Monday, November 16, 2009

Dharma - A Fundamental and unique Indian world-view

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According to Indian world-view, there are four achievements of a human being in his life; Dharma-Artha-Kaama-Moksha. Pursuit of all four is required for anybody to be referred to as successful human being. As long as all of the four are not achieved, a person can't be successful.

Few basic terms which should be understood before hand.

Shaastra - शास्त्र - Science; Knowledge; Understanding
Dharma - धर्म - Righteousness; Duty; Basic nature
Artha - अर्थ - Wealth and Material success; Legacy; Fame
Kaama - काम - Desires
Moksha or Nirvana - मोक्ष or निर्वाण - Liberation; Attaining everlasting peace with Self and Universe owing to some spiritual pursuit.

Since Indian world-view asks for achievement of all four of these Purusharthas (पुरुषार्थ), there are methods OR sciences or Shaastras which are designed by thinkers of India in various ages for easier achievement of each of these four.

1. Dharma-Shaastra - 
धर्मशास्त्र - The science of Righteousness and Duty (Individual, societal, national).
2. Artha-Shaastra - 
अर्थशास्त्र - The science of earning and protecting wealth and power (individual, societal and national)
3. Kaam-Shaastra - 
कामशास्त्र - The science of fulfilling all the desires (primarily Individual). Kamasutra (कामसूत्र ) is but one of the many Kaam-Shaastras available.
4. Moksha-Shaastra - 
मोक्षशास्त्र - The sciences of attaining liberation OR nirvana OR peace by spiritual pursuits (Necessarily Individual). Ideologies like Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Vedanta, Saamkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Mimamsa, Vaisheshika, Tantra, Buddhism, Jaina, Sikh, Charvaaka, Ajivika etc are essentially various Moksha-Shastras available.

Careful look at all the Indian religious ideologies, we understand that all the religious ideologies(especially Indic ones) are nothing but Moksha-Shaastras and are strictly personal endeavours. In fact, Ishaavaasya Upanishad (ईशावास्य उपनिषद् ) conclusively states that sciences for obtaining Spiritual gains or Moksha is completely segregated from the sciences for obtaining Dharma, Artha and Kaama. However, it is essential for a human being to master both the domains of the sciences in order to lead a successful life. 

अन्धं तमः प्रवेशंती ये अविद्यामुपसिते ततो भूय इव ते तमः ये उ विद्यायाम रताः ll 9 ll

Those who worship Avidya alone fall in dark pit of nothingness... But those who worship Vidya alone fall in a dark pit which which is deeper than the one in which worshippers of Avidya alone fall.

अन्यदेवाहुर्विद्यया अन्यदाहुर्विद्यया इति शुश्रुम धीराणाम ये नस्तद विचचक्षिरे ll 10 ll

The seers say that the fruit of Vidya is different from that of Avidya

विद्याम चाविद्याम च यस्ताद वेदोभायम सह अविद्यया मृत्युं तीर्त्वा विद्याया अमृतमश्नुते ll 11 ll

Hence one who understands Vidya and Avidya together, he overcomes death using his Avidya and gains Moksha using his Vidya.
Here is Avidya refers to Material knowledge i.e.sciences to attain Dharma, Artha and Kaama in life) and Vidya refers to sciences for gaining Salvation/Moksha/Nirvana. The sages say, both Vidya and Avidya are equally important and should be pursued simultaneously.


Out of all four, the correct understanding of Dharma is direly missed in India. Every Indian knows in his mind what he means when he uses the word Dharma. But since colonial times, Dharma has been incorrectly referred to as synonym to religion. 

Religion is defined as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."

Careful inspection of this definition will reveal that there is nothing like Religion in Indian civilization which simultaneously addresses Spiritual, Social, Moral and Political issues of life. The spiritual aspect is segregated from rest of the aspects of human life. The term which is used as synonym of religion in India, Dharma, is not exactly similar to religion at all.

What is Personal Dharma?

While I speak of "personal Dharma" I wish to make clear that, Dharma is a system which is built on ensuring a sustainable and just evolution of every component of ecology. Since apart from "sane human being" no other compartment of ecology has the ability to perform "karma", it becomes necessary that every sane human being understands the crux of Dharma. But it is not seen so in society. Either due to lack of education, time, propensity or resources not everybody has the understanding the "universal aspect of dharma" with its interlinking intricacies. Hence, it becomes important for sustenance of dharma that every "sane human being" or in other words, every "Kartaa" of every "Karma" is a stake-holder in this system. Hence it is important to make sane human beings realize the personal aspect of Dharma which is commonly known as "duty" and usage of Sat-asat-viveka-buddhi (intellectual ability to distinguish truth from untruth) while performing the personal duties OR dharma.

1. Dharma is understanding that one plays different roles in life such as self, parent, son/daughter, spouse, lover, friend, neighbour, worker, colleague, citizen of country, city, state, follower of particular ideology for pursuits of Moksha, fellow citizens, society, community, environment and ecology so on and so forth.

2. Dharma is understanding to prioritize the need for fulfilment of one role over other in given space-time and situation.

3. Dharma is fulfilling the duties related to those particular role with sense (Vivek) and righteousness in given space and time.

4. Dharma also refers to an inherent swadharma (basic nature) of an entity (living or non-living). Based on its swadharma, the responses and choices towards self and other non-self entities are modelled.

Dharma is nothing but prioritizing one's duties and performing them righteously. Thus, Dharma inherently stands for sensibility, efficiency and sustainability of prioritization and performance of duties.

The epithet of "personal" when attached to the system of Dharma does not make it individualistic. Perhaps, more appropriate title would be "Dharma with Ego" or as we say in Indic language "Swa-Dharma". The "swatva (I-ness)" here refers to various levels of ego, a sane human being recognizes. If we add up all the levels of ego (aatman) in Indic system we start from 
Brahman (or Shunyata) -aatman (Ahamkaar) - Buddhi (intellect) - Maanas (mind) - Indriyas (organs - sensory and motor) - Sharira (Body) - immediate family - joint family - caste (with all its internal stratifications) - society - Raashtra - Sanskriti - Humanity - Universe (which is again same as Brahman)

Thus, in thus cyclical energy levels of "I", lie all possible egos which are recognized by all the Moksha-shastras of Indic origin, all the artha-shastras of Indic origin, all the kaama-shastras of Indic origin and all the Dharma-shastras of Indic origin. All these egos contribute towards "Swa-dharma". While performing different roles, a sane Indic human being is in different levels of this cyclical levels of egos and prioritizes his duties accordingly on the basis of his viveka-buddhi. All those duties are segregated from each other to various degrees. Most importantly, all those levels of duties are recognized and addressed in Indic systems.

Reiterating my point of emphasis, the Indic system has the inherent design to peacefully and efficiently segregate the social-economic-political pursuits of life from personal ones. Indic system goes one step ahead in segregating the spiritual pursuits from other personal pursuits arising out of material desires and thereby influencing socio-economic-political and Moral aspects of life.

The Dharma is governed by Dharma-Shaastra (Understanding/science of Dharma/righteousness) - The understanding OR the Shaastra of defining righteousness changes from time to time, and this constant evolution is allowed in Indic system. The Manu-Smriti, for example, was one of the many social codes (dharma-shastras) prevalent in India in different times and which is no longer followed. Today, constitution of India is the Dharma-Shaastra according to Indic understanding of Dharma because in social-political-economic domains of life, the dictats of constitution plays a key role in determining whether a "karma" was righteous or not. In other words, whether Karma was Dharmic OR not.

Deracination - In past 100 years, we have been taught that Dharma = Religion onlee, which is totally and utterly false. Spiritual pursuits of life are governed by numerous Moksha-Shaastras available in Indic and Non-Indic domains. In Indic system, whatever the choice of moksha-shastra is, it is Dharmic as long as it remains personal. The social damage owing to mistranslation of key-words by British is enormous, which we must understand. This is exactly what most of the Indians subconsciously mean, when they use the term Dharma. It is hardly anything to do with religion OR Indianism OR Hindutva. It is more to do about knowledge that righteous performance of one's duty is more important than belief in god OR otherwise. 

The Abrahamic Moksha-Shaastra (spiritual part of abrahamic religions) does not segregate itself from other Social-Political-Economic-Moral aspects of human society. This system was forced upon Indian memes during Islamic and British times. And Indics were too overwhelmed owing to confident propaganda of abrahamics in ignorant medieval times. Abrahamic memes, at least in India, strive and propagate on lack of Shaastra among Indics and Indians. Dharma is one factor which runs vitally common in all the religions of Indian origin. 
Hence, relearning of this vital concept is extremely important for India.

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