Rta, Satya, Dharma: Introduction

This article is part 1 of 9 in the series Rta Satya Dharma

In the Hindu way of life we are guided by four purusharthas (पुरुषार्थ) –

  • dharma (धर्म) - righteousness, global ethic, moral principle
  • artha (अर्थ) - wealth, resources, means
  • kama (काम) - desire, love, attachment
  • moksha (मोक्ष) - liberation, release, bliss

All of them are important for humans to conduct their lives and carry on their work. The fascinating part is the order of their importance. It can be understood as follows. Think of the four purusharthas as four brothers who are all united and dharma as the eldest brother. If you ill-treat the elder brother and side with any of the other siblings, the result will only be disastrous. You can befriend the rest of the brothers but without the consent of the elder brother whatever you earn will be futile. You have to earn wealth (artha) and you need to have desire (kama) but the way of obtaining and sustaining has to be only by means of dharma.

Dharma sets such principles that are morally high and in the well-being of everyone involved. We often find ourselves at crossroads and each of the four in conflict with one another. But this is not the reality. This is just an illusion. An illusion created because of improper understanding of their inter-relationships and the inability to respect the four goals in the right order. One needs clear vision to clear out the haziness and achieve all four goals. Such a vision of dharma can be well-perceived when one sees using the understanding of rta (universal cosmic order) and satya (truth), which clear the way for dharma. As one gets the insights from rta, satya, and dharma, it's fairly easy to establish an equilibrium among these goals and maintain a civilized society.

In order to sustain a civilized society and culture, the values that govern and guide them become relevant. In the context of a nation such as India, to understand the premise on which it has been organized and managed, it is of paramount importance to recognize and comprehend the hidden order which has aided in its long journey. They are rta, satya, and dharma, which are intertwined.

Rta (ऋत) refers to the cosmic order which works as an invisible hand but manifests in the universe through the forms of creation, sustenance, and destruction. It governs the happenings through its laws and this can be realized by no one else but the human being. The power of free will and the quest of knowledge help human beings realize rta, which further transforms in thought, word, and action. Rta is in the nature of things.

Satya (सत्य) is truth. It is more commonly prevalent and recognized. Truth is the spoken form of what is real (we also call it as 'fact'). It defies all ambiguity and establishes certainty. It brings clarity to all perceptions and thoughts. It becomes uncontested and aligns with cosmic order.

Dharma should be ideally termed as 'global ethic.' Truth is made important to us by its ability to serve this global ethic. Dharma is again an elusive concept, for it is abstract. As per निरुक्त (semantic etymology), the word 'dharma' is derived from its root 'dhr' meaning 'to hold' or 'to support' or 'to bear.' If rta is cosmic order, dharma is the one that sustains the order. Dharma is a natural corollary. It is what is naturally right. It helps us establish harmony in life. It signifies the way life ought to be. It helps in the transformation of what is natural to ethical to the universal order.

Often, implicit things alone will not suffice to convey the right ways and put it in the right order or perspective. It operates at various levels from the microorganisms to the evolved highest manifestation of the universe. It paints the picture of the do-s and don’t-s, as well as the ideas and ideals that we should aspire for.

Satya and dharma serve as a framework for us to recognize rta. It is the relentless pursuit of humans to find rta and when that is realized, one experiences the unbound joy of becoming one with the universal cosmic order. The choices we make in our everyday life are largely influenced by what is our relative position on these three parameters with respect to the society at large. "I am the truth and proof of my own existence. Rta is the force working behind this. Dharma helps me operate it. If I move away from my purpose and from truth, I violate dharma but if I work in the way which is the natural truth then I adhere to dharma."

To be continued...

This is an Introduction to the English translation of a Kannada monograph titled 'ಋತ, ಸತ್ಯ, ಧರ್ಮ' by Dr. D V Gundappa. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.




Haricharan has been an entrepreneur and software marketer. He has a deep interest in Indian history, culture, and Carnatic music. In 2014, he translated D V Gundappa's classic 'Baligondu Nambike' into English as 'Faith for Life.'