• kewal sethi

what is dharma

What is dharma?

Kewal Krishan Sethi

What is dharma? Many a man has racked his brain to answer this question. There is a school of thought which holds that dharma is the concern of the individual. It is the personal relationship of man and God. What sort of relation is envisaged, is not clear. What happens to the man after he is dead is the part of personal relationship which is envisaged. But how will God judge the person? What will be the criterion? If it is purely personal relation, will God just calculate how many times, the man remembered Him or how many times, he thanked Him. How many times did the man worship Him? With what did he worship Him with? Will the time spent on worship be also one of the criteria?

Another point. Will the amount spent by the person on such worship be also considered? Will the question about how this money was earned be one of the criteria? But if He did that, he would be taking other persons, from whom the man earned the money, into consideration? The right and the wrong of the ways and means of earning will have to be considered. And that will be taking him out of the purely personal relationship because somebody will have to specify what is the right way of earning the money and what is the wrong way of earning money. Given that God, Himself, does not appear, this will have to be done by one of his representative. But this will raise the question as to who is the representative. Can there be more than one representative? Will the consideration about the method of earning be the constant factor or will it change with time and place? Will not the principles laid down affect the entire society rather than mere individual.

In Mathematics, we have a method of proof. We assume the truth of a statement and show that such assumption will lead to a contradiction. This conclusively proves that the reverse is true that is the statement is not correct. Applying this method to the problem at hand, we have come to a situation where assuming that dharma is merely a personal relationship between God and the man leads to a situation which rules out such relationship. The opposite statement that Dharma is not a personal relationship only thus stands proved.

If Dharma is not the personal relationship and has some connection with the society, we have to examine what form such connection will take. Continuing the arguments that God wishes to reward you for the deeds that a man has done, including the remembrance, thankfulness and the worship, and it does include the way the worship is done and that the money spent on the worship and other things have to be earned in accordance with a set of rules, whether ordained by a prophet, or laid down by the society, we will like to see to what conclusion this can lead to. It is still our premises that the man and God have a relationship and that He expects to be thanked for what He has done for the man though the principles are laid down in this regard and these involve the welfare of other persons, with whom the man has dealings, also. The determination is on the basis of these rules and principles.

But the question remains how the rewards are to be determined. Where will these rewards be given? When will they be given? How will the rewards be determined? If a man has done both right things as per the code laid down and the wrong things, will both be taken into consideration? Will they cancel each other out and the net balance taken into account? If the net balance is negative, will there be punishment also? Will the rewards be the same for all the persons or will there be a scale varying as per the quantity of the net right action? This is apart from the question of nature of rewards and punishments and the place of rewards and punishments.

There is another aspect of this enquiry. Even though God is one but his representatives may be many. And they may come at different times and at different places. How can it be decided which one is the better one or will the views of the subsequent messenger be deemed to over rule those of his predecessors? Is there finality to the messengers received or will they be coming as and when God deems it necessary to send one? If it is decided that there is a final messenger, will it not limit the powers of God who is acknowledged to be the Almighty. Even if at a particular time, God indicates that He has sent enough messengers and the series has to end, is He not allowed to change His mind at any time of His choosing. Can we limit His powers by saying that He will not send any more messengers?

We have seen earlier that Dharma is governed by a set of rules which are made for a given society. Does the society have a hand in the framing of these rules? If it feels uncomfortable with a set of rules, is the society expected to suffer in silence? Can these unjust rules not lead to a systematic breach of these rules? And in such a case, will God punish the whole lot? it is claimed that God punished a certain tribe when they chose to defy Him with its own set of rules. Can such a tribe, subsequently be pardoned if it declares its intention of going back to the set of rules prevailing earlier?

There is no end to such questions and the replies which can be thought of by man are inadequate since only He knows what His intention in framing different set of rules through different messengers was. The absence of certainty is thus a negation of the thought of absolute truth or a universal set of rules. Once again going by the method of the proof laid down above, when there are so many questions without non-ambiguous answers, the premises assumed do not stand proved. Obviously there is no doubt that some communities may hold views of a particular messenger to be the absolute truth and that there is no need for their revision at any time and in any circumstances but that would not be a rational answer to the set of questions posed for it ignores certain embarrassing aspects. In such circumstances, there are apologetic explanations for the principles which appear to be contradictory to the views specified at other place and at other time.

It is not intended in this brief discussion to go into merits of different messengers by citing what are apparent contradictions. The idea is to have a rational view which would tend to various doubts that have been raised. Since ultimately the society does come into picture, it has to be accorded a place in the scheme of Dharma. Since the rules are meant for the benefit of all the members of the society, its concurrence has to be obtained. This will also mean that the set of principles can be modified by the society so as to be for the maximum good for maximum people. It may still be led by His messengers but there can be no finality to the number of such messengers.


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