Ch. 4 Yoga of Unattached Karma (Part 9)

This article is part 46 of 57 in the series Jīvana-dharma-yoga

When they ascend the throne, England’s Kings (or Queens) take an oath in front of their subjects that they will follow, preserve, and protect the traditional methods and rules of governance. In India, the President who is in place of the King, takes this oath while swearing in — “I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law.” (Art. 60) Thus, even the highest official of the state is subject to the arrangement accepted by the common people.

In Vedānta, Īśvara’s sovereignty over the universe is similar. The system of governance accepted by the all the people is dharma. Dharma is the constitution of the kingdom.  Īśvara has taken the responsibility of sustaining and maintaining it. In the constitution of dharma, the important sentence is that Īśvara is its protector. Thus, in the sustenance of dharma, he is not just an officer, but also the supreme authority. The constitution of dharma gives four responsibilities to Īśvara.

  1. Protecting those who follow dharma
  2. Punish those who harm dharma
  3. Re-establishment of dharma, whenever the situation demands it
  4. Protection of the distressed.

To perform the first two of the above tasks — that is protection of dhārmics and punishing the adhārmics, Īśvara has appointed other functionaries. They are deities such as Indra, Agni, Yama, Varuṇa, and Vāyu. The deities of different karmas, deities of different directions, planets and stars are such officers. Generally, they protect the dharma of the world. They protect and encourage the dhārmics of the world, and punish adhārmics appropriately.  Īśvara, the overlord of the universe, supervises their work. Thus,  Īśvara does not have to get into the daily activities of the world. For day-to-day activities, dharma-śāstra is the law. Various deities take the responsibility of maintaining law and order.  Īśvara is just the supervising head in relation to them. Ordinarily, Īśvara himself is actionless.

Similarly, even in our current system of governance, the king is a neutral entity. Walter Bagehot, an English political scientist avers that the most excellent quality of an English king is his wise inaction. The fundamental concept here is that the King can do no wrong. This does not mean that there are no mistakes in polity. Mistakes may happen; their responsibility does not rest with the king but with the minister whose duty it is to advise the king on various political matters. That is, the minister becomes responsible for all political damage; this is the peculiarity of the English political setup. This is the meaning behind the phrase "responsible government".

Thus, even though much of the day-to-day administration is the responsibility of the minister, the system leaves some special rights and offices — prerogatives — to the King. Inviting the parliament and dismissing it, taking up the reins of administration during conflict, pardoning those who have been condemned to severe punishment – all these are the king’s prerogatives.

The same applies to the rule of Īśvara. Among the above four dhārmic duties of a king, punishing the evil and protecting the good generally fall under the umbrella of the duties of various other deities of the world. The other two — re-establishing dharma and being compassionate towards the weak — are the prerogatives of Īśvara. In this world and the otherworld, various deities of the karmas mete out rewards and punishments to humans for their deeds – meritorious or otherwise.

However, the good may become weak and evil may become all-powerful at certain times. When evil reigns, the powers of the lesser deities will not be enough to sustain the world. Such times call for the direct descent of Īśvara himself. The below lines proclaim this.

yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata
abhyutthānam adharmasya tadātmānaṃ sṛjāmyaham
(BG 4.7)

Keeping this in mind, Arjuna praised Bhagavān as "śāśvata-dharma-goptā" (BG 11.18)

Terrible actions such as wars become necessary to re-establish sanātana dharma and to destroy evil in the world.  Īśvara arranges, harmonizes and arbitrates such occasions. Thus, protecting dharma by multifarious means falls in the field of the rightful duties of Īśvara.

In the same way, giving succour to the distressed, showing affection to the miserable, the protection of those who are seeking it are all the charge of Īśvara. In our world, in a political setup like that of England (even in India), it is the authority of the throne to discuss with ministers and grant amnesty if a citizen sentenced to harsh punishment repents and begs for it. In a similar way, it is Īśvara’s duty to show compassion to the devotees who are begging for protection, so that there is no laxity in the rule of dharma, and in a way that encourages dharma. This mercy of the divine cannot be construed as partiality and criticised as haughtiness. The divine is not merciless and unjust. Instead, it has kindness and affection that fosters dharma. This is why Bhagavān is

gatirbhartā prabhuḥ sākṣī nivāsaḥ śaraṇaṃ suhṛt (BG 9.18)

(The resource, provider, Lord, witness, abode, refuge and friend)

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...

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