Dharma in Human Life
Prof Aditya Kumar Mohanty
Academy of Philosophy & Professional Ethics
Dharma is used in very many senses. It is more misunderstood than understood leading to practices that are not in consonance with the letter and tenor of the concept. In common parlance, ‘dharma’ is used in the sense of institutionalized religions pointing to the existence of plurality of religions i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Confucianism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism etc. But, ‘dharma’ in its etymological sense, connotes principles or factors which uphold or sustain the existence of a thing or being (dharayati iti dharma). Under this interpretation ‘dharma’ stands for essential and inalienable property. The property of fire is to burn. Bereft of its thermal property fire ceases to be fire. The property of sugar is to taste sweet. Without sweetness something might otherwise appear as sugar but ceases to be sugar per se. These are instances of dharma which the things in the state of nature possess (vastudharma). Similarly, the living beings have their characteristic nature (dharma) such as birth, growth, decay, death, hunger, sleep, fear and procreative urge, found in every living entity without which one ceases to be a being (Jiva). Manavadharma, therefore, must stand for those properties or characteristics which essential and peculiar to human existence, therefore, to be found in every human-being. The urge to seek pleasure (sukham) and to avoid pain (dukham) is the fundamental wont of every living-being. But in case of human beings the urge is not simply to seek an agreeable feeling (sukham) ehich is transient but the pleasure which is never ending, unpunctuated, termed as bliss (anandam). The pleasure infinite, is termed as bliss (sukham anantam anandam). That explains the perpetual discontent of man irrespective of whatever one has or achieves.
‘Dharma’ is also construed as one of the four-fold fundamental values (purusarthas) i.e. Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa. In this sense, ‘dharma’ stands for the regulative principles. Kama refers to the physical or psychic desires which need to be fulfilled for the very sustenance of life. Artha refers to the means by which the Kama is fulfilled. Artha and kama need to be regulated by dharma which leads to the attainment of moksa, the highest state attainable after through through the part-lives (khandajivana). In the Upanishads ‘dharma’ and ‘satya’ refer to twin expressions of ‘Rta’. ‘Rta’ stands for the cosmic order, immanent as well as transcendent. When one thinks and speaks in harmony with ‘Rta’ one is said to be wedded to satya (truth) and when one acts in harmony with ‘Rta’ one is said to be treading the path of dharma.
Human existence is trifarious i.e. physico-psycho-spiritual. On account of possessing a more developed ‘mind’ man is not only conscious like other living counterparts but is self-conscious. This enables man to have the sense of ‘goal’ and means’, discriminate between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Non- human behaviour is caused by the instinctive urges and circumstantial determinations whereas human behaviour is purpose-driven. Every individual has the potency to overcome the limiting influence of the instinctive urges, lower propensities and move expeditiously on the path leading to the highest goal (moksa).
Sense of ‘direction’ comes from the awareness of ‘goal Needless to say that ‘intelligence’ is a double edged sword such that it can be used and abused as well. Explosion of knowledge, unprecedented strides in Science and Technology are unmistakable indicators of the efficacy of intelligence. At the same time, the ugly faces of terrorism, corruption in high places, exploitation of majority by the minority, pollution of water and air, denudation of forest cover, bear eloquent testimony to human follies. It simply means that human ‘intelligence’, unless properly regulated or harnessed, works to man’s detriment. Knowledge and skill bring ‘empowerment’. Empowerment is necessary but not enough. Regulation of human intelligence through moral faculty i.e. awakened reason (viveka).
‘Knowledge’ tantamount to a mere Corpus information benefitting none unless there is transition to action. The million dollar issue is : how to effect the transition from ‘knowledge’ to ‘praxis’. The dilemma of Duryodhana, when he says to Drona “ I know what is righteousness (dharma) but I do not have the volition to pursue it and I know what is Evil (adharma) but Lo! I fail to abstain from it” (janami dharma naca me pravrtti, Janami adharma naca me nivrtti) ,typifies universal human dilemma. Hence, the real challenge consists in working out modalities so that the Values are incorporated into forms of living, resulting in a natural transition from ‘Knowing’ to ‘Being’.