The Path of Dharma and Health
The ancient sages have proclaimed that our life is a pilgrimage towards liberation (Moksha). They have prescribed two paths to achieve this: (1) Jnanamarga (the path of contemplation) and (2) Karmamarga (the path of worshipful action). Jnanamarga is more suited to a person who has renounced this world and all worldly attachments. For the ordinary householder Karmamarga is more appropriate.
In the Karmamarga four Purusharthas (human values) have been specified, viz; Dharma (ethical value) artha (wealth or possession) kama (instinctual desire) and moksha (liberation). Dharma is the bedrock of Indian philosophical thought.
Indian philosophy teaches us that Dharma is the path, which when followed spiritualy, takes us towards Moksha.
Artha and kama are introduced as the spectacles (sights) on either side of the path of Dharma. Artha and kama should be enjoyed only by using Dharmic principles and in no way affecting Dharma. One who eschews the path of Dharma and follows either artha or kama, is likely to end up with loss of health and honour. At times, it may even lead to unexpected death.
Moksha or liberation from this world is not death. ‘You are Truth, Knoledge, Bliss’ has been said in Daiva-dasakam, which is a personification of the Supreme Being, who is the embodiment of Awareness. This has been said also in the Atmopadesa-satakam stanza 4.
(Knowledge, the object known, and the knowledge of the knower, together make one primal glory. Within the radiance of that great omnipresent Awareness, one should merge and become that alone.)
Even after attainment of Jnana (knowledge of the Supreme) some continue to live in this world. Great souls like Guru come under this group. This state is called Jeevanmuktha (liberated while living). A Jeevanmuktha can continue to live as a householder or as a recluse. Sages like Vasista and Agasthya are such holy men who have lived as householders after attaining Jnana.
Of the four human values, artha and kama relate to worldly goals in life, and the other two to spiritual values or goals. When the ancient sages advised that worldly pursuits for possessions and to satisfy desires, should be done within the ambit of Dharma, they had synergized both the worldly and spiritual values in life. The new generation which apes the western culture does not understand the significance of this. That is the sad state of affairs today.
Man must be able to discriminate between right and wrong. We learn from the Dharmasastras (religious law books written about the codes of conduct. eg: Sreenarayana-dharmam) to enable us to do this. In other words, we must do what is expected of us as duties, and avoid such deeds which are prohibited by religious codes. This also applies to what we see, hear and speak, ie. discriminate between right and wrong. When it comes to food, we should consume only those items which are permitted (sattvic food) and keep away from bad or forbidden foods.
The Gurudeva has clarified in Atmopadesa-satakam stanzas 24 and 25 when an action gets considered as good or bad, from the dharmic angle.
‘What each performs for the happiness of the self, should be conducive to the happiness of others’.
That means, it should be for the benefit or welfare of the consumer. For example, a teacher tutors his students. Many of them study and pass with flying colours. Some of them may even become high ranking officers far above the level of the teacher. Here, what a person (a teacher) performs for his happy living, provides comfortable living to others. Such an action is right, and it is Dharma.
In stanza 25 Guru says:
‘Remember an action good for one person and brings misery to another is opposed to the Self’.
When a person makes and sell hallucinogenic drugs, he makes (easy) money. But the person who consumes such products ends up in misery, ie. the consumer is destroyed by this action. Such a profession or deed is adharma (transgresses the divine law). ‘Atma-virodhi’ means that which is an enemy of humanity or that which leads to utter disaster of the soul. This is also true of manufacturers of illicit liquor, poppy cultivation, drug peddlers. After this Guru continues by saying:
‘Those who give great suffering to another will fall in the burning sea of hell and perish’.
What a man sows, he reaps. One who sows sorrow (misery) reaps sorrow. One who sows hatred reaps the same. One who sows joy reaps joy. This is the immutable Law of Karma. This cannot be violated.
In this context, the followers of Guru have to understand one crucial point. If we sow hatred, we reap hatred. If we wish to get respect we can obtain it only if we show respect to others. The sooner this fact is recognized by those who wage wars in the name of castes, the better it is for their good.
Even the incarnations of God have been subjected to the law of Karma. If we read the Puranas, this can be verified. As the Bhaktakavi Poomthanam sang: ‘It is certain that not even Brahma (the creator) can break away from the shackles of Karma’ (Jnanapana). The Dharmasastras have proclaimed:- Don’t sow sins and reap sins; don’t sow violence and beget violence; but sow Dharma (righteous actions) and reap the same.
How one should observe the basic (general) rules of conduct has been introduced by Guru in two parts: Dharma-panchakam (the five tenets of Dharma) and Sudhi-panchakam (the five tenets of purity), as part of Sreenarayana-dharma. The five codes (creeds) of Dharma are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), astheya (non-stealing), avyabhichara (un-adultery), and madyavarjana (abstemiousness).
Ahimsa refers to non-injury to all creatures, through thoughts, speech or deed. Even killing without actual taking away life is a form of slaughter. Those who indulge in killing will ultimately get killed themselves (One who lives by the sword, shall die by the sword). This is the law of Karma. Therefore if you value your life, avoid killing. That is why Guru has recommended Ahimsa-dharmam (the code of non-violence to others). There is no logic in saying ‘I only eat (what is killed by others) but don’t kill’. It is the consumer who motivates (prompts) the killer in his action (consumption of meat promotes and sustains slaughterhouses). Guru has clarified this in Jeeva-karunya-panchakam.
‘The non-killing vow is great indeed,
And, greater still, not-eating to observe’.
Even subjecting one’s mind and body to discomfort and abuse, is also a form of violence. If one destroys himself gradually like a melting candle, he is violating the principle of Ahimsa. But if one stands like an oil lamp and spreads light (goodness/benefit), it gets well with the principle of Ahimsa. In martyrdom, one really violates the code of Ahimsa.
There are fools and ignorant people who put forward hollow arguments to justify their sins. ‘When you eat what is killed, your sins are atoned’ or ‘If you make confessions (admit your wrong doings) you are forgiven’. These are lame excuses, because even the Bible says ‘As you sow, so shall you reap’. The Ramayana says: ‘Whatever deeds you do repeatedly, you will have to bear the consequences of such actions. There is no escape from this’.
(than than nirantharam cheyyunna karmangal,
than thananubhavicheedukenne varoo)
Truth means the Supreme Truth. The poet Pomthanam wrote the same as: ‘Truth is nothing but Brahman (Awareness). This is believed by the noble ones’. The Dharmasastras exhorts, ‘Satyam vada, Dharmam chara’ (speak the Truth; practice righteousness).
Astheyam means non-stealing or coveting the possession of others, ie. what does not belong to you rightfully. When one acquires wealth or objects of his desire, it should be done without violating the principles of Dharma. When Sitadevi wished to possess the golden deer, it lead to her misery.
In order to earn money (wealth) by any means people in their youth often overdo this, at the cost of their health. In order to recoup the lost health, they have to spend a lot of money later. Finally they end up losing both money and health. These are real examples seen in our daily lives.
If one looks (peers) at a women with lust in mind, or flirts with them, or has illicit relationships, then he is committing adultery in one form or the other. By such acts he may lose his name, fame, status, money, his discriminating power, good conduct, his ancestral image or glory, and perhaps, even his life, prematurely. Desire should be for intellectual satisfaction and for spiritual unity. It should not be mad infatuation. This is the basis of Indian philosophy and tenets.
The story of Ahalya in Ramayana shows that though she was a virtuous woman unwittingly deceived and seduced by Indra, her immoral conduct led to her fall. Her husband sage Gautama cursed her to become a stone. She was restored to her original form by Rama. Shurpanakha, a demoness under the influence of her uncontrollable infatuation lost her nose and breasts.
Unbridled sexual desire, which does not fall under Dharma has created its progeny in the form of the monster AIDS. Even today this monster taunts and teases scientists who are trying to deal with AIDS. In excess, anything, even ambrosia is not good. There is no need to explain the consequences of uncontrolled sexual desires and relationships, any further.
Abstemiousness includes avoiding the use of items like liquor, opium, marijuana and tobacco. All these are mood elevators giving a false sense of pleasure (euphoria). An inebriated person abuses and harms both his mind and body. When he goes out of control, she starts abusing and harassing others. When one consumes liquor what he gets is not pleasure but mental imbalance. It is a temporary loss of sanity. It is a waste of time to advise such a person about righteousness, when he is not in his senses.
Today drugs have turned out to be far more fatal intoxicants or mood elevators than liquor. Those who have become slave to this habit through addiction do not hesitate to stoop down to any level to get money to buy drugs. (men will do any menial jobs, and women sell their body).
When a group of drunkards meet their topic of discussion will be liquor or liquor related subjects. This is true of others involved in similar addictions. Factual knowledge or reality is never a subject of importance to them. In this context, the company of virtuous people plays a significant role in reforming them. When Ratnakara, the hunter, had the good fortune to meet the Sapta Rishis (seven sages), he turned a new leaf in his life and became the reformed sage Valmiki. Many great souls who had the good fortune to live and work with Guru became immortal. There are also instances of people who were fortunate to meet Guru at least once in their life time and thus get over their unending sorrows. All these examples prove the greatness of sat-sang (the company or proximity to spiritually awakened people).
The four codes of conduct mentioned in Dharma-panchakam, namely, honesty, non-stealing, un-adultery and abstemiousness (temperance) fall under non-violence. In other words, falsehood hunts someone or other. Adultery is an indirect violence against morality or against one’s spouse. Consumption of liquor tantamount to abusing or injuring one’s body and mind. Hence the Dharma-sastra exhorts, ‘Ahimsa Paramo Dharma’ (Non-violence is the greatest Dharma). In order to clarify the concept of Ahimsa, Guru has taken the trouble to compose Jeeva-karunya-panchakam (The five verses of compassion towards living creatures) and Anukamba-dasakam (The ten verses on sympathy).
Kaala is the Lord of Dharma. Kaala means ‘Time’ and therefore the god Kaala is the cause of and ruler of all things and thus gives form to time, which otherwise is eternal and unlimited. There is a limit to which adharma is permissible for all. When the pot of sins becomes full with commitment of actions violating moral codes of conduct, premature death occurs. To avoid such a predicament, one has to remain steadfast on the path of Dharma.
Sudhi-panchakam deals with purity of the body, mind, speech, sense organs and the home. The Gita treats body as a temple (B.G. 13.1). When the temple gets desecrated, the inmate (Kshetrajna ie. the soul) leaves the body. That is called death. If you kill and eat, it is violation of Dharma. One who is prone to killing ultimately meets with his own death. Hence it is appropriate to turn to natural foods, which does not cause loss of lives or killing animals.
The purity of body means external and internal purity. Internal purity means purity of food and drinks.
The body is made of five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether). Guru has dealt with this beautifully in Pindanandi stanza 2.
(The earth, water, fire, air and ether, You combined these in specific proportions, put in an enclosed room, alit the fire, protected me from the tormenting Goddess by giving the nectar and reared me from a lump of flesh).
The first line of the stanza refers to the five elements. The body which is composed of these five elements has, the same five elements as its food, but in different forms. Fasting is equivalent to consumption of ether. Normal breathing and pranayama (controlled breathing) involves the consumption of air. Sun baths and Surya-namaskar (prostration to the sun god) are forms of consuming fire (heat). Drinking water, water therapy and bathing in water amount to consumption of water. The fifth element earth gets into the human system as solid foods or as medicines.
Man should eat to live and not live to eat. Once a person crosses thirty years in age, he has to inevitably control his diet. The opulent make a grave mistake in this matter. Therefore they are prone to diseases like diabetes, hypertension and to premature death. A body, in which air does not enter (eating too much), is like a house without ventilation. When the poor die of starvation, the rich die from over eating. People who eat meat after killing animals, or harass humans (another form of killing) die from diseases like heart attack, prematurely. One may go to the extent of interpreting this as what is said in Dharmasastra ‘The killer will get killed ultimately’.
There is a belief among Hindus, that if a corpse enters a temple, the temple gets desecrated. From the same angle, can a person who eats meat or fish (corpses of animals) enter a temple? Does not eating meat amount to desecrating the ‘temple’ of the human body?
The basis of all actions is the thoughts behind them. If the mind and thoughts are good or noble, everything will turn out to be good. Upasanamarga is prescribed for the purity of the mind, with this in view.
If one does not control his speech, at times it may bring bodily harm. Those who have the habit of spreading false rumours or scandals must know this. Dharmasastra exhorts: ‘One should say only what pleases others. Even if something is true, but it hurts someone, it must not be uttered. This is the rule of eternal Dharma’. Guru has said: ‘If a word has to be pure, it must be true, beneficial to others and with equal attitude towards all people’.
Indriyasudhi (purity of organs of sense and actions) means that the organs must function within the code of conduct prescribed by Dharma. This includes avoiding prohibited or obscene sights, and not listening to what should not be heard. This also includes those actions which create scare (fear) in others. ‘The organs should not be abused or pampered. One should keep away from what is not normally appropriate’. Guru said that the above actions purify the sense and action organs.
The kitchen is as important to a home, as heart is to man. If the kitchen is unhygienic, it will not provide health to the inmates of the house. We should understand that Grihasudhi (cleanliness of the home) means cleanliness of the internal and external environment in a home. This includes availability of pure air and clean water. The kitchen is mentioned specifically, only as an example to carry home the point. ‘The inside of the house should be accessible to sunlight and good ventilation. All rotten and rancid materials should be discarded and the house and its environs must be kept spotlessly clean. One should not commit nuisance in the vicinity of the house. It is good to burn incense sticks or other perfumery in the evening around dusk’. This is what the Guru has said on ‘Grihasudhi’.
Guru has further mentioned that those who observe and follow this Sudhipanchakam which provides health, long life, and joy and is beneficial to the soul (mental peace), will become energetic, famous, healthy and lead a long life.
The path of Dharma is the same as the path of good health. In other words acquiring wealth and objects of desires should be done without being detrimental to one’s health. Therefore those who are concerned (or think about being healthy) should first think about righteous way of living following the codes of conduct of Dharma. Where Dharma-panchakam and Sudhi-panchakam does not exist, it is impossible to have health. During the time of Mahabali, it is said, ‘There were no sorrows or diseases and no infant mortality.’ (aadhikal vyadhikalonnumilla, balamaranangal kelpanilla.) The reason is simple, Dharma flourished in those times.
Today the sick are increasing in number. The main reason for this is the deterioration of Dharmic way of life. Science has provided man with all types of comforts. But, to what effect? They are not really beneficial to him since there is violation of Dharma. The West is looking towards the East to remedy this situation. But the Indians are aping the west!
If a patient thinks that the doctor will take care of everything regarding health, so long as he takes the medicines as prescribed. This wrong notion needs to be corrected. We say often, ‘If I do my half, the other half God will do’. This is also true of a doctor’s treatment of a patient. The patient should think, ‘I shall do my part, and the doctor take care of the rest’. At this juncture it is worth remembering the concept of Pathiyam (dietary regimen or restrictions). Ayurveda says, ‘Without medicines but with proper dietary control it is possible to cure diseases, but without proper dietary control even hundred doctors are of no use to cure a disease’.
Without Dharma, science is a demon, and the scientist is a devilish intellect. The biggest handicap of allopathy lies in that it is not based on Dharma. Therefore, such doctors can overcome this shortcoming by studying Sreenarayana-dharma. In fact one must study Dharma first, and then medical science.
In the 8th chapter Guru has included the actions required to make amends for errors and omissions resulting from wrongdoings while observing Dharma-panchakam and Sudhi-panchakam. These are in the form of 5 yajnas ( yajna means worship or sacrifice, and also homage). There is an old adage, ‘The sins committed in various births will come as diseases or suffering’. Here it is mentioned that one can find remedial solutions to his past sins and recoup his health. The five yajnas are: Brahmayajnam, Devayajnam, Pitruyajnam, Manushayajnam and Bhootayajnam.
Brahmayajnam (Homage to sages). This is learning and teaching Brahmavidya (the knowledge of Brahman, the ultimate Truth). At the individual level it means the daily study of sacred scriptures and sharing this knowledge with others. This includes chanting of holy names or mantras (japa). Even a woman in her periods can chant these mantras. Without japa life is like a gruel without salt (seasoning). (It will be bland and tasteless and hence not enjoyable.)
Devayajnam (Homage to Gods). This is to please Gods. This includes rites prescribed in the Vedic texts, like homa (sacrificial fire). Those who cannot perform homam my light agarbathis (incense sticks), camphor etc. This homage is to recognize the powers that guide the world and the evolutions of man and his world.
Pitruyajna (Homage to ancestors). This is offering libations and the like to one’s forefathers regularly, as prescribed. This includes offering of rice balls (pinda) and water (tharpanam) to the family line and to progenitors of mankind (also called shraddha).
Manushayajna (Homage to humans). This includes feeding of guests, the poor, servants, needy students and all forms of philanthropy or whatever is done for the welfare of mankind. Guru’s words like ‘What each performs for the happiness of the self, should be conducive to the happiness of others’ (Atmopadesa-satakam-24) and ‘Helping others is virtuous (punya)’ describe such actions. In Manushayajna the most important aspect is charity (danam). Of charitable actions, offering of food (annadanam) is considered supreme. The uniqueness of annadanam lies in the fact that you are able to give (feed) a person to his full satisfaction and contentment.
Bhootayajna (Homage to beings). Giving foods to crows, fish, insects and animals is called Bhootayajna. When Pitruyajna is performed it is customary to offer rice balls to crows or fishes. The practice of feeding fish in some temples (meenoottu) is a form of Bhootayajna.
In Sreenarayana-dharma (189,190) the following is said: ‘Those who do not perform the 5 yajnas are sure to suffer (misery). Those who eat the food left from yajna are not touched (affected) by sins’. ‘One who does not share with Gods and ancestors, even a part of what he has inherited from them, becomes an eternal betrayer’. Every devotee should reflect to know why Guru has used such strong language to emphasize this point.
To recover from a disease the sick has to take medicines himself. To appease one’s hunger one has to eat himself. Thinking on these lines, observance of the 5 yajnas oneself must be considered nobler than making offerings in temples. In temples importance is given to tantric solutions. What Guru has recommended here is a spiritual solution which is eternal in nature.
The Sreenarayana culture or value system is the culture of those who live according to Sreenarayana-dharma. Those who call themselves (pride themselves) as followers of the Guru without observing his code of conduct or value system, are literally harming (disrespecting) Guru. Sreenarayana-dharma is the dharma of entire humanity. Earlier proponents of Dharma divided people in to various castes and gave separate Dharma for each caste. The relevance of such divisions has lost its significance today. The Dharma that is most relevant today is Sreenarayana-dharma. There is no need to burn Manusmriti. Guru has already rectified it by including what is relevant and excluding what is not relevant today.
Dharma alone is the transcendental God.
Dharma alone is infinite wealth.
Dharma alone becomes victorious everywhere.
Let Dharma lead to the prosperity of all human beings’
Let such noble words of the Gurudeva lead everyone to good health and prosperity. This is my prayer.