By Swami Tejomayananda
August 17th, 2010
What is the greatest dharma? It is said, “Non-violence or non-injury is the supreme dharma”. Violence is something that disturbs the entire society, and it begins at the mental level. Dislike can turn to anger, and if uncontrolled it will result in physical and emotional abuse within the home as well as in the society. We usually consider violence only at the physical level, but it can occur at the thought and speech level also. So it is important to practice non-injury (ahimsa) at all levels — at the levels of thought and speech as well as the physical level.
At the physical level, the word ahimsa is relative. A surgeon cuts the body for the good of the patient. His motive is to heal. This is an act of ahimsa. On the other hand, a murderer using a knife commits a definite act of violence because his motive is to hurt or kill. The same action can be dharmika or adharmika depending upon whether one is acting to integrate or destroy.
Now a very important question arises. In the Gita, Lord Krishna teaches about non-injury (ahimsa). How is it then that He asks Arjuna to fight? Many people wonder, “How can this war be considered dharmika (righteous) while at the same time observing the law of ahimsa?”
Earlier we spoke about dharma as it pertains to physical health. When the body is in a healthy condition, we will live comfortably. There is no need for medical treatment of any kind. But suppose the body develops a disease? Then possibly some medications or minor surgery may help. But if the disease is very serious, major surgery or even amputation may be the only solution.
In the same way, if everyone is living happily and peacefully in society, then there is no need for war. But, as in the case of the Mahabharata, the evil, battle-hungry Duryodhana became strong and powerful, much like a cancer, whose growth was out of control. Small remedies could not fix the problem. If people like him are not removed from society, good people suffer and disintegration of the society is certain. Therefore, in such situations the ideal of ahimsa and a righteous war go together.
So anything that nourishes, sustains, integrates and leads to prosperity and spiritual revival is called dharma. Any virtues, values, attitudes or behaviour that contribute to that sustenance is dharma.
Moral Conflict: The question then arises, “Why are we not able to follow this principle of non-injury, or ahimsa? Why do we dislike someone?” We all know that there is never a need to tell a mother to act with ahimsa towards her baby. Would a mother ever think of harming her own child? Even when she has to punish the child she herself suffers because there is a sense of oneness between them. She sees her child as a part of her own self.
Where there is love, non-injury is natural. Dislike occurs only when we have a sense of separateness or alienation. And we have created many divisions amongst ourselves by thinking, for example, I am a man, you are a woman; I am black, you are white; I am a Christian, you are a Hindu. If a husband and wife consider themselves to be united, without any thought of separateness, then there will be harmony. If, however, the man thinks himself to be superior to the woman, then the woman will feel that she is being taken advantage of.
With the thought of separateness, alienation arises and the oneness is lost. Once these differences are created, we look down upon others and violence occurs. Thus there is a most unusual challenge in the world of relativity: To know the truth of oneness and yet to live here practically.
Dharma at the individual level is also different from that practiced at the community level. As individuals we may not carry any weapons, trying always to respond with peace and non-injury. However, if one is the secretary of defence of a country then that person cannot allow anyone to jeopardise its peace and he must be prepared to defend the national security. Therefore, dharma has to be understood in its totality.
— Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com.
© Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
Source: The Asian Age