• 08 Jun, 2023

The Satyameva Dialogues (5)

The Satyameva Dialogues (5)

The Satyameva Dialogues consist of a series of conversations with various teachers and practitioners of Vedanta and spiritual Yoga. The present series is a dialogue on the Bhagavad Gita recorded over a period of several months.

These conversations, spread over many months, reflect many moods and thoughts. We have tried to retain, as far as editorially possible, the original bhava and flavor of the conversations as originally recorded. — Editors.  


Dialogue 5: Dharma

M: The Kurukshetra battle is called the dharmayuddha — the battle for dharma. At one level, I know this refers to the battle between the righteous and the unrighteous where the Pandavas represent the righteous and the Kauravas the unrighteous. But I’m sure that it goes far deeper than that. This is a battle for which Sri Krishna himself has to incarnate on earth — Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata, abhyuthanam-adharmasya tadatmanam srijamyaham.[1] Can you talk about the dharma at stake in this battle of the ages, Acharyaji?

AN: But, first of all, what do we understand by the word dharma?

M: The true, the right, the just. That which is in harmony and order, the underlying law of all things and beings. It derives from the Sanskrit root dhri which means to uphold, support. So dharma is that which upholds or supports all existence.

AN: And what is it that upholds and supports dharma?

M: Is it not truth itself that upholds and supports dharma? For without truth, there is no dharma.

AN: And what would that truth be, Manu? The truth that upholds and supports dharma itself?

M: The Divine?

AN: Yes, the Divine, the absolute Sat, Narayan Himself. Finally, it is upon Sri Krishna that truth and dharma rest. Sri Krishna bears in himself this whole cosmic manifestation, and he is within it as well as Ishwara, the immanent Divine. As he himself says, matsthani sarvabhutani na caham tesvavasthitah — all existences are situated in Me, not I in them.[2]  

M: Dharma, then, is an expression of the Divine’s Truth in manifestation?

AN: Dharma is very subtle, Manu, and cannot be so easily caught in mental formulae. After deep meditation and reflection have the seers come to the true understanding of dharma.

M: Please explain some of it, Acharyaji.

AN: I shall try. To understand dharma, you must first understand three other aspects of our cosmic existence: Satyam, Ritam, Brihat. Satyam, [3] of course, is the Divine Truth in the manifestation or creation; Satyam is the manifestation of Sat, the absolute existent. If Sat is being, then satyam is the truth of being. But satyam is immutable and eternal — what our seers call sanatan. It is the bedrock upon which dharma rests. Are you with me so far?

M: Yes; dharma rests on satyam, the immutable and eternal truth of Sat, the Divine Existent, Narayan himself.

AN: But for dharma to become dynamic in the universe, in life and mind, it must have a creative and evolutionary aspect too. That creative and evolutionary aspect of dharma is ritam. [4] As ritam, dharma evolves with the growth of consciousness — the higher and wider the consciousness, the clearer and stronger the dharma. In this sense, dharma is the force of satyam working itself out in the relative and subjective conditions of the manifest universe.

M: So, in its satyam aspect, dharma is the immutable and eternal law of the universe, and in its ritam aspect, it is the force working itself out in the evolution of life and mind. Am I right, Acharyaji?

AN: Yes, so far so good.

M: What is then the third aspect you mentioned — brihat?

AN: Vast — that is what the word means. Brihat is the ever-expanding, all-comprehensive vastness of Sat. From the Sanskrit root brih which means ‘to expand’.

M: Brih is also the root sound of Brahman?

AN: Precisely. Brahman is the infinite vast, that which ever-expands. So, in a fundamental sense, this cosmic existence is itself the brihat of the Divine. So, satyam and ritam are related to brihat: can you have satyam, which is absolute, immutable, eternal, without the brihat? Can you think of satyam limited by any boundary whatsoever?

M: No, if satyam is Sri Krishna’s truth of being, how can it not be vast, all-comprehensive?

AN: In the Vedas it is said that he who wishes to manifest Truth must be vast as well: if one is not vast, how can one hold or manifest Truth? To live or express Sat, which is the sole Reality, one must be vast, brihat. Only an all-comprehending consciousness can embody and express Truth.

M: Therefore, satyam and brihat!

AN: And when in the brihat consciousness one knows and sees satyam, that seeing itself becomes ritam, or truth in expression and action — the law, the dharma. Do you see it now? When Sat, or the sole reality, is expressed in its all-comprehensive truth and force in expression and action, then dharma manifests. That is the true meaning of dharma — the expression of the all-comprehensive truth of the Divine Sat in action and evolution, which is ritam. Thus, dharma is satyam-ritam manifesting in brihat as the perfect action. It is that perfect action which is the objective of the karmayoga of the Gita.

M: Quite easily beyond human capacity for humans are small, petty, limited, fallible…

AN: We are small and petty, and therefore, limited and fallible. The aim is to expand, become larger, wider, deeper — to move towards brihat, or towards Brahman. The true meaning of the brahmin: he or she who moves towards Brahman, towards brihat; he or she who is ever-widening, ever-deepening, ever-heightening.

M: Or, in other words, one who is becoming more and more conscious of Truth and its vastness?

AN: Yes, for vastness is the essential condition for the truth-consciousness to manifest.

M: This truth-consciousness is what Sri Aurobindo calls the gnostic consciousness, vijnana?

AN: Yes, vijnana is the truth-consciousness. The highest objective of all yoga, even the yoga of the Gita, is to become one with vijnana, to identify with the Truth and live it in mind, life and body — that is Sri Aurobindo’s great purna or integral Yoga.

M: But Acharyaji, can the human, genetically designed for a safe, separate existence in a bag of skin, ever become Truth-conscious?

AN: One has to first become conscious of oneself in the ‘bag of skin’ as you call it! One has to grow conscious of being something or someone which is not just skin, skeleton and blood… or even thought, emotion and volition.

M: That would demand a lot of yogic practice?

AN: Or knowledge — knowledge that arises out of deep reflection and meditation, out of sustained atma-vichara: what am I? Who am I? Slowly, one will grow conscious of a self deeper within that is neither  matter nor mind.

M: The spiritual and the psychic self?

AN: Yes. That is the first stage of the expansion, Sir. As one widens, heightens and deepens, the sense of body and the identification with form and personality fall away like dead skin.

M: And then?

AN: Then one widens into a cosmic consciousness and learns to live there as naturally and comfortably as one lives in the present egoistic consciousness. As we grow in cosmic consciousness, we outgrow the ego and the person, even as the adult outgrows the adolescent. What Sri Krishna finally demands of Arjuna is that truth-consciousness: that he becomes a conscious instrument of the Divine’s truth-consciousness, Rta-chit. It is upon that rta-chit that a dharmic world-order can be established.

M: I think I understand the true significance of dharma, Acharyaji, but what of adharma?

AN: In a more practical and dynamic sense, one may regard dharma as that which ascends, expands and widens towards satyam-ritam-brihat, and any contrary movement away from satyam-ritam-brihat, any movement of life or consciousness that falls back towards the ego, or refuses to rise from the ego, may be regarded as adharma. In a more yogic language, dharma is urdhvagati [5] and adharma is adhogati: [6]  

M: So, as I understand it, dharma pulls the consciousness upward, towards the higher chakras, and adharma keeps the consciousness tied to the lower chakras or tends to fall back towards them?

AN: True, dharma tends to expand into a cosmic consciousness and adharma tends to shrink into the ego-consciousness. These are the only two movements, Sir — the upward-going, progressive, expansive; or the downward-moving, the regressive, the narrowing and self-limiting.

M: So, in the context of the Gita and the dharmayuddha?

AN: Urdhvagati is our heavenward ascent into brihat and adhogati is our fall into the hellhole of selfishness, deceit, insincerity, greed and lust. One is the path of dharma, the other, of adharma.

M: So this is the eternal choice that Arjuna is given on the battlefield?

AN: This is the only choice, Sir. The upward path that drives the evolution of life and consciousness on earth, and the downward spiral into ignorance and illusion. Dharma is the invocation of the deva, the radiant, the divine, and adharma is the invocation of the dark, the asura, the undivine.

M: What exactly is this dark? How can dark be when all is Light?

AN: All is not yet Light.

M: But — Vasudeva sarvam iti?

AN: That is the param satyam, the supreme truth, but not yet manifest in the universe, in life and mind: we are still evolving; there is much work to be done, many battles to be fought. The asura is a force of evolution, just as the deva is. It is the battle between the deva and the asura that determines the direction of the evolution; if the asura wins, the earth-evolution moves towards the dark night of the soul, and if the daivic [7] wins, the earth-evolution moves towards Light and radiance of the supreme, jyotih parasya.

M: Therefore the tremendous significance of the Kurukshetra battle for which Sri Krishna himself has to take human birth?

AN: Yes, sir; and the battle is quite evenly poised. Both of these, the daivic and the asuric, [8] are equally strong tendencies or possibilities in each of us, and, at any moment, in any circumstance, one can go either way. The rahasya of the Gita, with Sri Krishna, the Divine Master, himself as the Guide, occurs precisely when Arjuna is poised delicately between the two ends of the consciousness-spectrum: he can rise into dharma as easily as he can fall into adharma.

M: Even for the best of us, this is always an extremely subtle and difficult choice. Our inner Arjuna, facing a myriad dharmic dilemmas, tends to fall too easily and too frequently into adharma. All bodies, as our physics tells us, tend to fall earthwards.

AN: And each time our inner Arjuna makes the choice of dharma, we move against the law of gravity and must fight against its ubiquitous pull. I think this is enough for today, Sir!

1. The Gita, 4. 7-8: यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत । अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥ परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् । धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥ — Whenever virtue subsides and wickedness prevails, I manifest Myself. To establish virtue, to destroy evil, to save the good I come from age (yuga) to age. (Tr.: Swami Vivekananda.)     

2. The Gita, 9.4: मया ततमिदं सर्वं जगदव्यक्तमूर्तिना । मत्स्थानि सर्वभूतानि न चाहं तेष्ववस्थितः॥ By Me, all this universe has been extended in the ineffable mystery of My being; all existences are situated in Me, not I in them. (Sri Aurobindo)     

3. From Sat (सत्), Existence or Reality. Sat forms one of the terms of the triune reality of Sat-chit-ananda, Existence-Consciousness-Delight.     

4. Ritam/rtam or rta (/ˈrɪtə/;) ऋत / ऋतम्, cosmic order, underlying truth or law of being and becoming. The word is derived from the root ri which signifies movement: to move, rise or tend upward.     

5. Urdhvagati (ऊर्ध्वगति), from urdhva meaning upward and gati meaning movement: upward soaring, heavenward.     

6. Adhogati (अधोगति) from adhas meaning downward and gati, movement: downward going, towards degeneration, relapse.     

7.Of the devas, of Light and radiance; sattvic; divine.     

8. Of the asura, or of darkness and regress; tamasic; undivine.     

Acharya Nirankar

A practitioner and teacher of Vedanta who prefers to write and speak anonymously. A teacher, in the dharmic tradition, is known as 'Acharya'.

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