṣika-sūtra states thus:

yato’bhyudaya-niḥśreyasa-siddhiḥ sa dharmaḥ ||
(Vaiśeṣika-sūtra 1.1.2)

Niḥśreyasa refers to the best among the best, the supreme good. What is it that is good? What is well-being? The great sage Āpastamba conveys the quintessence of the Veda and Vedānta in the following words:

ātmā-lābhān-na paraṃ vidyate|| 
(Āpastamba-dharma-sūtra 1.8.22)

There is no greater benefit than attaining one’s own Self. This is the highest of all welfare. It was the considered view of our ancients that being established in one’s own Self after experiencing it constituted mokṣa (absolute deliverance).

The Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat [and Chāndogyopaniṣat] states it as follows:

ātmā vā are śrotavyaḥ|| 
Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣat 2.4.5
(The ātmā has to be heard about)

tarati śokam a ātmāvit|| 
Chāndogyopaniṣat 7.1.3
(The knower of the ātmā crosses sorrow)

The Īśāvāsyopaniṣat states:

tatra ko mohaḥ kaḥ śoka ekatvam-anupaśyataḥ ||
Īśāvāsyopaniṣat 7
(Whence delusion? Whence sorrow for the one who sees Unity everywhere?)

All Upaniṣads state the same.

The jīva, enmeshed in the web of māyā (delusion) cast by prakṛti (the primordial power) forgets the Supreme Self in him, and believes that things other than the ātman bring happiness and hankers after those ingredients of pleasure. This hankering after pleasure is saṃsāra. Confusion stems from a desire for the world. Going beyond this error and delusion, experiencing the Self – and the Divine – is a bliss higher than any other external pleasure. The set of qualities and behaviours that ready the jīva for such supreme benefits is dharma. The same has been stated by Yājñavalkya.

ayaṃ tu paramo dharmo yadyogenātmadarśanam ||
(Yājñavalkyasmṛti 1.8)

All of the above can be collectively stated as follows. There are three main benefits from dharma:

1. Sustenance of the world.
2. Bliss for the jīva
3. Welfare for the jīva.

Beings normally yearn for pleasure at every instant. Pleasure is attainment of the desirable and cessation of the undesirable. But all pleasure is not welfare. All that yields pleasure may not be beneficial. Many dishes are enjoyable whilst on the palate but are otherwise when they are in the stomach. The kind of food that does not cause displeasure to the digestive system while still yielding pleasure to the tongue is wholesome (or hita). Wholesomeness originates from limiting one’s pleasures or moderation. Pleasure is wholesome (or hita) when associated with a method and moderation. The welfare of a jīva is in restraining one’s enjoyment of pleasures while pursuing his desire in such a way that his future course towards the Beyond is unimpeded. The set of rituals, practices and rules that are needed for the welfare of the jīva form the essence of dharma.

The above defines dharma from the perspective of its results. From the perspective of its internal structure, dharma can be defined as the practical observance of objective truth. By truth is meant reality, a situation as is. ‘Tattva’ refers to the same. Tat-tva is a thing’s thingness. Dharma is the adaptation of our behaviour to current circumstances after understanding the true nature of the circumstances.

There is yet another explanation. Dharma is the set of our actions performed with the Supreme Self as witness. The set of actions performed with the conviction that one is answerable to Īśvara for every action done or not done is dharma

Thus dharma is an essential training or refinement for the jīva. War is another such training ground. For a few kinds of jīvas, because of the bodies they inhabit, death in the battlefield is an essential purification, just as surgery for a few kinds of ailments. 

Dharma is therefore the set of behaviours that is based on one’s own self, follows the Truth, and keeps the good of all in view.

Having briefly noted the inner essence of dharma, we need to understand that it assumes myriad forms in action. Just as a blob of gold assumes different forms such as coins or ornaments, the singular principle of dharma functions in different forms according to the capabilities of the individual jīvas and their varied circumstances. Such dharmas can be classified into four main groups:

1. Sādhāraṇa-dharma or nitya-dharma (common or ordinary dharma)
2. Viśeṣa-dharma (dharma in special circumstances)
3. Naimittika-dharma (dharma befitting specific occasions)
4. Āpad-dharma (dharma in extreme situations)

1. Sādhāraṇa-dharma or nitya-dharma - This is decreed for all of humanity. The main characteristics have been enumerated by Manu as follows:

dhṛtiḥ kṣamā damo’steyaṃ śaucamindriyanigrahaḥ
dhīrvidyā satyamakrodhaḥ daśakaṃ dharmalakṣaṇam

(Manusmṛti 6.92)

1. Dhṛti - Courage or steadfastness, 2. Kṣamā - Forgiveness, 3. Dama - Controlling the mind, 4. Asteya - Not coveting others’ wealth, 5. Śauca - Purity, 6. Indriyanigraha - Controlling sense organs, 7. Dhī - Intellect, 8. Vidyā - Knowledge, especially that of philosophy, 9. Satyam - Being truthful, 10. Akrodha - Being free of anger. 

The above ten are characteristics of dharma. It is imperative for all human beings to cultivate or possess these qualities at all times. 

 

2. Viśeṣa-dharma (Dharma under special circumstances)  is of two kinds: 

a. Jāti-dharma - is dharma belonging to one’s clan or varṇa or region. Arjuna referred to these when he said, “utsādyante jāti-dharmāḥ kula-dharmāś-ca śāśvatāḥ” - Dharmas belonging to society and one’s own clan, that have existed for time immemorial, will get destroyed.

b. Āśrama-dharma - peṛtains to the initiation, conduct, and rituals peṛtaining to the āśramas of brahmacharya (studenthood), gṛhastha (householderhood), vānaprastha (forest-dweller) and saṃnyāsa (renunciate).

 

3. Naimittika-dharma is dharma peṛtaining to a goal relevant for a specific duration of time. That is of two kinds: 

a. Kāmya - the works (pūjas, vratas, yajñas) performed to achieve one’s personal desires. 

b. Śuddhi - are the rites to purify oneself of any impurity or expiation for pāpas committed.

 

4. Āpad-dharma - When it is not possible to perform any of the above mentioned dharmas due to disease, drought or other calamity, a token of that dharma is maintained. The actions performed to maintain such a token dharma constitute āpad-dharma. Mantra-snāna (ritual bath using mantras) during fever, a brāhmaṇa following agriculture and other occupations during the age of Kali are the common examples. Droṇācharya’s foray into battle can thus be termed āpad-dharma or viśeṣa-dharma. In a story in the Chāndogyopaniṣat, the brāhmaṇa named Uṣasti had become emaciated due to a drought. To maintain his life, Uṣasti took half-eaten cereals from an elephant-driver. For Uṣasti, this became āpad-dharma.

 

To summarize, the rule of conduct placed upon oneself to neither mar one’s own progress nor be an impediment to others’ pursuits of pleasure and actually help others while achieving one’s own happiness is dharma.

To be continued...

The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.

Author(s)

About:

Devanahalli Venkataramanayya Gundappa (1887-1975) was a great visionary and polymath. He was a journalist, poet, art connoisseur, philosopher, political analyst, institution builder, social commentator, social worker, and activist.

Translator(s)

About:

Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.

About:

Mother of two. Engineer. Worshiper of Indian music, poetry, and art.

Prekshaa Publications

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective...

Yaugandharam

इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...

Vanitakavitotsavah

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Vaiphalyaphalam

इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।

Nipunapraghunakam

इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।

Bharavatarastavah

अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...

Bharatilochana

ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...

Vagarthavismayasvadah

“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...