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The Sword of Kali - 3
|by Chittaranjan Naik|
Continued from Previous Page
To say that Sri Ramakrishna resorted to worshipping in mosques and churches is to distort a few singular events of his sadhana to make them appear as if they were regular features of his life. Exaggeration is a kind of untruth. Ramakrishna experiment once with Christianity and once with Islam, and each time his sadhana lasted for a few days. The sadhana took place in the gardens of Dakshineswar and not in mosques or churches. Anybody can today read the biographies of Sri Ramakrishna to confirm that it is thus. There is not a single biography that speaks of Sri Ramakrishna as having regularly frequented mosques and churches or as having derived his ideas and practices from Islam and Christianity. One expects more veneration for truth than what Dr. Morales displays when discussing Hindu saints.
Again, Dr. Morales tries to forge a spurious nexus between Radical Universalism, Brahmo Samaj and Sri Ramakrishna:
If Dr. Morales is here trying to say that the doctrine of the Brahmos was a form of Radical Universalism, then he is obviously confused, because he contradicts this very proposition by stating that the Brahmos rejected Hindu ‘panentheism’ as well as all forms of iconic worship6. If the Brahmos were really Radical Universalists who believed that all religions are the same, or that the paths of all religions led to the same goal, they would have had no reason to reject Hindu ‘panentheism’ or iconic worship. Dr. Morales is actually disproving the hypothesis that he claims to be proving!
The Brahmos were not universalists in the true sense of the word. In founding the Brahmo Samaj, Ram Mohan Roy had wished to institute a religion based on the twin poles of Formless God and Reason. He rejected both the Advaita of Shankara (the God of the Brahmos was a Formless God that created the world ex-nihilo) as well as the idolatry of Hindu polytheism. Ram Mohan Roy defined himself correctly as a Hindu Unitarian and not as a Universalist. Dr. Morales is deluded if he thinks he is showing that Hindu Universalism came from the Brahmo Samaj or that the Brahmos influenced Sri Ramakrishna into accepting a universalism that didn’t until then existed in Hinduism. It was in fact the Brahmos that were deeply influenced in this respect by the saint; their constricted notions of God slowly dissolved before the all-encompassing Universalism of Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna never met Ram Mohan Roy; Roy died four years before Sri Ramakrishna was born. Devendranath Tagore, the successor of Roy, met Sri Ramakrishna once only; a second meeting that was planned between them never took place. It was Keshab Chandra Sen among the Brahmos that shared the closest and most intimate relationship with Sri Ramakrishna. This relationship was not, as Dr. Morales claims, a working relationship. Sri Ramakrishna had no work to do. He was unable to keep his wearing cloth on his body! His work was to dissolve and let Reality work through him! But Reality had decided that Keshab too would be Its instrument, for it was through Keshab that the word of Sri Ramakrishna spread to the educated elite of India, and it was again through Keshab that Sri Ramakrishna’s universal vision of God percolated to the Brahmos. It would therefore be appropriate for us to study this remarkable chapter in Indian history.
Keshab was a man of towering intellect and deep sensitivities, gifted at once with an intensely devotional nature and a restless mind, and altogether possessing a mysterious disposition that only Sri Ramakrishna among all his associations gauged fully. Even at an early age, Keshab had come under the spell of Christ and he professed to have experienced the special favour of John the Baptist, as well as of Jesus Christ and St. Paul. In a letter written to one of his close disciples in 1866, he said:
Keshab’s faithfulness to Christ was to remain right up to the end of his life. His abiding allegiance to Christ needs to be seen against the backdrop of the relationship he believed he had with Christ; for he believed that he was the incarnation of Judas Iscariot, the thirteenth disciple of Jesus who had betrayed the Son of God. In a sermon that was to come much later (in 1881) he was to declare:
Keshab was a giant who eclipsed the other leaders of the Samaj that had come before him. He roused immense enthusiasm during his triumphal visit to England, addressing seventy meetings of 40000 people in six months, and fascinating them with his musical speeches. He was compared to Gladstone, the great Irish parliamentarian and reformist. While Keshab enriched the doctrine of the Brahmos with the genius of his intellect, at its core it remained eclectic in character, intellectually pieced together from the best features of various religions. But despite his contributions to the Brahmo cause, the flame of Christ burned intensely in his heart. By 1866, he could no longer hide the inner propensity of his soul, and when he strove to introduce Christ to the Samaj a rupture became inevitable. In 1868 he broke with the older leader of the movement and founded the Brahmo Samaj of India, while the first Brahmo Samaj under the leadership of Devendranath Tagore came to be re-christened the Adi Samaj. In the aftermath of the schism, Keshab went through a deep moral crisis, and, in the dark years of his despair, he felt the voice of God speaking to him. Keshab emerged from the crisis stronger than before, but the restlessness in his heart had not been quelled. And then, in the year 1875, Keshab met Sri Ramakrishna. The following description of their first meeting shows the kind of relationship that sprang up between them.
Keshab was intensely moved by Sri Ramakrishna, and in course of time this attraction developed into deep reverence. He began to speak about Sri Ramakrishna in his sermons and quoted him frequently in his writings. Soon, he became the instrument through which the voice of Sri Ramakrishna reached the elite of Bengal.
Keshab’s doctrine was until now a mere intellectual synthesis; it was not the spontaneous and effortless vision of a living religion. But his association with Sri Ramakrishna broadened his vision and his eclecticism began to give way to a more truly universal conception of God. To Keshab, God had been the Father, but from Sri Ramakrishna he learnt that God is also the Mother, that Brahman and His Maya are One. From Sri Ramakrishna, he learnt that idol worship is not different than singing the glories of God’s attributes. Sri Ramakrishna opened the floodgates of Keshab’s heart, and its devotional outpouring deluged the Brahmo Samaj with a new religious fervor and took it in a new direction. Sri Ramakrishna had said to him:
Keshab introduced the singing of kirtans into the Brahmo Samaj, and from morning till night the Samaj resounded to devotional hymns sung to the accompaniment of Vaishnavite music. In 1878, in the midst of this growing fervour, there was a second split in the Brahmo Samaj. This time it was brought about by the marriage of his daughter to a wealthy man before she had attained the marriageable age approved by the Samaj. Keshab’s action came under severe criticism and he was once again thrown into a crisis. And then, out of the depths of his despair, there arose a new voice, a voice that was still a whisper, but one that was to thunder its way across the seas all the way to Europe. It was the stirrings of the New Dispensation. Mazoomdar gives us an account of its genesis*******:
The Revival was the New Dispensation. It was born out of the vision fashioned in his heart by Sri Ramakrishna. It was a vision of the Vedic God, but Keshab covered It with the name of Christ. Perhaps the New Dispensation was his atonement for his terrible betrayal of the Son of God. He announced it to his Hindu brethren in 1880 in his famous Epistle to the Indian Brethren:
In the same year, Keshab also sent out a proclamation declaring the God as Mother:
According to the New Dispensation, God, out of His boundless love for man, incarnates on earth from time to time. As sleeping Logos, Christ lives potentially in the Father’s bosom. He had lived long, long before he came into this world of ours as Christ. He came in Greece and India, Egypt and China, he came in the form of the Rg-Veda poets, he came in the form of Confucius, and he came in many countries and in many forms. Clearly, the vision was Hindu, but in Keshab’s eyes it bore the name of Christ. The New Dispensation was not merely Christ coming to India, but Christ coming to the entire world – for the New Dispensation was proclaimed as the true revelation of Christ that the West had narrowed and reified into a form of iconic worship. These words of Keshab were aimed not at the Hindus, but at the West:
He was convinced that the West had not understood Christ, and that the New Dispensation was ‘an institution of the Holy Spirit that completes the Old and New Testaments’:
The sequence of events that we have so far delineated belies the charge that Hindu Universalism was the infiltration of a Western idea into Hinduism, or ‘the Christianisation of Hindu theology’ as Dr. Morales calls it. The New Dispensation is proof that the current of history actually flowed in the reverse direction - originating in a Hindu source and moving towards the Universalisation of Christian theology in the New Dispensation.
Even when the inspirational storm of the New Dispensation was blowing in his mind, Keshab could not resist the pull of Sri Ramakrishna and the Divine Mother. He had become an ardent devotee of Mother Kali, and he would often cry at the mention of Her name. Yet the New Dispensation never stopped tugging at his heart. Sri Ramakrishna saw the inner turmoil in Keshab’s soul and treated him with extreme tenderness and consideration. Keshab became seriously ill in 1883, and soon afterwards, in January 1884, he succumbed to his illness. Sri Ramakrishna visited him a few weeks before his death and spoke to him profound words that were like a balm to the hidden wounds of the dying man; and the two devotees then talked nothing but God. It is said that Keshab spoke to the Divine Mother from his deathbed, and that in his last moments he laughed and wept in divine ecstasy.
It was not only Keshab but many of the Brahmos that came under the sway of Sri Ramakrishna’s influence. Here is an account from one of Sri Ramakrishna’s biographies:
We have in the words hereinabove briefly outlined how it was that the tide of Hindu Universalism flowed from Sri Ramakrishna to the hearts of Keshab Chandra Sen and the Brahmos. If these words still fail to convince our readers that this was the direction in which the idea of Hindu Universalism flowed, then the final verdict must lie with the words of Pratap Mazoomdar, a Brahmo himself and a disciple of Keshab Sen, who writes:
Sri Ramakrishna’s universal vision was not, as Dr. Morales claims, due to the influence of the Brahmo Samaj or Keshab Sen. Sri Ramakrishna was influenced by only one thing, and that one thing was God! It speaks out of the pages of his biographies – if one cares to read them!
Swami Vivekananda and the Will to Heroism
This is how Romain Rolland describes the man that Dr. Morales accuses of stooping to gain the approval of European masters:
When Vivekananda, the unknown Indian monk, began his speech in the Parliament of Religions, the whole assembly rose up unbidden, and they knew not why! If there is one trait of Vivekananda that comes across consistently from all his biographies, it is this: he never stooped to the opinions of anyone, be it a saint of a European master! Vivekananda walked like an unsheathed sword. He abhorred hypocrisy and never hesitated to strike down any form of sham. This trait of Vivekananda has been recorded uniformly in all his biographies, and it echoes in these words that he once spoke to his sannyasi brethren:
Dr. Morales suffers from some kind of delusion in saying that Vivekananda diluted Hinduism to cater to foreign masters! Vivekananda was a fire! A fire doesn’t bow down; it burns, it roars, it reduces everything that stands before it to ashes! To say that he wilfully watered down authentic Hindu teachings to gain the approval of European masters is not only false, but it is blatantly offensive to the Hindu who regards Vivekananda as a man in the mould of the raja-rishi, Visvamitra.
Many thousands of sages and holy men have enriched the soil of Hinduism. Not all of them were alike. Some came as saints that sang and danced from the divine ecstasy of their devotions. Some came as acharyas to expound the scriptures and establish the Vedantic path. Sri Shankaracharya, Sri Ramanujacharya and Sri Madhvacharya were in this mould. Vivekananda was not an acharya; he did not come to this world to establish any particular darshana. He had a different role to play here. He came to awaken, not to formulate Hindu doctrinal responses to modernity.
Though Vivekananda’s message was centred in Vedanta, he delivered it with a freedom of form that suited the purpose of rousing the sleeping Hindu. Had it not been for Vivekananda, the mental sloth that possessed the average Hindu at the end of the nineteenth century would probably have sunk him to the lowest level of servility. Vivekananda was the fire that burned through the sleep of the Hindus and stirred them to rise from their inertia, and this fire sometimes burned in strange ways:
A sadhaka on the path of Vedanta needs to have adhikara. This adhikara comes from his predispositions and his readiness for Grace. Vivekananda saw that the majority of the Hindus at the end of the nineteenth century were sunk in self-service and servility. Servility is another form of self-service. Vivekananda knew that it is futile to speak Vedanta to the servile. Vivekananda came not to preach Vedanta; he came to awaken the Hindu from self-service to the service of God in humanity.
Only in selfless service can vairagya take root and make one worthy to take on Vedanta, the conquest of the last barrier of the soul. These words of Vivekananda still ring in our ears today:
Vivekananda once said to Nivedita that the heart must become like a cremation ground – its pride, selfishness, desire, all burnt to ashes. In Vivekananda we see not the dissections of Hindu doctrinal tenets, but the will to heroism, and his words, his actions, and his life were the burning fire that stirred the heart of the Hindu to rise from his slumber and to take pride once again in being a Hindu. Romain Rolland describes the power of Vivekananda’s words thus:
The hero was the voice of a resurgent Hinduism. At a time when the educated Hindu had begun to be ashamed of his own religion, when the downtrodden Hindu was sunk in abject poverty and had not food enough to eat, when the voiceless Hindu watched in dismay his religion being sacked by the Indologists on one hand and the Hindu reformists on the other, Vivekananda was the hero that brought back the glory of Hindu religion, epitomizing both the pursuit of the highest Truth and the selfless service of God in humanity. It is a travesty of truth to accuse Vivekananda of diluting the teachings of Hinduism. Let him that accuses Vivekananda first bring to us genuine arguments instead of hollow superfluities! Ironically, it is Dr. Morales that is watering down the teachings of Hinduism by denying to it the great universalism that lies in its heart! As regards Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, we can hardly do better than to echo the words of Richard Schiffman:
There is one last thing that needs to be said here and it is this. Before one sits in judgment over Hindu saints, it is better to be immersed oneself in the living waters of Hinduism. Theories and papers are dry academics. Hinduism is not an institutionalized religion. It is a religion that flows out from the breath of Being; it sings in the wide open spaces, it takes root like the seed that falls on the ground, and like the seed it sprouts silently to rise up like a grand poem; it gushes out of the earth like spring waters to merge in the hearts of the Hindus just as spring waters merge into the fields where the rice and the corn grow. Hinduism has no fixed contours; it cannot be caged in a box. It is nowhere to be grasped precisely, and it is everywhere like the tune of an ineffable song. It has a deep structure, but its roots are elsewhere and it is only the branches that are seen here. Hinduism knows how to hide its secrets well - even when you announce it to the world! It remains esoteric to the closed heart, but it reveals its secrets to the simple of heart, to the pure of mind, to him that surrenders herself to the harmony of the Ubiquitous Breath. Hinduism is a religion of tears, of the finest emotion, of the greatest sacrifice, of the supreme zenith of intellect. And even of transgression. Even of the pariah and the outcaste, and the butcher and the murderer. Who shall here define Hinduism? The Vedas stands at its summit, but what about the Tantras?
Universalism and Relativism
Dr. Morales presents universalism as if it is a kind of relativism that is opposed to absolute truth. The gist of the argument may be obtained from these words:
But Hinduism does not say that the moral and ethical prescriptions of different systems are the same (or equal). It says that the moral and ethical systems of different religions are each valid in so far as they are applicable to the members of the respective religion. It says that it is not right for a Hindu to follow the moral and ethical rules prescribed for a Christian just as it is not right for a Christian to follow the moral and ethical rules prescribed for a Hindu. But each is valid in its own right, as applicable within the sphere of its own manifested domain. The nature of dharma is difficult to understand and it requires an appreciation of the Eternal Dharma to comprehend the variations that are found in the moral codes of different religions. Considering that this topic would need a somewhat rigorous treatment, we shall attempt to answer the question regarding the variations of moral codes after we have treated the subject in greater detail in the next section. In this section, we shall endeavor to show that universalism is not relativism, but is indeed another aspect of absolutism.
By placing Universalism in opposition to Absolutism, Dr. Morales tries to create the impression that Universalism is a kind of Relativism. But this opposition has no basis to stand on. Universalism is based on absolutes. Since both universalism and relativism are terms that have sprung out of the Western philosophical lexicon, it would be appropriate to go to the origins of these terms as they appear in Western thought.
The term universalism comes from the word ‘universe’ which means all things regarded as a whole. Universalism is a doctrine that encompasses all things – the universe - by seeing the sameness that is in them. Now what is same in different things is the universal (samanya). For example, the universal, redness, is that which is same in all red things. Universalism is therefore rooted to the nature of universals. In Greek philosophy, a universal is an eternal unchanging Form that participates in the things of the world and gives to these things the forms that we recognize in them. This is the meaning of the term universal as it first appears in the pages of Western philosophy. It is the central theme of Plato’s philosophy, and its meaning is brought out beautifully in the dialogues of the great Athenian, Socrates. The universal is the Ideal Form by virtue of which a form of this sensible world is what it is seen to be. These words from the Phaedo evocate the meaning of the term universal:
Universals are absolutes. They are the eternal stamps of things in Reality (see Theaetetus) and to behold them is to behold eternity as it were. Universalism is the insight into the eternal and the unchanging Forms as it appears in the realm of change. It would therefore be absurd to equate universalism with relativism. Now, while the term universal has its origin in Plato, the genesis of relativism may be found in Protagoras, another Greek and a contemporary of Socrates. It was Protagoras who had said: ‘Man is the measure of all things’. In the Theaetetus, Plato deflates the arguments of Protagoras and demonstrates that the natures of things are beyond change. But the philosophy of Protagoras has reappeared today in the guise of Post-Modernism proclaiming once again that there is nothing beyond belief-systems. Whether it is Protagoras’ doctrine that man is the measure of all things or the Post-Modern belief that there is nothing beyond belief-systems, the central theme of relativism is that there is no truth, that it is man that gives to things the illusion of reality. Clearly universalism and relativism are two poles that are as apart as can be.
Universals are independent of the whims of the mind – they are the eternal stamps of truth in Reality. Socrates calls it the gift of Memory, and the mother of the Muses. He says that these universals are the impressions in the ‘wax of the soul’, and that the capacity for knowledge and error depend on the purity of the wax that is in the soul. (Theaetetus). This doctrine goes hand in hand with Plato’s doctrine of recollection, a doctrine which says that knowledge is the recollection of the truth that already lies within the soul. The language of Plato may be metaphorical, but it is nevertheless deeply resonant with the doctrine of Pratyabhijna in Kashmir Shaivism. All recognition is a reflection of sakshi-chaitanya. It is the recognition of the bimba in the pratibimba.
Universalism is based on the doctrine of Pratyabhijna. Pratyabhijna is the recognition of That which is eternally same in all things. The doctrine of Pratyabhijna has deep bonds with Plato’s doctrine of Ideal Forms from which comes the term universal that is at the root of Universalism.
Universal Dharma – The Ethical Dimension
We have shown in the previous section how universalism is opposed to relativism, but there is still one question that remains to be answered, and the question is: How is it possible for different and contradictory moral codes to be equally valid at the same time? We shall now attempt to answer this crucial question.
The problem of morality is one of the most enigmatic problems of human existence. To most of us that have been fed on modern fare, it would seem absurd that there could be different and contradictory moral codes that are valid at the same time. Modern acculturation would have us believe that moral and ethical systems must everywhere be uniform, and it is this belief that leads Dr. Morales to equate universalism with ethical relativism.
Strange as it may sound to modern ears, the validity of contrary, and sometimes even opposite, moral rules is a part of the Eternal Dharma. Moral codes are not the same for everyone. The fundamental mistake that is often made while speaking about moral codes is to consider them as being uniformly applicable to all. But the moral code for a husband is different than the moral code for a wife, and the moral code for a hangman is different than the moral code for a priest. Moral codes vary with time, place and situation though ultimately all these variations are constituted in the One Eternal Dharma. In asking about morality, we are verily knocking on the doors of the Divine Order, and we must be ready to pause and open our eyes before we profess to answer them, for the workings of dharma are not easy to comprehend.
What is the meaning of Dharma? In Hinduism, Dharma is not an order that has been proclaimed by God; it is God Himself in the Natural Order of the Universe. The word dharma translates to nature, and therefore the dharma of a thing is the very nature of a thing. It is the dharma of a rose to be a rose, and the dharma of a tree to be a tree. Likewise, it is the dharma of a husband to be a husband, and the dharma of a wife to be a wife, and the dharma of a son to be a son, and the dharma of a father to be a father. According to the Vedas, Dharma is Rtam, the meaning that is in Brahman. This world is not other than the meaning in God that has blossomed into creation through the unfolding of vivarta. God creates through the sabda (word) that is in Him, and His creation is the artha within Himself brought forth into manifest form. Rtam is therefore this world as the artha unfolded in Brahman, and Brahman remains always the sat – the truth - of all things in the world. Therefore Rtam is always seated in Satyam, and the Heart of Dharma is Truth. Rtam is the eternal nature of the Kshetra in the Kshetrajna, it is the Lower Nature that is held in the Higher. The Higher is the province of Its Governance and the Lower is the field of Its Leela, but they are never two.
Now there arises this question: If dharma is the nature of a thing, and all things in this world exist according to their own natures, then how indeed can there be adharma in this world? How is it possible that there may be something that is not in accordance with its own nature? In order to answer this question, we must recognize that adharma arises only in a conscious locus that is subject to avidya. It is only through avidya that a soul may see untruth and it is only due to the ahamkara wrought by avidya that a jiva may behold the illusion of the Self as an agent of action.
The locus of adharma is therefore the jiva that has chaitanya and will. A rose can never be anything but a rose because it has no will to be otherwise. It may appear to be other than what it is only in the vision of a jiva that is gifted with consciousness and will – and avidya. It is due to avidya that there arises the great mystery of this world - that untruth paradoxically comes to be, for it is indeed a paradox to say that there is in reality an untruth. For if it is, it is truth, and it can be untruth only by not being. In Advaita Vedanta, untruth is neither being nor non-being, but is the loss of genuineness of a thing’s being; it is adhyasa, one thing appearing as another. It is the paradoxical nature of Maya in which there is the loss of distinction between the real and unreal. The twin poles of truth and untruth arise in vyavaharika sathya, which is the Truth of Paramartha filtered through the lens of one’s avidya to present a paradoxical world whose truth can never be determined, for it is never possible to determine the true nature of something that partakes of falsity. It is therefore anirvacaniya, epistemologically indeterminable. The truth of a thing seen in samsara is not found by looking for it in the thing that is seen, but by removing one’s avidya so that its truth is seen naturally in the Light of the Sun. In Advaita Vedanta, avidya is not a thing to be removed; it is the sleep of looking at the world with unseeing eyes. Awakening is the opening of the eye – the Third Eye. In the sleep of samsara, the will wills in ways contrary to the truth. This defiant act of the will is adharma. The will cannot change the Truth, but it can present the Truth in Time as the balance of justice in the Dharma Chakra. It is the Wheel of Dharma that governs the actions of all beings and bestows upon them the results in accordance with their actions:
The field of dharma is the field of human action. Human action arises only in samsara wherein a jiva is subject to avidya. The jiva’s agency for action cannot exist in the Light of Knowledge:
Samsara is the journey of the soul in the deep sleep of avidya. It is called the anadi bija nidra, the beginning-less sleep without end. It is Maharatri, the Great Night of Darkness. Its end is not an end in time, but is the opposite of sleep which is the Awakening into the Light of Eternity. In samsara, the Bliss of Self is masked by avidya and the soul is therefore always trying to attain the inner ecstasy that it has lost, and hence arises its first purushartha, kama, the pursuit of pleasure. Kama is essentially the pursuit of the erotic, and while its most common goal is sexual pleasure, it is also the pursuit of beauty and art because the absorption attained by the soul in aesthetics is the merging of subject and object, which is the essence of the erotic. The subject is the purusha in the body and the object is prakriti, and in absorption he enjoys union with her. This is the reason why aesthetics, or gandharva shastra, is the overarching paradigm of kama shastra.*X.
Again, in samsara, the soul that is essentially one with the Infinite Brahman is ‘contracted’ into the limited self within the body, and it is always trying to make up for the loss of its innate infinitude and hence there arises the second purushartha, artha, which is the pursuit of wealth, objects, fame, etc. Avidya is beginningless – no one knows when it all began – and the unpaid debts due to other beings that it has accumulated in its journey have to be repaid and thus arises the third purushartha, the pursuit of dharma. And when the soul has tired of being tossed about in this ocean of samsara, it yearns for the freedom of eternity and the seeking that arises from this yearning is the fourth purushartha, the pursuit of moksha. Thus there arise in the field of human activity the four purusharthas – kama, artha, dharma and moksha.
Sanatana Dharma is divided two-fold in accordance with the two-fold directedness of human actions, the directedness to kama, artha and dharma, comprising and the path of works, and the directedness to moksha being the path of renunciation. It is this two-fold Eternal Dharma that holds the universe in place including both the stability of the created world and the preservation of the esoteric path for the soul to fly from the shadow of the ephemeral to the Light of the Eternal. Regarding this, Sri Shankaracharya writes:
The Eternal Dharma seen through the lens of Time is the Wheel of Dharma. Under the governance of the Wheel of Dharma, the soul acquires various bodies as it journeys through time. But the various bodies that a soul acquires are eternally existent in Brahman. They exist as the artha in the Purushartha. The soul in samsara merely comes to reside in these bodies as given to it by its own past actions. The Yoga Sutra says:
When a soul casts off one body and is yet to acquire another, it retains the impressions gained from its past births. These impressions are its sukshuma sharira, the subtle body. When a person dies, the soul merely disengages itself from the gross body; its gross eyes are gone, but its sense of sight is not gone; its gross ears are gone, but its sense of hearing is not gone; its hands and legs are gone, but its sense of grasping and locomotion are not gone. These are part of its sukshuma sharira – the subtle body - with which it wanders about from birth to birth. The sukshuma sharira is the body comprised of the inner four sheaths out of the five sheaths that an embodied being in this world possesses. The five sheaths of an embodied being are the annamayakosha, the pranamayakosha, the manomayakosha, the vijnanamayakosha, and the anandamayakosha. The inner four sheaths from the anandamayakosha to the pranamayakosha remain with the soul even when the soul disengages itself from the gross body. That is why a person is said to die when prana leaves the body. Prana presents itself as breath in the gross body, but it is in actuality the life-current that animates the gross body through the manifestation of breath. Now, all of nature is composed of the three gunas – rajas, sattva and tamas. The gradation of bodies in the world depends on the admixture of the gunas that are in them. The distribution of the gunas in the sukshuma sharira – the impressions from its actions in its previous lives - determines the body that the soul is given by the Lord’s Chakra when it is reborn into this world. Lord Krishna says in the Gita:
The dharma of a soul is to follow the dharma of the body given to it by the Wheel of Justice. The dharma of a soul that is born as a man is to follow the dharma of a man, and the dharma of a soul that is born as a dog is to follow the dharma of a dog. Right and wrong actions of a soul depend on the body that it possesses at the time when it is performing those actions. That is why Shankara, the sannyasi, was not polluted by loss of celibacy even though he had sported with the queens of Amuraka when occupying the body of the king.*XI
To know what dharma is, it is necessary to know what swadharma is because it is a thing’s swadharma that is the reference against which actions are measured as right and wrong. Now, this world is name and form, and to know a thing is to know the name and the form that is true to the name. To know the true form of a thing is to know the intrinsic attributes of the thing. The intrinsic attributes of a thing – the attributes that are one with it - is its swadharma. It is the swadharma of fire to burn, and of water to flow. (Action is also an attribute of a thing, for we do not see mere action in this world, but see it as the attribute of something that is acting.) The swadharma of all things lies in the artha that is the Divine Rtam in Brahman. It is the name and the meaning – the form that is true to the name - as it exists eternally in Brahman. The body that a soul is identified with in a given birth has its own intrinsic nature – its swadharma - and it is the dharma of a jiva to act in accordance with the swadharma of the body and the station that it naturally comes to possess in the world. Men and women are not given their bodies and stations by accident. The Wheel of Dharma has given it to them due to their past-actions and the duties of the bodies and stations they now occupy are the actions required for balancing the actions of the past. By following dharma – by being true to the swadharma of the bodies and stations given to them - they would be repaying the debts accruing to them from their past actions. Thus, the injunctions of dharma regarding the duties of stations for men and women are not mere normative principles; they are the prescriptions derived from the workings of the Dharma Chakra. These duties, laid down in the Dharma Shastras, are the manners in which the debts accruing from past lives may be repaid. The actions required to repay these past debts are called nitya karma, the necessary duties of a man or woman. There is no choice but to perform them because there is no choice in the matter of repayment of debts. In performing them - by being true to the station that one is born in - one repays the debts of the past and becomes free to that extent from one’s past karma. One then lives lightly, for the flavor of a live lived according to dharma is sweet.
To follow dharma is to act in accordance with one’s swadharma. It is being true to the name one bears. In deviating from one’s swadharma, one is not true to the name that one bears. Being true to the name is to conform to Rtam, the meaning that is in Brahman. In the great Confucian Way of the Tao, this principle is called the Doctrine of Rectification of Names.*XII.
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