Understanding how dharma culminates in prema

by Chaitanya CharanApril 9, 2017

[Mahasatsang Program at Columbus, USA]

Transcription by Sumithira Vasu : 

Hare Krishna, I am happy to be in the august presence of HG Dravida Prabhu. The topic today is “From Dharma to Prema”. Dravida Prabhu will give us glimpses of Prema and we will discuss how beautiful the verse of the Gita is.

I will talk about Dharma in 3 parts:

  • Dharma, as it is commonly understood, as a religion
  • Dharma, as it is understood in its etymological or innate sense
  • How Dharma culminates in Prema

A common translation of dharma is religion. It is one valid meaning, but in today’s world religion has a negative correlation.

British atheist joke about Christianity. In the Bible, it is said “In the beginning there was a word, and the word was God”. The gag goes “In the beginning there was a word, and the word was No.

Religion means people think “You can’t do this, you can’t do that” and hence considered regressive. In today’s ethos, people want to be free.

So, people say “I am SBNR_ spiritual, but not religious”.

There are many different religions, and unfortunately several conflicts. These conflicts happen when religion is seen in an external perspective when seen as a set of activities one should do and a set of practices that one should follow.

Externally, different people have different set of rituals. It may appear different.

Beyond that external, there is an internal purpose for all religions.

In the Gita, Krishna talks about the purpose in a dramatic verse, I will come later to that.

The ultimate purpose of religion is to ultimately develop a love of God; to raise our consciousness from the material to the spiritual world. The purpose is common, although the process is different among religions.

ANALOGY: I come from India, where cars stay on the left side of the road. In the US, cars drive on the right side of the road. To the observer, it may look like completely different, but the purpose is to regulate traffic.

The rules can be the opposite, but the purpose is the same. Similarly, among religions, when we go beyond the process and see the purpose, we can see the commonality.

In etymological sense, Dharma comes from Dhru- to sustain. That which makes us who we are and helps us sustain our nature is dharma. Our innate desire is to love and serve.

Dharma – our defining nature

People say” fall in love”., not stand in love. When we love someone, it is a mood of subordination to serve that person we love to make them happy. How to direct this loving and serving nature in a way that brings lasting fulfillment? That is Dharma.

The Gita states that the innate nature of ours is to love and serve.

Sanatan dharma- when this loving and serving tendency is directed towards an eternal object that is Krishna.

Sarva akarshiti iti Krishna. Krishna- one who attracts everyone, i.e. whatever that is attractive in anything or person, that is just a spark of Krishna’ splendor(BG). That means the attractive objects in this world is real, but those are just sparks.

There are different types of dharma, – kshatriya dharma, sthree dharma, Kula dharma. Dharma- means duty. The various duties in this world are meant to direct us and get closer to Krishna.

Para dharma- transcendental dharma

Apara dharma- not transcendental – material duties

Our innate nature (DHARMA) is to love Krishna; is to love and serve Krishna.

We are in a situation in this world- body, culture, nationality. Our duty as parents, children, our duty to country. The process was in Vedic India, our Para dharma and Apara dharma went together. I.e. Our duties in the world helped us get closer to Krishna.

Our Material duties need to help us stay harmoniously in the world.

While the soul loves Krishna, we have not yet experienced this love. There is a process by which we can develop the love for Krishna- Sadhana Bhakti.

Sadhaka- duty as sadhaka by which our consciousness will rise from material to spiritual

When we do spiritual or religious activities, the goal is to attain pure love for Krishna. Why? Because Krishna says once you attain this, you will attain me and never fall into this world.

How to balance material and spiritual duties?

Sometimes, both material and spiritual duties go together. Kshatriya dharma- fight against the atrocious people. Kula dharma- as a member of the Kuru dynasty, duty is to protect Kuru dynasty. AT the start of the war he saw a conflict between kshatriya dharma and Kula dharma.

Arjuna surrenders to krishna “Should I fight or not fight?

If that was the question, the Gita would not have such relevance so many millennia later.

He instead asked” I am bewildered. What is my dharma” krishna ‘s answer comes 18.66?

Sarva dharman parityaga
Mam ekam saranam vraja
Atha tvam sarva papebhoyo
Moksha yisyas ma sucah

Just give up all dharmas and surrender only unto me. Your sins will be nullified O Arjuna and from anxiety you will be free”

This verse has puzzled many scholars. In a Hindu temple, they recited “Sarva adharma parityaga” I asked them, why are you changing it from dharma to adharman?

The priest said” God has come to establish dharma, so how can God tell you to give up dharma?” So, while the generations passed down, “a” was forgotten. So, we added it”.

From the Gita’s context, Arjuna was a very virtuous person; adharma was not his problem. His problem was to choose between two dharmas, not between adharma and dharma. Resolving this was the difficulty. When Krishna says 18.66” Don’t get caught in the technicalities; should I do this or that” Sometimes we get so caught, that we forget the bigger purpose” Ultimately the purpose is to help us surrender to krishna. If we focus on the purpose, other things fall into place” Did Arjuna become adharmic after that just because Krishna said “give up all dharma? Prabhupada said “The hippies also followed the sarva dharman = they forgot all their duties. Prabhupada said” I taught them mam ekam saranam vraja”. But if I don’t do this, will I get some karmic reactions? Krishna says” if while surrendering to me, you do some accidental, unintentional sinful activity, don’t worry. I will free you from sinful activity?

At the end Arjuna takes up his bow and is ready to fight, i.e. fulfill his ksatriya dharma. But he is not fighting as a kshatriya. He is a Bhakta who is taking the role of a kshatriya to fight atrocity. He is by nature a kshatriya; sometimes our material roles confuse us. If we raise our awareness and remember our innate nature- our role to serve Krishna, we can ask Krishna “how can I serve you in this situation?” if we pray in that mood, most of the confusion we face in our life, that get resolved. As long as we are attached to a particular role or goal, life can frustrate us. But if we remember our original identity, we are not flustered; we will always find a way to serve; we may not have done in precisely the ways we wanted to serve, but we will still be able to serve/

Many parts of the world, people go to pray to God and ask for this or that. Give us our daily bread; it is good that we are going to God for that purpose; but that also means that we love bread more than God. The problem with this transactional relationship is it reduces God to the supplier for that one thing. If the desire happens. God is good; if it doesn’t happen “God doesn’t care; is he even real”

ANALOGY: When a child does not get the toy he/she wants, he thinks the parents don’t love him despite all the other things they do for him. He has reduced his relationship with his parents solely to the purpose of fulfilling his wish of the toy.

Similarly, when we go to God, “Please solve this problem” At one level it is good, we are at least approaching him, but we reduced God to the fulfillment of one prayer and we miss out the richness of the relationship with God.

At this level< our relationship is “I have this problem; I will use my intelligence and your power to solve this problem”  We know he is omnipotent, but we think he is not omniscient. We are half-trusting Krishna; He is omnipotent, but He doesn’t know what is good for me. So, I should tell Him what is good for me; So, this is the problem, this is the solution, so please implement it. The truth is Krishna knows what is good for us even we don’t know it. Prabhupada said” A devotee desires, but never demands”.

Certainly, in a particular situation, we want to get rid of the problem. But even in that situation, we need to ask Krishna” Please give me the strength to serve you in this situation”. In this world in our roles as parents, at work, as immigrants, sometimes we do the right thing we may still face obstacles/ The attitude is “I am your servant Krishna; how can I serve you?” With that attitude, much of the confusion will resolve.

ANALOGY: There is a black out and the room is dark. We may curse, get frustrated at the loss of power. In a few moments, we may take out our flashlight; the flashlight does not replace the power. But it allows us to take one step forward. It allows us to move on and keep taking forward steps, one step at a time and help us cover a significant distance. Eventually, the power is resumed and the room lights turn on. Similarly, something happens in our life, to our best-made plans, something terrible happens. Everything becomes dark. A pink slip. A terrible medical diagnosis. We thought we had it all planed, and suddenly everything becomes dark. We don’t know what to do” Mam ekam saranam”> Surrender is not something abstract, not passive “Krishna, I surrendered”. Instead, surrender is “I don’t know what is going on. Ultimately, I am your servant. Krishna, how can I serve you? Please guide me how to serve you. Everything seems to be going wrong. What I know is you are always with me, and please guide me how to serve you” That is our flashlight- it allows us to take one step forward.

Prabhupada tried so hard to follow his spiritual master’ s instructions, with so many obstacles. But the poem he wrote in Jaladhuta’ Make me dance”. Prabhupada’s mood is “Krishna, please engage me in your service”. He surrendered, but he was not passive; he worked so hard to establish Krishna consciousness” Surrender does not mean passivity.

Surrender has six elements: the first two are actions, the last four are dispositions (18.66 purport)

anukulyasya sankalpah (accept that is favorable)
pratikulyasya varjanam (Avoid that is unfavorable)
raksisyatiti visvaso (faith that Krishna will protect me”
goptrtve varanam tatha
atma-niksepa-karpanye (my whole being is meant for your service; karpanye- without you, I am nothing)
sad-vidha saranagatih

These dispositions come over a period of time. But the first two are actions, we can do that now. Surrender is not abstract or passive. We always think of – Draupadi raised her hands. That is one mode of surrender.

How did Arjuna surrender? He did it by picking up his bow. Whatever situation we are in “How can I serve you? That will create openness. When faced with challenges, we become resentful and ask “Why is this happening? Why did she do that? “Resentment causes our inner computer to hang, it goes in an endless loop consuming memory and we cannot function. It just consumes our memory, intelligence, we just can’t do anything. When the computer hangs, what do we do? We reboot it” rebooting is changing the question, not WHY, but How?
Not “Why did this happen?” instead: “How can I serve you?”

It will help us take one step forward and thing swill eventually resolve.

ANALOGY: I am hungry and need a mango tree, I keep shaking the tree = no mango falls, but the force makes an apple fall. There is a request and a need. The apple fell and I can eat it instead of saying: I want the mango? When we make the prayer into a demand to Krishna, it closes our eyes. He may answer the underlying need, but not necessarily the specific request. Faith is openness to possibilities. Krishna can help us in many different ways, not just the specific way we want. Krishna opens doors, but we need the intelligence and faith to Know Krishna knows the bets for us and to see new possibilities. Krishna, I am your servant, please guide me. One step forward, as you keep taking steps forward, doors will open. Answers come, but not in the way you expected. That vision of seeing God as not just more powerful than us, but also more intelligent than us and submitting to his will, that makes us harmonize with his will.

At the beginning Arjuna finds himself unable to fight. At the end, he is ready. Arjuna’s Gandhiva represents our determination. Amidst life’s perplexities, when we understand Krishna’s love for us, no matter how many things go wrong, krishna always love us, we remain determined. Our struggles won’t last forever, but we will. Survive through struggles but grow through them, have the vision of love- if we act with loving intention, Krishna’s love will illumine our path- we will grow through whatever we face.

Whatever Karma gets us to, Krishna will see us through.

Arjuna never wanted to fight his cousins; they were ready to accede the kingdom. Despite his best efforts to not wage a war with family, he was in the position of having to fight his grandfather. Gita basically reboots us – Mam ekam saranam- Krishna wanted Arjuna to fight for the cause of establishing virtue.

No matter how complex the problems we are facing, or how troublesome our situation is, with the mood of How can I serve you? It allows you to take one step forward, that gives you confidence, which leads to the next step.

While surrender has the mood of dependence on krishna, it is a very active endeavor. Arjuna was ready to fight in a mode of service

Dravida Prabhu’s comments.

Bhagavatam begins with the injunction of dharma,

Cheating dharma defined as getting some material thing for your religious observances. Daily bread; if we get bread, we are attached and we forget God. Karma kanda- you may go to Heaven, enjoy but then you will be back. Real dharma is what brings us closer to Sanatana dharma- to our original identity. Nine processes of devotional service. Prayers are very important- we can adopt them if it inspires us.

Prayers by Queen Kunti
Obeisances unto you Krishna. Near the end, she says” To pray to Krishna for love for Krishna”.
O Madhava, please ever fill my mind with thoughts of Thee, not any other kind. As Ganges torrent flows into the sea, let all my love flow constantly to Thee.
Previous prayer is difficult: Asking Krishna to cut off her attachments.
Prayers by Prahlad Maharaj
Prayers by Brahma
Prayers by Rupa Goswami.


1.       How to remember Krishna when at work, away from association of devotees?

Remembrance is primarily an intention. When a person is at work, at the back of their mind, they are thinking “I am doing this for my family” that intention comes from love of family. That intention “I am doing this for Krishna” this is not a mere sentiment. It must come from love. When we come to temple, we get a glimpse of spiritual life. Daily we can spend time in sadhana- this daily reflection increases our remembrance and leads to intellectual conviction. Initially Krishna is in the background. Eventually He is in the foreground; you will still be doing the activity, but you are very clear who you are doing it for.  Secondly, while we do an activity e may not remember. After the activity is done, you can remember Krishna and offer your work as sacrifice. Apart from that, I am a Bhakta doing this activity” this consciousness becomes innate to us as we practice bhakti. Initially in bhakti, we have some roles. As we grow, we take on so many roles, the experience of lived life gives us some separation between our identity and our roles. The identity that grants me the greatest security I am an eternal soul and a servant of Krishna. Bhagavatam says” the traveler may travel many places, but he always comes home”>W have different toles, but we return to awareness of our spiritual identity. Right now, focus on the periodic connection with Krishna.

2.       If purpose of religion is same, why so many different rules?
The guidelines change based on the culture, the teachers. There are different teaches who come and teach the truth in different ways, because of time, place and circumstance. Because people are different- whatever is taught, it is done in such a way that it is suitable for the people. If we go to a church, we should stand in a mood of reverence” He has manifested himself in a particular form so they will be attracted to Him” by seeing this, our devotion to God in a form that is familiar to us will increase.

3.       How do we decide if our desires are good or bad? How do we decide which is the right dharma?
Krishna says “ BG verse” – regular study of scripture gives us broad overview of what is to be done and what is not to be done. This internalization of scriptural knowledge becomes our inner, moral compass. If we don’t give up our dharmic principles, we may realize that some desires we will fulfill, but we may realize it was not such a big deal. Bhakti is not about rejecting desires, it is about redirecting desire towards service to Krishna. Saying no to desires is not joyful process/ instead” What are activities that I feel connected to Krishna?” by this way, we crowd out non-devotional desires. Don’t worry too much about giving up desires- like creating a vacuum. Instead fill with positive desires to do constructive things in service to Krishna, that connection will fulfill us and it will crowd out desires.

4.       So many bad things are happening in the world? Why has Krishna not descended in this earth?

The nature of this age is Kali Yuga- quarrel, hypocrisy and strife. Since this is an ae of constant degradation, He comes in a manner where He is constantly available. By chanting His names, we feel secure. Krishna comes not to kill miscreants, but to attack the demoniac tendencies. He comes as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to propagate the Holy name. To the extent, we take shelter of the holy names, we are at peace and can contribute to the solution. One person went to God.” So many things are happening; why don’t you send someone” God replied” I have already sent someone- that is you> “we all can be either be a part of the problem or solution. We may be a big part of small part of the solution, but we must take initiative. Arjuna didn’t say upon seeing the Vishwaroop, “You already have killed them, I am not going to fight”. Krishna has given all of us an opportunity to be part of the solution. Prabhupada’s example- one man who decided to propagate Krishna consciousness and was empowered to spread it in the West.

5.       How do I know this Gita as it is the original version?

The original Gita is the Sanskrit verses which is present in Gita as it is. He gives word-by-word translation. When people who read the Gita as it is give classes and teach the Gita, the message is remarkably consistent. What is Arjuna’s understanding? Is it consistent with the people who have read Gita as it is? Gita is about two things_ what are the means (Sadhana) and what is the goal (Sadhya). 10.8-10.11.  At the end, Arjuna says “I will do your will”. Gita teaches us many conceptions of the ultimate truth- karma yoga, bhakti yoga, Gnana yoga” but ultimately, 18.66, the Gita categorically states surrender as the best means.

People all over the world, surrendered to Krishna, even those who had no prior knowledge of the Gita. At one level, Gita as it is is an interpretation. But it’s description is faithful to the interpretation that Arjuna received.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan

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