Sadhguru uses incidents from the Mahabharat to explore what dharma is, and how one can live according to dharma.
Sadhguru: Krishna spent a lifetime wanting to establish dharma. Many things went his way and to some extent, he did create what he wanted. Many things did not go the way he wanted, and people started interpreting and misinterpreting dharma according to their own ideas.
Many people brought this question up in Krishna’s life. When Draupadi was supposed to get married, Krishna did everything to see that she got married to the five Pandava brothers, and Draupadi questioned him, “Do you know what dharma is?” Or when Krishna told Bhima, “Leave Hastinapur to Duryodhana. Let’s build a new city,” Bhima said, “You are a traitor. I want to kill Duryodhana. You are telling me to leave this kingdom to him and go and build another kingdom somewhere else, from scratch? What do you know about dharma?” Similar questions came from Arjuna and many others. People questioned Krishna, “Do you really know what dharma is?” I will not go into the individual, detailed answers that he gave, but in general, Krishna admitted, “Even I do not know what dharma is in terms of action right now, because action is subject to situations. However we judge it, we could be slightly off the mark when it comes to the external situation. But when it comes to my swadharma (one’s own duty in life), I am 100% clear about how I should be within me.”
Swadharma and Dharma
No intelligent human being is ever 100% clear about how to act; he always weighs it. Only a fool or a fanatic is 100% clear. Whatever we do, our very existence, our eating, living, and breathing here is an injustice to some other life form, if you look at it from their point of view. If you eat, you kill. If you breathe, you kill. If you walk, you kill. So if you don’t want to do all that and you kill yourself, still you kill. No action in the world is 100% right or 100% wrong. You just have to consider the larger good that you create with your actions and perform them accordingly.
Dharma is just about how you are within yourself. If you are in a state of all-inclusiveness, you will act according to your intelligence, according to the situation. If you are not in a state of inclusion, if you are in a state of “you versus me,” everything that you do is wrong. You cannot do anything right because your very existence is wrong because you have made it “you versus me.”
Krishna’s whole life was a demonstration of just this: There was no “you and me,” it was “me and me” or “you and you.” Whether he was with the gopis, or he was acting as a statesman, or he was teaching the Gita, the message was always the same: of inclusion. Once there is only “me and me,” action is just a question of situation and judgment. No action can be 100% right or 100% wrong. But as Krishna always insisted, and as I have been insisting all the time about swadharma, you can have 100% clarity in how to be within yourself.
Dharma and the Child of the Demon
It once happened that Krishna met a group of people, and each one came up to him and said what they saw as dharma. This happened at a certain moment in Krishna’s life, when he reached a certain point of frustration with the mission he had taken up. It was not a personal frustration. He was not a man who could be frustrated about himself or about something that concerns himself. The frustration was about the mission not being fulfilled. When he found that people were not standing up as they should, he asked: “What dharma do you want to stand by, all of you?” A rich man came, a skinflint who had done everything possible to acquire and amass money, and said, “I buy dharma from the learned Brahmins and God. I feed my family and worship at the temple. This is my dharma.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of greed. I know you not.” And he let him pass.
A man marked with emblems of sanctity came and said, “I am a pious person. I shrink from the ways of sin. Never did I kill or steal or commit any other sinful act. I have lived the righteous way. I am God-fearing.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of fear. I know you not.” And he let him pass.
A warrior approached Krishna and said, “I know my dharma. I have destroyed all my enemies and anybody who opposed me. I perform sacrifices to appease the gods, give charity to the poor, and proclaim my victory to the world. I feed the Brahmins and my praises are sung by them.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of vanity. I know you not.” And let him pass.
A meek-looking person came up to Krishna and said, “I am meek and resigned. I am humility personified. Unresisting I suffer cheerfully. I bear hunger, thirst, cold and even misfortune.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of a slave mind. You do not know the divine within you. I know you not.” And let him pass.
A sly-looking man came and he said to Krishna, “I stand away from risky actions, the dens of lions and I walk the path of safety, escape the wrath of God and by this, I know peace will come to me.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of cowardice. I know you not.” And he let him pass.
A very self-assured, arrogant looking man came up to Krishna and said, “To escape the snares of life, to repress the longings of flesh, I scorn human weakness in myself and others. In stern detachment, I avoid contact and I live apart, all by myself. I’m completely self-contained. I don’t need anybody or anything.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the dharma of arrogance. I know you not.” And let him pass.
A business man came and said, “I lend money to God by giving alms to the poor and I even keep a ledger of this so it can never be missed. I will attain through my dharma.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of commerce. I know you not.” And let him pass.
A saintly-looking man came up to Krishna and said, “Mine is the dharma of wisdom. I live by the words of saints. Not to resist evil, shall suffer in silence, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Krishna said, “Your dharma is the child of inaction. I know you not.” And let him pass.
A man dressed in silks, with well-oiled, slick hair, came up and said, “Dharma is an illusion. I eat, I drink, I fornicate. My body is my only shrine. The pleasures of the flesh are my rituals of worship. There is nothing beyond this.” Krishna said, “You are a child of the demon. You will never be forgiven.” And he turned his back upon him.
What this is trying to say is, if one is dedicated only to his physical nature, there is no way for him. One may have various weaknesses of fear, greed, anger, anxiety, cowardice, vanity, and many other things, but if he is aspiring for something more than the physical, there is a way for him.
Editor’s Note: Find more stories at the Mahabharat stories page.