Dharma and Adharma—Śāstra Hermeneutics

Question: How do we understand the story of Pundalika who kept Viṭṭhala waiting until he finished serving his parents? Which was the right dharma? Attending God /atithi or parents?

Also Bhagavad-gītā says that it is better to do one’s own duty even though it appears to have faults than doing others duty perfectly. 

We also have stories like King Ambarīṣa where Durvāsā, who holds Ṛṣi status, is shown to be forgetting a simple injunction “apo ’śnāti tan naivāśitaṁ naivānaśitam.” The same Durvāsā is shown as an expansion of Śiva and on par with Śuka, Nārada, Yājñavalkya, and others. Therefore I do not think we can take things literally from these stories.

Viṣṇudharma explains how Dharmavyādha, a butcher, attained Vaikuṇṭha performing his profession of killing. Superficially, these things appear contradictory. However, these stories teach how a devotee adheres to dharma on ALL occasions.

Answer: I understand your question, but you are missing the point. SB 1.1.2 clearly states that there is dharma and there is parama dharma. It also states that it (SB) rejects all other dharma and establishes parama dharma. SB is the last work of Vyāsa. In other works, which you refer to, Vyāsa has glorified dharma. But this did not satisfy him. Thus he revealed SB. SB speaks of something unknown to people. The gopīs gave up their dharma for supreme dharma ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā bhejur mukunda-padavīṁ (SB 11.47.61). This state is not available even to Lakṣmī – nāyaṁ śriyo ’ṅga u nitānta-rateḥ prasādaḥ (11.47.60).

The examples that you have cited of people attaining Vaikuṇṭha, etc are of vaidhi-bhakti. SB propagates a superior type of bhakti. What you have referred to is glorious and it is not denied but there is something even superior to it. It is called Vraja-bhakti as depicted by the gopīs.

In SB 11.20.9, Kṛṣṇa himself says that karma (meaning dharma) has its limits. Dharma is not an end in itself. Its purpose is also in bhakti. That is the purpose of all rules and regulations – smartavyaḥ satataṁ viṣṇur vismartavyo na jātucit sarve vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ

So Pundalika kept Viṭṭhala waiting. Pundalika was a devotee. Otherwise why did Viṭṭhala come to see him? Viṭṭhala knew what was right for Pundalika. Every devotee has his/her bhāva. Maybe the service to parents was urgent and Viṭṭhala could wait. Or the way the story is told may not be exactly how it happened. We do not know what exactly transpired between him and Viṭṭhala. Maybe Viṭṭhala himself told him to attend to the parents and that He would wait.

As far as the Upaniṣadic statement – dharmam na pramāditavyam, one should not neglect dharma, yes that is true. But it is not saying that parama-dharmam pramāditavyam (neglect parama-dharma). There are general instructions and there are exceptions, sāmānya dharma and viśeṣa dharma. Kṛṣṇa himself asked Arjuna to fight with his teacher and grandfather. So what happened to ācārya devo bhava (treat your teacher like God) and pitru devo bhava (treat your parents like God), which are instructions of the Upaniṣads? He made Yuḍhisthīra tell the lie that Aśvatthāmā was dead. So where is the dharma of being truthful?

This is śāstric hermeneutics. You have to do balābalavicāra – deliberation of the strength of contradictory injunctions. It is not a simple matter of just citing an example or a reference. When there are two opposite instructions one has to consider which one is to be followed. This is what Kṛṣṇa taught on the battlefield. Bhiṣma, Droṇa, Karṇa and Duryodhana were all killed in an adhārmika manner under Kṛṣṇa’s instructions.

A cow and a woman should not be killed. Kṛṣṇa killed Pūtanā, a woman, and He killed vatsāsura, a calf. So is it dharma or adharma? He also killed his maternal uncle, who also falls in the category of guru.

Śāstra gives rules for different types of people, adhikārī, and for different situations. Not everything is applicable to everyone under all circumstances. Therefore it is said that the essence of dharma lies in the heart of great personalities, dharmasya tattvaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ. One has to approach a mahājana to know the secrets of dharma as instructed in śāstra.

 

 

 

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Comments ( 16 )
  1. scooty ram

    Pranam

    This question was asked by me in 2015 and I had responded further to the above reply but babaji seemed to have been busy that time and the discussion was muted.

    Thank you for bringing this up now.

    The basic definition of Dharma as per mimamsa(hermeneutics) is missing in this article. Dharma is another name of krishna and Krishnam(is verily eternal dharma) dharmam sanathanam. Verse 1.1.2 does not imply that vyasa promoted kaitava dharma all along in His works until later he got a satori and wrote an upgraded version or an errata called SB. This would amount to the abrahmic beliefs where the latest prophet would promote a new religion that defies previous prophets’ teachings. This is not a case. Also it is a blasphemy of vyasa to think he was ignorant earlier and attained knowledge like any other mortal. All His works teach the highest good but the amount of stress varies as per the adhikara. Hence even in tamasic purana we see verses glorifying vishnu or devotees.

    One must do upakrama upsamhara to all works(purva and uttara mimamsa) looking at everything(14 vidhyasthanas) as a single flow of text and not just the individual text one by one. Sri Vyasa’s dissatisfaction is to elaborate on the activities of the Lord for people of Kali(just after Krishna’s disappearance from the planet) – This would instill bhakti on all class of people. All those who got liberated before krishna would end up in vaikunta and most sinners of kaliyuga would end up somewhere above vaikiunta(after reading SB) is not a demonstration of causeless mercy but a flaw in creation.

    Verses like tyaktva svadharmam(1.5.17) must be understood in the tone of a parent scolding their son who scored 1st mark in exam but do not respect elders. Respecting elders and scoring fail marks is also of no value. Still respecting elders is a uncompromising character for all children. Intention is to teach the kids the importance of respecting elders. Similarly bhakti is key take home for all jivas in all sastras and one must ensure one does all activities with bhakti , what to speak of nitya and naimittika karma which are injunctions of sastras.With this intention SB was written to stress the aspect of bhakti and obviously there is no better way than listening to the activities of krishna to kindle that bhakti in a person. One derive topmost teaching from SB as much as one can do from Ramayana or MBH. It is the handicap of commentator tobe unable to derive topmost teaching from a text and not handicap of the text itself.

    In my understanding , it is only the case of Gopis that is held by gaudiyas strongly to promote the idea of giving up dharma for bhakti. Bringing up the logic that people doing bhakti with dharma and without dharma end up in vaikunta and goloka resp does not much have sastric basis(in this case SB itself does not say such things).Aspect of giving up lakshmi is seen even in ramayana and many puranic stories to emphasis the greatness of devotion in lord’s devotees.Does not mark of lakshmi lie eternally on krishna’s chest? If not His identity as supreme person or supreme God will not stand and He would be reduced to a human being or a demi-god.

    Even wrt gopis, Jiva goswami has said in 10.22.1 that the unmarried gopis who did katyayani vrata were not of same gotra and in 10.29.10/11it is mentioned that there is some heyAmsa in gopis just like in pUtana. Hence we can see arya dharma is still observed. As I wrote in response to previous article on kolavecha sridhara , it depends on the samskara of the reader on what he is looking for, in sastra. One can pay attention to Caitanya mahaprabhu hugging other varna people and take a lead to break dharma or pay attention to goswamis who did not enter the jagannath mandir. Sastra can be read either way. I agree mahajana’s path is the guide in this case . It is an universal understanding mahajana in the MBH verse indicates Manu dharma sastra.

    In Bhakti sandarbha anucheda 173 where this topic of VA dharma and bhakti is handled, it is explicitly concluded that one must follow dharma starting with taking bath , doing pitr tarpana etc just like how narada and vyasa followed and such practice purifies even the most purified prema bhakta devotees and neophytes just like a person desires to purify gold .To do otherwise is an offense.
    May be a more appropriate question of the day is “Who is performing dharma in first place that he/she is instructed to give up that dharma to attain bhakti” ?

    Hence in practice today , giving up dharma like gopis in the form of – divorce in the name of marrying a devotee , not doing pitru srardha or sandhyavandana on the name of chanting or feeding vaishnavas, not taking care of parents , not paying taxes etc is just a fancy or excuse or bogus and would amount to committing offense on the strength of the holy name.

    Dasan
    PS:Its most likely you wouldnt post this message but since the Qn was from me originally, I am giving a try.

    • Babaji Post author

      Dear Scooty ji, it is beyond the scope of this blog to reply to your long comment, but in short, I would say that you are misunderstanding my reply to the question given here. I am not saying that we have to give up dharma to perform bhakti. I am only saying that bhakti is a superior type of dharma and if there is a conflict betweeen sāmānya dharma and bhakti dharma, then it is the second which takes precedence. I never said one should pitṛ tarpaṇa, sandhyā vandana etc. But if pitṛ tarpaṇa becomes an obstacle to bhakti, it is better to give up pitṛ tarpaṇa than to give up bhakti. That is the definite opinion of the Bhāgavatam. And I am sorry to say that you have not understood Jīva Gosvāmī, although you are quite fond of citing him. But you are right by asking the question:

      > May be a more appropriate question of the day is “Who is performing dharma in first place that he/she is instructed to give up that dharma to attain bhakti” ?

      Therefore there is no question of giving up dharma anyway.

    • scooty ram

      Thank you for responding. It came as a surprise. 🙂

      “But if pitṛ tarpaṇa becomes an obstacle to bhakti, it is better to give up pitṛ tarpaṇa than to give up bhakti. ”
      This is a fundamental flaw, in my understanding , of what is the core aim/genesis of nitya and naimittika karmas. Any karma has a sankalpa and you can find that for all nitya and naimittika karma , the sankalpa is bhagavad/paramaeshvara prItyartham. So how does this in any way impose an obstacle to bhakti ?
      This form of sankalpa is the norm/paddhati for centuries across the bharata varsha. Ofcourse there were times in puranic history where there were sankhya or other vedic school which did not accept god or vishnu but still performed nitya and naimitikka karma. They did not do it to generate priti in bhagavan. Hence when we see SB making statements like 1.5.17, it has those people as target and not people of india today who have the right form of sankalpa designed for all indians. .Today most follow vaidhyanatha dikshitiya work on dharma works across all sampradayas.

      Saying pitr karma can or may pose as an obstacle to bhakti , to me , is like saying sravanam form of bhakti can be an obstacle to kirtanam form of bhakti.This is not the case. When Vishvanatha chakravarti thakur said mutra visarjanam is also bhakti, why not nitya and naimittika karma be given some consideration? Does not nature call or sleep or hunger impose obstacle to chanting/bhakti? When one has forgotten or given desire,thirst, hunger , sleep etc , may be one can say one can give up nitya and naimittika karma. When body is understood as a sadhana(vehicle), then all its needs(eating sleeping etc) are understood as activities performed to attain highest goal, they are upakarma(assistance to main activity).

      Characters in Bhagavatam and rishis have never given up nitya and naimittika karma. Nitya karma purifies even the purified souls. Yes, suka , Jada bharata did not sleep , walked naked.

      Dasan

    • Babaji Post author

      Scooty Ji, why are you so obstinate? Can you not understand what I have written? I have used the word “if”?

      Don’t you know what the word “if” means?

      What is the meaning of the SB verse 1.5.17 beginning with tyaktvā?
      Please explain to me the meaning of this verse and tell me what the words tyaktvā sva-dharmam mean?

    • scooty ram

      Since these are verses in sequences, I will share my understanding from 1.5.15 – To avoid tapatraya, people indulge in dharmic activities, indiced by your advice in Mbh. These will lead them to svarga and they will never think of getting out of trivarga phala but redo same kamya karmas. While you have rightly induced people to follow dharma(kAmya) in Mbh you have not elaborated means to get out of trivarga.
      (reason why dharmic kamya karmas are praised in Mbh is partially answered in the next verse)
      1.5.16 – Ideally only vicakshanah(experts/people in nivritti dharmas)are eligible for knowing about the unlimited Bhagavan.(Hence dharmic kamya karmas are encouraged in Mbh for common public) This being case, you must describe elaborately the glories of Bhagavan to attract the hearts of people who are devoid of knowledge of self/attached in pravritti dharma.
      (To explain position of karma not offered to vishnu as perpetual abhadra and to explain activities of bhakti as perpetual bhadra comes next verse)
      1.5.17 – Having given up dharma(means to attain ones true desires – in this case svarga) if one engages in bhakti and then falls(dies) what is the loss. Bhakti will ensure no abhadra happens. Similar to sucinAm srimatAm gehe verse. Tyaktva means giving up.
      Please note here the dharma is not nitya and naimittika but kamya karmas as per the context set in previous 2 verses. Nitya naimittka does not take one to svarga!
      Dasan

    • Babaji Post author

      Scooty Ji
      The word dharma in verse 1.5.17 has the adjective sva. Do you think sva-dharma can mean kamiya karma?
      How can kamiya-karma be sva-dharma?
      Please read Sridhara Swami’s commentary on this. He clearly uses the words nitty-naimittika-sva-dharma-nistham api anadrtya…
      He has clearly glossed svadharma as nitty-naimittika.
      Moreover, how can you say that nitya-naimittika karma does not lead to heaven? Sridhara Swami has mentioned in the very first sentence of his
      commentary that it leads to heaven and he cites Shruti.
      Otherwise, what is the result of nitya, naimittika karma, if it is not heaven?

    • scooty ram

      1. tyaktva sva-dharma means sva samIhitam phala sAdhanaM tyaktva as per Sri Veeraraghavacharya.

      2. The idea that nitya naimittika leads to svarga is totally wrong. Nitya naimittika does not generate punya(that takes one to svarga) but omission of nitya naimittika generates pApa(that instills suffering). Nitya naimittika karmas never lead one to svarga but helps one eradicate sins.Hence a result of such kind is only accept and not in the form of “attaining” svarga.
      All vidhis that instruct yAgas leading to heaven has its audience as only those who “desire” svarga. For example – svarga kamo yajeta or putra kamo yajeta. Though yajeta is a vidhi , this vidhi is only for svarga/putra kAmis. Hence a person not desiring heaven/son need not do this yAga and not doing it will not bestow sin. However in case of nitya vidhis like snAtva bhunjIta or ahar ahar sandhyAm upAsIta has pratyavAya doshas – not performing leads to sin.
      Let me share something special – Sri Baladeva says nitya naimittika karma assists bhakti in agnihotradikarana 4.1.6. It was an interesting read!
      All kings in Srimad bhagavatam who are praised as maha bhagavatas did elaborate yajnas including purusha medha!

      I am not being eristic but all along It gives an impression that “giving up dharma is the price for prema bhakti(Goloka) while people who do dharma as(and) bhakti will reach vaikunta”
      In india anyone who has no exposure to sastra will have respect for dharma and to say the climax of sastric study is in giving up dharma is akin to mayavadi who say veda is also maya and hence vedic duties are also maya and must be given up!

      Dasan

      3. BG 18.2 by sridhara – “nitya-naimittikAnAm phalAsravanAd”

  2. suchindar

    I happened to go through the above question and the answer provided. Please see below my comments:

    1) Ignoring the basic dharma like serving the parents and saying that I follow the Parama Dharma as suggested in Bagavadam seems to be fanatic.
    2) Though we see Krishna killed Putana (though she is a woman), Krishna asked Arjuna to fight against Drona, Bhisma (against the vedic statements like Acharya Devo Bava), we should not try to interpret these statements superfically, Instead we have to approach and learn it from Acharya.
    3) We hear that Vyasa was not satisifed in writing all other granthas and that after the instructions from Narada he wrote Bagavadam and was completed satisifed. The intention of the above statements in SB is to glorify the Lord’s character and it should not be misinterpreted as all other works done by Vyasa are useless or the works are for people at lower level.

    A Question:
    keeping theory aside would you say if I take diksha and have complete in faith in bhathi (Sastriya Shradda), can I give up the following
    – taking care of my parents,
    – sandhyavandana
    – paying taxes
    – following road safety.
    Which of the above do you think you will ask me to give up and why????

    • Babaji Post author

      I will not ask you to give up any of these, whether you take diksa or you don’t and whether you have faith in bhakti or not.

    • Suchindar

      There is no clarity in your statement on who should do what. If you say that I need not give up any of the above then for whom the SB statement to give up Samanya dharma like nitya karma and take up paramdharma is applicable? Some tells Nirapeksha.If the answer is nirapeksha how do you justify that the actions of nirpeksha like eating or sleeping is better than leaving sandhyavandana or pitrukarma or in fact even chanting. Does that boil down to say it’s better to sleep than doing sandhyavandana or chanting because all activities of nirapeksha constitutes uttama bhakthi? Therefore when you say an adhikari is nirapeksha you cannot simply limit the definition to sastric shradda. You must also explain categorically what are all the do’s and dont’s for a person in every varna and ashrama. Otherwise to say he is nirashrami is like saying he is vagabond. The reason why I’m saying is one day a nirapeksha would like to sleep more, one day he would like to do sandhyavandana, other would like to chant or take care of cows. How do you justify his activities are actually bhakthi? Are there any pramanas for his activities?Some says nirapeksha cannot be limited with in set of rules (charad avidi gocharaha). By saying so we seem to only justify a nirapeksha can probably sleep more or eat more than doing sandhyavandana and still be called uttamabhaktha. Neither bhakthi rasamritha Sindhu gives detail in such level.

  3. Stoka Krsna Dasa

    Thanks Babaji for bringing out the intricacies involved in following Dharma.

    Do the Sastras also give guidelines on as to how to do balaabalavicara?

  4. Bhushan

    Babaji,

    Thanks a lot for the answers. I saw an excellent explanation from the perspective of psychology and astrology (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdlVftd287o&t=2600s). The ideas discussed in the video was that dharma is the essential property of a substance which defines the substance. Humans have all sorts of temporary dharmas arising out of gender, occupation, stage of life and so on. Since consciousness (or atman) is eternal and never changes the dharma of consciousness is Krishna bhakti.

    So wouldn’t shastriya balaabalavicara be all about simply deeply thinking about what would be pleasing to Krishna? In that case if one is following sadhana listed in BRS and if one is unable to follow dharma like pitri tarpana and other dharmic rituals due to ignorance or inability to practice them (I guess many sadhakas including myself have no idea what pitri tarpana is) then is this an offense that is displeasing to Krishna? If it is an offense then do all sadhakas need to study and practice dharma shastras etc along with bhakti?

    Thanks,

    Bhushan

  5. Scooty ram

    Please do not think I am being eristic. It sounds as if those who fight for dharma or hold on to dharma endlessly would be bereft of Prema bhakti and that giving up dharma is the price for Prema!

    I understand that the language of sanksrit has different styles and word yadi can imply an impossibility in the verse 1.5.17 but matter on hand is not such nuances but what impression the readers of the article gets.I do not want to engage in verse by verse correspondence. That is not my interest.

    Does this promote dharma or adharma. To say dharma is different from parama dharma is a not so direct approach.

    Being obstinate without proper knowledge, to only praise dharma is a quality that attracts pure souls.

    Dasan

    • Babaji Post author

      I am not promoting adharma, nor am I prescribing to give up dharma. I am just explaining the difference between dharma and parama dharma as explained in SB.
      But you seem to be bent on refuting what SB clearly says in the very beginning (verse no 1.1.2) and continues to propound in rest of the book.
      SB has a special purpose as far as we are concerned. It is not just propounding nitya karma or niskama karma.
      This is the understanding of our sampradaya and it may be different from your sampradaya. Probably, that is the reason that Sri Ramanujacarya did not refer to SB.

      I am not saying you are obstinate because you stick to dharma, but because you refuse to accept what SB says and try to misinterpret that giving up dharma
      is a prerequisite for bhakti.

    • Scooty ram

      It would be interesting to know the source of “Probably, that is the reason that Sri Ramanujacarya did not refer to SB”. Did goswamis say so?

      To say SB stood distinct because of varying from all other vedic scriptures is only making it least credible and not in anyway unique. upakrama upasamhara is key.

      Bhagavad Ramanuja did not quote from SB is like saying before him nobody knew Brahma sutra since Bhagavad Ramanujas commentary is the first known commentary to Brahma sutra.

      Please refer Sri veeraraghavacharyas commentary on all verses including 1.1.2 and you can see flow of text without contradicting previous verses. Much different from praising srimad bhagavatam first sloka as Gayatri and immediately saying chanting Gayatri is kaitava dharma.

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