What is right and what is wrong? What are the key principles & morals we should live by? Is there an underlying order to our lives which can serve as a common guide to all of us?
Mahabharata is a good source to study such questions due to its rich & varied characters, situations & dilemmas.
When the myths and supernatural aspects of the epic saga are stripped out, and the story is spun in a believable fashion full of human foibles, as in ‘Parva’ by S.L.Bhyrappa, it is a compelling narrative we can relate to in our day-to-day lives.
The wide variety of questions dealt with in Mahabharata expands the mind. Why should we respect elders? Is pre-marital sex fine? What about adultery, polyandry and polygyny? Should one always say the truth? Can we eat meat? Can we fight, kill, pillage & plunder? Can we cheat? What acts are sinful? Are all humans same or some better than others? What is God? How to reconcile conflicting views of various religions, rituals, habits, customs & cultures? What are our duties & rights? Whats the best way to live? How much can one consume? Should we protect the environment? How should one die? How should we treat our friends? How to resolve conflicts within family? What is a meaningful life? Should I accumulate wealth or live as a recluse? …..
Perhaps there is no common dharma, acceptable to all. Morals and principles are constantly in flux, both across time and cultures. What was acceptable 10, 100 or 1000 years back is not acceptable now. What is acceptable in India is not acceptable in the US. What is allowed in Islam is not allowed in Buddhism. Communism, capitalism, dictatorship, democracy, etc. have their own fervent believers and practitioners. Further, moralistic fads come & go, with short-lived successes & failures.
What can one do? Should one stay confused or just dismiss thoughts about dharma & morals? Is it easier to follow the fads and fashions of the day & local culture?
Perhaps it is helpful to fashion one’s own personal dharma. A set of morals & principles drawn from various sources, cultures & histories which may have to be tweaked or even changed radically, as one ages & gathers experiences. Such a personal dharma or set of beliefs may or may not be similar to that held by spouse, children, neighbors, countrymen, colleagues & friends. We have to constantly gather superior ideas, beliefs, morals & principles, tailor and incorporate them into our personal dharma. We have to be resolute about living by our personal dharma, while at the same time being ruthless to discard aspects which turn out to be inferior or meaningless. It requires extreme boldness to live by such an inner scorecard, not being influenced or confused by what’s happening around us. We also need to be ready to face consequences of practicing a personal dharma, some aspects of which could be considered bohemian.
There seems to be no simple way to answer the question ‘What is Dharma?’.
Everybody, and everything, can be right or wrong, depending on one’s point of view.