‘Sastraya cha sugaya cha’, it is said – follow the sastras, you will live happily. What do our sastras say as the quintessence of dharma?

> ‘Ahimsa sathyam astheyam sowcham indriya nigraha:’

‘Non-violence, Truth, Non-coveting, Purity (of body and mind), and, Control of Senses’ – this is the essence of dharma.

1 Ahimsa


The first key element is ahimsa, or non-violence, not harming anyone, not even an ant. We all know that sanyasis observe chaturmasya vradam and do not travel during the peak monsoon period – the reason, not to hurt even an insect. Ahimsa is also considered an important and integral part of yoga.

In Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says:

> `samam sarveshu bhuthesh thstantham parameswaram
vinatyatsu avinistyantham yah paschyathi sa paschyathi'

Our bodies are perishable; but, jivan or the soul does not die, it merely moves on to another body. Jivan does not die, much like there is no death for the parabrahmam. When one is able to see the Unperishable Lord in all the perishable bodies, then only, we really see (the Truth). When one so sees God in everyone and everything, that then becomes the foundation for ahimsa.

2 Truth

> ‘Yatha drishtasya, yatha sruthasya cha atma anubavasya parabuddhi
Sankraanthaye thathaiva uccharyamanaa vak sathyam ithyutchyathe’

So says our great Acharya, Sri Adi Sankara. ‘Exactly what I have heard, what I have seen, and, what I think, exactly that, when I say that such that the other person understands it, there then is sathyam.’ ‘Mano, vak, karyam’, in what we think, in what we say and in what we do, when in all these there is no mutual contradiction but instead a cohesion, that is truth. In Tamil there is a proverb, ‘Ullondru vaithu, puram onru pesathe’, or, don’t keep one thing within yourself, and, say another.

3 Non-coveting

The third aspect of Dharma is not coveting something that belongs to another person: not just we should not steal, but, we should not even think about wanting it. In Prasnothra Ratnamalika, the Acharya asks – ‘andhahi ko visishyathe’, or, who is more blind than the blind? And, he answers – ‘one who is driven by desires’.

4 Purity

This is of two types.

> ‘Sowcham dwividam proktham bhahyam abhi antharam thata
Mruth jalabyam smrutham bhahyam bhava suddhis thathantaram’

It is about both physical cleanliness and internal purity. Physical, external, purity or cleanliness – that is why we take bath. It is equally important to wear clean clothes. There is a Tamil proverb: even if our clothes are torn, they should be clean! The greater challenge is to keep the mind pure and prevent it from getting dirty, with undesirable thoughts and undesirable intentions. Mind is like water. Uncontrolled it will flow towards lower and lower levels. We control water, by building dams and barriers and channelling its flow to help in agriculture or generate electricity. Just like water, the mental energy can also be easily wasted away. The way to control is by visiting temples, following the right practices and having satsangs, or association with the right people. By offering prayer in temples, by interacting with and listening to good people, our thoughts and habits get purer. ‘If there is one good person, thanks to him, everyone gets the benefit of rain’, so we say in Tamil.

5 Control of senses

We have the ability to taste, hear, see, smell and feel. Left uncontrolled and left to themselves, the senses usually take us in the wrong path. We therefore need to be discerning and direct our senses towards the righteous path and righteous things. ‘Aahara suddhow sathva suddhi’, it is a saying that emphasises the importance of right food. We also say in Tamil, ‘kanda kanda idatthil, ethaiyum sappitathe’. Our food needs to be wholesome, if we have to think rightly and conduct ourselves rightly. In Sandyoka Upanishad it is said: ‘annamayam hi sowmya manaha; aapo mayaha pranaha; thejomayee vak.’ The food we eat, it eventually becomes our mind; water becomes our prana or breathing. Fat is what we normally associate with the lamp we lit. The fat we eat, the kind of fat, it determines what and how we speak. What we eat and what we drink, therefore, determines our physical body and thinking and speaking. Saatvic food results in saatvic character.

Purity of mind and control of senses come about through saatvik food and sat sangam.

[The article is based on speeches of ‘Balaperiaval’, HH Sri Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamigal of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt. Kamakoti Pradeepam, a Tamil monthly brought out on behalf of the Mutt, contains profoundly scholarly articles on our Vedic inheritance and Dharmic life. To receive a complimentary copy of the Pradeepam in the UK, please contact Natarajan Sundar: nsundar100@gmail.com, or, (0044) 7802782659.]