21 January 2008

What Is Dharma? - 2

Now we can consider what is Dharma for a human being. The macro unit for human beings is society. So a man's Dharma is that behaviour which maintains the order of society. Now what is this behaviour? Firstly there are certain simple and obvious rules: don't kill, don't steal, don't tell lies, etc. Not following these basic rules will lead to the collapse of society. These rules apply to all members of society – regardless of class or age – and are called Sadharana Dharma.

Secondly, society requires some basic functions to be performed: producing food, distributing it, fighting enemies, pursuing knowledge, etc. We can maximise order by distributing these functions among different groups. Each group can then specialise in its own function, not interfering in other functions. Accordingly in ancient India, scholars/priests studied and worshipped, kings/warriors ruled and protected, merchants created wealth and workers did manual labour. These are the four classes or Varnas: Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras.

Thirdly, an orderly society requires people to conduct themselves in a way that is appropriate to their age. Children and adolescents must study and be celibate. Adults must earn a living, marry and have children. Elderly people can retire from household duties. And finally, one can renounce the world and try to attain salvation. These are the four stages of life or Ashramas: Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa.

Thus, depending on his Varna and Ashrama, a person has to perform certain duties and follow certain rules. Together these are called Varnashrama Dharma. If every individual observes the Sadharana Dharma (common to all) and his Varnashrama Dharma (specific to class and age), society will be harmonious and orderly. Details of both these Dharmas are given in our Dharma Shastras.

Dharma is one of the four goals of life or Purusharthas. The other three are pleasure (Kama), wealth (Artha) and salvation (Moksha). Kama and Artha must be pursued during Grihasthashrama, and Moksha during Sanyasa. But Dharma must be pursued during all four Ashramas (that is, throughout one's life).


roadtriplife said...

hahaha ... very interesting and well written post :-)

However, I think this is a very textbook type writeup about Dharma. Dharma-1 was ok but Dharma-2 seems to miss the mark.

The sun rising and rivers flowing are perfect Dharma. But extending the same to human beings takes the equation out of balance.

You have tried to base your argument heavily on social structures that are 1000s of years old and also, a lot of morality.

But what about the one who never marries and hence isn't part of the 4 stages of life Dharma?

Also, if someone uttered a small lie, have they committed Adharma?

Nowadays, the work we do isn't anymore recognizable on caste lines either.

So, I think your argument for Dharma needs to be more along the lines of 'Integrity'. I like equating Dharma to Integrity than Order.

Integrity gives the scope for being human, at the same time provide access to one's own Self which is the mirror image of the nature of which the Sun rising every morning is a part of.

This is my 2 cents based on my limited knowledge from everyday life :-)


Psomax said...

The post was about Dharma as it was in traditional Indian society. It wasn't about Dharma as it is, or as it should be, today :-) More on this later...