[Advaita-l] Re: Question: Swadharma

S Jayanarayanan sjayana at yahoo.com
Tue Jan 31 19:51:51 CST 2006

Of course, the traditional way is to interpret the word "dharma" in
the scriptures as referring to varNAshrama dharma, and this is the
position of the Shankara MaThs.

Ramana Maharshi has however offered scope for interpreting the word
"dharma" in the modern context. He has taught that it can be taken as
varNaashrama dharma in the orthodox interpretation, as well as
laukika dharma in the unorthodox interpretation. According to RM, the
modern man's demand for such "universalized" interpretations is but
natural, and RM has not objected to it.

Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi

4th July,1935
Talk 58.

Mr. Ranganathan, I. C. S: In Srimad Bhagavad Gita there is a passage:
One's own dharma is the best; an alien dharma is full of risks. What
is the significance of one's own dharma?

M.: It is usually interpreted to mean the duties of the orders and of
the different castes. The physical environment must also be taken
into consideration.

D.: If varnasrama dharma be meant, such dharma prevails only in
India. On the other hand the Gita should be universally applicable.

M.: There is varnasrama in some form or other in every land. The
significance is that one should hold on to the single Atman and not
swerve therefrom. That is the whole gist of it.
sva = one's own, i.e., of the Self, of the Atman.
para = the other's, i.e., of the non-self, of the anatma.
Atma Dharma is inherence in the Self. There will be no distraction
and no fear. Troubles arise only when there is a second to oneself.
If the Atman be realised to be only unitary, there is no second and
therefore no cause for fear. The man, as he is now, confounds the
anatma (non-Self) dharma with atma (the Self) dharma and suffers. Let
him know the Self and abide in it; there is an end of fear, and there
are no doubts.
Even if interpreted as varnasrama dharma the significance is only
this much. Such dharma bears fruit only when done selflessly. That
is, one must realise that he is not the doer, but that he is only a
tool of some Higher Power. Let the Higher Power do what is inevitable
and let me act only according to its dictates. The actions are not
mine. Therefore the result of the actions cannot be mine. If one
thinks and acts so, where is the trouble? Be it varnasrama dharma or
loukika dharma (worldly activities), it is immaterial.
Finally, it amounts to this:
sva = atmanah (of the Self)
para = anaatmanah (of the non-self)
Such doubts are natural. The orthodox interpretation cannot be
reconciled with the life of a modern man obliged to work for his
livelihood in different capacities.


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