“Merely by chanting we can have all the advantages of personal association with Krishna. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is not only considered to be a realized soul but an incarnation of Krishna Himself, has pointed out that in this age of Kali, although men have no real facilities for self-realization, Krishna is so kind that He has given this shabda (sound incarnation) to be utilized as the yuga-dharma, or way of realization of this age.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Beyond Birth and Death, Ch 5)
Dharma is a word that descends from the Vedic tradition. At its root it means a defining characteristic. That definition actually applies to all the uses of the word, as the ideal feature of an object is then what determines virtue, right and wrong, etc. Dharma is thus more commonly equated to religion, which is the system of maintenance aimed at awakening the defining characteristic of the practicing individual. But dharma is often qualified with other terms, showing that there are copycat versions of the system of maintenance, that is there exists smaller, more streamlined practices aimed at keeping different types of characteristics. Yet through all the variety, the original dharma remains the same, and its effectiveness is the most far reaching as well.
No matter what your level of intelligence with respect to spiritual matters, you will follow some type of dharma. Just getting up at a certain time each day represents a system of maintenance aimed at furthering a specific condition. If, as a family man, I arise at a specific time so that I can wake up my children, the rule is instituted for a purpose. The ideal condition is to wake the children up before school, giving them a proper breakfast and making sure that they catch the bus or get dropped off to the school building on time. Thus my time for waking up is part of a smaller dharma that I follow.
Coupled with the time of waking up is the time of falling asleep at night. If I have to wake up at a certain time, I need to fall asleep a set number of hours prior in order to avoid lethargy in the morning. Oh, and to sleep on time, I need to make sure to eat dinner at a specific time also. The body needs enough time to digest properly, and if I eat right before sleeping, the night of slumber will not be so pleasant. In order to eat on time, I need to prepare dinner a set number of hours before. For that to happen, I have to go to the store to get the ingredients for the dinner. The food items need to be bought in a certain amount, perhaps even in bulk. Then I need an area to store the food.
Oh, and by the way, I need a house for all of this activity to take place in. For a house, I need a job, and for a job I need an education. To have children to wake up in the morning, I need to be married, or at least have a significant other. To get married, I need to take care of my physical appearance, which may mean working out at a gym. Again, to pay for all these things, I need to earn and save money.
In this way, we see that from one desired condition, so many other dependent conditions are created. The entire system turns into a dharma because it has corresponding rules and regulations to meet the ideal characteristic. If we go back to the beginning point, which was arbitrarily selected in this example, we can turn the condition upside down and still have a dharma. If our desire is to not wake up at a certain time, to sleep as long as we want, that too is a guiding principle. It is a type of dharma aimed at meeting a condition, though the result isn’t always as favorable. If I oversleep, I will miss out on other aspects of life and be more tired throughout the day. Thus the original dharma will have to be changed, with a different one adopted to meet the newly desired condition.
It is in this area that we see the flaw, or at least the limitation, to the smaller dharmas. There are problems we see in life that we want to fix. We see the damage that smoking cigarettes causes, so we start a campaign to stop smoking. We’ll air advertisements on television with young children speaking of how they are afraid of losing their parents to death because they smoke. The cigarette manufacturers will get sued for turning a huge profit off of the voluntary purchase of cigarettes made by others. Of course ignored through all of this is drinking alcohol, which can kill a person in an instant through a bad decision.
Another person sees environmental destruction and takes up the cause to stop pollution. Another person sees women abused in relationships and decides to hold an annual walk to stop domestic violence. A victim of cancer starts an organization to bring awareness to the society at large of cancer and other deadly diseases, with the hope that others will donate money to help find cures.
Through it all, the original dharma, the set of procedures which gave birth to the original word, is still the most effective. The spirit soul is the identifying agent within all life forms. That is the basis for dharma. The most inclusive characteristic will be the most ideal condition to be reached. At its core, the individual is a spirit soul, and the soul is full of knowledge, bliss and eternality. The ideal characteristic resulting from these properties is the desire to serve. “I think therefore I am”, is a profound realization, but it is still incomplete. “I want to serve therefore I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of God”, is more accurate.
In sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupational duty of the soul, the right procedures are adopted to maintain that ideal characteristic. In the smaller dharmas there is also service. The defect, however, is that the service is not directed at the ideal beneficiary. It is for this reason only that the manmade systems of maintenance are adopted and then quickly discarded. Moreover, one person’s system may not be helpful to another person. If one person wants a big-box retailer to open up a shop in the local neighborhood to create jobs, their desire will clash with the shop owner who doesn’t want the new competition to put him out of business. The attention given to stop cancer does not help the person who wants to stop domestic violence. Each of these smaller dharmas is limited in their influence and thus automatically inferior to the highest dharma.
The soul’s ideal characteristic is to serve the Supreme Soul. Since so many other systems of maintenance are created, the qualification of sanatana or bhagavata is typically added to the original dharma. With that distinction, the spirit soul offers service to God in a mood of love.
But then the concept of God seems rather vague. If God is everything, why can’t He be the environment? Am I not serving God by stopping pollution? Therefore isn’t environmentalism a type of bhagavata-dharma?
To dispel doubts and remove confusion, the authorized scriptures give concrete information about the Supreme Soul. God is certainly everything, and the sum collection of stuff is one way to visualize Him. Nevertheless, that sum collection is just matter, which is lifeless without the injection of spirit. The Supreme Soul is spirit at the core, and so are the living entities. Thus spirit should serve spirit. When the spirit soul encased in matter serves the material energy, there is no question of dharma. Real dharma relates entirely to the qualities of the spirit soul, and these qualities can never leave the individual. In this way bhagavata-dharma never changes; it never has to be rejected once adopted in earnest.
The guiding principles of bhagavata-dharma bring about the ideal condition, thus offering a way for others to test whether or not the principles themselves are dogmatic or scientific. If I see that the system of maintenance I follow keeps the ideal characteristic I’m looking for, I know with faith that the path I’m on is correct. With bhagavata-dharma, the ideal condition is to be serving God, who is described as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree and at the same time. Service to such an entity results in everlasting pleasure and an endless desire to continue in that service.
The lesser issues are simultaneously solved through bhagavata-dharma. We saw that through the one desired condition of wanting to get the kids ready for school, so many other necessary conditions were created and addressed. In the same way, if our primary aim is to connect with God, the other activities will be shifted to accommodate that goal. The single best way to connect with God in the present age is to chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Hear these names, believe in their power, and recite them with firm faith, confidence and love. The holy name is so powerful that you don’t need to know who it addresses in the beginning. Just make a routine of chanting this mantra, taking special attention to hear the words.
There are accompanying regulations to the chanting routine, such as avoiding meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Food intake seems to be pretty easy to control, as you can just change what you eat. But what about controlling sexual urges and sleeping habits. How are we supposed to sleep less when rest is something we need? What to do when we have the urge for sex life? As service to God is the ideal characteristic for the soul, bhagavata-dharma is meant to be a fulltime engagement. Seems weird at first, because how are we going to worship God if we have so many other things to do throughout the day? Well, just as the lover struck by Cupid’s arrow can’t help but think of their paramour throughout the day, the devoted soul keeps the Supreme Lord within their consciousness at all times. That presence is safeguarded through regular chanting and hearing about the divine pastimes found in sacred texts like the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.
From that properly situated consciousness, so many new ways to practice devotion are found. In the ideal state, even sleeping turns into a time of devotion, as does the union of the sexes. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna says that He is the sex life that doesn’t go against religious principles. This means that sex life to propagate children who will grow up to practice bhagavata-dharma is completely in line with piety. From that ideal condition of loving God, the proper care for innocent women, the environment, the body, the mind, and so many other aspects of life is automatically found. Thus bhagavata-dharma is always supreme, and it never goes bad on the shelves of the spiritual storehouse that is the Vedic tradition. Know that at any time you can find the holy name and turn your life around.
Slumber at proper time you take,
So that children in morning you can awake.
Food, family and your beautiful home,
Need wife and job, can’t do it all alone.
Around ideal conditions this all does revolve,
Make regulations for different issues to solve.
But that which touches on spirit is the best,
Goes to essence, thus incorporates all the rest.
Highest dharma is God’s names always to chant,
Hear the words even if believe in Him you can’t.