An Excerpt from the 1st chapter, ‘What is Dharma’, from ‘Dharma Vahini’, by Bhagwan Sri Sathya Sai Baba
People must dedicate themselves to dharma (righteous conduct/living) and always be engaged in dharma, so that they may live in peace and the world may enjoy peace. One cannot acquire real peace, nor can one win the grace of the Lord, through any means other than the dharmic life. Dharma is the foundation for the welfare of humanity; it is the truth that is stable for all time. When dharma fails to transmute human life, the world is afflicted by agony and fear and tormented by stormy revolutions. When the effulgence of dharma fails to illumine human relationships, humanity is shrouded in the night of sorrow.
God is the embodiment of dharma; His grace is won by dharma. He is ever fostering dharma. He is ever establishing dharma. He is dharma itself. The Vedas, scriptures (sastras), epics (Puranas), and traditional accounts (ithihasas) proclaim aloud the glory of dharma.
In the scriptures of the various religions, dharma is elaborated in language familiar to the adherents. The duty of everyone, everywhere, and at all times is to pay homage to the personification of dharma (Dharma-Narayana).
The stream of dharmic activity should never run dry; when it’s cool waters cease to flow, disaster is certain. Humanity has reached this stage only because dharma, like the river Saraswathi, flows unseen below the ground, feeding the roots and filling the springs. Not only humanity but even birds and beasts have to adhere to dharma so that they may be happy and survive in comfort and joy.
Therefore, the waters of dharma have to be kept flowing perpetually and fully, so that the world might enjoy happiness. Disaster now dances madly on the world stage, because right is neglected and there is disbelief in the essentials of dharmic life. So, one has to understand clearly the very heart of dharma.
What is meant by dharma? What is the essence of dharma? Can common people lead a happy life and survive if they stick to dharma? Naturally, these doubts confuse the mind in the course of life. Solving them is necessary, even urgent.
As soon as dharma is mentioned, the ordinary person takes it to mean: giving alms, feeding and providing lodging to pilgrims, adherence to one’s traditional profession or craft, law-abiding nature, discrimination between right and wrong, the pursuit of one’s innate nature over the freaks of one’s own mind, the fruition of one’s fondest desires, and so on.
Of course, it is a long, long time since the spotless countenance of dharma was tarnished beyond recognition. Beautiful fields and groves run wild with neglect and soon become unrecognizable bush land and thorny jungle; fine trees are hewn by greedy people, and the shape of the landscape is changed. With the passage of time, people get accustomed to the new state of things and don’t notice the transformation, the decline. This has also happened to dharma.
Everyone has to acquaint himself with the outlines of dharma, expounded in the Vedas, scriptures (sastras), and Puranas. Misunderstood by incompetent intelligence, unbridled emotion, and impure reasoning, these works have been grossly diluted, and their glory has suffered grievously. Just as raindrops from the clear blue sky get coloured and contaminated when they fall on the soil, the unsullied message of the ancient sages (rishis), the example of their shining deeds, and the bright untarnished urges behind their actions are all turned into ugly caricatures of their original grandeur by uncultured interpreters and scholars.
Books written for children contain illustrations to clarify the text, but the children spend their time with the pictures, forgetting what they are intended to clarify. In the same way, the unwary and the uneducated mistake the rituals, which are designed to illustrate the grand truths, as profoundly real in themselves and ignore the truth that they were meant to elucidate. Travellers moving along the road, rest for a while in wayside shelters, but during their stay, they damage by neglect or misuse the very structure that gives them rest. So too, the dull and perverse alter the very face of Vedic morality and deceive the world into believing that their handiwork is what the Vedas teach!
When such mauling of dharma took place, when the face of dharma suffered disfigurement at the hands of the enemies of God, the Lord responded to the call of the gods and the godly and saved the world from ruin, by restoring right and truth in the field of dharma and karma, i.e. in both ideal and practice.
Now, who can cure the present blindness? Man has to slay the six-fold beast of inner enemies (arishadvarga) that lead him on to disaster: lust, anger, greed, delusion, pride, and hate. Thus only can dharma be restored.
Whoever subdues egotism, conquers selfish desires, destroys bestial feelings and impulses, and gives up the natural tendency to regard the body as the self, that person is surely on the path of dharma; that person knows that the goal of dharma is the merging of the wave in the sea, the merging of the self in the Over-self.
In all worldly activities, be careful not to offend propriety or the canons of good nature; do not play false to the promptings of the inner voice; be prepared at all times to respect the appropriate dictates of conscience; watch your steps to see whether you are in someone else’s way; be ever vigilant to discover the truth behind all this scintillating variety. This is your entire duty, your dharma. The blazing fire of wisdom (jnana), which convinces you that all this is Brahman (sarvam khalvidam Brahmam), will consume into ashes all traces of your egotism and worldly attachment. You must become intoxicated with the nectar of union with Brahman; that is the ultimate goal of dharma and of action (karma) inspired by dharma.
“Sacrifice ignorance (a-jnana) and ego (ahamkara) at the altar of wisdom (jnana) and install dharma therein”; this is the message of the Vedas. Every single unselfish act that prepares the ground for the merging of the soul with the Over-Soul, that broadens the vision toward the basic Brahman immanent everywhere, is a dharmic act. Each such act is a tiny stream that swells the river of holiness rushing toward the sea of knowledge of Brahman. Your acts and activities are all rituals in the worship of the highest Atma, which pervades the universe. Whatever is done in an attitude of dedication and surrender is a component of the dharma that leads to realization. The strategy of the Indian (Bharathiya) way of life is directed towards the sanctification of every movement and every thought, word, and deed into a step towards that realisation.