What are dharma-shastra and artha-shastra? How are they different?

by Chaitanya Charan dasMay 27, 2014

From Rajeev:

Prabhupada’s Gita purports refer to this. Can you pl explain?

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: What exactly is dharma shastra and artha shastra? How are they different?

Answer: Three different things are there in it. Firstly, we have this dharma artha, kama and moksha as the four purusharthas. These four purushartas accordingly have scriptures associate with them. For example, the Upnishads are generally called as moksha shastra. Moksha shastra often categorically condemn going to heaven and enjoying like that which glorified quite a bit in the Vedic samhitas, Rig Veda and other places. So dharma, artha and kama are more karma marg, moksha is from the gyan marg point of view. This is the broad classification that we know of. The difference between the Vedas and the Upnishads. Krishna also talks about it in avipaścitaḥ veda-vāda-ratāḥ pārtha, 2.42-43.

Just as there is a difference between dharma, artha, kama on one side and moksha on other side and also off course we look the difference between all this and Bhagvatam which calls all of them as kaitava dharma (cheating religion). Like that there is difference between within dharma, artha and kama also. For example there are kama shastra, Vatsyayan has given that and talks about elaborately about sensual enjoyment which he himself says that this should not be made into the goal of life. Vatsyayan rishi is the author of kamasutra. Kamasutra is quite famous or infamous in the world as a sex manual practically of various sex poses and various forms of sexual enjoyment. But Vatsyayan himself says that this is not the purpose, this is one of the purushartas and one has to eventually move forward to moksha. Prabhupada has said that kama is also included in Vedic literature. He talks about kama shastras but he did not encourage that in any way. In fact, many of the details which are given there seem to be sort of violently against the Vedic conclusion of regulative sense enjoyment. The point is that when one particular purushartha is focused on the books that are written focus on that and then they do not talks so much other things while focusing on that.

Kamashastra doesn’t talks so much about dharma, artha or moksha at all. This focus on kama. The same way there are dharma and artha shastra. For example, Chanakya Pandit has written niti shastra and he has written artha shastra also. This niti shastra is more about moral principles and it tells stories about moral living. But the same person who write artha shastra seems to be quite political and he talks about how a king has to do whatever is required to maintain the rule of law and remove decedents and remove opponents. Some people are called that this artha shastra is almost like a manipulative, just like the Britishers did divide and rule. Chanakya also recommends that in the artha shastra. Krishna also says that sarvārambhā hi doṣeṇa dhūmenāgnir ivāvṛtāḥ (BG 18.48), all endeavors are covered by fault. In politics one has to do all these things if one is involved in that. Now coming to specifically Krishna’s point in the Bhagavad Gita in eighteenth chapter, ahimsa is talked one of the qualities of Brahmans. But then immediately the next verse Krishna talks about yuddhe cāpy apalāyanam, qualities of kshatriya. So one should not commit violence and other is one should not go away from violence. It’s almost contradictory. But the point is according to their nature their duties are different. In general dharma shastra is emphasized for Brahmans and artha shastra is emphasized for kshatriyas.

That is one of the criticism that Dropadi and Bhima do to Yudhister. Dropadi when in the forest when they were in the exile. Dropadi tells Yudhister that oh King there is a time to forgive and there is a time to punish. If the king gets confused between the two then he will be doomed. Off course Yudhister replies. Yes, I also know that but this is not the time to punish. This is the time for us to keep our work. Yudhister doesn’t stay forgiving throughout. After thirteen years he asks for the kingdom and when the kingdom was not given, he does fight.

The point is that Arjuna is thinking more from a brahmanical point of view and he is saying that let us forgive, let us avoid violence. So he is forgiving from the dharma shastra point of view. But he is already in the world, he is in a royal family and he is expected to act according to artha shastra. That is his confusion and that’s why he saying dharma sammudha chetaha. He is not saying I have forgotten dharma but he is saying that am the bewildered about which is the dharma that I should follow. Krishna concludes by telling him that first you should follow kshatriya dharma. That’s what the 2.31- 37 is about. But then as Krishna goes on towards the end of Bhagavad Gita He said you follow you spiritual dharma of bhakti and in this case the best way you perform bhakti is by acting like a kshatriya. First it is about dharma shastra and artha shastra, choose artha shastra because that is according to your kshatriya duty but then the later answer is choose bhakti shastra and bhakti shastra injunction in this context is the same as artha shastrah’s injunction, which is to fight. Thank you.

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Chaitanya Charan das

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