We often encounter situations where we would not be sure
whether our decision or action is right or wrong.
Our sense of rightness will tell us to do something.
But the situation may require us to do a contrary thing –
which we would not like to do.
And there may be situations -as I explained in the previous post on parents,
where we may not be convinced to act in a particular way,
but dharmic stance would require that we should not act against them (parents / others).
Acting or not acting in a particular way would invite reactionary karma
that we may not be exactly sure of the dharma of our actions or non-actions.
This is what is known as ‘dharma-shankatam” –
a shankat to dharma-
a dilemma in dharma!
To understand this, we have some popular instances from
Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
(1) Honoring the words of the parent is
the supreme dharma (pithru vakhya pariphalan).
Rama did that.
But Bharata did not listen to his mother’s words
of taking up the reign of the kingdom.
Didn’t he slip in his dharma by not honoring his mother’s words?
(2) The brother is supreme - next only to father.
When Rama went to forest, Sumitra directed Lakshmana
to follow the brother as a father.
But Vibheeshana deserted his brother Ravana
and even revealed the secrets of Lanka to help Rama win Lanka.
Didn’t he commit a travesty of Dharma by doing that?
(3) A similar accusation can be said of Sugreeva
who plotted and killed his brother.
Was that dharmic?
(4) Were the Pandavas right in keeping silent
when Draupadi was dis-robed?
Whatever be the constraint in having lost the game,
was it dharmic not to stop the humiliation heaped on Draupadi?
Analyzing these popular issues,
let me surf through the implications of
what constitutes dhrama in a particular instance
and what must be done in a controversial or conflicting situation
and how one must analyze the situation
as to arrive at the ideal dharmic option.
The basis of any action or karma is two-fold that determines
whether an action or karma
is dharmic or adharmic.
One is swadharma vs shreyas
and the other is swadharma vs preyas.
Swadharma is what one must do due to his nature.
Shreyas is what is good for others / a large section of people.
Preyas is what is liked by –good for oneself.
When Swadharma and shreyas go together and
match with each other, then dharma is in place.
When they don’t go together, conflicts arise.
The resultant action may be in tune with only one of these two
or one is done at the expense of the other.
For example the swadharma of a soldier is to fight.
If he fights (takes up arms) for the country it is for shreyas.
That is dharmic.
If he takes up arms to settle scores with some one or
without orders from High command,
then that is for preyas.
That is adharmic.
Texts declare (Katohpanishad)
that shreyas and preyas are the two factors
that control a man in his actions.
Whether he likes it or not or
whether he is ready for it or not,
the man is faced with an inevitable situation of
adhering to one of these two at any given situation.
A ‘dheeran’ understands the difference
between the two and adheres to shreyas.
But a ‘mUdan’ allows himself to be pulled by preyas
thereby slipping out of Purushartham (Kato –2-1 &2-2)
Applying this distinction in the situations given above,
let us see what comes up.
(1) Noble Bharata did not observe the injunction "matru devo bhava"
and chided his mother Kaikeyi using abusive words,
for sending Rama to the forest thereby
also causing the death of Dasaratha.
The swadharma of Bharatha as son of Kaikeyi
Requires him to abide by whatever she says.
He did not follow swadharma in this situation
but that can not be termed as adharmic.
Let us think of the situation like this –
that Bharatha had been very much in Ayodhya
when kaikeyi caught hold of this plan.
Assuming that Bahratha had come to know of her intentions
Even before she could reveal it to Dhasharatha,
what his swadharma had been like?
I don’t think he would have accepted kaikeyi’s plan.
His swadharma as her son requires him
to counsel her in the right ways.
He would have certainly prevailed upon her and
changed her mind.
Perhaps sensing that he would play a spoil sport,
destiny had him removed from the scene
to enable Ramavathara - purpose to happen.
Now he had come back and come to know
what damage his mother had done.
His swadharma in the action of counseling in the former situation
had changed into chiding her.
In the former situation (hypothetical) too
he had stuck to what is good for all (shreyas) and
in the latter condition too he had stuck to shreyas.
His swadharma did not suffer on any account,
for, he has only acted in the best way (in chiding her)
that would do good to his mother
(since his swadharma constitutes in bringing glory to his mother
and not dis-repute which would have happened
if he had agreed to his mother’s plans).
There was no conflict in the choice of shreyas and preyas for Bharatha
for whom both merged together in having desired
the crown to go to Rama.
There was no conflict in his swadharma and shreyas for him
(it was for Kaikeyi only)
in this sense (mentioned above)
and there is conflict as well,
if going against mother’s wish is against swadharma.
But Bharatha stuck to shreyas unwaveringly.
(2)In the next example, Vibhishana deserted his brother Ravana
and joined his enemy Rama.
But Kumbakarna didn’t, though he too thought that
Ravana was not right.
Kumbakarna decided to stick to his swadharma,
while Vibheeshna failed in it.
He saw greater good in saving Rakshasas and their kingdom
from complete destruction on account
of the mis-deed of their king.
He saw justification in the war on Rama’s side
and not on Ravana’s side.
Where there is justification, there is dharma.
And dharma is what is to be protected and sustained.
So vibheeshana too gave priority to shreyas.
(3) In the example on Sugreeva,
Sugreeva plotted and succeeded in killing his brother Vali,
taking the help of Rama.
But there is no conflict of any nature in this case.
Sugreeva plotted and killed Vali.
So too Vali who can be accused of having denied
Sugreeva any share in kingdom and
in driving his brother out of kingdom.
The same with reference to taking possession of each other’s wife
in the other’s absence.
So the question of dharma or adharma must lie elsewhere.
Before he concludes the series of accusations on Rama
after he was hit, Vali says that
it is perfectly legitimate for Sugreeva
to have aspired for the kingdom and in having plotted to kill him
to get that kingdom.
Such was the legitimacy conferred on kings of
yore whose main job was to expand their kingdom.
But the dharma angle comes at another place –
in why Rama waited for a day to kill Vali and
allowed Sugreeva to be hit badly by Vali on the first day.
It is difficult to believe that Rama had difficulty in
identifying who is who.
He need not have to be present in the scene.
He could have just sent the astra from any place.
That would have hit Vali precisely.
But that he decided to allow Sugreeva suffer
at Vali’s hands in the first day, can have one explanation.
Rama would have either thought that
Sugreeva needed some kind of punishment –
like some impediment in the path of Rama
in helping him which must be removed –
or he had not yet made up his mind
who is more culpable in the offence for which he killed Vali
(refer “The symbolism of Vali vadam”
Both Vali and Sugreeva had known that Sita had been abducted
and both had not taken any effort to prevent the abduction.
One way of looking at Rama’s
deliberate letting of Sugreeva to suffer on the first day is that
he did not want to let go Sugreeva
who had actually seen the abduction.
Sugreeva may think that he is an a-shakthan (powerless)
to prevent Ravana.
No, that can not be accepted.
Even if some one is getting killed in front of one’s eyes,
the witness is expected to do something,
atleast scream and alert others and do
something to prevent the crime.
Claiming himself to be an a-shakthan,
Sugreeva let Ravana safely cross Kishkintha.
Inspite of being a shakthan (powerful),
Vali, let that happen unchallenged.
Depending on the extent and nature of the offence,
each one of them faced respective punishments.
Vali failed both in swadharma and shreyas –
the former in failing to challenge the offence in his capacity as king,
that went past his territory and
the latter in having failed to install the Ikshvaku-Raj-dharma
(refer the previously quoted post in this blog.)
(4) And now about Pandava brothers.
The Pandava brothers restrained themselves
due to the Rules of contract and raja dharma and
did nothing to stop the humiliation done to
their wife Draupadi in open court.
A clear case of ignoring shreyas happened
earlier to this - which can be termed as
the root cause of this event.
Yudhishtra agreeing meekly to play the
dice-game at the first instance
and again at the second instance
may be in tune with his swadharma
(in having to abide by the King’s decree)
but not in the interests of shreyas.
He just ignored to weigh the invitation to play as against
the probable consequences in the first instance
and refused to fall on shreyas (knowing well what is in store)
in the second instance.
And now the most important of all –
the well –known instance from Mahabharatha.
Arjuna at first turned against waging war with the kauravas
(against his swadharma),
because of the Dharmic rule against killing one's own kin and guru
but later, on Krishna's advice,
took active part in the war and killed his
close relatives and gurus.
His swadharma is to fight the war.
His preyas dictated that he must not fight against relatives.
But shreyas is that though they are relatives
they have to be fought against, as they sided with unjust cause.
This is a very clear instance of shreyas
falling in line with swadharma.
When they go together, dharma is established and
it is glory all the way for the one in the situation.
Whenever the conflict between the two had occurred
(like in Vibheeshana’s case),
the process of arriving at the right decision (shreyas)
had been wrought with dilemmas of sorts.
Here a question comes ,-
is this what Krishna, the Gitacharyan says?
He has not just once but twice said that swadharma,
though ill-done is better than para-dharma. (verses
3-35 & 18-47- shreyan swadharmo viguna:)
So why think about shreyas?
A deeper analysis of the verses give some insight.
To understand this, let us see the issues like this.
Gita talks about 3 phases of swadharma.
First there is a swabhava (18-41)
arising from Tri-gunas.
From swabhava arises swakarma
which is what the person does
in consonance with his nature (swabhava)
(BG-18-47 “swabhava niyatham karma)
Doing swakarma steadfastly is swadharma. (18-47)
Why does the Lord insist on swadharma
even if it is of ill-nature?
This question gives rise to another question.
What if the person’s swadharma is of bad and demonic nature
(like what Ravana did)?
Is it right then to allow the person to continue in that swabhava?
The first question is answered from
Ramanujacharya’s point of view.
He says when one clings to swadharma,
he is doing something that is of his nature and
easy to perform.
Even if it is defective,
it is ‘free from liability to interruption and fall’.
This is known as karma yoga.
“ For a person who lives practicing Karma yoga –
which is his duty because he is qualified for it-
even death without success in one birth does not matter.
For, in the next birth with the help of experience
already gained in the previous birth,
it will be possible for him to perform Karma yoga
without any impediments.” (Gita bhashyam 3-35)
That is why the Lord says
‘stick to swadharma even if it has sprung
from defective nature.’
To reply to the second question,
for average persons like us
the Lord indicates in chapter 16
what kind of divine qualities and demonic qualities are there to follow.
A thorough adherence to divine qualities and
A conscious shedding of demonic qualities w
ill help us shape our swabhava (nature) for the better.
If we don’t turn our minds from demonic qualities,
He is sure to doom us into demon-hood further.
Ravana didn’t change his demonic qualities.
So his swadharma just stuck to him.
His refusal to look other way came as an impediment
in seeing what is shreyas for him and his race.
No Hitopadesam from anyone worked,
the reason for which is traced to his swabhava.
Vibheeshana was able to see shreyas and
escaped terrible fate.
The presence of divine qualities in him helped him in this.
From the Lord’s words on swadharma
it may be construed that He favours only swadharma
at the expense of shreyas.
No, this is where He expects us
think and proceed.
In 2-31, He brings out a qualitative attribute to swadharma.
A war that is
“dharmyaath “ is greater.
“There is no greater good
than a righteous war.”
In such a war, Arjuna,
you should not waver from your swadharma.
Again in 2-33, He says,
” if you don’t fight this righteous war,
you will be turning away from your
swadharma and honoured position
and will be incurring sin.”
Thus He adds this ‘righteous’ or ‘dharma’ clause
The same swadharma (to fight) applies to Kauravas too
but He didn’t ask them to fight.
Instead He asked them to relent.
Because any war that
they were planning to wage would not be dharmic.
He advised Yudhishtra to give a go-by to his swadharma,
though temporarily, to eliminate Drona,
because only then dhrama can be established
(Here shreyas has been given precedence).
Bheeshma failed to make such temporary amends with his swadharma
( and allowed shreyas to take a beating)
and so he saw the down fall of the Hastinapur throne
which he avowed to safe-guard, right in front of his eyes.
Karna stuck to his swadharma and perhaps overcame
what Raamanuja says as impediments.
Coming to our lives, our focus can be like this.
Be aware of our swabhava.
Follow the divine qualities and shed demonic ones.
When the situation presents a conflict between
swadharma and shreyas, follow shreyas.
A dharmaic shreyas requires one to follow or
shed swadhrama accordingly.
Shreyas takes precedence, not swadharma.
This situation may be very difficult to follow.
In all those actions (and in every action too)
Follow equi-distance from pleasure and pain,
success and defeat and
profit and loss. (2-38, sukha-dhukkhe..)
In that way the Lord assures that we are relieved of paapam.
Such sama-dhrushti ultimately helps one to renounce
sarva-dharman whereby we are required to shed even
When that level is attained we will automatically find
ourselves at the feet of the Lord.
We will become only
the ‘nimittham’ (instrument) (BG 11-33) in His hands.
The doership, doing and results would be His, not
Thus the “maam yekam sharanam vraja”
has its beginning in swabhava,
then swadharma and lastly
but not at the least in shreyas.
When we cling to shreyas, the Lord is pleased.
Shreyas is dhrama and
dharma is what the Lord is terribly obsessed with!!!