Friday, July 1, 2011


AND LAW HAS HARMFUL CONSEQUENCES - The word “dharma” has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary lists several, including: conduct, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, religion, religious merit, good work according to a right or rule, etc. Many other meanings have been suggested, such as law or “torah” (in the Judaic sense), “logos” (Greek), “way” (Christian) and even “tao” (Chinese). None of these is entirely accurate and none conveys the full force of the term in Sanskrit. 
Dharma has no equivalent in the Western lexicon.  The common translation into religion is misleading since, to most Westerners, a genuine religion depends of external, formal practices. But dharma is not limited to a particular creed or specific form of worship.  To the Westerner, an “atheistic religion” would be a contradiction in terms, but in Buddhism, Jainism and Carvaka dharma, there is no place for God as conventionally defined. 

In some Hindu systems the exact status of God is debatable. Nor is there only a single standard deity, and one may worship one’s own ishta-devata, or chosen deity.  Dharma provides the principles for the harmonious fulfillment of all aspects of life, namely, the acquisition of wealth and power (artha), fulfillment of desires (kama), and liberation (moksha). Religion, then, is only one subset of dharma’s scope.  
The reduction of dharma to concepts such as religion and law has harmful consequences: it creates the false impression that dharma is similar to Christian ecclesiastical law-making and the related struggles for state power.

Religion applies only to human beings and not to the entire cosmos; there is no religion of electrons, monkeys, plants and galaxies, whereas all of them have their dharma even if they carry it out without intention.  Rajiv Malhotra, founder of Infinity Foundation, says: “The result of equating dharma with religion in India has been disastrous: in the name of secularism, dharma has been subjected to the same limits as Christianity in Europe. A non-religious society may still be ethical without belief in God, but an a-dharmic society loses its ethical compass and falls into corruption and decadence.”  

Etymologically, “dharma” comes from the Sanskrit root “dhri” which means “to support, hold up, or bear.”  So, the dharma of an object refers to its essential irreducible quality that holds up its existence.  Thus the dharma of fire is heat and the dharma of sugar is sweetness; there can be no fire without heat and there can be no sugar without sweetness.  What is the dharma of every living being?  It is service.  All of us serve someone - be it boss, spouse, dog or senses.  We cannot live without service. ... All religions - and their rituals, worships, prayers and meditations - are meant to reinstate us in our dharma of service to God.  If our religious practices infuse with a humble attitude of service, “I am a servant of God and all his children”, then they take us toward our dharma.  But if they inflate our ego by making us think, “I am great because I belong to this religion”, then they take us away from dharma toward “adharma”.

The Spiritual Scientist :
“Dharma = Religion ?”
Published by VOICE (Vedic Oasis for Inspiration, Culture and Education)
ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Pune, India.

No comments: