Since the Early Vedic Ages, the Hindu philosophy, scriptures & mythology have contributed different theories to help the people of that age, to shape their lives in a constructive fashion through the upholding of one’s ‘dharma‘. This was the age where religion was exceedingly important – an age where one feared the wrath of the gods and where one went to great lengths to appease them through the performance of various rituals and sacrifices. This was the era where one prayed for the birth of a male child and for the abundant harvest and yield of crops. The performance of one’s day-to day activities soon became classified as following one’s ‘dharma.’
Dharma is one of the most important themes within Hinduism. One often sees dharma translated as religion, duty, or even righteousness, but in fact, there is no single direct translation for dharma. The word “dharma” comes from the Sanskrit root dhri, meaning to “uphold” or to “sustain.” From this perspective, the best way to think of dharma is to say, “that which upholds or sustains the positive order of things: the nation, the community, the family and ultimately even the universe.” At a social level, every individual has a particular dharma according to their place in life. Another form of dharma is one’s passage on the path of righteousness – the acceptance and higher pursuit of basic goodness for its own sake – without any conscious thought of consequence or condemnation. In my opinion, a person who upholds his dharma will attempt to live his life in such a way that if he were to die tomorrow, he would know in his last moments before death that he has led a good and fruitful life – a life with no major regrets.
Towards the ultimate goal of self -actualization……!
In modern times, Abraham Maslow contributed to the study of developmental psychology through his theory called “the hierarchy of needs” – or simply, Maslow’s pyramid. Its basic principle is very similar to the Hindu philosophy of dharma. This hierarchy states that when one’s basic physiological needs; safety needs; quest for belongingness and love are satisfied, this person moves upwards to the highest plane of living called self-actualization. A self-actualized person has reached the pinnacle of the pyramid. Such people probably constitute as little as 2% of the total population because of his very different and radical outlook to Life. He has a heightened state of morality, spontaneity, creativity and problem-solving – it is a state of living one’s life according to one’s own terms and is not based on societal dictates & norms. A self-actualized person is not prejudiced and has invariably chosen the bold step of pursuing the path of righteousness in his life because he strongly believes it is the right and proper thing to do – a very bold step indeed in an increasingly insensitive, crass and indifferent world. As you can well-imagine, a self-actualized person often treads a lonely and reclusive path in life and is often ridiculed and mocked by the society at large for having the courage to stand by his principles and for upholding his dharma.
Karma refers to one’s deeds – it is the direct consequence of one’s dharma, to a very large extent. It is a principle based on cause & effect; action & reaction; and on the Christian theory of “as you sow, so shall you reap”. It states that Life is like an echo what you put into it comes back to you – whether it be the higher pursuit of goodness or the base pursuit of evil. From this fundamental philosophy arose the concepts of Heaven and Hell, as we know them even today. The agnostic, will however proclaim that there is no such thing as heaven and hell as such and that one experiences heaven and hell on this Earth itself.
Reincarnation was born out of the theory of Karma – it broadly states that one is forced to endure multiple re-births before one’s soul is cleansed thoroughly of all sin, before one’s entry into the Higher Realms. Some people believe that re-birth need not be to the same parents, as in one’s current life, nor is the individual necessarily re-born in the same gender that he is in his present life and unfortunately, one could very possibly be re-born as an animal too. Karma is an endless cycle of birth and death, based largely on one’s karma.
From the concepts of dharma and karma was born the idea of Kismet – a belief that one is destined to lead one’s life in a particular fashion. People blame their destiny for any and every thing, under the sun. I do believe that the only events that are pre-ordained in one’s life are birth, death and marriage – with or without progeny. They are the lines on the palm of your hand that you are born with. All else are really a product of our own efforts, diligence, sincerity and perseverance. We are the ultimate masters of our own destiny but many people would rather not believe in it.
I’m not a Hindu but I still firmly advocate the efficacy of dharma and the consequence of karma in the pursuit of our daily existence and lives. This philosophy did not die with the passage of the Vedic Age – it is still a concept of immense importance and value and is enthroned in the heart of the righteous to this day. If everyone were to make a conscious effort to change their thinking, values and lifestyles for the betterment of civilization as a whole, it would be one step closer to the fulfillment of one’s dharma which in turn leads to good karma and well, what can I say? The cycle continues on and on and on – from here to eternity.