Decoding DHARMA

Making sense of the confusion: Part 2

Last week, my thoughts rambled on, attempting to understand and decode the eternal confusions around dharma. What is dharma? How do we know that what we are doing in the right thing? We explored the idea that dharma is that which is righteous, and that what is defined as ‘good’ is relative to a situation or circumstance. Now, we further explore how to determine a ‘dharmic’ action.

Being able to differentiate between a relative right and an absolute right seems like the key. If something that may seem relatively right is actually wrong in the absolute sense, then navigating right and wrong is simpler. But without a sense of that, it is easy to get tossed around the sea of people’s standards and expectations. What is needed then, is that solid anchor. Having a true anchor is the most important, without which justifying adharmic actions become so easy. Take our own current affairs in the world today. There exist extremist militant groups, with regular people like you and me, so convinced in the righteousness of their actions, that they can even justify death and destruction. Their anchor, their faith in their cause, is so strong, that their entire existence and all their actions can be justified by it. Does that make it right, or in any way dharmic? Can any action that causes undue pain and suffering to many people by dharmic? It’s tough to answer that, because the Mahabharata war was a dharmic cause, yet it caused the destruction of entire kingdoms and a whole race of people.

I read a book once, called ‘The Difficulty of Being Good.’ In this book, the author explored 10 different situations and/or characters from the Mahabharata and debated on this central topic of dharma, in an effort to try understand through examples from the epic, how to be good, or dharmic. The conclusion suggested that in-spite of such heavy exploration, we really can’t say, how specifically to be dharmic. In-spite of intellectually understanding and exploring examples of dharma, it is hard for us to be objective and non-judgmental, and thus instead of learning from examples, we end up criticizing and judging. Swami Tejomayananda once said, in regards to the dharma of Bheeshma, or Karna, that we, today, have lost the purity and subtlety of mind to understand and appreciate the values of such great men. It is impossible for us to comprehend such ideals, and thus instead, we find the few kinks in their personalities, place them under the spotlight and use that to judge their entire character.

It is important to note though, that the Mahabharata war came about as a defence against adharma, and that too after every other possible solution for peace had been rejected. The war would have happened anyway, due to Duryodhana’s greed and jealousy, and thus avoiding the war in that situation would have been adharmic. Avoiding the war would have just prolonged the suffering of many people in the various kingdoms, and thus would have been much more adharmic than the war that took place.

How then, do we determine our anchor in this world of storms? What is it that helps us navigate the world dharmically? Dharma is that which integrates. This is a phrase we have heard often. But what does it really mean? Integrates what? And how? That to be explored next week.