Dharma - Karma - Samsara: The System Of Cosmic Justice

Science of reincarnation | Karma - the law behind reincarnation
Dharma - cosmic ethics | Sanatana-dharma: higher aspect of dharma

Every civilized society has systems assuring its smooth work and protecting it from various negative influences. These systems are known as law-giving (parliament), executive (government, police) and penitentiary (courts, jails) departments.

We can see this system at work, and therefore we know that society is maintained and controlled by someone. Its maintenance and running are very demanding and it is not possible that it would appear and work by itself.

Not everyone however knows that similar system works also on the cosmic scale. In comparison with our limited systems it is much more complex and errorless. Its three phases are called in Sanskrit dharma, karma and samsara. These terms are explained below.

(c) Jan Mares & The BBT

A. Science of reincarnation in Vedic scriptures

1. Introduction
2. Attitude of Western science to reincarnation
3. Eight elements and two bodies
4. Soul (jiva) - source of consciousness
5. Three qualities (gunas)
6. Internal reincarnation - change of bodies in present life
7. External reincarnation - change of body at the time of death
8. Definition of "reincarnation"

1. Introduction

In recent years we see a great spread of terms "reincarnation" and "karma" in public awareness. It is largely due to media which present reports, documents, movies, books a other products with this topic. If we set aside an analysis of this state we can briefly say that it shows a dissatisfaction with answers to existential questions given by modern science and various Western philosophies and religions.

Indeed, these sources cannot answer satisfactorily many of questions made by people nowadays. This creates a space for other philosophical sources and traditions to fill this vacuum. Most often they are various branches of so-called natural religions or various traditions of Eastern philosophies. Among other things they have in common these terms although their explanations differ in details. Their common denominator however is a cyclic perception of time (creation of the world happens repeatedly) whereas contemporary Western science adopted from Judeo-Christian tradition the linear perception of time (creation of the world is only a one-shot event).

Exceptional position among them belongs to Vedic tradition (sometimes incorrectly called hinduism) thanks to its ancient origin and authority based on the oldest texts in the world - Vedic scriptures. Because they are at the same time the widest and most detailed information source about these and many other topics, they definitely deserve attention.

Primary goal of Hare Krishna Movement is to inform the general public with knowledge contained in these books and bring into practice alternative lifestyle and culture based on them.

2. Attitude of Western science to reincarnation

Modern Western science from its beginnings considered the concept of reincarnation to be a mere religious belief or superstition and refused to explore its theses and effects.

Main problem is that science was not and still is not able to explain the life phenomenon. Even though there were attempts to explain the basis and origin of life as a biochemical combination of matter, these theories cannot satisfactorily answer many questions like e.g. origin of unlimited species of life, inherent abilities or experiences of people who went through a clinical death.

In 1966 British molecular biologist and Nobel Prize laureate Francis Crick (* 1916) published that is is possible to scientifically prove, that life is nothing more than complex chemical reaction. He also predicted that in near future science will succeed to synthetically create artificial organisms. But until now there was no success in this field even though highly advanced technologies and billion dollar expenses were used. Many scientists are thus forced to admit that bold claims of Crick and others are just empty promises. Hungarian-american biochemist and Nobel Prize laureate Albert Szent-Gyorgyi (1893-1986) wrote about it:

"While searching for the secret of life I ended up by atoms and electrons which do not show any signs of life. Somewhere on the way the life had to slip through my fingers. Now in my old age I have to backtrack." (Biology Today, Del Mar, California, 1972)

Life as Vedic science explains is nothing physical or chemical and therefore it is subjected to laws of another nature than those guiding the movements of anorganic matter. Bhagavad-gita, a crucial work of Vedic philosophy, describes these laws as higher, subtle natural laws. Common scientific methods and devices cannot ascertain these higher laws, what to speak of helping to explain them.

3. Eight elements and two bodies

Bhagavad-gita (7.4) describes that the whole material world is composed of eight basic elements - five gross material and three subtle material.

Gross material elements are: earth, water, fire, air and ether. In modern terminology: solid substances, liquids, radiating energy, gasses and all-pervading space. Existence of ether is on the verge of modern science's abilities to explore it and therefore it is doubted. But it is ether which enables wireless electromagnetic data transmission through space, without which modern communication systems could not function. Its existence was confirmed by Michelson-Gale experiment. (Physicist A. A. Michelson was not satisfied after previous, better known Michelson-Morley experiment and continued to explore the ether. His work culminated in Michelson-Gale experiment which was later independently verified by Georges M.M. Sagnac (www.orgonelab.org/miller.htm).

Related: The scientific proof of survival after death

All phenomena in this world perceivable by our senses are a combination of these five basic elements.

Above these five gross are three subtle material elements: mind, intelligence and false ego. Although we cannot perceive them due to their higher nature they are still material. Together they constitute so-called subtle material body (in Sanskrit linga-sarira, desire body, also called astral body) in which our thinking, feeling and willing is manifested. This means that our thoughts, feelings and desires correspond to our mind (manas) and intelligence (buddhi). Ahankara creates our false identification with our body (therefore "false ego").

That which we usually consider a body is therefore composed of two various bodies - gross material a subtle material body. This can be understood with the example of a dream. During a dream our consciousness leaves our gross material daily body, identifies with subtle material dream body and after awakening again identifies with the gross material visible body. In both cases the consciousness, proper self (jiva) remains separated from both bodies. This is obvious from the fact that it observes them - it is a witness (saksi) of their activity - and identifies with them.

4. Soul (jiva) - source of consciousness

Sanskrit terms jiva or atma, sometimes connected into one - jivatma, are for the lack of suitable term in other languages denoted as soul.

Bhagavad-gita (7.5) describes that above these eight material elements is soul which is superior to them:

"Besides these [eight], O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature."

Well-known psychoanalyst C.G. Jung describes the soul as "greatest of cosmic miracles", which is able within the frame of natural laws to manipulate material energy according to its desire and thus use it for its own benefit.

Interactions of embodied soul with its gross- and subtle material body create a web of unlimited complex reactions which cannot be described by simple laws of modern physics, chemistry or molecular biology. Therefore these natural sciences are unable to define precise difference between living and dead body.

If we would say that life is nothing more than a combination of material molecules then it should be possible bring dead body back to life by mere adding of chemicals whose lack caused death. It should be also possible to create an artificial life in a lab. However, these numerous attempts were unsuccessful and scientists' interest switched to cloning. The reason is that life comes always and only from life and never from dead matter. Bhagavad-gita (2.17-18) explains that the difference between living and dead body is the presence of the soul. As soon as the soul leaves the body we consider it dead.

Second chapter of Bhagavad-gita (2.20-25) describes characteristics of the soul:

"For the soul there is neither birth nor death. It has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. It is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. It is not slain when the body is slain. As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same. It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body."

All these qualities of of the soul are outside the field of perceivable molecular reactions. Niels Bohr (1885-1962), Danish nuclear physicist and Nobel Prize laureate, noted:

"In physics and chemistry we cannot find anything at least marginally proving the existence of consciousness. And still we all know that there is something like consciousness, simply because we have it ourselves. Consciousness therefore must be a part of nature, or expressed more commonly, a part of reality. This means that aside of physical and chemical laws described quantum theory there are laws with completely different nature."

5. Three modes (gunas)

According to Vedic scriptures all variety of species of life is created by a combination of three basic modes of material energy, in Sanskrit called gunas. Here is again seen a limitation of other languages because they lack suitable synonym. Closest is probably the Latin word modus. Guna is therefore a kind of modus operandi (means of functioning) of material energy. They are called:

- sattva-guna (harmony, goodness)
- rajo-guna (activity, passion)
- tamo-guna (inertia, ignorance)

Bodies of individual species can be compared to various apartments or houses of different sizes, shapes and colors temporarily inhabited by embodied soul. Bodily forms limit (under the control of three modes) its freedom of movement and activities as well as possibilities of individual enjoyment. Influence of modes on people describes Bhagavad-gita (18.26-28):

"One who performs his duty without association with the modes of material nature, without false ego, with great determination and enthusiasm, and without wavering in success or failure is said to be a worker in the modes of goodness. The worker who is attached to work and the fruits of work, desiring to enjoy those fruits, and who is greedy, always envious, impure, and moved by joy and sorrow, is said to be in the mode of passion. The worker who is always engaged in work against the injunctions of the scripture, who is materialistic, obstinate, cheating and expert in insulting others, and who is lazy, always morose and procrastinating is said to be a worker in the mode of ignorance."

Related: Three gunas

6. Internal reincarnation - change of bodies in present life

Consciousness and physical form are directly related. Body and consciousness of little baby necessarily differs from body and consciousness of a young or old person. It can be said that soul travels during the development of the body from birth to death through different bodies with different consciousness. We may not be aware how we are constantly changing bodies in this life because this change is very subtle, gradual and hard to perceive. Did we notice as children how our body grows? We did notice it only when we were reminded of it by someone who saw us after a longer period of time.

This fact is confirmed also by biologists. American anthropologist John. E. Pfeiffer (* 1914) writes his book Human Brain (1955): "Our body today does not contain even one molecule from seven years ago."

Despite this constant change of bodies we, souls, remain still the same unchanged persons.

Let us say that we are today thirty years old but we are still the same person who was five or twenty years old. We are just in a different gross body. Our current body during the time somehow changed, e.g. we gained more abilities, strength and knowledge, but we are the same persons, we have not become anyone else. Characteristics, abilities, knowledge and perceptions - all this we own but despite all external changes our identity does not change.

This transmigration of soul through many bodies during one life we can call gradual or internal reincarnation.

7. External reincarnation - change of body at the time of death

What will happen with the soul at the time of death of present physical body? In other words: Where are we going when we die? Do we have an influence over our next situation? Can we choose our future life?

In Bhagavad-gita (2.13) we will find answers:

"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.quot;

Bhagavad-gita further explains that state of consciousness in critical moment of death is crucial for the choice of new body:

"Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state without fail.quot;

At the moment of death the soul together subtle body leaves the gross, physical body. It is the subtle body and our desires and thoughts recorded therein and recalled by us at this moment which are decisive as to the destination of our next body. This transmigration of soul from one body to another is called external reincarnation (samsara or samsriti in Sanskrit).

Srimad Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana) 5.11.5-7 mentions that mind is attracted by sense enjoyment, pious or impious. Thus it is subject to three modes of material nature and causes corresponding births in various types of bodies, higher or lower. Therefore the soul suffers material unhappiness or enjoys material material happiness because of the mind. Thus mind under the influence of illusion creates further pious and impious activities and their karma and the soul becomes conditioned by them. Sages say that the mind is the cause of bodily features bondage and liberation.

Here is refuted one widely spread idea that the soul cannot fall from the human body anymore, i.e. achieve animal or another lower body. Human form differs from lower forms in such a way that the soul in it has a free will and thus also a responsibility for its actions (karma).

The fact that the soul reincarnates together with subtle body is confirmed also by parapsychological research. With the help of various methods many people could recall from their subconsciousness memories of previous lives. This would not be be possible if the carrier of these memories would not incarnate together with the soul. According to the Vedic scriptures the memory is the function of intelligence, a part of subtle body. Although at the time of birth we forget our previous life, it is possible by certain means to restore active memories of our previous incarnations. These means however are not always cent percent reliable. In certain exceptional cases, especially in children, is proved a spontaneous ability of recall without external influence of medium or therapist.

8. Definition of term "reincarnation"

Reincarnation (from Latin "re", again + "incarnare", make flesh) is a continuous transmigration of the soul together with its subtle material body from one gross material body to another according to its individual karma.

Reincarnation is therefore a process and law of karma is directing it. Examples of various kinds of karma and their effects you will find at Vedic cosmology

B. Karma - The Law Behind Reincarnation

1. Law of action and reaction
2. Free will and fate
3. Karma from the action point of view
4. Karma from the reaction point of view
5. Four phases of karma
6. Three kinds of karma

1. Law of action and reaction

Term "karma" is inseparably connected with reincarnation. While trying to understand the reincarnation process one cannot avoid this term.

Sanskrit word "karma" literally means "action, activity, work", and because other languages again lack any synonym exactly explaining its meaning, it is not recommended to translate it.

In Judeo-Christian tradition it has an analogy in God's judgement (Greek krima 'krima' in New Testament 'krino' in New Testament). The idea of 'as you sow, you shall reap' (Job 4:8, Galatians 6:7) is a common sense. See also Genesis 9:5-6, Proverbs 5:21-3, Ezekiel 18:20-21, Matthew 7:1-2, Luke 12:57-59, John 5:14, etc.

In West this term was first used by Russian theosophist Helena P. Blavatsky (1831-1891). Her definition:

"Karma is the basic cosmic law, ...which in physical, mental and soul world connects cause with its effect. Because any cause, be it the greatest like the movement of cosmos, or the smallest like the movement of hand, necessarily has a corresponding effect, and because the same acts in a same way, karma is invisible and unknown law which wisely, righteously and and providentially connects every effects with corresponding cause and its originator."

In his work "Manifestations of Karma" (1910) anthroposofist Rudolf Steiner defines karma in this way:

"...without limiting free will of man, the law of karma acts back on an entity, from which the cause came, like the law of action and reaction."

These definitions intelligibly explain the core of Vedic term karma. Steiner's comparing law of karma to the physical law of action and reaction (actio = reactio, third Newton's law of classical mechanics, 1687) is very pertinent although this law represents only a little aspect of much higher and subtler law of karma. Pertinent is also the maxim that karmic law of cause and effect acts especially on an individual level and leaves a space for the free will of a doer. This is what usually forget different critics of Eastern philosophies who understand karma as a mechanical predestination forcing a man to passively await what the future will bring (nihilism).

Already before Steiner and Newton's discovery people knew sayings showing a certain understanding of regularity of action and reaction. Also a biblical quote "A man reaps what he sows" (Galatians 6:7) became a folk saying.

2. Free will and fate

Sometimes people wonder about the relationship of free will and karma (often understood as predestination which it is not).
- Everything is controlled by Krishna but not our free will. He does not interfere with it, otherwise we would be mere robots. It would rule out responsibility and love and love is the basis of our eternal relationship with Him.
- Karma and free will are not excluding each other, they work at the same time, as parallel tracks.
- Krishna knows what beings conditioned by matter (us) will do. This can be found out even by astrology, etc. but is not limiting their free will in any way.
An illustrative story: Once Siva and Parvati went to one village dressed as ordinary village people. They met a beggar asking for alms. Parvati asked Siva to give him something but Siva said it won't help him since he is not 'fortunate' (having karma to enjoy wealth). Still, on Parvati's insistence Siva gave him a watermelon. The beggar was not very satisfied however because he didn't like watermelon, but he took it anyway thinking he could maybe get something for it. He found someone to give a few paise for it and then he went on his way. When the person that bought the watermelon cut it open he was surprised to find it filled with priceless jewels. The beggar that received the melon didn't know the great value of what he had been given so he practically just gave it away.
(This is also the situation that we find when we distribute Srila Prabhupada's books. People receive these great treasures of knowledge, but because of not knowing what is the priceless value of them they throw them away, give them to someone else or or keep them in their house for years and years but never read them!)
- Krishna is so great that our actions easily fit into His great plan to awaken all living beings to their real nature. When we realize this, inner peace will be ours.

According to Vedic philosophy every living being transmigrating in material world from one body to another, is given a free will to act according to its desires, ideas and thoughts.

When Shri Krishna narrated Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, in one of the last verses (18.63) He said:

"Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do."

Vedic scriptures say that desire is a father of thought and thought is a father of action. Desire originally comes from the soul, thought from the mind (subtle body) and actions from working sense organs of gross body.

Living being has due to free will a certain, although limited field of activity. Vedic philosophy teaches that free will and predestination or fate are parallel to each other. By our present actions, performed out of our free will, we create our future karmic reactions. At the same time we reap reaction of our previous actions. Fate is not, therefore, any punishment from above striking on innocent ones (and which God does not want to or cannot stop).

Law of karma is very strict because it must assure fulfillment of desires of all living beings in the whole material world in such a way that they do not contradict but complement themselves and that even one injustice does not go unpunished. American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) describes it in this way (Lectures and Biographical Sketches, 1868):

"If you love people and serve them, you will be rewarded. Hidden rewards continue to reinstate balance of divine justice. This law cannot be changed. All tyrants, owners and monopolists of this world try in vain to disrupt this balance. Equator still keeps its place and people as well as insects, sun and planets must obey it or be destroyed by backlash reaction."

Universe is ruled by strict and generally operative laws - like rules of a great game of life - which coordinate desires and mutual relationships among individual living beings. Thus each of them gets exactly as much as it deserves - neither more, nor less.

According to Bhagavad-gita (2.70) the continuous stream of desires coming from the mind of each living being is like innumerable rivers which all enter one vast ocean. In this way originates endlessly complex, multidimensional web of actions and reaction which a man cannot understand. Here is apparent the influence of invisible hand of God who in His aspect of omnipresent Supersoul (paramatma) is accompanying all individual soul during their transmigration through various bodily forms. Bhagavad-gita (13.23) describes this aspect of God:

"Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul."

Function of Supersoul is therefore to record innumerable desires of each living being and arrange for their fulfillment as well as observe activities of living beings and grant them corresponding reactions. This directing hand of God is called a law of karma.

Related: "Fate, free will and the law of karma"

3. Karma from the action point of view

Vedic scriptures contain exact information which actions we have to perform if we wish to achieve certain results (reactions). For example it is said: if you want to be rich, you have to act in this way, if you want to be famous, do this, if you want to live a satisfactory family life, do that etc.

If someone is in this life very successful, wealthy, educated, influential or beautiful, we can conclude from it that he must have been in his previous life magnanimous, diligent, and pious and now only reaps results of his previous deeds.

But what he will do with these assets in present life is another question - it depends on his free will. Therefore we see that not every wealthy and powerful person behaves properly.

Same principle is valid for unwanted things. Vedic scriptures can advise us: if you do not want to be sick or bankrupt, you must not do this or that. If we act according to these instructions, we will surely reach desired result in this or some of our future lives. Miscellaneous reactions may come either sooner or later - some immediately and others only after several lives.

4. Karma from the reaction point of view

While looking from the other side we have to admit that whatever happens to us in this life is nothing else than reaction to to our activity in this or some of previous lives. It is not therefore, a matter of blind chance but only a result of our deeds we decided to perform out of our free will.

Therefore it sometimes happens that people who live very pious and proper life are still exposed to all kinds of sufferings. From this one can conclude that in past they had to act improperly. Usually they learn from this and decide to live properly in their present life. Also one whose life is full of success reaps the fruit of his deeds.

Materialistic life and a chain of actions and reactions are inseparable. It is like a long movie of actions and reactions and the length of one life is like its several fields. When a child is born, his present body can be understood as a beginning of another series of actions and the death of an old man as its end. From this it is clear why someone, due to different reactions, is born in rich family and someone else in poor family although they were born at the same time in the same place and under same circumstances. Who carries along with him pious reactions (good karma) will get a chance to be born in rich or pious family and who is burdened by impious reactions (bad karma) will be born in low class and poor family.

5. Four phases of karma

"Plant a thought and you will reap a deed, plant a deed and you will reap a habit, plant a habit and you will reap a character, plant a character and you will reap a fate." (Indian proverb)

Vedic philosophy (Padma Purana) explains that karmic reaction are manifested in four different phases compared to the phases of a plants' growth:

1. bija (seed) Our wishes and intentions already exist in subtle form and only later they will manifest in activities. Thus to avoid unpleasant karmic reactions (suffering) we must pay attention to our unspoken material desires before the seeds of actions did not begin to sprout.

2. kuta-stha (sprouting) Reactions manifesting after a decision to perform a deed. They are material desires which already began to sprout.

3. phalonmukha (fructifying) Reactions already bearing fruits (phala). As soon as we perform a material actions - good or bad - it is only a question of time before they manifest reactions (fruit) in the form of happiness or distress.

4. prarabdha (harvest) Reactions already fulfilled at our birth: family (defining our socio-economic situation, nationality, race), physical and psychic dispositions etc.

Previous three phases are also in Sanskrit given a summary term aprarabdha or reactions not yet fully manifested, potential happiness and suffering. Fourth phase, prarabdha-karma, is what is generally called "karma".

Upanisads describe these categories of karma:

1. sancita (stored)
1.1. anarabdha (not yet manifested) = aprarabdha
1.2. prarabdha (already manifested)
2. kriyamana (newly created)

6. Three kinds of karma

Bhagavad-gita (4.17-18) says: "The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is. One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities."

These verses describe three kinds of karma. Here 'karma' does not denote reaction but action, activity.

1. karma Activities in harmony with higher laws of nature (dharma), which are also described in Vedic scriptures. This positive action brings positive reactions in the form of happiness and enjoyment.

2. vikarma Activities forbidden by scriptures písma because they are in conflict with dharma. These negative actions bring corresponding reactions - distress and suffering.

Bad karma - a short movie from film.bullguard.com

3. akarma Activities of higher nature which are not subjected to material laws of nature and therefore are called "inactions". They do not bring any reactions, neither positive nor negative, and thus they bring reincarnation to an end. This end will occur when our "karmic account" at the end of life is zero. This cannot be achieved, however, by parallel performing of karma and vikarma, as someone may think, because they are counted independently of each other.

The cause of problems is vikarma which is at present performed by huge number of people all over the world in great amounts, and which is a threat for the whole humankind because it affects it in the form of collective karma (summary of individual karmas). This is manifested as wars, epidemics, natural disasters etc.

Reality proves that we are missing knowledge of law of karma because despite all our good intentions and efforts to alleviate suffering there is more and more unhappiness, individual and collective, in this world. This knowledge is ultimately the only solution of current problems. One who realizes this will understand that the change must start with himself.

Related: Karma

C. Dharma - cosmic ethics

So how do we know what is "proper" and what is "improper"? This knowledge is crucial for our free decision-making. If there is a law there must be available its written form so everyone can get acquainted with it. After all, it is said that ignorance of law is no excuse.

These rules are listed in scriptures, especially in so-called dharma-sastras (scriptures describing dharma). They are law-books precisely defining how every human being should act according to one's social and spiritual position. Most famous among them is Manu-smriti or Manu's Law-book. Passages on dharma are also contained in Mahabharata (and its most important part, the Bhagavad-gita), Ramayana, Bhagavata and other Puranas, Bible, Qur'an etc.

Term "dharma" comes from Sanskrit root "dhri" (maintain, sustain, preserve in work). Usually it is translated as ethical, moral and religious principles which, however, does not fully represent its meaning. Dharma is a law or order of the material world (that which maintains its harmonic function), virtue or righteous conduct. In Mahabharata (12.110.11) Krishna defines dharma as:

dhaaranaad dharma ity aahur dharmena vidhrtaah prajaah
yat syaad dhaarana sanyuktam sa dharma iti nishchayah

"Dharma upholds both this-worldly and the other-worldly affairs."

Still deeper explanation says that dharma is an inherent or inseparable quality or nature. There is an example of salt whose inseparable quality (dharma) is salty taste. The word dharma would be therefore possible to translate as "ultimate cause". This term from Western philosophy expresses the reason for existence of an object. Ultimate cause - dharma - of a house is to provide shelter to people. Uninhabitable house represents adharma (opposite of dharma). Dharma defines the function of the law of karma and itself is established by God. As "pillars of dharma" are called four qualities described in Bhagavata Purana (1.17.24):

- mercy (refusal of violence, meat-eating etc.)
- renunciation/sense control (refusal of intoxicants)
- truthfulness (refusal of gambling and speculations)
- purity (refusal of sex forbidden in scriptures)

It is therefore already established which human activities are good and bring positive reactions and which are bad and bring negative reactions in the form of suffering. This value system is universally valid and does not depend on opinions of individual living beings. I may think that what I do is good and also be able to justify it intellectually and thus impress others. If, however, my activity is not in accordance with universal definition of goodness, I will still reap a negative reaction.

Freedom of thinking and acting so propagated nowadays is sometimes misunderstood as a chance to do whatever we like. Yes, we have a free will, but at the same time we are responsible for our activity. Nothing can be further from reality that an idea that violation of dharma is unpunished. Contemporary state of the world should warn us not to put an economic benefit (artha) before dharma. It is this desire for sense enjoyment (symbolized by money) which is the most frequent cause of dharma violation.

D. Sanatana-dharma: the higher aspect of dharma

Dharma defines the way of life to suffer the least in this world. But the four basic kinds of suffering - birth, disease, old age and death - we cannot avoid here because they are present in the whole material world. It can be seen as a penitentiary institution with various corrective groups with better or worse standard of life. To get from the third group into the first can be considered as a certain advancement but we are still imprisoned. Although there is a small group of prisoners who like to stay in jail, vast majority of people desires freedom. Those who wish to be completely free from all suffering are informed by Vedic scriptures about even higher level called para-dharma (superior dharma) or sanatana-dharma (eternal dharma). Activity on this level is akarma, or free from any reactions. It is bhakti, devotional service to the Supreme Lord which is described in detail in Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatam) and other confidential scriptures. Pleasant study!

"Man should serve to Lord Krishna with devotion without any desire for material benefit in this or next life. This will bring him liberation from the shackles of karma." (Gopala-tapani Upanisad 1.14)

Book on dharma: Suhotra Swami - Dimensions of Good and Evil

New Age
True meaning of Dharma