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At the Feet of The Mother

VII DHARMA. Nivritti (VIII)

The wise in our country never accepted any narrow interpretation of dharma, the right law of Life, the Divine Law, opposed to the great activities of life. The great and profound axiom that all life is the field for dharma lay at the bottom of the Hindus’ lore and learning. Tainted by the teachings of the West our knowledge and education have degenerated into a twisted and anomalous state. We often succumb to this false notion that nothing but renunciation, devotion or sattwic attitude can ever form part of dharma. Men in the West study religion with such a cramped notion. The Hindus used to divide all the activities of life into the two categories of dharma and adharma (‘what is not dharma’); in the Western world they have made three divisions such as religion, irreligion and the cultivation of most of the pursuits and functionings of life outside the purview of religion and irreligion. To praise the Divine, to say prayers and to chant hymns, and listen to the sermons of the priest at the church and such other allied activities go by the name of religion. Morality forms no part of religion, that makes a separate category by itself; but many accept both religion and morality as auxiliary limbs of piety. Not to attend the church, to entertain the spirit of atheism or agnosticism, to disparage religion or even to show indifference towards it are called acts of irreligion and immorality. According to the aforesaid view, these too make up impiety. But otherwise most of the pursuits and functionings fall outside of religion and irreligion. Religion and life, dharma and karma are separate categories — many amongst us interpret dharma in this distorted way. They style dharma all that pertains to saints and sannyasins, to God or to gods and goddesses and the renunciation of the world; but if you happen to raise any other topic, they will demur, “This concerns the world and not religion”. The occidental idea of religion has taken root in their mind; to hear the word ‘dharma’ makes them at once think of ‘religion’ and they unwittingly employ the word in the same sense. But if we impute such foreign connotations to our native terms, we are sure to lapse from the catholic and eternal Aryan notions and teachings. All life is the field of dharma, so is the life in the world. Only the culture of spiritual knowledge or the urge of devotion do not constitute dharma, action too is dharma. This great teaching pervades from ages past the whole of our literature — eṣa dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ.

Many think that although works form part of dharma, not so all types of work; only those that are governed by sattwa and conducive to nivṛtti, abstention or withdrawal deserve this title. This too is a fallacious notion. Just as the sattwic actions are dharma, so are the rajasic ones. Just as showing compassion to creatures is dharma, so is destroying the enemy of the land in the field of a righteous battle. To sacrifice one’s own happiness and wealth or even life, for the good of others, is dharma, even so is it dharma to maintain in a fit condition the body that is the instrument of dharma. Politics too is dharma, to write poetry, to paint pictures — that too is dharma, to gladden the hearts of others through sweet songs is also dharma. Dharma is whatever is not tainted by self-interest, be that work great or small. It is we who reckon a thing great or small, there is nothing great or small before the Divine; He looks only at the attitude in which a person does the works befitting his nature or brought by unforeseen circumstances. The highest and greatest dharma is this: whatever work we do, to consecrate that to the feet of the Divine, to perform it as yajna or holy sacrifice and to accept it with an equal heart as something done by His own Nature:

īśā vāsyamidaṁ sarvaṁ yat kicca jagatyāṁ jagat,
tena tyaktena bhucjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam.
kūrvanneveha karmāṇi jijīviṣecchataṁ samāḥ
,1)

That is to say, the greatest way is to see in Him all that we see or do or think and to cover all that with his thought as if with a piece of raiment; neither sin nor irreligion can ever penetrate this covering. Without hankering for anything and giving up in our heart desire and attachment with regard to all works, to enjoy all that we receive in the flux of actions, to perform all types of works, to preserve the body: such is the conduct pleasing to God and this indeed is the greatest dharma. This is what constitutes true abstention. The buddhi((( Cf. “Buddhi is the intelligence with its power of knowledge and will. Buddhi takes up and deals with all the rest of the action of the mind and life and body… From the point of view of yogic knowledge we may say that it is that instrument of the soul, of the inner conscious being in nature, of the Purusha, by which it comes into some kind of conscious and ordered possession both of itself and its surroundings.” (Sri Aurobindo; The Synthesis of Yoga: pp. 744, 759) ))) or the intelligent will is the seat of nivṛtti or abstention, the vital and the senses are the field of pravṛtti or dynamic impulse. Buddhi should maintain the poise of a detached witness and act as the prophet or spokesman of God and, being free from desire, communicate to the life and the senses the inspiration sanctioned by Him; life and the senses will then act accordingly. The renunciation of actions is no great achievement, the renunciation of desire is the true renunciation. The physical withdrawal is no withdrawal, the noninvolvement in consciousness is the true withdrawal.

(Dharma, No. 12, November, 1909)

  1. ( Isha Upanishads 1, 2. Sri Aurobindo’s own translation into English: “All this is for habitation by the Lord, whatsoever is individual universe of movement in the universal motion. By that renounced thou shouldst enjoy; lust not after any man’s possession. Doing verily works in this world one should wish to live a hundred years.” []

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