On Dharma




Bhagwad Gita 4.22

Krishna to Arjuna: “O son of Pṛthā, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I a need to obtain anything — and yet I am engaged in prescribed duties.”



Dharma is subtle – Mahabharat.

The greatest epic written in India becomes silent to the piercing question of Darupadi, the queen of Pandav brothers, after being molested in the court room of Hastinapur, when she asks: does the husband first loses himself and then his wife or has he the right to gamble his rightfully married wife in a game of chausar?
Dharma which is talked about here and there in almost every scripture and law books, presents itself in several connotations and it is hard to present one to the point definition to the word. In Buddhism Dharma, is one the three ratnas (triratnas). Every Buddhist monk vows to seek refuses in each of them and the idea is presented as: Buddham sharan gachhaami, Dharmam sharnam ghachhami, sangham sharan gachhaami. Here Dharmam is seen as doctrine or teachings that a monk should stick to.

Dharma can be variously translated as Law, Truth, Doctrine, Gospel, Teaching, Norm, and True Idea, all of which express some aspect of its total significance. The Dharma consists of various doctrines or teachings. ”He who sees Conditioned Co-operation with the Dharma; he who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha” – Buddha.

Manu Smriti can be said to be the first law book, dharmashastra, written in India. Here the words are believed to be spoken by Brahma and it sets the tone and tenor of the societal fabrics. The smriti talks about the varna system, the dharma of a Brahmin, Kshtriya, Vasya, Sudra. The Manusmriti is compiled with a focus on the "shoulds" of dharma.

For centuries Manusmriti remained an important text for delivering justice in Indian society. With the coming of Muslim invader and subsequent settling of Islamic culture in Indian soil, the Kazis and Brahmins became two different authority to decipher the laws of universe and lay down the boundaries of rightful living for Muslims and Hindus. When the British government set up the Supreme Court in India, the law givers met with this challenge and Macaulay headed the first law commission in India to come up with the Indian Penal Codes in 1833 to sort out the differences.  The commission sticked to following principle: uniformity when you can have it; diversity when you must have it; but, in all cases, certainty. Since then, the Penal Code has served as one of the main codes which are referred to whenever an act of adharma is brought in front of the courts in India.

Mahabharta is full of several fables and stories, each presenting some social, philosophical or intellectual paradoxes and tries to address to each with great diligence. Gurusharan Das, in his book: The Difficulty of Being Good, presents the conflicting states of dharma where different characters of the epic found themselves stuck alone. Here I present the brief idea:

Dharma to Buddhism
Dharma is a comprehensive term including the objects of external and internal senses.
To a Buddhist, life on earth is a pilgrimage which the true knower is not anxious to prolong. Redemption from suffering, is the motive of Buddha’s teachings.
Pitakas: The baskets of the Law, is what Buddhism have to depend on. They represet what the early Buddhists believed to be the sayings and doings of their master.

Buddha uttered his first sermon of Dharmachakraparivartan: Setting the Wheel of Law in motion.
Buddha saw, how anarchy in thought was leading to anarchy in morals. He felt that the world would be better for the triumph of natural law over supernaturalism. Buddha denied the divinity of gods and undermined the authority of Vedas. Buddha took the task of providing a firm foundation of morality.
He laid down four fold truths:

1. there is suffering
2. suffering is rooted in desires and cravings
3. there can be a cessation of suffering
4. this can be done by following the eight fold path (right belief, right aspirations, right speech, right conduct, right mode of livelihood, right effort, right mindedness and right rapture).

Buddha sis not declare open war against ceremonialism of the times, but tried to infuse moral significance into its forms and thus undermined it. Anger, drunkedness, deception, envy, these constitute uncelanliness, not the eating of flesh. Buddhism insists on purity of motive and humility in life. Right actions lead to right living, free from lying and deceit, fraud and chicanery. The aim of all endeavour is to remove the causes of sorrow. Right efforts, consists of practicing control of passions so as to prevent the rise of bad qualities. Right effort cannot be isolated from right thinking. Emotions are failures, disturbances of moral health and indulged become chronic diseases of soul.

“On the mind depends, dharma, on the practice of dharma depends enlightenment.”
Nirvana is the highest sukha or bliss.

Dharma is the wrap and the woof (under laying structure) of all that lives and moves. Every natural cause is the revelation of the spirit at that move.


Duryodhana’s Envy:
 What man of mettle will stand to see his rivals prosper and himself decline.
A kshatriya’s duty is to prevail

Drupadi’s Courage:

What is left og the dharma of Kings? This ancient eternal dharma is lost among the Kauravas. For this foul man, disgrace of the Kauravas, is molesting me, and I cannot bear it.
Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?
What son of a King would wager his wife?

 Yudhisthira’s Duty:

I act because I must, Whether it bears fruits or not, Draupadi, I do my duty like any householder.
Dharma, I find does not protect you
He who resolutely follows dharma, O beautiful woman, attains to infinitude hereafter.
To save the family, abandon the individual, to safe the village abandon the family, to save the country abandon the village.
Dharma is the ship, that guides one to the farthest shore.

Why cover yourself in tatters of dharma and throw away artha and kama?
..the promise I made is a true one, remember I choose over life and eternity dharma. Neither kingdom, nor sons, neither glory nor wealth, can even come up to a fraction of the Truth.
That is the way it is.

The ultimate disaster for which I dwelled in the forest and suffered is upon us in spite of all our striving. For how can war be waged with men who we must not kill> How can we win if we must kill our gurus and elders?

Can dharma be taught?


Arjun’s Despair:
I shall not fight. (he fell silent, standing in middle of the battle field).
The magic bow slips from my hand.
Krishna, I see no good in killing my kinsmen in battle.

Krishna: “why this cowardice, in time of crisis, Arjuna? The coward in ignoble, shameful, foreign to the ways of heaven.
Arjuna: It is better in this world to beg for scraps of food than to eat meals smeared with the blood of elders.
Krishna: Look at your own duty; do not tremble before it; nothing is better for a warrior than a battle of sacred duty.
If you are killed you win the heaven; if you triumph, you enjoy the earth; therefore, Arjuna, stand up and resolve to fight the battle.
He who thinks this self a killer and he who thinks it killed, both fail to understand; it does not kill, nor it is killed.

Be intent on the action, not on the fruits of action.


Bhishma’s Selflessness

What to do with the ‘self’?
What’s in it for me?
What is Nishkaam Karma?

-          A karma without the desire of fruits.
-          Do something, because it must be done.
Perform actions, firm in disciplines, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success – this equanimity in called yoga.
Let no man do to another that which is repugnant to himself.


Karna’s Status Anxiety:
How can a dove give birth to a tiger who resembles the sun, with his earrings and armour and celestial birthmarks? This lordly man deserves to rule the world! – [Duryodhana about Karna]
Draupadi at swanvar to Karna: I do not choose a charioteer.
I fear not death as I fear a lie.
I tried my best to follow dharma, but dharma did not protect me.

Krishna’ Guile

Aren’t you ashamed..f striking me down so unfairly? – Duryodhana, as lies dying at Kurukshetra.

War is hell.

Untruth may be netter than truth.

Ashwatthama’s Revenge

Now I feel the whirligig of Time.

Where is sleep for the man who is suffering? How in this world can a man express the grief. Remembrance of his father’s murder brings? My heart burns day and night but never burns it out.


Yuddhishthira’s Remorse

This victory feels more like defeat to me.

If someone is victorious but grieves like a poor afflicted imbecile, how can he think of that as victory? In fact, his enemies have defeated him.

Yudhishthira to Gandhari:

 Yudhishthira, as the killer of your sons, great lady. Curse me!
Yudhishthira to Arjuna:
The heroes are dead. The evil is done. Our kingdom has been laid waste. Having killed them, our rage is gone. Now this grief holds me in check!



The Mahabharata calls ahimsa the heart of Dharma: Ahimsa is the Highest Dharma.

Mahabharat’s Dharma:
Great King, You Weep With All Creatures.

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