Why is Dharma Worthy of Worship?
Dharma is established and nurtured by the divine. Bhagavān who needs to have no thought for anything else thinks of dharma alone and of his own volition. This should bring the greatness of dharma to our minds. Dharma is Īśvara’s own property. Therefore, it is immensely worthy of our worship. We have to always remember that Īśvara is watching us all the time. An American poet says thus:
Though the mills of God grind slowly,
And they grind exceeding small,
Though with patience He stands waiting
With exactness grinds He all.
—Retribution, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Not one human-grain can elude the mill of karma. Sooner or later, they are consumed by it. Those who follow dharma escape it.
svalpam-apy-asya dharmasya trāyate mahato bhayāt (BG 2.40)
(Even following a little of this dharma protects from great fear)
The Need for Viveka
All this is fine, but what is the way to dharma? Whatever approach one’s heart spurs him to take in his search for goodness — is the means of dharma for him. Dharma follows the condition of the jīva, its distinct qualifications and its strengths and weaknesses. A ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot be applied to dharma. The dharma of a jīva is determined by its unique quality. This means that the acceptance of dharma is possible only by clear-headed deliberation and not by blind faith.
dharme pramīyamāṇe hi vedena karaṇātmanā
iti kartavyatā-bhāgam mīmāṃsā pūrayiṣyati
(When dharma is being comprehended through the Veda,
mīmāṃsā complements it by providing practical means.)
Mīmāṃsā means logic, or deliberation on cause and effect. This verse means that one should reflect carefully, to understand the true nature of dharma.
Thus dharma is fundamentally the same for everyone. Its practice differs according to the desires and capabilities of the doer. Just as food conforms to the health of the stomach and the desire of the palate; dharma also conforms to the state of the jīva. It should consider the incapability of the jīva also. Can fasting be prescribed to a person who cannot bear hunger? The dharma of a person is decided based on the natural proclivities of his jīva.
Classification of Guna and Karma (Guna-karma-vibhāga)
People harbour different desires in their heart and to obtain them, they propitiate different deities. They are all travellers on the wide road that leads to Bhagavān. As the innate qualities and propensities of humans are naturally different, they have been broadly classified into four categories to determine their respective dharmas. Bhagavān said, "I incarnate myself in this world again and again to establish dharma, to systematize varṇas and āśramas, to codify appropriate fruits for actions. Thereby I am performing my dharma.”
cātur-varṇyaṃ mayā sṛṣṭyaṃ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ (BG 4.13)
There is a peculiar attribute of the system of jāti that needs to be discussed here. The reformers of today argue that it is against the principles of equality and is therefore a blemish upon society. Even though the Gītāchārya’s advice espouses equality, the essential meaning is that this equality should be practical and ultimately result in wholesome benefit to the jīva. The aim of the varṇa system is that an individual should employ his qualifications by birth in the service of the collective. It is true that the elevation of the individual is important. But if it has to be a genuine ennoblement and not just a façade, it should result in continuous, perpetual value to the collective. The basic premise of the varṇa system is that by being of service to the collective, an individual can achieve his own betterment. The qualities, activities, and capabilities of an individual help him to thus be of service.
Bhagavān’s words describe the existing situation and not the products of human imagination. As this four-fold division of human society is based on natural qualities, it is settled that it is applicable for all humans in all places at all times.
Bhagavān himself has established the varṇa system considering the various qualities distributed amongst different groups of people, and the several benefits that accrue to the world through them. He has established the dharma of various varṇas and clans based on the naturally occurring proportions of sattva, rajas and tamas in each person.
The varṇa system will be studied again in the appendix.
Akarma in Karma
Bhagavān explains to Arjuna that even though he is engaged in karma, he is not tainted by it.
na me karma-phale spṛhā (BG 4.14)
“Arjuna, it is not wrong for you to fight to win a kingdom, or for glory and renown. It is also acceptable to perform your duty as an offering to Bhagavān, with the sole purpose of dharma.”
evaṃ jñātvā kṛtaṃ karma pūrvairapi mumukṣubhiḥ
kuru karmaiva tasmāt tvaṃ pūrvaiḥ pūrvataraṃ kṛtam (BG 4.15)
Kṛśna is not modernist, but traditionalist. He believes in practices that are established over time. That is the meaning of sanātana as in sanātana-dharma. Not only those who desired worldly wealth and pleasure, but even people desirous of mokṣa performed karma. Mokṣa is ‘release’. Why did those desirous of emancipation shackle themselves in karma? Bhagavān explains.
karmaṇo hyapi boddhavyam boddhavyam ca vikarmaṇaḥ
akarmaṇaśca boddhavyaṃ gahanā karmaṇo gatiḥ (BG 4.17)
The ways of karma are mysterious. Therefore, to understand its nature, we have to first understand the three types of karma — karma, vikarma and akarma.
- vihita-karma — one’s ordained duty, that which has to be performed without fail, which yields results
- vikarma — unfavourable, forbidden karma, that which should not be performed,
- akarma — there are three possible meanings to this word. Therefore the preceding and succeeding contexts have to be examined before the meaning is determined.
i. Giving up all karma, including those that are mandatory or required; doing absolutely nothing at all.
mā te saṅgos-tv-akarmaṇi (BG 2-47)
karma jyāyo hyakarmaṇaḥ
na prasiddhyedakarmaṇaḥ (BG 3.8)
ii. Performance of necessary duties, but not getting attached to its results. Perform action but be unconcerned and calm as though no action needs to be performed.
karmaṇy-akarma yaḥ paśyet (BG 4.18)
karmaṇy-abhipravṛtto’pi naiva kiñcit karoti saḥ (BG 4.20)
kurvannapi na lipyate (BG 5.7)
iii. It could also mean vikarma — action that should be avoided, something that should not be done. Even though the Gītā doesn’t have this kind of meaning, it is seen elsewhere.
Thus, the meaning of akarma is to be inferred from the context.
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.