A constant enquiry in our minds is whether the ‘ancient’ ideals of Dharma are relevant and helpful to us in today’s modern world. Actually, the answer becomes obvious when we understand that the Dharma described in our scriptures is not ancient but eternal. For example, the essence of a student’s Dharma, as outlined in the Vedic texts is as follows:
As long as one is a student, his or her prime concern is to acquire knowledge of the subject of his commitment and also develop an integrated personality. Therefore, as a student one should not do anything which might divert one’s attention from this purpose. He should maintain cleanliness of body, speech, thought and action. He has to tenaciously preserve his Brahmacharya (celibacy). He has to avoid pleasure and perquisites; according to the scriptures these come only after the student days are over. He should never stop prayer to God and should prostrate to his mother and father daily as they are his visible gods. Some service like spreading out their beds etc should also be performed towards the parents. One’s teachers have to be respected. The student should not take hasty decisions in life; he should decide only after consulting the elders who are more experienced in life than he is. He should keep his body fit by regular exercise. It should also be remembered that it is not only one’s parents but the whole society that helps him to grow. So, one should be grateful to it throughout life and express gratitude towards it in an active way when he settles down in life after the completion of his student days.
"I do not have good concentration. How can the high ideals of scriptures translate into something useful for me in this specific context?"
Arjuna asks the same question in the Gita and Bhagavan Krishna answers: ‘You can develop concentration through Vairagya and Abhyasa (Bhagavad Gita 6.35). In order to understand the implications of this answer, we should try to know what ‘concentration’ means. Suppose we are asked to solve a mathematical problem like finding the product of 27 X 37. The answer is to be obtained by going through a certain sequence of operations. This process is disturbed when our mind engages itself in something else midway. So the answer obtained is either wrong or we have to go back and restart the process from the beginning. This situation is described as ‘lack of concentration’.
This means that concentration is the ability of the mind to stick to a certain sequence of thoughts over a period of time without drifting midway. The longer the period we can concentrate, the greater we can achieve. Now, observe carefully where the mind drifts when we are thinking of the mathematical problem. It goes in two directions. One: towards things towards which we have great attachment – like our favourite eatables, TV and so on; Two: towards meaningless things like stone, leaves lying on the road etc. A great difficulty lies in checking the mind from drifting in the first direction mentioned above. In that case concentration demands that attachment to various things be given up. This does not mean that one should stop eating; we should only give up infatuation for things. This was easier a few decades ago than it is now. Today the media is least bothered about the long term psychological, moral and spiritual health of the people. So one needs to be careful about them. Giving up infatuation to things is known as Vairagya.
Secondly, the mind is to be trained with some effort not to drift towards meaningless things. This is Abhyasa, which means withdrawing the mind as soon as it starts drifting towards meaningless things. This is less difficult than the first. By practising these two it is possible to develop concentration in due course.
The householder is entitled to the pleasures of family life; but they should be incidental to him and not his prime concern. Remember that following Dharma automatically ensures our material happiness also. When there are problems, we need to remember the law of Karma and face them with fortitude. The householder should work hard and earn well by honest means only (Manu Smriti 5.106); the scriptures ask us to do Dana (charity) to the best of our ability. He should never deviate from his daily Puja and never consume food without first offering it to God. He should be disciplined in his food habits. He should take physical exercise and keep off disease. It is the householder’s duty to look after his parents and keep them happy with his conduct. He should never stop studying and acquiring knowledge – both secular and spiritual, which he should share with his children. The offspring should be given a good Samskara. Never praise them in so many words when they achieve something; just hug them silently and bless. This will galvanise them to achieve more. Praising will only make them egotistical which, in turn, stunts their growth. We should not for a moment imagine that perennial instructions about their future material prosperity will make them prosperous; it is only their own previous Karma which decides their material prosperity. The householder’s duty stops at giving them the good Samskara that is perpetually flowing since time immemorial.
The householder’s duty towards the wife is also clearly defined. He has to respect his wife and never enjoy anything without her. She should be an inseparable part of all his religious activities. He should never be free with other women or converse with them in privacy.
The issue is this: ‘Life survives on life’ (Manu Smriti 5.28), i.e., whatever food we take to live will have life. This cannot be avoided. But spiritual progress demands that we develop compassion. So, strictly speaking, the desire to live and the desire to develop compassion are opposed to each other. So, all civilized societies make compromise at different levels. No civilized society tolerates cannibals; they are shot down. In the next level some societies abstain from killing horses because they are used for ploughing their lands. Sailors abstain from killing albatross birds because they have been guiding them in their long voyages. Their compassion is a result of their gratitude to these creatures. In India, cow and its progeny are not killed. It is not only because they are used in agriculture. The cow feeds us all through life with its milk, yogurt, butter and ghee. Its urine and dung are extremely useful as medicine and cleansing agents respectively. So, we are not only compassionate towards it; we love and worship it. Apart from this, the scriptures advise specifically to abstain from eating the meat of some particular animals like cats and dogs.
But some people go even beyond this to show compassion. They only take vegetarian food. Of course, it also has life. But according to the Vedic scriptures, vegetation has only Prana (life breath) and not the mind. So, it does not experience any pain on cutting and cooking. So much so good – as they say. Some go even further and take only milk and fruits. Some saints still go further, and at the end of their life, giving up all violence, however subtle it may be, they take only water. They are prepared to end their life without food. But they die with the satisfaction that they have finally practiced compassion to its maximum extent. So, the scriptures leave it to us to decide our level of compromise.
By this age one will have surely done the best one could do for one’s family. Now it is the time to turn inwards and work for one’s own spiritual good. When one leaves from here for the final journey, he carries only his Karma and not his acquisitions. So, one should indulge in more and more Japa of your chosen god. Do Puja daily without fail. It is not correct to be over-concerned with the family and be nitpicking in their affairs. They do not like it either. Food intake should be regular and reduced. Avoid gossip and games; on the other hand, do appropriate exercises. Devote more time for the study of scriptures and share that knowledge with your friends and family – especially with your grandchildren. If one is still strong enough, on can render some service in a nearby temple or church.
This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami
Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.
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