Dharma is appropriate conduct. When dharma is taken care of, then society shall be safe is what our tradition teaches us. This is an assertive promise. Meaning is, in the short/medium/long term if we adhere to the desired code of conduct, then broadly good shall happen to all of us at an overall level. The concept is promising, conveys a positive message, and ensures sustainability in the ecosystem by containing the ‘short term gain’ oriented conduct and behaviour.
Dharma, often people quote and aver, is contextual. Such advocates take it forward with a motivated pitch to ‘prove’ that there is no right or wrong behaviour. This is a potentially dangerous justification, and is not the case. It is true that dharma is contextual. ‘Swadharma’ is what is defined to be appropriate for a particular niche. Don’t walk away from swadharma, the Gitacharya tells us, and ‘nidhanam shreyaha’ he said, meaning even death is fine when one follows swadharma. At the same length, Shri Krishna cautions, ‘paradharmo bhayavaha’, other codes of conduct are frightening! This is so because one may lose track and find oneself straying aimlessly.
Dharma is defined for various life stages and professions. What is appropriate for a Grihastha (householder) is not fine for a Brahmachari or Sanyasi. Similarly, what is fine for a Sanyasi is not appropriate for a Grihastha. The wise advise us to adhere to one’s own code of conduct. Various ‘Smritis’ in the tradition came into existence due to the need for appropriate codes of conduct for different stakeholders. Additionally, dharma is also defined for the profession one pursues. An example is, ‘jeeva himsa’ (harming the living) is not appropriate for many in society. However, we have a Upanishadic story about ‘Dharma Vyadha’ (righteously killing) who displays wisdom. The external act of butchering animals (his profession) was no barrier to ‘realisation’ for Dharmavyadha! Similarly, a responsible soldier weeding away the sociopathic elements in society is discharging one’s duties, and the conduct is appropriate as it is her dharma to do so.
The takeaway is, that when dharma prevails and prospers, the transaction costs in the society shall be low, supervisory overheads minimum, and overall life shall be smooth. Peace shall prevail. The world shall be a better place.
Dr S Ainavolu is a professor at VPSoM, Navi Mumbai. Views are personal. You can read more at https://www.ainavolu.in/blog