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DWT 4: The True Goal of Dharma

dharmasya hy āpavargyasya
nārtho 'rthāyopakalpate
nārthasya dharmaikāntasya
kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ

All occupational engagements are certainly meant for ultimate liberation. They should never be performed for material gain. Furthermore, according to sages, one who is engaged in the ultimate occupational service should never use material gain to cultivate sense gratification.

—Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.9

We have already discussed that pure devotional service to the Lord is automatically followed by perfect knowledge and detachment from material existence. But there are those who consider that all kinds of different occupational engagements, including those of religion, are meant for material gain. The general tendency of any ordinary man in any part of the world is to gain some material profit in exchange for religious or any other occupational service. Even in the Vedic literatures, for all sorts of religious performances an allurement of material gain is offered, and most people are attracted by such allurements or blessings of religiosity. Why are such so-called men of religion allured by material gain? Because material gain can enable one to fulfill desires, which in turn satisfy sense gratification. This cycle of occupational engagements includes so-called religiosity followed by material gain and material gain followed by fulfillment of desires. Sense gratification is the general way for all sorts of fully occupied men. But in the statement of Sūta Gosvāmī, as per the verdict of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, this way is nullified by the present verse, which describes the real purpose of religion.

Sūta Gosvāmī says, dharmasya hy āpavargyasya: [SB 1.2.9] the purpose of dharma, or a system of religion, is to take one along the path toward liberation from birth and death. The word apavarga is very significant: it means the negation of pavarga, the miseries of material existence. In Sanskrit linguistics, pavarga indicates the letters pa, pha, ba, bha, and ma, each of which stands for one of the material miseries. Pa indicates pariśrama, hard labor. In this material world, you have to work very hard for sense gratification. And pha indicates phenilā, foam. When you work very hard, foam sometimes comes from your mouth. We often see this among horses or other animals. Ba indicates byarthatā, frustration. In spite of working very hard, one feels frustration. And bha indicates bhaya, fear. Although one works very hard, still one is fearful about what will happen. And finally, ma indicates mṛtyu, death. We work so hard, day and night, and still death comes. The scientific world is working so hard to defeat death, but the scientists themselves are dying. They cannot stop death. They can create some atom bomb to kill millions of people, but they cannot create something that will stop death. That is not possible. So, the word pavarga—indicating the letters pa, pha, ba, bha, and ma—represents five kinds of miseries in this material world.

Here Sūta Gosvāmī says, dharmasya hy āpavargyasya: [SB 1.2.9] by practicing religion one should nullify pavarga. No more hard labor, no more foaming at the mouth, no more frustration, no more fearfulness, no more death. In other words, our dharma must help us transcend the material world, because in the material world you have to work very, very hard and suffer the subsequent miseries. You cannot think, "Oh, I am such a great man that I'll not work." Na hi suptasya siṁhasya praviśanti mukhe mṛgāḥ. The lion is known as the king of the forest, but he still has to work. The lion cannot simply lie down and hope that some animal will come and say, "My dear lion, please open your mouth and let me enter." No. Even though he is the most powerful animal in the forest, he still must work very hard to acquire his food. Similarly, the President of the United States, though he is the most powerful man in the country, is working very hard in his post.

So, in this world no one can achieve anything without working hard. But we do not wish to work; therefore, at the end of the week we leave the city and enjoy some leisure so that we may forget all our hard labor throughout the week. Then on Monday we have to return to work. This is going on everywhere.

Being part and parcel of God, by nature every living entity wants to enjoy life without work. That is his tendency because that is what Kṛṣṇa is doing. Kṛṣṇa is always enjoying with Rādhārāṇī and the other gopīs, but He's not working. We don't hear from the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or any other Vedic literature that Kṛṣṇa has to go to His job in a great factory at nine o'clock and earn some money so that He can then enjoy with Rādhārāṇī. No. The Vedic statement is na tasya kāryaṁ karaṇaṁ ca vidyate: God has no duties to perform.

Then what is Kṛṣṇa doing? He is simply enjoying. Once a European gentleman went to Calcutta in search of a temple of God. He saw many temples of Kālī and some of Śiva, but only when he came to the temple of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa did he say, "Here is God." Why? He remarked, "I saw that in the other temples Goddess Kālī and Lord Śiva are working, but here God is simply enjoying." This is confirmed in the Vedānta-sūtra, with the statement ānandamayo 'bhyāsāt (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.12)"The Lord is by nature full of transcendental happiness"—and also in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.1), which states that Kṛṣṇa is sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ, possessed of an eternal form of knowledge and bliss.

So, just as God doesn't have to work but simply enjoys, we also want to enjoy without working. Yet even though we are Kṛṣṇa's parts and parcels and therefore also blissful by nature, because we have fallen under the influence of Kṛṣṇa's external, material energy, we have to work very hard just to live. We have to work so hard that foam sometimes comes from our mouth, yet still we are not assured of success. And we are always fearful because, after all, no matter how hard we work we must die. This is our position.

So, in the present verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Sūta Gosvāmī says, dharmasya hy āpavargyasya: religion is meant to nullify these five kinds material miseries—hard work, foaming at the mouth, frustration, fearfulness, and death. That is the purpose of dharma. Yet everywhere the Christians are going to church and praying, "O God, O Father, give us our daily bread." But God is supplying food to the cats and dogs and birds and bees and everyone. Why should He not give us our food? The proper prayer is "O God, please engage Me in Your service so I may be freed from these five tribulations." That is a proper prayer.

Of course, anyone who goes to church and prays to God for bread is a thousand times better than the rascal atheists who have no faith in God. They say, "Oh, what is God? I am God. By economic development I shall create so much bread. Why shall I go to church?" One who prays to God for bread is far better than such rascals because, after all, although he may not know what to pray for, at least he has faith in God. So he's pious. As Kṛṣṇa explains in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.16):

catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī jñānī ca bharatarṣabha

There are four kinds of pious people who come to God. The first is the distressed person. Any common man who is pious will pray to God when in distress: "My dear Lord, kindly rescue me from this difficulty." Then there are the poor people who go to a temple, mosque, or church to pray for some money. They are also pious. And the curious are also pious. They go to a church or temple thinking "What is God? Let us find out." Finally there are the learned scholars who are seriously searching after God and trying to understand Him. All these persons are pious.

On the other hand, one who denies the very existence of God, who tries to solve his problems solely by means of his own knowledge, is described by Kṛṣṇa as follows:

na māṁ duṣkṛtino mūḍhāḥ prapadyante narādhamāḥ
māyayāpahṛta-jñānā āsuraṁ bhāvam āśritāḥ

"Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are the lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me" (Bhagavad-gītā 7.15). One may ask, "There are so many big, big philosophers and scientists who do not recognize the existence of God. What about their knowledge?" Here Kṛṣṇa says, māyayāpahṛta-jñānāḥ: "Their knowledge has no value because the essence of all knowledge, knowledge of God, has been stolen away by illusion."

So, the Bhagavad-gītā says that only one who has faith in God is pious, and that among pious persons he who is serious about gaining knowledge of God is the best. Ultimately, religion, or dharma, is meant for those who are very serious about learning of God and getting out of this material, conditioned life. That is real dharma—not simply to go to a temple or church and ask God for some material benefit.

Preliminary dharma, however, does include such materially motivated religion as part of the four Vedic goals of life known as dharma, artha, kāma, and mokṣa. In the Vedic civilization, a person is recognized as a human being when he is interested in these four things: religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation. First of all one must practice some dharma, because without religious life a human being is simply an animal (dharmeṇa hīnāḥ paśubhiḥ samānāḥ). It doesn't matter whether one follows the Christian religion, the Hindu religion, the Muslim religion, or another religion, but one must follow some religion to qualify as a human being. Generally, people think, "If I become pious, my life will be nice. I'll get my subsistence." And actually that's a fact, because from dharma comes artha, money. And why do we want money? For sense gratification. And when we are baffled in our attempts at getting sense gratification, we want mokṣa, liberation from birth and death. Out of frustration we declare, brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā: "This world is false, only Brahman is true."

But this is false renunciation. Real renunciation means to give up the process of sense gratification and apply yourself very seriously in the service of the Lord. In other words, renunciation means not to try to give up this world but to work in this world and give the fruits of our work to the service of Kṛṣṇa. Everyone is working in this material world to get some result. Whether you work piously or impiously, there must be some result. Nondevotees try to enjoy the result and become entangled, whereas devotees give the fruits to Kṛṣṇa and are liberated. As Kṛṣṇa explains in the Bhagavad-gītā:

yajñārthāt karmaṇo 'nyatra loko 'yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara
[Bg. 3.9]

"If you sacrifice the fruits of your work for Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, you will be liberated. Otherwise you will be bound up by the reactions of your work." Suppose you have performed pious work and you are now a rich man's son. Wealth and good birth are some of the results of pious work, along with good education and beauty. And just the opposite results will accrue to those who perform impious activities: no riches, no beauty, no knowledge, no good family. But whether you perform pious or impious activities, you will be bound by the results and have to suffer birth and death in this material world.

So, generally people understand dharma in terms of pious and impious activities, but here the Bhāgavatam says, dharmasya hy āpavargyasya nārtho 'rthāyopakalpate: [SB 1.2.9] "Dharma should be executed not for material benefit but to nullify the miseries of material existence." Whether you are rich or poor, you have to undergo the tribulations of material existence. You may be a rich man, but still you cannot avoid working hard, you cannot avoid fearfulness, and you cannot avoid disease, old age, and death. And the same miseries are there for the poor man. So what is the benefit of practicing dharma in order to become rich? Real religion means to nullify the material miseries: dharmasya hy āpavargyasya.

Now, you may object, "But we require some money to maintain our existence." Yes, that's a fact. Therefore our principle is yāvad artham: By honest means you should earn as much money as you require to maintain your body and soul together. Don't work very hard simply to accumulate more and more money. That is the ass's life. In India a washerman will keep an ass to carry tons of laundry to the riverbank for washing. There he is let loose to eat a few morsels of grass. But while he's eating freely, waiting to return with the huge load of laundry, he does not think, "This grass is available everywhere, and I am free to go. Why am I working so hard for this washerman?" He has no sense to think like that, and therefore he's called an ass. Similarly, anyone who is working hard day and night simply to maintain himself and his family, without observing any principles of dharma, is simply a mūḍha, or ass. He has been collared by Māyā, or illusion.

We should earn as much as we need to keep body and soul together. Then we can use more of our time for getting free from the five miseries of materialistic life—hard labor, foaming at the mouth, frustration, fear, and death. That is dharma. And if by practicing dharma you get more money than you need, don't spend it for sense gratification but employ it in the service of Kṛṣṇa. In days gone by, rich men would often construct a church, temple, or mosque. That was the system throughout the whole world because people knew that if they had some extra money they should employ it in the service of God. But at present many churches are being transformed into factories because people have lost religion. And because they have lost religion, they are animals. And how you can have peace and prosperity in a society of animals?

So, here in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam Sūta Gosvāmī is explaining that to become peaceful and satisfied, one must practice first-class dharma. First he says:

sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhokṣaje
ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā suprasīdati

"If you want peace of mind, if you want full satisfaction, then you must practice that dharma, or religion, by which you will advance in unmotivated, uninterrupted devotional service to the Lord" (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.6).

Then he says,

vāsudeve bhagavati bhakti-yogaḥ prayojitaḥ
janayaty āśu vairāgyaṁ jñānaṁ ca yad ahaitukam

"If you devote yourself to the service of Vāsudeva (Kṛṣṇa), you will quickly get perfect knowledge and renunciation without any doubt" (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.7).

Next he warns,

dharmaḥ svanuṣṭhitaḥ puṁsāṁ viṣvaksena-kathāsu yaḥ
notpādayed yadi ratiṁ śrama eva hi kevalam

"If you do not develop your consciousness of God by executing your religious principles, then you are simply wasting your time and labor" (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.8).

And now in the present verse Sūta Gosvāmī says,

dharmasya hy āpavargyasya nārtho 'rthāyopakalpate
nārthasya dharmaikāntasya kāmo lābhāya hi smṛtaḥ

"One should not engage himself in any sort of dharma only for material gain. Nor should material gain be utilized for sense gratification." How material gain should be utilized is described in the next verse.

So, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is meant for giving enlightenment to all people of the world. It is not the philosophy of a sectarian religion; it is meant for all human beings. People should take advantage of the instructions in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and make their lives perfect. That is the mission of our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.