Dharma (or in some form Dharm) is the quintessential question that has plagued Indian spirituality since Time Immemorial. I have been grappling with it ever since I came across The Mahabharata, my all time favourite book. If I leave aside the existential questions it asks, The Mahabharata is perhaps the World’s Greatest Entertaining Story and thus it can proudly proclaim, “Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.”
My fascination with The Epic began the day I understood for the first time in my life that in this world there is nothing finite – Every saint has his past and every thief his future. The telling image of Yudhisthira’s chariot touching the earth for the very first time after he resorted to a White Lie to aid the killing of Drona shattered the image The Ramayana had created in my mind – of an age and time where Truth always prevails.
The Mahabharata suddenly seemed to say, “Hang on! The jury is still out on this one!” My first idea was then to reject the image of a Supreme Being as a Master Puppeteer. “Aham Brahmasmi” – That’s what the Upanishads had told me. The recurring theme of Mahabharata was Dharma. And I suddenly realized it was not just about being good or doing good deeds or doing what was right – it was also deciding for yourself what was right. And The Mahabharata is the mirror of the World as it existed once, telling us how every single individual chose the path that they chose.
And the funny part is almost everyone believed they were following Sva-Dhrama or the “Dharma of one’s own.”
Somehow being born in a culture that worships the Mother Goddess I have never accepted the way later day Hinduism brushed aside important questions raised in The Epic as God’s will. And suddenly The Mahabharata and The Gita was synonymised with the concept of “Work without worrying about the result.” It almost had made me a fatalist but somehow reading deeper I had found it to mean so much more than a submission to divine will. To me, it was detachment of oneself from the results, not renunciation of it.
And that’s why I cringed when Arjuna’s doubt is almost bulldozed by Divinity when Logic fails. Krishna shows him his Celestial Form – “The light of a Thousand Suns”
Without beginning, middle or end, of infinite power,
of infinite arms, whose eyes are the moon and sun,
I see thee, whose face is flaming fire,
Burning this whole universe with Thy radiance
Which human form can resist the command of such divinity?
Recently I have come across another treatise on The Poem – The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das and somehow it’s striking a chord. It seems someone else has gone down the same road taking the same journey like me and hoping to find answers. Halfway through the book I do hope he has found his for I know now, The Mahabharata will present its answers in varied ways to whoever asks for it. I know I will find mine and I also know that my answers will change every time I change. But the answers remain for those who seek, for those who will always believe that the meaning of Dharma is beyond just righteousness, religion or even goodness.
After all, “Whatever is here, is found elsewhere. But what is not here, is nowhere else.”