Gleanings from Hindu scriptures: Part 14
Karma, or actions, are central to human life. There does not pass a moment when people are not involved in one or the other action. Karma does not merely refer to bodily movements, but also to our speech and thoughts. After all, even speech and thoughts involve movements and vibrations with respect to sound and mind.
Thus, Karma sustains life. But, not all actions enrich life. Some lead to upliftment and happiness while others lead to pain and sorrow. Hindu scriptures call these uplifting actions as ‘Dharma’ because they uphold life, impart happiness, and establish harmony. The depreciating actions that lead to pain, suffering, and disharmony are termed as ‘Adharma’, or that which is opposite of Dharma.
The performance of Dharmic actions helps a person fulfill his/her desires without causing disharmony or suffering to others, and thus, leads to spiritual elevation. On the other hand, the fulfillment of one’s desires through Adharmic actions without a care for the society, will result in the society’s harm, and will cause sorrow to the performer. Thus, the scriptures say, Dharma must always be practiced and Adharma avoided.
Hindu scriptures have enunciated at various places which actions are to be performed and which to be avoided. It must be kept in mind that actions refer to not just bodily actions, but also to those performed through speech and thoughts. Manu Smriti, for instance, classified ten actions under Adharma: 3 bodily actions, 3 mental actions, and 4 actions committed by speech.
In this installment, let us look into three kinds of bodily actions that are considered as ‘Adharma’ and hence should be avoided. Manu Smriti (12. 7) says:
adattAnAmupAdAnam hiMsA chaiva vidhAnataH |
paraDharOpasEvA cha shArIram trividham smritam ||
Meaning: Taking what has not been given, injuring (others) without the sanction of the scriptures, and holding intercourse with another man’s wife, are declared to be the three kinds of (adharmic) bodily action.
Each of these terms covers a huge variety of actions. For example, the term ‘adattanaamupaadaanam’ not only refers to act of stealing but also to all forms of corruption and unethical wealth accumulation.
Cheating people by fooling them, extorting people using force, stealing, dacoity, corruption, and bribery, every action that results in unethical accumulation of wealth are all considered as Adharmic actions.
The gist of the tenet is that a person must earn his wealth and luxuries through virtuous Dharmic means by hard work and honesty. All other means of gaining wealth have been considered as Adharma.
The second tenet calls ‘Himsa’, or injury which is not sanctioned in the scriptures, as Adharma. It is interesting to note that the Smriti is not asking for adherence to absolute non-violence or pacifism, but only rejects those acts of violence which are not according to the scriptures.
So, what does “according to scriptures” mean? Hindu scriptures permit injury in certain situations like the performance of Yajna, during cooking, in self-defense, during wars, etc.
In these circumstances, an injury is inevitable. Yajnas are performed for the material and spiritual welfare of the Universe, wars are fought to protect one’s nation and citizens, while cooking is necessary to sustain life. Ahimsa, as an absolute tenet is only applicable to Sannyasins (renunciates) who have renounced the Universe. For all others, Himsa (or injury) is permitted only in a few unavoidable circumstances. Apart from that, any violence committed is considered as Adharma.
Thus, killing or hurting people or animals for any reason other than self-defense or during the war is Adharma. Kidnapping, blackmailing, human trafficking, animal trafficking, forcing women into prostitution, and all related crimes are Adharma. Human and animal rights are all addressed by this tenet.
The third tenet of Adharma is having a physical relationship with another person’s spouse, and thus addresses adultery. The reason adultery has been considered as Adharma is that it involves cheating. Just as one must not steal another person’s wealth, one must also not violate another person’s wife. Marriage is a deep conjugal bond and this bond is violated when there is adultery.
Further, the tenet not only refers to the issues of willful adultery but also to cases wherein women are harassed or raped even after the perpetrator knows that she is not interested in him or that she is already married. The tenet reminds men to keep their actions in restraint so that women can live their life independently, without fear of harassment.
Hence, the Manu Smriti calls stealing, violence, and violating others’ wives as three of the heinous Adharmic actions that should be avoided. Other actions can also be Adharmic, but the verse highlights three important aspects of human actions where they err the most.
One may desire momentary pleasure, or wealth by committing acts of Adharma. However, the pleasure will not last long. Ultimately, one will invariably end up in pain and sorrow that is proportional to the magnitude of the Adharma committed, and the magnitude of suffering caused to others. Thus, the scriptures repeatedly advise people to practice the path of Dharma and shun Adharma.
More in this segment:
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 6
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 7
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 8
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 9
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 10
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 11
Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures – Part 12