Dharma and Society:

From a consideration of the absolute basis of dharma, Maharishi moves to a consideration of its applied, practical value in human life. Maharishi first comments upon the fact that the Bhagavad-Gita speaks of "dharmas," in the plural, as well as in the singular, as Arjuna considers the possible consequences of allowing the destruction of his kinsfolk to take place:

The age-old family dharmas are
lost in the destruction of a
family. Its dharma lost, adharma
overtakes the entire family. (I.40)

This diversification of dharma Maharishi (1967) connects to the emergence of diverse paths of evolution, all of which are expressions of the one universal field of dharma already discussed:

"Dharmas," the plural of dharma, signifies the different powers of nature upholding different avenues of the way of evolution. They take expression as specific modes of activity or different ways of righteousness, which keep the whole stream of life in harmony-every aspect of life being properly balanced with every other aspect-and moving in the direction of evolution. (p. 64)

Maharishi locates two steps of diversification, moving from abstract to concrete. The first is related to the "different powers of nature" and "different avenues of evolution"; that is, the different values of natural law that arise at the level of the unified field of all the laws of nature. The second is related to "different modes of activity" that are governed by each of these elements of natural law. Maharishi (1967) then identifies a third stage of the process: the formation of these modes of activities into traditions, on which the structure of society is based:

As these specific modes of activity are passed on from generation to generation, they form what we call traditions. It is these traditions which are referred to here as family dharmas. (p. 64)

Maharishi points out that the description of dharmic traditions as "age-old" has a special significance. The term translated is sanåtana which has been held to have the meaning of eternal, everlasting, or ancient (Monier-Williams, Leumann, & Cappler, 1979, p. 1141); but Maharishi (1967) brings out the more explicit sense of age after age, generation after generation, in other words, the continuity of human experience:

Arjuna uses the word "age-old" because the ideals of life that have withstood the test of time represent the genuine path of evolution, the upward current in nature. Nothing that is against evolution lasts long. Therefore the tradition which has survived the ages has certainly proved itself to be the right one, the one nearest to the Truth, which is Life Eternal. (p. 65)

"Life Eternal" refers to the immortal status of the unified field of natural law, the field of pure consciousness.

Maharishi therefore defines genuine traditions in society, embodying the different dharmas, as those which, being in accord with natural law, meet the criteria of having lasted over a long period of time. He also identifies these traditions with families: They are practiced, preserved, and passed on within families. In this sense the family is the structural basis of the society.

In his commentary on a later verse (I.44), Maharishi (1967) explains the practical value of this traditional structure for the growth of higher states of consciousness in the whole population:

"Family dharma" is an established tradition where people born in a particular family engage in the profession of that family. Because of their parental heritage they work efficiently, produce better material for society and improve in their profession. Working with all ease and comfort in their profession, they do not exhaust themselves in work and find time to be regular in their practice for spiritual unfoldment, which is the basis of all success in life. This is how family dharmas and traditions help both the individual and society. (p. 69)

What is most significant in this analysis is the criteria by which the ideal structures of society are to be measured: their ability to support the growth to higher states of consciousness of their citizenry. Here Maharishi indicates the effect of family dharmas is in two directions. First, they prevent exhaustion, and the stress on body and mind that it produces. Psychophysiological stress of this kind, Maharishi (1972) emphasizes, is the main impediment to the natural enjoyment of higher states of consciousness (p. 2-3). Second, they bring the highest level of efficiency to one's work, thus allowing establishment of the proper balance of life, with its priority in the development of consciousness ("time to be regular in their practice for spiritual unfoldment"). Ideal social structures are thus shown to be rooted in the practical and balanced daily routine through which life is raised to enlightenment.

Each individual in the society, therefore, Maharishi (1967) teaches, has a particular dharma, a particular path of action within a tradition, that is most conducive for his or her evolution. This principle is referred to later in the Bhagavad-Gita by the following injunction:

Do your allotted duty. (p. 191)

Here the adjective "niyatam," which Maharishi translates as "allotted," derives from the root "yam," to sustain, hold up, support. As we have seen, Maharishi's principal definition of dharma centers on that which upholds, maintains, and supports life (1967, p. 26). Hence that action (karma) which is allotted (niyatam) is action according to dharma. Maharishi comments:

"Allotted duty" is that which it is natural for one to do, that for which one was born-natural action in accordance with the laws of nature, action according to one's own dharma, action which is in line with the natural stream of evolution. . . . (p. 191)

Maharishi goes on to emphasize again the damaging effects on mind and body of engaging in action that is not in accord with one's dharma:

An important aspect of natural duty is that it is imperative for a man; if he does not perform his allotted duty, he will be engaging in actions which lie outside the path of his own evolution. . . .
It is equally essential to understand that action which is not natural will inevitably produce strain and tension both in the doer and in the atmosphere around him. If the process of action is strained, it interferes with the harmony between the doer and his work, the subject and the object; this in turn hinders the infusion of the divine nature into the field of activity, and resistance is created to the development of cosmic consciousness. That is why the Lord particularly mentions "allotted duty." (p. 191)

Again Maharishi emphasizes that the main effect of such strained action will be to hinder the development of higher states of consciousness through the increase of stress and tension (cosmic consciousness being, Maharishi explains, such a higher state, the fifth state of consciousness, 1967, p. 173). Moreover, the effect is not limited to the individual alone: It has its wi der effect on the environment at large. This is a point we will come back to later in this article.

It is for all these reasons, Maharishi (1967) emphasizes, that the best advice is for each individual to remain within his own tradition, within his own dharma:

All beings, under the tremendous influence of the mighty force of nature, are held fast in the current of evolution. Each has his own specific course to follow. If a man deviates from his own natural course, his own dharma, then it is like changing boats in a fast current. He has to struggle hard to maintain life-a struggle which is experienced as sorrow and suffering and which gives rise to all problems on the path of evolution. (p. 66)

As we saw in Maharishi's commentary to I.1, life conducted according to the constructive capability of the absolute level of dharma-in full accord with natural law-is "a field of increasing happiness" (1967, p. 27). Conversely, action not in accord with dharma, not in accord with natural law, "ends in passivity or extinction of life" (p. 28). Here Maharishi applies this insight into the mechanics of evolution at their source to the practical experience of the quality of daily life.

Maharishi (1967) illustrates and extends the notions of dharmas and their role in society in his commentary on I.43, through the analogy of the laws that govern the functioning of different levels of the body:

The laws maintaining the well-being of the whole body consist of a collection of the laws maintaining its different parts, together with others added to coordinate different limbs. The laws of the evolution of the body likewise are the sum total of those governing the evolution of different limbs, along with those coordinating them. (p. 68)

Here the analogous term to dharma is "law," in the sense of "laws of nature" or "scientific laws"; "law" is in fact commonly held to be a primary meaning of dharma (Monier-Williams et al., 1979, p. 510). Maharishi notes that there are different laws governing the functioning and coordination of the different levels of the body; here he mentions "parts" and "limbs," which we may infer stand for all the different levels of physiological functioning known to science, such as cells, tissues, organs, and systems (Wallace, Fagan, & Pasco, 1988). These laws are analogous to the different dharmas, expressed in the traditions preserved in families, that structure the society. Further, Maharishi notes, one speaks of the law of the whole body, expressed in the laws that govern its different parts; in the same way dharma, considered in its absolute status, upholds life at all levels in the evolutionary direction through the different dharmas appropriate to each level.

Maharishi (1967) extends this analysis to the understanding of society in terms of the different levels of social life-the individual, as the unit of the society, the family, and the community-and in terms of the society as a whole:

In a similar way, there are dharmas governing individual evolution and there are dharmas which connect and coordinate different individuals. These latter are said primarily to govern the evolution of the society or caste. In verse 40 Arjuna was thinking in terms of the dharma of the family. In this verse he is considering the dharma of the caste, that is, a collection of families upholding similar dharmas. (p. 68)

Here, then, the notion of different dharmas is extended from individual life and family traditions, to the traditions that govern larger units of the society, in this case the caste. It is important to note that Maharishi defines caste not in the conventional terms of an hereditary class of Hindu society, but in terms of family and of dharma: "a collection of families upholding similar dharmas." Again it should be emphasized that Maharishi is not describing the principles that govern a particular society in a particular geographic area at a particular time in history, but the universal principles which, when able to function in their completeness, give rise to an ideal state of individual and social life. Here, Maharishi reconstructs the meaning of such an apparently culture-specific term as "caste," making it generally applicable to all human societies, in terms of its basis in the absolute principle of dharma.

With the different levels of dharma described, we may now understand Maharishi's analysis of Arjuna's fundamental dilemma, which is how to avoid killing his kinsmen in a battle which he knows intellectually to be righteous (I.36-I.39). Maharishi's (1967) conclusion is that what may be action according to the dharma of one level may not be in accord with the dharma of another level:

Arjuna, although his consciousness is pure, has not yet fathomed the absolute Being which is the field of the cosmic law. This is why he fails to see that he is living in an atmosphere saturated with evil influence, in which it is not possible for virtue to survive for long. Arjuna is trying to refrain from fighting out of consideration for family and caste dharmas; he is not aware of the absolute state of dharma whose power is leading him to fight. (p. 64)

The "absolute state of dharma" is here equated with "the absolute Being," "the field of cosmic law"-pure consciousness-the law of the whole, in other words, rather than the law of the parts. Family and caste dharmas, Maharishi explains, have their own validity on their own level. Love of one's kinsfolk, or pride in one's community, are entirely appropriate for that level, and confer real value on family and community life; yet there are higher principles, involving higher duties, that may appear to contradict these more localized considerations. This principle might be understood, by way of example, in the punishment administered by a parent to a child. This punishment may appear to go against the fundamental duty of the parent to protect and nourish the child; yet, if carried out in the spirit of love, according to a more comprehensive consideration of what is best for the child's evolution, it is action in accord with natural law and helps to fulfill the very purpose of parenthood. So it is with the wider fields of human concern. Maharishi explains that action motivated from the absolute level of dharma may appear in its surface manifestation to be quite different from the action expected at more localized levels. However, such dharmic action always nourishes, enriches, and fulfills the dharmas of all areas and levels of life. Thus the ideal structure of society would be such that each level is fully able to carry out its own dharma which, though different from the dharma of another level, is always coordinated with it from its source, the absolute field of dharma, the field of pure consciousness. When individual thought and action is supported by the level of absolute dharma, its expressions in various relative dharmas are always perfectly integrated with and fully nourishing to each other. [Previous Section][Next Section]



[Dharma as the Absolute Basis of Society]

[Dharma and Society]

[Social Relationships and Social Behavior]

[The Causes of Social Disintegration and War]

[Fulfillment of Society]