My source of Dharma: Vasudaiva kutumbham
his letter will describe the relationship between the resources mustered and the path taken by an individual to fulfill ordained duty in preserving its identity while immersed in the visible world, and for evolution of oneself. This letter therefore will elucidate the basic principles, as I understand them,that we need to follow through our life and the mechanisms that are in place that help in the evolution and upholding the Dharma.
One tenet of my Dharma is coded in the words ‘Vasudaiva kutumbham”-the universe is my family. This expression is in fact just an extension of the meaning expressed in the gesture of Namsaskaar explained in my previous letter. Thus Vasudev Kutambham explicitly describes the Hindu concept of our world and my place in it with the associated rights and responsibilities.
If we succeed in seeing ourselves reflected or represented equally in our friends and foes alike, in animate and the inanimate then we reach the stage of realization. This Vedic idea is not just a feel-good philosophy of universal oneness of seeing the Brahman in every one, but oneness at least at the physical and spiritual level accepted by the Rishis long ago, based on the observation that we all are made up of the same atoms that occur in this universe. Thus individually we are all in it together. Thus sprang the idea of whole universe as one’s own family. This idea of universal identity sounds stupid and silly, since it asks us to believe that the hungry person eating the food, the plate one eats from and the food on the plate, as well as the table set up for this purpose are all one and the same!
The understanding and practice of this concept might take a life time or several life times without compromising one’s own individual worldly interests. How can one achieve the realization of this not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a personal experience? One answer lies in following the assigned individual duty at each stage of one’s life. Fulfilling individual Duty becomes the spring board for Duty to the universe. Therefore before one can even begin the duty of identifying with the world on the outside, individuals have to become cognizant of their own identity. Therefore, at the physical level Hindus are required to follow a path through the world that has been divided into four segments, each with a span of 25 years. Each of the segments is assigned with specific duties or standards for the individual.
As a child one enters the realm of Brahmacharya. The child is required to acquire knowledge conducive to its nature: and learn arts and sciences, languages, religion and philosophy. The student life ends by 25 years of age. The duty of the person in brahmacharya is to develop the physical body, be educated, and thus be ready to enter workforce as a capable member of society. Thus the karma realized during the development phase becomes the foundation for the future.
Between 25 and 50 years of age one is supposed to enter the realm of the householder-Grihastha. This stage is considered to be the most difficult phase of one’s life, and superior to any other choice in life. The reasons become obvious after you read along further. The duty during this phase is to get married and beget children. Later the children are raised, sent to school to be educated and to repeat the cycle through Brahma charya that the parent just graduated from. This stage of one’s life is demanding on many fronts. Parents have to make tough choices in seeking adequate employment conducive to one’s evolution here and hereafter, raise their children well, and ensure that appropriate cultural, moral and religious mores (samskara) are set in the offspring. Because of these multifaceted demands the karma of a householder are held at a higher level in comparison to those garnered by a person who renounced the world and become a sannyasin. The life pattern of a Grihastha holds the mirror of life for a growing Brahmacharya.
The next stage between 50- and 75 years is the Vanaprastha stage (forest dweller). As a vanaprastha this is the stage of contemplation, and dissemination of experiential wisdom in educating members of one’s community. At the same time this is also the time to get back into a re-education plan to understand the relationship between individual and the Universe at the philosophical level. Here, I hasten to add that an individual in vanaprastha does not necessarily have to go into a forest and live a life of penury and desperation. The enjoined duty would in olden days be performed by going into an ashram- a scholarly academy- set up for the benefit of educating brahmacharyas. Nowadays of course one can live in the community and still achieve similar result. The vanaprastha individuals would use their advanced knowledge of material and the spiritual life to spread among the younger generation. Hence, as the parents go through the third stage, the children are out of their brahmacharya and entering their second stage of life.
The last stage is that of sannyasa-the life of the renunciate. In current times this would not mean running away from this world and living away from all. On the contrary, I would say that since by this age an individual has seen most of the life’s shows, shadows and shades, the individual does not have to shed the world but use the accumulated knowledge and experience to shed the mechanisms that bind the atman (soul) to the world, and keep evolving. During this phase one can devote a lot m ore time in getting back into re-education for self realization. This stage thus allows freedom to live, travel about, study and engross oneself in the ultimate realization of Self so that before leaving the body at least find a way to the Universal Brahman.
Thus this stage in a way recapitulates the stage of Brahmacharya, but only to learn and practice the ultimate knowledge of transcendental Brahman to achieve commingling of the Atman and Shiva.
Thus the four ashrams are stages that help in our journey towards the eternity by identifying individual duties in small packages and therefore easing the burden.
For many reasons, and more often than not, our karma during these periods does not match our dharma. I must point out that in practice we find each of us with different capabilities and weaknesses. This probably can be best understood biochemically. We are individual mixtures of various cell types filled with metabolites with distinct profiles that bestow us with individual idiosyncrasies and capabilities each our own. Thus the chemistry determines our interactions and our strengths and weaknesses. This in the Hindu system translates an individual as a mixture of three flavors (gunas). Sattva (calmness), Rajas (passion), and Tamas (lethargy). Ideally one would like each of these to contribute about 33.33% to our total character, but that is not the practical case. Each of us has predominant gunas that predispose us to our peculiar individuality and a preference for certain type of action or karma, capability to work and think. Thus no matter what the duty (or Standard of Dharma) at each stage of our life, our individual mix of gunas will determine our final Karma-the destiny, and rate of individual evolution. Thus at the spiritual level the universe may be my family, but at the physical level I have to overcome a lot of limitations imposed by my chemistry in me before this realization.