Q5a: I am a good person, so am assured of a place in the heaven.
Q5b: In this highly competitive world, all I can do is be good and I know that the Universe/God will take care of the rest.
Q5c: I am a good person, never do anything bad, but why is my spiritual growth not happening rapidly.
Ans: To these and the variations of the questions with a similar theme, the answer is simple - Being good alone is not good enough. Why? Won’t my philanthropy and charitability come and save me? Yes it will. This question is very deceptively simple, but the response is very subtle. Let us dive in.
We will begin by understanding what is good. Most of us are trained to parrot the same response, irrespective of the religions we follow. We come with a litany of moral characteristics like speaking the truth, not cheating, not do bad things to others like steal or kill. The Abrahamics have taken this idea even further with their Ten Commandments which must be followed. The Islamists have pushed this list of ten bullet points to include their entire medieval Arab tribal societal law and call it the Sharia.
Sanatana Dharma has many scriptures as the light is cast from different angles in Dharma Shastras, Neeti Shastras and many stellar works like Thirukkural which offer moral guidelines. One must note a huge difference between Dharmic ideas and Abrahamic one – the former is focused on taking the individual in an evolutionary path, whilst the latter offers the promise of heaven, threat of hell – both here and after death.
Goodness is understood to be inherent in every aspect of our life. Manifesting, exercising or perceiving it depends on our Gunas and Karma, which are both guided by our vasanas. How often we have experienced that though we will be doing the very best with pure intentions, there is someone around always suspecting it or finding fault? This is the proof that our vasanas are guiding the interpretations all the time.
The challenge with most of our interpretation is it is not based on Dharma, but only on our Kama and Artha aspirations. Since the reference point is shifted, the perception of goodness or badness is highly skewed and discolored, leading to each one of us having varied interpretations of our perceptions. To solve this, mankind has invented laws that are suitable to the existing society. They get amended with time and space. What is lawful in one part of the world may be a grave sin in another. Ignoring the current context in entirety can lead to disastrous consequences.
Some New Age ideologues keep parroting a limited good response - Follow the Golden Rule – Do unto others what you want them to do unto you. This can be very handy for many common scenarios like do you want someone to steal from you or hit you. But again the limitation in this formula, based on Abrahamic idea, is its lack of attention to DHARMA.
The great sages who discovered the Sanatana Dharma emphasized DHARMA as the bedrock and as the first step. The four purusharthas or ideal aspirations for every individual are DHARMA-ARTHA-KAMA-MOKSHA. In a simpler version Dharma (has numerous other interepretations) implies Order, be it social or cosmic. Kama refers to the psychological pressures, artha refers to the resources needed to manifest Kama and Moksha is a state where one is liberated from the above three conditioning. NOTE: this is a highly simplified version to keep us on this discussion.
As we can easily confirm from our daily lives, we have cleaved the idea of Moksha as it is more esoteric and subtler. The idea of Dharma has again been bundled up with age old Hindu superstition, thanks to the relentless Breaking India forces. We equate Dharma all the time with Manu Smriti, which has been highly maligned by the ignorant masses for the lack of proper understanding. Having removed the ideas of Dharma and Moksha, the modern materialistic man wants to operate only on Kama and Artha. This leads to not only chaos in the society but also a fractured individual living far below one’s potential.
Just like the understanding of gravity and the other laws of Physics have preceded the development of technology of flying, a proper understanding of Dharma is a prerequisite to manifest the higher human potential. We already noticed that our awareness of Dharma is a factor of our Gunas – the more Sattva one has, the easier it becomes to grasp these ideas and the more Rajas or Tamas one has, one is shrouded in a dark veil of ignorance and perceiving dharma becomes an almost impossibility.
Dharma is so subtle that we find illustrious characters like Yudhishtra spent a lifetime trying to go to its depths. Now it may be clear why the common man’s perspective good and bad appear different than from Dharma point of view. Please refer to an in-depth case study on the Subtle Dharma behind Vaali Vadam.
Sanatana Dharma wants every Jiva to realize that it is the same Brahmanda, which is in the Pindananda. Whatever is in the Cosmos is also found in the individual. A sincere scientist will agree to this fact without any hesitation. Once this realization dawn, the individual Jiva is no longer under the delusion of EGO, which causes it to perceive itself as a separate entity. This Self arrogation is nullified, paving way to Moksha. This was the reason why our ancestors constantly emphasized Dharma. We see it in Avvaiyar (a great Tamil female sage) in her Athichoodi begins by advising us to அறம் செய விரும்பு (Aram seiyya Virumbu). This is usually translated as Intend on doing right deeds. But the more appropriate word for Aram is Dharma, rather than good acts or charity. We should interpret it as Remain Steadfast in Dharma. Her advice is more succinct and terse that if we only paid heed to her we can make rapid strides in the path of Spirituality.
An interesting aspect comes from Science to aid us here. When we break down all matter into atomic level and below we suddenly find ourselves immersed in the Cosmos seamlessly. If we add to this, the understanding that we have from genetics which tells us all of Life that is known to mankind be it in the past or present, be it the plants or animals have evolved from the same stock. When one realizes this common root of life, basal thoughts automatically get shredded and replaced with noble ones. This understanding comes to us automatically without the need to know the science behind.
This emphasis on an inbuilt path to progress spiritually while living a normal life exists only in Sanatana Dharma. Dharma allows the expansion of Consciousness, as it is not constricted by human laws or understanding. To follow dharma, one needs to merely follow the examples of our great ancestors and the wondrous lives of great rishis and sages that have adorned this great civilization. The dizzy heights scaled by them using the apparently different paths like Bhakti, Jnana or Karma margas have set us great examples to emulate.
Since Dharma is the foundation of all these different paths and Moksha the end result, they are unified. Dharma provides a platform for cultivating these esoteric values which are basically expressions of the Universe, not a mere set of rules. These cannot be cultivated without a philosophical foundation. Why does one have to be good? Why does following dharma lead to betterment? These questions will never occur in religions that are fear based. Thou shall obey the Laws or else face the consequence is a sure recipe for curbed human or spiritual evolution. History has showcased this during the Dark Ages of Europe and until science bubbled up to break the shackles of such dogmas, no progress was possible. We still see such irrational nonsense in the Islamic world – See how to beat a wife – advice by Islamic clerics and judge yourself about the hypocritical religion of Peace or is it Piece? Dharma allows actual Self Realization and it need not be a mere acceptance of someone else’s experience removed in space and time, centuries ago.
Conformity to being good (a factor of space and time) may lead to accumulation of societally acceptable or tolerated, values yet need not be a framework for spiritual evolution. It may be good enough for peddling miracles and proselytizing more or to coerce by force, the following of a set of prescribed ideas. On the other hand, following Dharma, these good qualities, good under all conditions, express themselves. It can definitely be done by starting with good habits, but it does not rule out the polar opposites to cultivate them either. Ratnakar, a feared bandit, got some good advice from Narada’s Satsang and transformed into Valmiki. We have the example of Angulimaal, during the lifetime of Buddha.
The philosophical foundation offered by Sanatana Dharma and its six darshanas and its various schools of thought offer different interpretations of Jiva-Jagat-Ishvara (Individual-World-Bhagvan). Abrahamics view the first was created by the last entity, which created the world for the enjoyment of the Jiva. Unfortunately they do not see the continuity in all the three. This is one of the key differences with Sanatana Dharma. Having this deep philosophical understanding provides us with the necessary tools to be steadfast in the path of Dharma which leads to rapid spiritual growth.
Kathopanishad gives us a very important clue. All our thoughts, words and actions result in a mere directional change of the Jiva. The Jiva is constantly given freewill and free choice at every step. The choice it can exert is categorized as two – Preyas – the path of the pleasant and Shreyas – the path of the good. It is common understanding to realize what is pleasant need not be good and vice versa. If we layer our current topic we can reinterpret Preyas – the path that allows distortion of dharma and Shreyas – the path that warrants one to conform to dharma. Conformity to Dharma merely aligns the individual Jiva to make rapid strides in the Spiritual Journey, everyone already are.
Swami Sivananda put this very succinctly and simply as BE GOOD, DO GOOD. Note the order of appearance. Unless one is GOOD, it is hard for one to do good. This again reiterates the foundational nature of Dharma.
Few Dharmic tips for practical Implementation
- Try to see the dharmic connection when following the most common Dos and Don’ts – Yama, Niyama or any law.
- Explain it to your children, rather than giving mere instructions or good habits – this will make their foundation very strong.
- DO NOT brush aside all ancestral advice as nonsense. It is very difficult to understand Dharma, unless one is committed to its practice in parallel.
- Don’t undertake good practices with the expectation of results, Krishna has repeatedly warned about its pitfalls in Bhagavad Gita.
- Try to re-live the wondrous advice given by the various instructions and advice given by great rishis and sages. Fight and defend Dharma at every level. That Dharma we fight for will in turn protect us. Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha.
Now that we are clear that without a proper understanding of DHARMA, rather more importantly its practice, spiritual progress is hard to come by. Mere adherence of a current civil code of conduct need not be a factor in our internal spiritual journey. May we all strive hard on a daily basis to remain steadfast in the path of DHARMA and Shreyas.
Om Tat Sat