Dharma and Spiritual Knowledge

Lord Krishna again speaks of dharma in the ninth chapter when he declares that spiritual knowledge of Himself is dharmya, or conducive to and consistent with dharma: “I shall speak to you, who are free of envy, this most confidential knowledge, together with its realized discernment, knowing which you shall be freed of the inauspicious. This knowledge is the king of sciences, the king of secrets, and the supreme purifier. Understood by direct perception, it is conducive to dharma, very easy to perform, and everlasting. People who do not place their faith in this dharma, O burner of the foe, do not attain Me but return to the path of death and material existence.” (Bg. 9.1- 3)

It is significant that Lord Krishna here repeats the words “this dharma” (asya dharmasya) noted earlier: “Even a very small amount of this dharma saves one from great danger, for there is no loss in such an endeavor, and it knows no diminution.” (Bg. 2.40)

Clearly Lord Krishna reserves the phrase “this dharma” for discussions of Krishna consciousness, pure devotion to the Lord. In Chapter Nine “this dharma” refers to the supreme process, which Lord Krishna calls “very easy to perform” (susukham kartum): the devotional service of the Lord—the only process praised in the chapter. In marked contrast, Lord Krishna criticizes the ordinary Vedic dharma by which one seeks residence in Indra’s heaven:

    “Those who follow the science of the three Vedas and drink the Soma, their sins purified, aspire to go to heaven through sacrifices. Having reached the pious world of the king of gods, they partake in heaven of the celestial enjoyments of the gods. Having enjoyed the vast world of heaven, they fall to the mortal world when their piety is exhausted. Thus those who desire sense gratification, and who have consistently resorted to the dharma of the three Vedas, achieve only going and coming.” (Bg. 9.20-21)

Thus Lord Krishna starkly contrasts the ordinary dharma of the Vedas with “this dharma,” which is pure devotional service to Krishna. Krishna concludes the important ninth chapter by showing the power of this dharma, unalloyed Krishna consciousness, to purify and save the soul: “Even if a man has grossly misbehaved, if he worships Me and is devoted to Me exclusively he is certainly to be considered a sadhu [good person], for he has actually come to a perfect determination. Quickly he becomes a righteous soul [dharma-atma] and attains to lasting peace. O son of Kunti, proclaim that My devotee is never lost!” (Bg. 9.30-31)

It is simply on the strength of devotion to Krishna that even a man of terrible conduct quickly becomes devoted to dharma. There is no corresponding assurance in the Bhagavad- gita that practice of ordinary Vedic dharma will make one a pure devotee of the Lord. Rather, the fruit of trayi- dharma, the religious duties of the three Vedas, is that one goes up to the mundane heaven and falls again to the mortal earth.
Thus for one exclusively devoted to God, Krishna (bhajate mam ananya-bhak), a solid standing on the highest platform of dharma comes automatically.
Everlasting dharma

Now that Lord Krishna has explained “this dharma” (asya dharmasya), which leads to His eternal abode, we can better understand Arjuna’s statement in the eleventh chapter that Lord Krishna is the protector of “everlasting (shashvata) dharma”: “You are the indestructible, the supreme object of knowledge. You are the transcendental receptacle of this universe. You are inexhaustible, the protector of everlasting dharma. I conclude that You are the eternal person.” (Bg. 11.18)

Lord Krishna later declares as much in the fourteenth chapter: “Indeed, I am the foundation of Brahman[spirit], and of unending immortality, and of everlasting dharma, and of the ultimate happiness.” (Bg. 14.27)

In the last verse of the twelfth chapter also, Lord Krishna indicates that there is a truly eternal dharma: “But those who fully honor this immortal nectar of dharma as it has been spoken [by Me], having faith, taking Me as supreme—those devotees are exceedingly dear to Me.” (Bg. 12.20)

The eighteenth and final chapter of the Bhagavad- gita summarizes the entire text. In this chapter Lord Krishna refers three times to dharma, the first being a reaffirmation of His earlier admonition to perform one’s own, and not another’s, dharma: “It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly.” (Bg. 18.47)
But beyond this, we have seen that the Bhagavad- gita begins where ordinary Vedic dharma leaves off. Lord Krishna has indicated this in various ways. Here, at the end of His teaching, the Lord most dramatically declares that full surrender to the Supreme Lord stands above the entire range of sacred duties known generally as dharma: “Renouncing all dharmas, take refuge in Me alone. Have no regret, for I shall free you from all sins.” (Bg. 18.66)

Thus, surrender to Krishna, as declared in the ninth chapter, is the highest duty of the soul and therefore the supreme dharma. All other dharmas are preliminary duties, meant to bring one to the highest spiritual understanding of Krishna consciousness. Such conventional dharmas are useful until one comes to the point of utter surrender to God. So there is nothing incoherent when the Lord finally declares that the entire Bhagavad-gita is conducive to dharma, in all its aspects: “And if one will study this dharmya conversation of ours, he will indeed worship Me by the sacrifice of knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Bg. 18.70)

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