The excellent significance of dharma, (a human being’s spiritual and scared function), is now a well know term throughout the world. It is very logical to ask,
“What is dharma specifically”?
The proliferation of India’s Vedic literatures in modern times, has produced many interpretations of what this word means. Let us look at typical definition of dharma from the American Heritage Dictionary, which I have on my computer:
“Dharma is the principle or law, that orders the universe, or which guides individuals conduct in conformity with this principle. Dharma specifies individual obligations with respect to caste, social custom, civil law, and sacred law”.
Some logical questions can now be asked.
- What is the true constitutional dharma of the jivas/souls?
- Why do different teachers explain the nature of dharma in such diverse ways?
- Some of these explanations are contradictory, ambiguous, or paradoxical. So why do these different teachers preach his/her particular version of dharma, as being the only true dharma?
- Is it possible that there is actually just one dharma being the source of all other interpretations, or descriptions of this one dharma?
- If dharma is one, why do not all learned teachers agree and cultivate that one universal dharma, which is without a second?
- Is there a dharma, that can be considered as being eternal, a dharma that always exists, always has been, is now, and always will be?
This was my confusion, and I am sure many of you also have contemplated this. If you have not; then the following could save you lots of personal investigation. I shall describe to you the principles of dharma as far as my knowledge allows.
An object is called a vastu; that which has existence, or which is self-evident; an object, a thing.
Its “eternal nature” is known as its nitya-dharma, and fundamental constitution. An object’s nature arises from its elementary structure.
By Krishna’s desire, when an object is formed, and brought into existence, a particular nature is inherent in that structure, and is permanent. That particular nature of the object is eternal.
In other words, the innate nature of all living entities, its occupational activity is eternal.
The nature of a given object, becomes altered, transformed, or distorted; when a change takes place within it; either by force of circumstance, or due to contact with other objects.
With the passage of time, this distorted nature becomes stable and fixed; it then appears to be permanent, as if it were the eternal nature of that object. This distorted nature is not the true nature; it is called,
“that nature which is acquired through long-term association.”
Consequently, this distorted nature, occupies the place of the factual nature, and becomes identified, (miss-identified), as the true nature.
For example, water is an object, and its true nature is liquidity. When water solidifies, due to certain circumstances, for example, atmospheric temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit at Sea level, and becomes ice. The acquired nature of solidity takes the place of its inherent nature of liquidity. In reality, this acquired nature is not eternal; rather, it is occasional, or temporary. Therefore, it can be said that it arises because of some cause, and when that cause is no longer effective, for example, atmospheric temperature lower than 32 degrees Fahrenheit at Sea level, this acquired nature vanishes automatically.
The true nature being eternal; it may become distorted. The true nature remains inseparably connected to its object, and the original nature will certainly become evident again, when the proper time and circumstances arise.
The true nature of an object is its nitya-dharma, (eternal function); while it is acquired, nature, is called naimittika-dharma (occasional function).
Those who have true knowledge of objects, (vastu-jnana), can know the difference between eternal and occasional function, whereas those who lack this knowledge consider acquired nature to be true nature, and they consequently mistake the temporary acquired nature, for eternal nature.