By Ved Prakash saxena
Much misunderstanding has been caused by the misinterpretation of ‘dharma’ as religion. A rigorous scrutiny of the term ‘dharma’ used in Gītā conclusively establishes that Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is not what the term ‘religion’ stands for. The term ‘dharma’ appears in Gītā as many as 17 times as such and 16 times with a qualifying prefix or suffix such as ‘swadharma’, kuladharma, dharmyamrit, dharmayuddha, etc. in various contexts. Nowhere does ‘dharma’ mean the same as religion. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ refers not to a codified religion but to an ideal way of life based on the identification of all components of the world–biotic and even abiotic–with the self and the performance of duty-based action for the welfare of one and all. The Gītā way of life or the Gītā’s ‘dharma’ respects and sustains the natural interdependence of all beings and ensures harmony in togetherness. A few examples will be enough to bring out how utterly different is the purport of dharma from that of religion.
In Sloka 2.7, “Kārpanyadoshopahat swabhāva…..”, Arjun submits to Krsna with these words: “My sense of judgement has been smitten by faint-heartedness and I am completely baffled in respect of my dharma; I now approach you as a disciple and beseech you to tell me whatever is decidedly good for me”. Here, what is that ‘dharma’ about which Arjun is so severely baffled? ‘Dharma’ here refers to the right course of action–to slay one’s evil doer kin and their supporters in a war or to stay out of war. ‘Dharma’ is not a religion but the right action in response to the call of one’s duty. In Sloka 4.7, “Yadā yadā hi dharmasya…...”, Krsna, says “Whenever there is a mounting apathy to ‘dharma’ and an upsurge in ‘adharma’ or ‘non-dharma’, I make my appearance in a physical form”. Here, too, ‘dharma’ does not stand for any religion, but to the righteous way of life and, likewise, ‘adharma’ does not stand for non-religion or anti-religion but to the unrighteous way of life that leads to progressive degeneration and disintegration of the society. In the very next Sloka, 4.8, Krsna says: “Paritrānāya sādhūnām……..”, that is, “For the protection of the virtuous people and the annihilation of the wicked ones, and for the re-establishment of ‘dharma’, I appear again and again in age after age”. Here, too, the re-establishment of ‘dharma’ does not mean revival of any extinct religion, but refers to the moral values which were being eroded by the unethical conduct of the evil-doers. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is righteous conduct based on cardinal virtues; ‘adharma’ is unethical and immoral conduct in contravention of cardinal virtues. And, whenever there is an upswing in ‘adharma’, ‘dharma’ is revived by safeguarding the virtuous people and annihilating the wicked ones.
Sloka 2.31 in Gītā refers to ‘dharmyāt yuddhāt’ which means holy war for the cause of upholding the tenets of ‘dharma’ and Sloka 2.33 is about ‘dharmyam sangrāmam’ which also means the same. Gītā’s ‘dharmayuddha’ or ‘dharma-sangrām’, however, is not the same as ‘Jihād’ which is a war against the followers of a different faith; to kill, convert, or enslave them; ‘dharma-sangrām’ is a war against the evil-doers who, by their immoral acts set examples which bring in corruption and disharmony in the society making life miserable for the virtuous people. Dharmayuddha is aimed at the restoration of the deteriorated moral values, and it is waged only when all other means to reform the wicked ones have failed. Gītā’s dharma is no religion; it is a code of moral values and conduct for all people whatever be their modes of worshipping God, and it aims at transforming a person from being self-centric to becoming community-centric. Gītā’s dharma is non-sectarian and an epitome of secularism in thought, word, and deed. In Sloka 11 of Chapter 4, “Ye yathā mām prapadyante……..”, Krsna tells Arjun that “in whatever manner or way people approach me, in that very manner I resort to them since all people, from all sides, tread the path that leads to me”. In Sloka 7.21, “Yo yo yām yām tanūm bhaktāh……..”, Krsna says that whatever image of God a favour-seeking devotee chooses to worship, in that very image I firm up his faith.
Gītā’s ‘dharma’ is no ordained path to worship God; instead, it gives freedom to worship Him in any way one may choose. What could be a louder proclamation of secularism than these pronouncements? Is there any religion that grants so much unfettered freedom to people? To hold Gītā as a Hindu Scripture is a gross and wholly unacceptable devaluation of this most profoundly secular text of all times. Religions divide mankind and sow the seeds of sectarian strife. Gītā’s ‘dharma’ unifies mankind into one harmonious family radiating love, compassion, and mutual goodwill all around. This is the sublime concept of ‘Loksangraha’– integration of all beings into one unified group–brought out for the first time in Bhagwad Gītā. If Gītā must be called a Book of Religion, its religion is certainly not Hinduism (which, in itself, is not a codified religion but a way of life) but the universal religion of the entire mankind for the welfare of one and all. Gītā’s religion is based on the realization that in the grand web of life all sentient beings are interconnected through God–the creator and preserver of all. Gītā’s universal religion instils a sense of brotherhood among all human beings despite their apparent differences. It envisages a human society in which no one fears anyone and all live together in perfect harmony.
So, Gītā is not a book of religion, that is, a ‘dharmagrantha’; it is a treatise on righteous action–a ‘karmagranth’. The ‘dharma’ of Gītā is selfless action which is performed not for satisfying personal desires or for sensual gratification but for the welfare of other beings. Selfless actions of individuals integrate the society into one harmonious family, World Brotherhood. In Gītā, selfless action has been specified as ‘Nishkām Karma’, that is desireless action performed without attachment to its fruit or reward, without the sense of doership, and as an offering, along with its fruit, to the Lord. Nishkām karma bonds one to God and becomes ‘Nishkām Karmayōga’. Most species of higher animals perform action for the preservation and good of self and the offspring; one who practices nishkām karmayōga transcends the ‘I-sense’ and ‘My-sense’, that is, ego and attachment and progresses from individual consciousness to cosmic consciousness, and acts for the welfare of others. He is not self-centred but community-centred. However, to practice ‘Nishkām Karmayōga’, one must acquire the vision to perceive the same God in all beings as dwells in him. With this vision he realizes his oneness with God and, through him, oneness with all beings. Identifying himself with all beings, he is friendly, compassionate, and forgiving to all and bears no ill will against anyone. He has the same vision of empathy for his friends and foes. However, the vision of non-differentiation or ‘samattva bhāva’, is not innate for most people; it is cultivated by inculcating the ‘divine attributes’ or ‘daivī sampadā’ and discarding the ‘demonic’ attributes or ‘āsurī sampadā’ enumerated in Chapter 16. Anyone of any faith can thus acquire the lofty vision of non-differentiation; Hinduism is no prerequisite.
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