Life without Dharma is akin to life without oxygen, that in other words is being as good as dead. Dharma is the soul of an individual. Reaching a stage where the eternity of the soul is understood is itself reaching a stage of attaining Moksha (Final Liberation). When an individual performs Dharmacharan and start living Dharma during the course of his life, he evolves spiritually. He attains positive momentum even in life after death, meaning, he attains a place in superior region.
1. Importance of Dharmacharan
A. It is the conduct of the four classes as defined by their respective class and in tandem with the stages of life. Shrikrushṇa says –
श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् ।
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः ।। – Shrimadbhagwadgita, Adhyaya 3, Shloka 35
Meaning : Conduct as per someone else’s Dharma may be easier to follow; however, following one’s own Dharma, even if it has defects, is any time superior. Better die in one’s own Dharma; for a far bigger danger lies in accepting someone else’s Dharma.
Implied meaning : When Shrikrushna preached this to Arjun in the Dwaparyuga, only Hindu Dharma prevailed everywhere. Therefore, then it did not mean not to convert to another religious order as per the present day connotation. What it meant was that each one should follow the Dharma pertaining to his varṇa (Class).
B. In His Holy text ‘Dasbodha’, Saint Samarth Ramdas Swami has said, remaining centred in our own – self is Dharma amongst Dharmas.
C. In the state of swadharma (One’s own Dharma) as mentioned by me in the Vedas, there is detachment from sense objects which leads the beings to Moksha. – Ekanathi Bhagwat, Adhyaya 21, Verse 210
Samarth Ramdas Swami in the Holy text Dasbodh and Shri Ekakarteeka (in Eknathi Bhagwat) have said that conduct according to Dharma is the definite and shortest way to self-realisation.
शरीरस्य विनाशेन धर्म एव विशिष्यते । – Mahabharat, Adiparva, Adhyaya 213, Shloka 20
Meaning : Conduct according to Dharma even at the cost of risking one’s own life is more commendable.
2. On what factors does Dharmacharan depend ?
A. The social setup
Even the authors of Mahabharat have agreed that Moksha should be man’s ultimate goal. However, since Moksha is an extremely evolved state, it is possible only in an advanced and mature state of the society. Doctrines by Bharatiya philosophers proclaim that this is possible only in a society in which the conduct of people is clean and their thoughts are evolved and pure, where the administrative system is excellent, where social transactions occur smoothly; the society is well educated, valiant and capable of protecting itself from foreign invasions – it is possible to undertake spiritual practice to attain Moksha and bear its consequences in such a society.
क्षुधा निर्णुदति प्रज्ञां धर्मबुद्धिं व्यपोहति ।
क्षुधापरिगतज्ञानो धृतिं त्यजति चैव हि ।। – Mahabharat, Ashwamedhaparva, Adhyaya 90, Shloka 91
Meaning : Poverty and hunger cause deterioration of an individual’s intellect and his faith unto Dharma as well. Hunger destroys an individual’s knowledge as well as his confidence. Hence, it is said that an ignorant society that is poverty stricken and hungry has no association whatsoever with Moksha.
यथा यथैव जीवेद्धि तत्कर्तव्यमहेलया ।
जीवितं मरणाच्छ्रेयो जीवन् धर्ममवाप्नुयात् ।। – Mahabharat Shantiparva, Adhyaya 141, Shloka 65
Meaning : Leave no stone unturned if you have to survive. Being alive is any day superior to death; for, only when alive, can we abide by Dharma.
यस्यैव बलमोजश्च स धर्मस्य प्रभुर्नरः । – Mahabharat, Shantiparva, Adhyaya 152, Shloka 18
Meaning : He who has power and Tej ( Radiance ) becomes capable of abiding by Dharma.
धर्मार्थकाममोक्षाख्यं य इच्छेच्छ्रेय आत्मनः ।
एकमेव हरेस्तत्र कारणं पादसेवनम् ।। – Shrimadbhagwat, Skandha 4, Adhyaya 8, Shloka 41
Meaning : Accomplishing the four basic pursuits of life, namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha ensures wellbeing of mankind. Rendering service unto the Holy feet of Shrihari (God) remains the only means to accomplish these pursuits.
The points here will illustrate the importance of Dharmapramukh.
Each individual is supposed to shoulder his responsibility; but each one tries to shirk it.
नियन्ता चेन्न विद्येत न कश्चिद्धर्ममाचरेत् । – Mahabharat, Viraṭaparva, Adhyaya 63, Shloka 43
Meaning : If an assembly has no controller, no one will behave according to Dharma. Every group loves the gathering; but not the discipline. To discipline it, anushasan (Controlling authority) is necessary. The word anushasan can be split into anu + shasan. Anu means to imitate, to nurture and shasan means control.
3. Non – existence of Dharmacharan – pardonable and unpardonable
Reasons for any conduct which is not in accordance with Dharma, can be of two types – internal and external. Internal are those occasions in which the conduct according to Dharma is forgotten due to loss of awareness of the body when practising Yoga. External are those in which the conduct according to Dharma is forgotten due to travel, illness or some disaster. Average people are forgiven by the Vedas if they forget to follow Dharma in both these circumstances. All other reasons are unpardonable.
4. Compulsion of Dharmacharan
Mere preaching does not change a person. To change him, it is to be backed either by the incentive of reward or the fear of punishment.
Since the rule of Dharma cannot be established without punishment and rewards, the following three constituents of Dharma are essential.
Decisions about punishment and rewards : This can also be called justice. Here, it is decided what reward or punishment should be given to a person who has performed a particular karma leading to conduct as per Dharma or adharma (Unrighteousness), respectively.
The punishment : Arresting and punishing those not following Dharma and rewarding those following Dharma are functions executed by the Government.
All these constituents, instead of being under the purview of an individual, should be controlled by various people or organisations; because if they are under the control of only one person, organization, or class, it will generate terror amongst the people.
5. Performing Dharmacharan by understanding
the meaning of Dharma is Dharmacharan in true sense !
यस्य धर्मो हि धर्मार्थं क्लेशभाङ्न स पण्डितः ।
न स धर्मस्य वेदार्थं सूर्यस्यान्धः प्रभामिव ।। – Mahabharat, Vanaparva, Adhyaya 34, Shloka 23
Meaning : He who performs Dharmacharan merely as an obligation unto Dharma (without understanding its principles) is not a wise man and is the one who become unhappy. Just as a blind person does not understand what is meant by Sun’s radiance, so does a person who performs Dharmacharan merely as an obligation not understand the meaning of Dharma.
6. The changing face of Dharmacharan
A. Changes take place in the specifics of Dharmacharan and not in the doctrines of Dharma !
There has been no change in Dharma since time immemorial, as the doctrine of Dharma, meaning that for God-realisation has remained the same. Just as the equation ‘2 + 2 = 4’ does not change with changing times, similarly there can be no change in Dharma. Doctrines of Dharma are the same and permanent while Dharmacharan is bound by place and time. This part undergoes change. In order for the changes to be appropriate, guidance is given by Dharmashastras.