When the Gita instructs sarva dharman parityajya why does a devotee need to perform apara dharma?
Transcribed by: Jyoti Shirasangi Mataji
Question: Why does a devotee need to do Apara dharma? The Bhagvatam says that, the Apara dharma is “Kaitava dharma” it is a cheating religion, and therefore one should practice pure devotional service “Savai punsam Paro dharma”. The Bhagvatgeeta also says, “Sarva Dharman Parityajya Mam ekam Sharanam Braja” just give up all varieties of religions and surrender to Me. Then why does a devotee need to do Apara dharma? (7.39 min)
Answer: Because, for a devotee, even the performance of Apara dharma is a means of executing Para dharma. The difference between Apara dharma and Para dharma can be understood in two ways:
One is through the actions, and the second is through the motivations. So, in a technical point of view, Apara dharma is dharma according to varnaashrama. Somebody may act as a Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisha, Kshudra, or Brahmacharya, Grahasta, or Vanaprastha, Sanyasi like that.
Now we can see, Shree Chaitanya mahaprabhu openly proclaimed “SHLOKA” he gives up his identification with both all varnas and ashramas, and he says, “Gopi Bhartur Padakamalayor Das Das Dasanu Das” he says, I am the servant of the servant of the gopis, that is the servant of the Lord of the Gopis. So even after describing all this, how did Lord Chaitanya mahaprabhu behave? He behaved as a Sanyasi. And as a Sanyasi, he avoided contact with the opposite sex, and he was extremely strict about that. So, is it that his actions are not in harmony with his statements? No. we have to understand that, as long as we are in the material world, we have to be situated somewhere in the material world.
So, a devotee is, in one sense transcendental to to all varnas and ashrammas, but still among the varnas and ashramas, the devotee is situated somewhere. And were ever the devotee is situated, the devotee has to perform the duties of that particular Varna or ashrama. The way the devotee performs the duties is different from the way other people might do.
So, those who are following varnaashrama, without understanding of pure devotional service, or without motivation of wanting to please Krishna, then they will act with some fruitive intension, may be they want to go to heaven, or maybe they want liberation, or some other fruits they want. But a devotee doesn’t want any of these fruits.
A devotee simply wants to love and serve Krishna, and the Para dharma involves practicing of pure devotional activities by which one serves Krishna, and when a devotee does Apara dharma also, it is done for the sake of maintenance of the body, is done for the sake of setting an example for society, is done for maintaining order in society, but it is done with the motivation of pleasing Krishna.
So, if we don’t do Apara dharma, then how will we exist in the world? Even just for maintaining ourselves, we have to do something. “SHLOKA” Krishna says, Sharira yatra; the soul is having a yatra or journey through this body. And while going on this journey through the body, the body needs to be maintained, and one cannot maintain that.
Now, we can see in Bhagvatgeeta also, that Krishna told Arjuna that, “Sarva dharman Parityajya” so, Arjuna gave up all varieties of religions, and surrendered, because Arjuna confirmed about what Krishna is telling, or affirmed reaffirmed it by saying, “Karishyaiva Vachanam Tava” in BG 18.73. And what did Arjuna did after that? He fought. He fought according to Kshatriya dharma. So here we see Lord Chaitanya following Varna dharma, the ashrama dharma of a strict Sanyasi, and here we see Arjuna, who is also surrendering to Krishna, following “Sarva dharman Parityajya” but is still doing the duty of a Kshatriya.
So, essentially as devotees, for us, the practice of transcendence is something which is important and and that is our ultimate aspiration, and there are activities that directly focus on on transcendence, they are Para dharma, and they may be practiced as a central part of our sadhana, that is the aspiration that we carry in to our performance of Apara dharma also.
So, in that sense, the Apara dharma Para dharma distinction, is in terms of actions, and in terms of motivation. In terms of actions, the difference is crystal clear. (The activities of pure devotional service are Para dharma, and the activities of Varnashrama and everything else will be Apara dharma). Off course, some of the activities may be Adharma also. But with respect to this particular context and question, there is another classification we can have from the point of motivation. So, a devotee does Para dharma activities for the sake of pleasing Krishna and developing love for Krishna, and a devotee, while living in the material world, has to act some way, so the devotee does the activities of Apara dharma for the sake of bodily maintenance and maintenance of the social order. These activities are also done with the motivation of Para dharma, i.e. with the desire for pleasing Krishna and loving Krishna, and with that purpose they are done, then such a Apara dharma is not to be given up. Such a Apara dharma must be performed. And off course, Parikshat maharaja gave up his Apara dharma also, because he was on the verge of death. But the same Bhagvatam in which is told of Parikshat maharaj, also tells the story of Priyavrat, who had renounced the world, but he was told to come back and take up the responsibilities, because that’s what was required. There were no descendent from the side of maharaja Uttanapada, therefore Priyavratha had to take up the responsibility of ruling, and he came back. Even when Priyavratha was in forest, he had not given up Apara dharma entirely; he was following Apara dharma of a Sanyasi. But he was told to take up the Apara dharma of a Grahasta.
So, the point is, devotees also have to do Apara dharma, because we have to live in the world, and we have to maintain the body and we have to play a part in the social order, and we do it in an orderly way, but with the desire to please Krishna. That’s how a devotee’s Apara dharma activities also become subsumed (Included) within the performance of Para dharma.
Thank you. Hare Krishna