In my last post I wrote a bit about certain observances going “against dharma.” It was all about the duty of a householder to maintain a source of income, employment. In explaining this concept, I brought up the four stages of life – one of which is that of a householder – and Manu’s Laws, a hoary book of rules for living which has been compared to some of the Law-based books of the Old Testament.
One reader thought this sounded very Jehovah’s Witness-like. Though I am not sure whether this was meant pejoratively, I don’t think it was meant positively. I do, however, see at least a shadow of what the critiquer was getting at. So I think it is important to explain a few things.
The grammatically-intrusive parentheses in the title of this post are meant to point to a sentiment which I wish to express about my chosen dharma, Hinduism. Its many scriptures are authoritative.
authoritative: able to be trusted as being accurate or true; reliable.
Though many Hindus of many sects follow many rules, and practice many austerities and yajnas for various reasons, they are not authoritarian.
authoritarian: favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, esp. that of the government, at the expense of personal freedom.
They are all pathways. They would not have been put forth, I think, were they not demonstrably true. But any devotee can choose to follow them or not.
In the Gita, Bhagavan Krishna speaks to Arjuna with great authoritative grace, often beseeching the warrior prince strongly to heed his words, but never demanding. Never forceful. Such is the Hindu dharma at large. Whilst Abrahamic faiths are full of “thou shalts” as I will call them, Hinduism is experiential. “Find out for yourself whether this is true,” the Rishis are telling us, down through the ages.
Even so, Krishna does make it clear that if Arjuna refuses to fight, he is committing a grave error in judgment. It is, of course, always his decision, but should he not fight, Krishna tells him, he will not be carrying out his dharma as a warrior. We all have them, and there are definite impervious walls between doing them and not doing them. Krisha Himself says that doing duty ineffectively is far better than not doing it at all (i.e. doing someone else’s duty). And so, it is entirely possible to go “against dharma.” It’s just that the only judge will be karma, not God.
Going back to my last post, whether one takes employment as a dharma or not is up to the individual, I will grant.
Though the Law of Manu (Manu-Samhita) itself does carry an air of the authoritarian, the four stages of life are in no way enforced or enforceable law. They are guidelines to life, just as is the Gita, etc. And they remain decent guidelines (even if the last one where the aspirant casts away from all worldly attachments into the wilderness has been deemed metaphoric in modern life).
Jai Hari Aum.