More often than not people understand the word “Dharma” as “religion.” There are many reasons for such (mis)understanding that include education system. Nevertheless, one can probe further in to the original purport of this word, if they wish to do so!
This piece of writing is one such attempt and tries to present the intended meaning of “Dharma.”
Before I venture in to the explanation of the word Dharma, I wish to mention to the readers that the ancient Indian thinkers have advised their successors to develop a skill called “coordination” or “consequential thinking” while exerting to read and understand the philosophical contents. Veda Vyasa called this as “Samanvayat” in one of his Brahma Sutra (तत् समन्वयात्)
Dharma – Its Meaning & Need
Sage Manu who was also a King says that:
“धर्म ऎव हतॊ हंति धर्मॊ रक्षति रक्षितः”
Meaning: If one tries to harm Dharma it harms that person and if one protects Dharma it protects him.
Hence it becomes imperative for the wise people to uphold Dharma at all times.
But what is this Dharma?
Shri Krishna in Bhagavadgita says that:
श्रॆयान् स्वधर्मॊ विगुणः परधर्मात्वनुष्टितात्।
स्वधर्मॆ निधनं श्रॆयः परधर्मॊ भयावहः॥
Krishna classifies Dharma as (1)Sva Dharma – One’s own Dharma and (2) Para Dharma – Other Dharm (or other than own Dharma). He also lets us to know that own Dharma is better than the Dharma of others. He clarifies that the one’s own Dharma is safer though it looks ugly but the Dharma of others though looks beautiful may become brutal.
From the above we can understand that Dharma is something that comes naturally to a person owing to his/her place, time & character. This Dharma may remain standardized throughout the lifespan of a person and this is how “Sva Dharma” or one’s own dharma comes in to the picture.
Likewise, a whole community may have its own “Sva Dharma” in the form of common habits/interests, beliefs, practices and lifestyle. Similarly, a nation can become a home for multiple communities built upon their unique “Sva Dharmas” which in turn would have individuals having their own “Sva Dharmas.”
The bottom line is that these Sva Dharmas need not to be ‘great’ or ‘majestic’ or ‘common-to-all’ type.
Krishna says that “let each Sva Dharma live its own life till it wishes to modify itself.” He opines that by forcing “Para Dharma” on “Sva Dharma” creates ‘fear’ and such ‘fear’ can lead to further complications. “So”, says Krishna, “let the Sva Dharma be there!”
Here the bottom line is that every single Sva Dharma should not harm other Sva Dharma just because the other Dharma is looking drab or ugly! Thus, Godhead Shri Krishna puts emphasis on “Dharma Nirapeksha” i.e. ‘being unperutrbed by the Dharma of others.”
Example for Sva Dharma:
Ancient thinkers of Bharat thought that the philosophical aspects can be best explained with examples. Thus came Puranas & Ithihasas which depict the types of Dharmas and the conflicts between them.
Let me pick up an example to illustrate the Dharma Rakshana (Protection of Dharma) suggested by Manu and the need of adhering to Sva Dharma as preached by Krishna in Bhagavadgita.
There is this shloka widely publicised wherein Rama tells to Lakshmana who was gazing at the beautiful Lanka city built with gold:
अपि स्वर्णमयीं लंका न मॆ रॊचसि लक्षणा|
जननी जन्मभूमिश्च स्वर्गादपि गरीयसि॥
“Lakshmana! Though this Lanka city is full of gold but it does not light me up. For me, my mother and mother land are greater than the heaven!”
Here Rama tells Lakshmana that a precious metal like gold is inferior to heaven which is inferior to his mother who in turn inferior to his mother land.
This is the perfect example that I could quote for ‘Sva Dharma.’ Lord Rama believes that it is the duty of every human being to revere his/her parents and the land that has supported them to lead the life. Rama refutes to yield to the glitters of Lanka’s gold which is Para Dharma to him. Rama wished to embrace death in his battle with Ravana than yielding to the wealth and pomp of the latter.
Let us also take the cue from this that Dharma has got nothing to do with ‘religion’ or ‘religious beliefs’ but it is a matter of practicality that has a universal applicability.
Let me take you back to Rama’s words. Who on this earth wish to disrespect their parents? Does religion stop any one from honouring their mother or father for their love and care? Can an American say that what Rama told is inapplicable to him?
So, the words of Rama and the stories of Ramayana are not of religious angle alone. They carry the element of humanitarianism and mutual respect to one & all.
The need of the Hour:
Today there is an urgent need for every one of us to think deeply about “Dharma” taught by the ancient thinkers from Bharat.
Dharmik values must be embedded in our minds & actions. If Islamic State wants to erase other Dharmas from the face of the earth they must realize that the same Dharma can destroy them and it can destroy without wielding arms.
I have read about some young Indian muslims wishing to join IS gangs. I request such youngsters to widen the horizons of their mental faculties and give some deep thought about Sva Dharma & Para Dharma. For them, ‘Sva Dharma’ lies not in joining IS but to serve their parents and the homeland. For them, the foremost ‘Sva Dharma’ is to help other fellow unemployed youth to abstain from choosing wrong paths.
If one can remove that superimposed dogma of ‘religion’ from ‘Dharma’ their vision becomes clear and that clarity shall help them to choose the right path.