The question is, what is the relationship between duty and swadharma? There is first a concept of duty which is determined by the position that one occupies in a social framework. There is first a society, and society produces a social framework. Social framework is produced by the creation of institutions. Institutions are interrelationships of human beings with certain kinds of uniformity, regulations and certain aims to be achieved. Marriage, for instance, is an institution. This institution is a part of the totality of the framework of the society. Now marriage is an institution connected with what we call the institution of the family. Family usually forms a part of a larger framework, of a clan, of a group. That group again has a role to play in a larger framework of the whole of the country. The country again forms a part of the totality of the world.
Now, every human being is the kind of knot from where various kinds of threads arise and all these threads are threads of relationships. In other words, every human being is a knot of a network of relationships. No human being can be conceived without considering the relationships that the individual possesses or has in regard to the others. Now these others are related in different ways. In a sense, you might say that every human being is related to the whole of humanity. Therefore, man is a member of the society of humanity as a whole. Some people might even extend and say that every human being is a part of the totality of the whole world, not only human beings but of the whole world.
So for a human being the question is: what is the relationship between duty and swadharma?
So I am explaining that the concept of duty arises from the relationship that an individual has in connection with social framework. The position that one occupies in the society determines the duty. Now I am explaining in a larger way the concept of society and the concept of institutions in which society is interlocked. So in a larger sense you might say that every individual is a member of the whole human society, all human beings. In a larger sense, that every human being is a part of the totality of the world, including human beings and animals and creatures. Still larger is every human being is a member of the world taking also inanimate things, is a large concept of a human being, an actual human being is connected with all the living, non-living and the entire universe. In a certain sense, you might say that every action that we perform, even the breathing, is impossible without the structure of the world being what it is. We all depend upon oxygen, oxygen depends upon the position of the planet in the solar system, and the solar system is what it is because of the entire universe being what it is.
So all that we are depends upon the totality of the universe. In fact, Buddha had a very powerful statement which says that any thought that you even think in your mind travels all over the universe and at exactly the right moment. It comes back to you with all its consequences. This is his concept of the law of karma. Karma is such a thing that you cannot avoid it. It is not as if I have done something and then I can say that I forget about it, because I don't look at it at all. I have forgotten about it. According to Buddha, even the thought that your thought has a power of travelling all over the world and comes back to you specifically to you from where it has originated, with all its consequences. Therefore, you cannot escape the consequences of whatever you think, you feel. So even the action that you do, even in the form of a mental thought, has its consequences. That is why Buddha says that you keep your mind absolutely clean and have continuously goodwill, continuously.
Na hi verena verani
averena ca sammanti
esa dhammo sanantano.
Verse 5: Hatred is, indeed, never appeased by hatred in this world. It is appeased only by loving-kindness. This is an ancient law.
By revenge, no revenge can be quelled or quieted. Therefore, he said that your answer should always be of goodwill. Whatever is being done unto you by others, even if you feel injustice is being inflicted upon you, from your side, there should be a continuous goodwill. This is the Buddha's important teaching and the reason is that he saw the interrelationship between the individual and the whole universe, which you cannot avoid. Now this is the largest concept of man and society, human being and society.
And these days the word “man” is not very often to be used, because people feel that men exclude women. Although the language of English people who made the language, they gave us only one word “man” for everything, saying that man includes woman, but now there is a feminist movement which says that he should not use the word man. He should use the word human being so that both men and women are inclusive. In Sanskrit, we have got the world manushya, which is both man and woman, but such a word does not exist in the English language. So now they are trying to modify the English language, so they say you should not use the word mankind. You just use the word humankind. You should not use the word man, you should use the word human being and so on. Now that you should, whenever there is a reference to singular and try to make the pronoun plural if possible, because if it is singular, then afterwards you have to use pronouns either his or her, where you have no choice at all. You can't use such a word which will include both his and her, so they said that instead of using the singular, you use plural, and then you can say “their”. Because “their” is a word which is applicable to both men and women. So one has to be very careful in these days to use the English language.
So in any case, what Buddha said was that every human being is connected with the totality of the universe. Now, even though this is true in a general way, every human being happens to be a member of a group which is inevitable even if you have a largest society in the world, it cannot function as an institution. It has to be rooted in some way so that you can actively participate as a member of a group, so there is a totality of which you are a part. Then there is a kind of a group to which you belong, and it is through a group that you belong to the totality. The smallest group around an individual normally in a family, because biologically there is a necessity of having right from childhood. Your birth itself depends upon a combination of two persons, at least if the present biological methods are accepted, maybe in future it may not be absolutely inevitable, but this is the smallest group that a human being has that is of a family, and family itself is sustained by larger groups, and so on. The idea is that whenever you become a member of a group, then the group tends to impose upon you as a member certain obligations for the sustenance of the group. The moment you are a member of a family, the family imposes upon you certain obligations. A child, therefore, when right from the beginning, has got certain duties towards the family and the father and mother have certain duties towards a child and duties to others, not in the family, but others who sustain the family and the institution of the family. So it is in this way that there is a chain of obligations.
Now the idea of duty is confined to this concept of the position that you occupy in a social framework. Now this idea of obligation is dependent upon what group things are salutary for the sustenance of the group. Now that concept may be right, may be wrong, but as long as you belong to a group, the thinking of the group is imposed upon you and it is a group which decides what is your duty and which is not your duty. Now this idea, duty as something imposed upon every individual by virtue of what the social framework thinks is salutary for you and for the family and for the group to achieve maybe in conflict with what smaller groups think as against what the larger groups think and what a group thinks in regards to the individuals and what a group, what an individual feels in regard to what is imposed upon him from the family, from the smallest group. Therefore, the idea of duty has been a constant subject of controversies.
Is it really my duty to do this or to do that? As a result, there have been in the whole world a tendency you produce what are called codes, codes of conduct, every society, whether you like it or not, and one time or the other, it begins to train at code of conduct which is discussed or which is imposed, and ultimately the individuality is brought into a kind of a chain and he will be obliged to do something or the other.
In India, we have a large number of dharma sastras in which the entire aim is to lay down what is dharma of each individual. Now this dharma sastra in India has a larger meaning of duty than what is normally thought in other countries. Brahma has understood in India. He is also connected with the ultimate end of life, ultimate aim of life. What is the ultimate aim of life was discussed at length in India, whereas there is no history in the world where such a long debate on the ultimate end of life was discovered. Now, evidently, you cannot know what is the ultimate aim of life unless you know the totality of life.
What is human life? You cannot decide what is human life when you are a child, because you have not crossed all aspects of life, so you cannot say that this is the best thing in life to do. Even when you are young, youthful, you cannot decide because for many problems, you always do not know what are the problems for which you have to do one thing or the other. Even if you go through the whole life, nobody will say that I have had a full experience of life, all aspects of life, that also nobody can claim. So the question was right from the beginning: is there anybody who knows the totality of life and having known the totality of life can tell us what is the ultimate aim of life?
We have the search of the Vedic rishis to know the totality of life as it were who can say that I have gone beyond the horizon. Horizon normally is a blockage beyond which you normally cannot look, but you go beyond horizon and if you open one horizon, another horizon arises, and you can say I have gone beyond horizons after horizons and therefore in the Veda we speak of a dawn succeeding a dawn and succession of dawns and rishis claim that they have seen succession of dawns and having seen all that and having seen paramam jyoti, what is the ultimate end of life and therefore what each individual should do.
Once I had told you of the mantra that was given by the teachers of Sri Krishna to Sri Krishna and it is a very short mantra. It is said that, having had that mantra, Sri Krishna became illumined. This is the story in Chandogya Upanishad, rishi Ghora was the teacher and Sri Krishna, the son of devaki was given the mantra by his teacher and on hearing that one word he became fully illumined. And I have told you what was that mantra:
आदित्प्रत्नस्य रेतस उद्वयं तमसस्परि ज्योतिः पश्यन्त उत्तर स्वः पश्यन्त उत्तरं देवं देवत्रा सूर्यमगन्म ज्योतिरुत्तममिति ज्योतिरुत्तममिति॥
"They (i.e. the knowers of Brahman) see everywhere the Supreme Light, which shines in Brahman, which is all- pervading like the light of day and which belongs to the primaeval Seed. 'Perceiving the higher light in the sun-which is above the darkness of ignorance-as the higher light in the heart, perceiving the Supreme Light which is higher than all lights, we have reached the Highest Light, the Sun, the most luminous among the gods, yea, we have reached the Highest Light, the Sun, the most luminous among the gods."
This is the mantra that was given by rishi Ghora to Sri Krishana. Now its says in a very simple way, but it claims so much. It says that we cross तमसस्परि, we cross all darkness. Then we came to a higher light, ज्योतिः उत्तर स्वः पश्यन्त we perceived swah, swah has a certain meaning but says that having gone from darkness, we went to swah and having seen swah we realised that there was still something more, then we went to सूर्यमगन्म ज्योतिरुत्तममिति then we perceived the highest light ज्योतिरुत्तमम, which was Surya. Now Surya is a symbolic word, swah is a symbolic word, tamah is a symbolic word, so there are three planes, tamah, swah and Surya, and the claim is that when you cross the darkness, you first come to higher light, which is swah and then you cross over and you come to Surya and you see the supreme light ज्योतिरुत्तमम. Beyond which there is nothing because it is uttamam, it is the highest. This is the claim of the rishis. We say that we saw all this. The word swarga has come from the word swaha. That is why we say that if you know what swarga is, it's a very great knowledge, but according to the Vedas swarga is only an intermediate knowledge. You have to go to Surya, the sunlight itself. The Surya stands for what Sri Aurobindo called the supermind. Supermind is the highest knowledge.
How do you know it is the supreme light? Because it is the word of creation, it is that consciousness which can create at will in our mental consciousness. When I see this table, I am obliged to see this table because it is not dependent upon me to see the table or not to see the table. I am obliged to see the table the moment I open my eyes because it is there. Therefore, my mind is not the highest faculty. The highest faculty is one which is capable of creating what you really want before you. Now such is the power of the uttamam jyoti, that light which is the highest.
Now this power, the Vedic rishis possess. Therefore they could say that this is now the highest light. If I want to see this, it is said that Vishwamitra attained to that power by which he could create a new world, that was the legend of Vishwamitra. Now this is the power having achieved which they claim we have reached the supreme light.
Now our concept of dharma has arisen on the basis of this concept of those who have seen the totality of the world, totality of life, the highest end of life, and they have achieved the highest end of life. Having reached this, they conceived of a concept which was called rita. The Veda is very famous for its concept of rita. Rita means the Right which is based upon truth. You can do the right action when you know the truth. That is why, in the Veda you have rita and satya, always together. There is a third word also, which is called brihad davas. In the Atharva Veda there is a mantra which says that whole prithvi is based upon brihat, rita and satyam the whole Prithvi, physical universe, by prithvi is not meant only to earth, as we know it by prithvi is meant everything that is physical. The entire universe is based upon brihat, the vast, which is rita which is right and which is satyam, which is truth—the truth, the right and the vast.
Now, according to the Veda, the whole universe is governed by vastness, wherever there is narrowness you break that narrowness. This is the one message of the Veda. Anything that imprisons you is not right. The basic condition of truth and right is the vastness. That is why the idea of freedom is given so much of importance in the Veda and the whole Vedic tradition. Be free, be vast, in that vastness you will see the highest truth and based upon the truth, you will be able to decide what is the right thing to do. That is the idea of rita. Rita is a right action that proceeds from the perception of the truth, which is based upon the perception of the vast.
Now this is the Vedic teaching. From here has arisen, the concept of dharma. Now the word dharma is taken from the root dhri. In Sanskrit there is a root dhri, a verb or dhri that which holds, this whole world is nothing but something which is a network of relationships, a network which is held together. Therefore, that which holds everything together is dharma. The Vedic rishis had found out that the whole world is held together by a knowledge which they called the supra-metal knowledge ज्योतिरुत्तमम. The supra-mental knowledge only can hold everything together. That is why it is said that every human being should try to attain to the supreme knowledge. It is only supreme knowledge which can tell you what is the truth. It is that which can do the right. When the right action is done, everything is held together.
From this idea of dharma arose dharmashastras. Now, unfortunately, the vision of the rishis was not shared by all those who came after the rishis. There was less of that knowledge that Sri Krishna himself said in the fourth chapter that this knowledge was given by me in the earliest time to Vivaswan and from there it came to Manu, and then it came to Ishvaku and then got lost. So this knowledge of rita of the supermind of ज्योतिरुत्तमम, all that knowledge got forgotten, fragments remain on the basis of the fragments, the successors of the rishis began to make codes of conduct.
Naturally, therefore, these codes of conduct have never been claimed in India as supreme because of this background. Therefore, it is said that if there is a conflict between codes of conduct and the Veda, then you should prefer Veda to the codes of conduct. But this is in theory, who will find out whether something is in conflict with the Veda or not? It requires again a tremendous knowledge, that being absent gradually, the power of the codes of conduct became very powerful.
So it is said that Veda is shruti. It is a direct contact with the divine, but what is remembered is for smriti. So that is why, in India, dharma shastras came to be formulated in the form of smritis, and there are so many smritis, yajnavalkya smriti and narada smriti, so many smritis are there. Even among them there are clashes. Therefore, in India what is dharma is even today not an established fact.
Even today there is a controversy whether this is according to dharma or not. The fortunate part of India is that this flexibility has been maintained so that some escape routes have been kept open and you are not completely bound down to whatever is claimed by this brahmin or that brahmin as the dharma. Although brahmins have tried that whatever they say is the final word and it is to be imposed upon everybody and socially very often some of the brahmins have become very powerful and they impose their will.
We see, for example, in the life of Santa Ganeshwara, Sant Gyaneshwara had two brothers and one sister. So there were four in all and they were born from a sannyasin who had broken the law of sannyas and got married and then had four children. And when the dharma shastris came upon this brahmana and said because you had broken the law of sastra, because the sannyasin should never get married, you got married, you broke the law of sannyasa, therefore your children will not be accepted in our society and they were thrown out, then this brahman seeing that his children will be the sufferers he went to dharmashastris and said: tell me what prayashchit I should do so that my children will be taken into the society? And dharmashastris debated on and on and on for quite some time and they give a horrible decision that if you commit suicides both of you husband and wife, then your children can. This is the prayashchit you should do. Now this brahmin and his wife both threw themselves out into the waters of the river one day and next morning, when the children got up, they found the father and mother were not present, and then they went out in search of food and shelter and protection, and all that. But these messages were not even then satisfied, and they said, although the prayashchit that was done, it is good for them, but not for you. So these children had to wander about from village to village, from town to town and they were not accepted until one good brahmin accepted and then Gyaneshwar, of course, at the age of 19 he wrote the full commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. It is even today regarded as one of the greatest commentaries on Bhagavad-Gita. So such a great man at the age of 21, he himself went to samadhi by his own will. So all the work that you did and marvels that you did in his life were done by this young man by the age of 21. So such a great genius had to suffer at the hand of dharmashastris.
Such instances we find throughout the history of India, where in the name of dharma so much what is called wrong is done in the society, and that is why India, there is always a question what is dharma, and even the people who do not know much about dharma, they always ask the proof of dharma.
Q: But dharma is broken by the parents by suicide?
Now we shall come to that question. Is it really so? What is swadharma? That is our question actually, but I am taking you round and round on a long path so that we shall come to the real point within a short time, but unless we have full background, the concept of dharma, swadharma, yugadharma, rashtra dharma, all that is interconnected.
Q: Is duty translated by dharma only? No other word in Hindi?
No, we have another word also. We shall come to that. But this word dharma has arisen from rita that which holds the whole universe by supreme knowledge of the supermind. This is the real meaning, everything that is held together. Even today, therefore, there is a question: what is dharma? And then arose a further distinction in the course of yugadharma? We say that dharma changes. At one time it was thought that dharma is inviolable. It remains permanent, is eternal. That is why we have the concept of sanatana dharma, that dharma is eternal, but then there was this new concept that dharma also changes. Yuge, yuge, every age it changes. And then there is a concept of rashtra dharma and then there is a further concept of kula dharma and then there is a concept of swadharma. So there are so many hierarchies of dharmas.
Now the word duty means any action that is obligatory upon you as a result of your relationship with the totality or in relationship with the country or in relationship with your clan or with your family or whatever other institution to which you belong. But since it was now admitted that from age to age dharma can change, from society to society the dharma can change. Even the institutions in which we are living, even when they change, dharma duty can change and, according to my family's conditions, my duties can change and in my own respects as I develop, I also can have a different kind of duty at different stages of my life. So, as a result, we have a very complex notion of duty, and that is why Sri Krishna says that karma is a ghahana gatih. What is the right action to be done is very difficult and we should know what is dharma, what is the karma, what is vikarma and Bhagavad-Gita is one of the greatest expositions in which, in which in one word it is said that dharma is that which comes to you as a command of god. You don't go to shasta, don't go to anything, you should simply connect yourself with the divine, discover the divine's will and act according to the divine's will. Short of this everything is controversial.
In fact, the whole Gita’s question arises because of the conflict between two dharmas, whether you should fight for justice, which is also dharma, and whether you should kill, which, in a certain sense adharma, not to kill is a dharma, to fight for justice is dharma. Now, how will you fight for justice if you are not able to kill? This was the basic problem with which the Gita starts and Sri Krishna’s ultimate answer is:
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज ।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्ष्ययिष्यामि मा शुचः ॥ 18.66
Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone. I will deliver thee from all sin and evil, do not grieve.
Bhagavad Gita 18.66
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य, you give up all dharmas; मामेकं शरणं व्रज, you come only to me and I shall deliver you from all the sins, all that is wrong and therefore you should not worry if you approach him. This is the final word of the Gita. The question is, how can you reach the supreme will, for which the whole Gita is expounded? What are the means and ways by which you can approach the divine? And one of the important things is that you will do every action that you do as a sacrifice. By doing sacrifice, you will approach the divine and little by little the divine will also invade upon you. When you offer to the divine, the divine takes hold of your hand at least in an offering and then the divine enters into you and gradually is completely invited by the divine. This is one of the ways which Sri Krishna expounds in the Gita, that, if you do all your actions as a sacrifice without the desire for any fruits of action, then your action will be the right action. This is the shortest formula given of dharma.
Now this may be in conflict with what other people may call dharma. Many people, like Dhritarashtra said that Sri Krishna taught Arjuna a wrong thing. When arjuna was prepared to go away from the war which would have saved all his hundred sons and all his kingdom as it was. Sri Krishna gave her teaching and asked Arjuna to fight, even when Arjuna was ready to go away from the war. So, according to him, Sri Krishna taught something which was not according to dharma. So there can be different opinions on this subject, but Sri Krishna’s criterion of knowledge is whatever is known by the supreme and supreme has a supreme light, ज्योतिरुत्तमम. He is a creator, therefore, he is the highest. Therefore, anything that comes from him is a real dharma, is the right thing to be done, or you might say that if it conflicts with any dharma then सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य you throw all the dharmas, even if it is in conflict with dharmas, do not worry, you discard all dharmas, because this is the right thing to be done. In other words, the supreme teaching of the Gita is to go beyond dharmas to the divine's will. Therefore, what Sri Krishna has taught is not a lesson in duty. Sri Krishna will not say that is your duty to fight. Therefore fight Sri Krishna’s answer is, it is divine's will that you should fight, therefore you should fight. That is his ultimate answer.
Now, what about the concept of sanatana dharma and other changing dharmas sanatana dharma is whatever is obligatory upon you eternally. There is something which is obligatory upon every one of us, eternally whether you are born now or later on or hundred of ages ago or hundreds of ages hence forth. There is some such thing which you can call sanatana and India has recognized this fundamental thing sanatana dharma. Now. What is that dharma? It is only this: the divine will. What Sri Krishna has explained here follows the divine’s will which comes from the supreme knowledge, which is creative of the universes. That is sanatana dharma, it will always hold everything together. Other things may not hold together, but sanatana dharma if you can discover it at any time, it is that which will hold everything together. That is why Sri Krishna in the fourth chapter says that one who knows the divine’s will and acts according to the divine's Will, he works for lokasamgraha. Sangraha is unity, loka means peoples; great action which proceeds from the divine’s wills, and that is a mark of a divine worker, mark of the supreme karmayogi. When he does it automatically his action will be such which will keep people together, even though for the time being it may seem to be destructive. It is that which will put people together.
It is said that Mahabharata was a huge slaughter of mankind, a huge slaughter of people. In the whole battlefield, all massacred excepting the five pandavas and Sri Krishna. Otherwise the entire battlefield was finished, all the parties in the war. So it might be said that what Sri Krishna taught brought about almost complete destruction on a huge scale, but it should not be judged by immediate considerations. It is that war which brought about the ascension on the throne of Yudhishthira. If Yudhishthira could come on the throne, who could establish dharma rajya in such a way that afterwards, the history of India could continue on the right lines, at least for ages and brought the peoples of India together and lokasangraha was achieved. So, even though, for the time being, the divine's will may seem to be destructive. Ultimately that will puts people together and only divine can know it, because he has the supreme knowledge. So there is sanatana dharma, which is the will of the supreme which, if known, can be regarded as sanatana dharma.
Q: But how is it that he is mentioning the name of Janaka there?
Janaka also was a karmayogin. He also knew the divine's will. Janaka and other kings who acted in the spirit of karma yoga, they had contact with the divine's will and therefore they could bring about the lokasamgraha for a long time, even Sri Rama was able to bring about lokasamgraha for a long time, but the fact is that this lokasamgraha after some time begins to weaken, of which Sri Krishna says:
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥
Whensoever there is the fading of the Dharma and the uprising of unrighteousness, then I loose myself forth into birth.
Bhagavad Gita 4.7
Now, if there is something like sanatana dharma, then why should dharma decline? If there is eternal dharma, why should it decline? The reason is that the knowledge of the divine's will cannot be easily obtained. Unless you do yoga, you cannot know what is the divine’s will. So what happens is, it is a very big problem. Therefore, there has to be what is called a progressive way before you come to know the divine will. We go according to yuga dharma, rashtra dharma and other lower dharmas. We make it as a ladder and the defect comes when you take all these dharmas to be forever binding. If you say this is only a crutch or only a means of ascension, a kind of a help on my way upwards, it changes the character. To take any dharma as binding forever and thinking it to be eternal dharma is a mistake, but if you take it as a movement in your ascending consciousness, then you might not fall into the pitfalls, which normally happens if you take it to be eternal. So the advice that Indian rishis have given is that when you do not know the divine's will then what should be done? In Taittirīya Upanishad it is written: you should go to the best people of the age. Put your question to them and ask them what should be done and the advice they give you follow it. Even then it may not be the eternal dharma, it cannot be the divine's will, but this is one of the ways. Even to find out the best people is difficult. There are so many people who claim to be the best, so even to find the best people is difficult. Therefore, it is said that you should be a constant seeker. You should be constantly in search. This is the best advice given by the Vedic rishis, be a seeker, jigyasu bhavah.
You always ask and make experiments in your life until you arrive yourself at the divine's will. Therefore, it is said that this path is not an easy path. There is no way by which you can say that you have a formula which you apply and you'll be right. Such a thing does not exist. That is why, if anybody says that this is a law and you follow it as a temporary measure you can take it, but from the divine's point of view, there is no such thing. There is therefore vast, brihat, in which there is complete freedom. Until you reach a stage where you go beyond the law of sattva, rajas and tamas. These are three basic laws, as long as you are in the clutches of these three laws do not claim that you have attained freedom and therefore in the possession of the truth.
Secondly, you get seated in the atman, you become udasina. Udasina means you are seated on the top of the three gunas. Then you realise that universal self. Having realised the universal self, atmani atho mayi, you go forth into the self; atho mayi, thereafter you have the complete freedom and the definition of complete freedom is the capacity to do anything and everything either as alternatives or even simultaneously. That is the real freedom, capacity to do anything and everything where every option is as good as the other in our lower being one option is better than the other. Therefore, there is a conflict whether I should do this or that so long as you belong to this field as yet, you have not reached that complete freedom. Complete freedom is achieved where you have real freedom to do anything when you are capable of doing anything, either optionally or simultaneously and where every option is as good as the other, this is the nature of the divine action which is free, to live in this freedom is the goal that Sri Krishna gives, and that is why he says sarva dharman parityajya सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य. Therefore, he says you give up all dharmas and enter into that freedom which can come only from the supreme.
So till that time to find a certain law and certain formula, Sri Krishna says, do not have the illusion that you will find a satisfying answer. As an assumption you can accept one or the other for the time being, but do not be bound by any one of them. So anybody who says now you tell me nishchitam as Arjuna wanted, you tell me one thing, this or that, I should do this or that and that I will do and Sri Krishna does not answer that question, nishchitam. The answer is simply this: you give up all dharmas and come to me and then you do what I tell you. That is the only one which is nishchitam. That is the most difficult thing. So even the concept of swadharma in that sense gets lost.
So now to come back to your question. This is the background. Dharma is eternal in its character, therefore sanatana, but that sanatana dharma is the direct will of the divine, and whenever you can act in the light of the divine's will revealed to you explicitly, then you can say that you are doing according to sanatana dharma, which is the law of freedom, you may call it dharma, but actually it's a law of freedom. Then there are other codes of conduct which have been created under different circumstances. What is dharma in one yuga may not be dharma in another yuga.
Take, for example, the method of war to settle the question of justice was the yuga dharma at a given time of history. There was no other method at all. Who is right or wrong? What is justice or injustice? How will you ultimately decide? Everybody claims I am just, if you follow me you are just. So at one time in the history of the world there is only one method, that those who claim to be just, they come to fight and that too, a kind of a brutal war in which massacre takes place and whoever wins he establishes whatever he thinks is right. Now this was yuga dharma. To our mind today it seems to be a barbaric law, but other things were not available in the world. For example, the United Nations Organization was not created in the world even today, if you throw out the United Nations Organization, what is the method of deciding what is right or wrong? Nothing but war, it was to prevent a war that such an institution has been created. So unless you have machinery which is not barbaric, which is more civilised, unless you create machinery, the yuga dharma will say that, well, if there is nothing else available, then this is the only method of doing it. So from yoga to yoga, dharma changes because of these situations change.
In India, for example, there was a yuga dharma in the time of Sri Krishna, Arjuna, but before taking any war, there was dharma, you should try for peace. You should send an ambassador of peace and argue out before you take to war. This was also a method. A kind of yuga dharma that was the right thing to do. If it was not done, then the yudha was not called dharmayudha. Dharmayudha was called dharmayudha only when you tried every method of eliminating war. Now this institution India had created very powerfully and to create a situation where the violence is the least, it had declared a dharma that nobody other than a kshatriya can take part in that war. So all others were saved. They had not to take part in violence, and if anybody took part in the war it was required to be wrong. Then it was said that at sunset you should cease to fight. That is also part of dharma. So that war, the massacre, is as limited as possible. Even during the war, you should never plunge into the war without warning, you should give pratikara. You should challenge somebody, so warning should be given and say, I want to fight with you and then you must agree to fight. Then the fight starts. Now all this is a part of yuga dharma. If you don't do it, it is a lapse of dharma.
Q: Isn't that wrong when Karna** was putting down the wheel and he was not given a warning?
Yes, quite true, it was adharma from this point of view. Now this dharma may conflict with eternal dharma. Why did Sri Krishna say, “Now you kill him?” You might say that Sri Krishna gave a law which was adharma from that point of view, from the point of the rules you have organised. Did you organise the war according to the divine's will? Divine’s will was only one: don't fight and give justice to pandavas. That was the divine's will. Everybody opposed it and that's why the rule was broken right from the beginning you might say. And then, when abhimanyu went to fight with the great maharathis in the battle where every maharathi broke the law, abhimanyu was killed by seven maharathis all together, whereas according to the law, according to dharma which was prescribed, it should be one to one fight, others cannot come and join and say that now look you keep his hand like this, and then I will give a blow and the third one says, I’ll give third blow and each maharathi gave a separate blow to this young man. It is that Sri Krishna tells Arjuna that Karana was a part of that adharma. Therefore, it contradicts the dharma which you have established, but over that there is a divine's will and you act according to the divine's will and that is a real justice.
So when there is a conflict between one dharma with another dharma, then what is that that decides? Only one law—sanatana dharma. This is a question which has to be debated and which has been debated at length for the time being. The question is as to what is yugadharma? At every stage according to the situations and institutions you have been created, the law is created, a dharma is created. Today no country can go to war because of the treaty with the United Nations. You cannot go to war unless you inform the United Nations and any such situation is immediately considered by the Security Council and the decision of the Security Council is binding upon every nation which has signed the treaty with the United Nations.
Now such a dharma has been created, but when such a situation does not exist, such an institution doesn't exist, then you have other dharma. Now corresponding to yugadharma, even the kula dharma changes, even the swadharma changes according to whatever obtains in the world at a time. It is a part of this dharma that is manifested in the concept of a duty. A duty is, as I said earlier, an obligation upon you by virtue of your relationship basically with your immediate surroundings and which may be in concrete with other duties which arise when you go and expand your larger environment. Therefore, it can be said that there are all kinds of duties and none of them is absolute. It may be my duty as a son to protect my family against any attack from outside, but this duty can be transcended.
Buddha had the duty to look after his wife and his child and a duty towards his father and a duty towards his kingdom, to act as a prince and to accept his kinship when the time comes. This was his duty and yet Buddha left everything, gave up all the duties, you might say, transgressed all the duties in search of a knowledge and we pardon Buddha because although he broke a duty, he discovered a greater truth. Now that duty was a greater duty to find out. The truth is a greater duty for Buddha.
Therefore, the lower duties can be broken, and this has been accepted in India that whenever you have a lower duty in conflict with the higher duties then higher duties should be performed, until you go on rising and come to the highest.
Q: There is always a conflict between the lower and the higher duties. So what would make us choose the correct one?
Between the two you follow the higher duty in the light of whatever you know the best.
Q: We ourselves decide?
As long as you decide everything, think that it is only provisional. Without bringing the divine you can never do the right thing. This is the basic message of the Bhagavad Gita: unless you bring into account the self which is immortal and the supreme prabhu and vibhu maheshwara, unless you take into account this reality and bring from him and his decision, and you identify your will with his decision, always think that you are not to assert yourself as to the right thing. You can only say, according to my present life, this is what I think is the best, and I can do nothing better than that, therefore I do it and in my wisdom you should again say I offer it to the divine and say to the divine, O Lord, if it is according to thy will, let it succeed, if it is not according to thy will, let it fail.
This is, you might say, derived as a kind of a consequence from the teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita. You do your best according to your lives, whatever is available to you, try your best search in the light of that, whatever you think is best you offer to the divine with this prayer that all my actions I do for worship as an offering to the divine. I don't know who's the divine. I only know there is a divine, I am told there is a divine. I have faith in the divine or whatever knowledge I have got of the divine into that divine I am offering and my prayer further is that whatever is according to the divine's own will let my action contribute to that divine's will and not to my will. If it is according to the divine’s will let it succeed, if it is not according to the divine's will let it not succeed, but do your action. Having done this, do your action faithfully and fully without negligence, yogah karmasu kaushalam, योग: कर्मसु कौशलम् (BG 2.50).
This is the you might say, the transitional movement, and by this you will gradually come to know what is the divine's will and the divine will will manifest. So what you said, what you think is the best decision, the answer is enlarge yourself and before you do anything, you find time to turn to the divine, make this prayer and do whatever you think best with all your heart. Whether people like it or not, whether you are criticised or not does not matter, be faithful to what you are doing. But always keep in mind, I will not demand from god the success in my actions but success for his will, if it is not according to his will, let me fail, I don't mind at all. When you arrive at this stage of consciousness, then I can say that you have done your best in your present circumstances.
Now, the other question that you raised was dharma, swadharma and duty. Duties are normally known by conventions or by sastras, which are written or codes of contact or laws. Our Indian penal code, for example, which is used in our country, is for us the code of conduct. You shall not steal, you should not murder, you should not hurt, you should not do defamation of people, you should be not cheating anybody, no fraud, no dacoity, all these things are laid down. These are your duties as a citizen. You should never do this, and law has said that if you do it you'll be punished, to accept the punishment is also your duty. So you might say this is one of the codes of conduct.
The constitution of India is a code of conduct. The constitution of India says that there shall be a parliament, there should be executive or there shall be a judiciary and you as a citizen, have to follow the principles which are laid down of the interrelationship between the judiciary and the legislature and the executive, and that if the court of law decides one thing, even though it may hurt you, you should accept the decision of the court of law. You can go in appeal until you come to the supreme court where the supreme court final judgement is final and nothing further can be done, and you must, as a citizen, accept it.
Now, these are so-called codes of conduct, they are such dharma of the present day. Now you might yourself object to all this. You may not agree with the Indian penal code. You may not agree with the constitution of India, but as a citizen, it is your duty to accept it, because these duties are according to certain laws which are prescribed at present. Inwardly you have a right to disagree because you are greater in your relationship with the laws of humanity. If I am a humanitarian and I believe that our Indian penal code, which says that, if anybody murders he should be hanged, as a humanitarian, I may believe that hanging anybody is wrong. I like to say this as a human being, I would say that no human being has a right to take the life of another person. Even the court of law is ruled by men. Even the judges are men, the law has been made by men and no man, according to my understanding, has a right to take the life of anybody. Therefore, if this law says that as a punishment of murder hanging is the right thing to do, as a humanitarian, as a member of humanity, I can say: I disobey. On what ground? My dharma as a human being is in conflict with my duty and therefore I transgress my duty.
And there are many occasions where duty and dharma collide with each other. As a soldier in an army, it is my duty to kill anybody who stands as an enemy. This is my duty. If there is a war between this country and the other, then it is right for the state to demand anybody to be a member of the army, and your duty is to accept. If I receive a letter during the war to join the army, I cannot disobey it. If I do, it is called I'm a traitor. Then I go into the army and I am commissioned to fight a war on the border and I find myself in the opposite camp. The one who is now coming before me to fight is my own brother, as an enemy, my general says: shoot. Should I shoot him? My duty collides with what I may feel as my dharma? It is my dharma to persuade my brother not to be my enemy. Therefore, before I shoot him, I should get the chance to persuade him. That will be my dharma to want to shoot somebody without consulting him without giving the right advice. It is this chance I should get so my dharma collides with this duty, so this dharma, which I feel as a member of human family, not only has because my brother in an ordinary family, even as a human family, I would say that before you shoot anybody, you should at least have a chance of discussing with him, persuading him, he's going to do this. According to me, this is right. According to me, that may be right. Let us debate together, come to the right conclusion, let us have a peaceful relationship, etc, etcetera.
So many things can be done. In our human life, how often justice collides with love. Justice may demand that you should do this, but love may demand something else, and such occasions often arise in our life. Then, which one should I follow? Justice should I follow or love should I follow, and both are good. Love is right and justice is right, which one should I follow? Therefore, the duties collide, often with what is dharma.
Now, dharma also may collide with swadharma. As I told you, it was dharma in the time of Buddha to serve the father and mother to protect the wife and the child and to take up the duties of a king. It was dharma, not only a duty, but it was dharma, yet he transgressed all that, because he said that the search for the truth is greater than all this performance of duties. Where the question before me: Is death inevitable, is suffering inevitable? Should there be pain at all in this world, is there a remedy to it? This was the question and he found that he had the capacity to search for it. For a man who does not have the capacity to seek after the truth, and yet he transgresses his duty may be wrong, but if he finds that he has the capacity to do it, his swadharma demands what is objected to by dharma, then one should follow swadharma. That is why Sri Krishna says:
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः ॥ 3.35
Bhagavad Gita 3.35
Even if you die, while doing your swadharma, that is better than following para dharma, परधर्मो भयावहः. What is right for another person, you should not follow. So this is a further enunciation or further detail of what is right and wrong, but even swadharma may not be the highest. As I told you, the highest is when you are able to give up sattva rajas, tamas, your own sense of desire, your own sense of results, your sense of egoism that you are the doer, when you can be seated in the Self and then when you can be seated in the purushottama, then only the right action will really follow. So even swadharma may collide with this. Even swadharma is not the highest according to the Gita, because in the last chapter he says सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य, even swadharma should be given up, you follow only one law.
But in a given situation for you or any civilised person, swadharma is better than dharma, yugadharma or anything. Swadharma is the best, because you have to determine your relationship with the totality of the universe, with the totality of the creator himself, and swadharma is often conceived as what one individual in his highest consciousness, considers to be his highest relationship with everything, that is the best and his present condition, his capability, considering all this, what emerges out of it is swadharma.
Q: Mahajana is superman, the divine?
Mahajana is the collectivity of people. Wherever lots of people move, that is your method, but it is also a temporary law. What large number of people are following, there you should go. That’s part of the story of murkha panditah. It is a story of a foolish pandit where four brahmins are travelling and they do not know in which direction they should go either, they are on a crossroad, this way, this way or that way? Then one of the brahmins said that we have written in the sastra: mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. That is, where a large number of people are moving, it Is that way which you should go to. Now, at that time, one merchant had died and there was a procession and there were a large number of people going in that direction. So this brahmin said that, since it is written here, you should now go to the cemetery. It’s a part of the story, but the sentence is correct. The application was not a very wise application, but the sentence is correct that when you are in doubt about what you should do, then this is one of the methods: mahajano yena gatah se pantah.
Q: I thought that Mahajana is maha, divine?
That is also one of the meanings, but mahajana usually means the collectivity where a large number of people, mahajana, move.
Now that is the last point that I wanted to make. In fact, it is a light on the fourth chapter which we already finished, but it is the point which you can always come back to. Lokasamgraha is the solidarity of the people. Sri Krishna says that one mark of a karma yogi is that he always acts for the solidarity of the people. Even the avatar when he comes down on the earth, he acts for lokasamgraha. In fact, it is said that Sri Krishna came on the earth for lokasamgraha, at that time because of the abhyudaya of dharma, because of the rise of adharma, people like Kansa and Duryodhana, Jarasandha and many others. The rule of evil had ascended to a very high peak and those who were sadhus, the good people, were being oppressed. This was the condition in which Sri Krishna came down on the earth and his avatari work, the greatest work that he did ultimately was to destroy all the evil people or the leaders of the evil people and to enthrone those good people who were in minority, and he succeeded in doing this, in which to recognize that Yudhisthira is a dharmaraj. He is such a great task of the avatar, because everybody did not accept Yudhisthira to be the great wonderful Dharmaraj at all. People did not accept that the Pandavas were the real parables of virtues. It is Sri Krishna who knew that, although Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Sahadeva, Nakula, and they had many human faults, it is not as if they were absolutely perfect human beings, but in balance he found out that they are much better people and if the kingdom is in their hands, there be a real lokasamgraha, the people will be able to get justice and they will remain more united. That is why he took the side of Yudhishthira and fought on his side. Ultimately, although he tried his best to prevent the war, that's also part of the avataric work, because preventing war itself would have been lokasamgraha from a certain point of view. If, by keeping everybody intact without destruction, if he had to succeed in giving some kingdom to Yudhishthira, then at least a nucleus would have been created where dharmarajya could have been established. That was even preferable in a certain sense, keeping all people intact and yet capable of giving kingdom in the hands of Yudhisthira and his brothers, so that a nucleus afterwards can grow. Since it was impossible, then lokasamgraha remained only in one way, destroying all these people, ultimately giving the kingdom in the hands of those few people who are really good and who are capable of keeping people together.
Now, from an outside point of view, how will you judge whether this was lokasamgraha or not? As I said earlier, from a certain point of view, I said that Krishna acted for the slaughter, a huge slaughter. Where was the sangraha of the people? Sangraha was from an inner point of view, one who sees, who foresees. That is why you cannot speak of a lokasamgraha unless you have foresight, unless you have vision. That is why it is said that the mark of a real karma yogi is that he has the largest vision possible. Even Arjuna ultimately was perceived to fight because of the vishwaroopa darshana in which he saw what was happening in the future. Arjuna himself tires out and says, I see the Kauravas being destroyed, and Sri Krishna himself says that Dhritrashtrans are already killed. Now you only become nimitta matram bhava. There was a vision of the future.
Therefore, you cannot decide what is lokasamgraha unless you have the future's vision. Therefore, our conclusion is that, without divine vision, you can never be sure of your rightness of action. All claims of human beings—I am right—or you are right—these conflicts are insoluble, there will always be debates in the world. As far as you are concerned, you can find out the truth and the real justice only when you have gone into contact with the divine, receive his words and act according to that word and short of it, I told you just now, short of this you decide at your own level with your utmost capacity by consulting the best, come to a conclusion, what is the best action, perform it as an offering to the lord not claiming it is the right action, but offering to the lord and saying to the lord, I am doing this because I have no other higher light. You have the highest light, if my action is wrong from your point of view, please defeat it, make it successful only if it is according to your will and you become free from whether you succeed or you fail. When you are in this condition, then be sure that your action is right. This is the criterion that emerges out of the whole teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita. All right, I don't know if I answered your question.
Next time we shall do swadharma.