“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)Download this episode (right click and save)
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
The Sanskrit word dharma doesn’t have an exact match to any word in English. The translation typically used is “religion,” but today that word has a negative connotation. It implies institutionalism, sentimentalism, or blind faith. Sometimes dharma gets translated as religiosity, righteousness, or virtue. All three are accurate to some extent, but at its core dharma is really an essential characteristic. When discussing spirituality, it refers to the essence of the individual, who is spirit soul, and how it should behave when in a material form.
There is the proper behavior, known as virtue, and there is the objective to following that behavior. Not surprisingly, the objective is the Almighty, which is more than a concept. The Almighty is more than a specific attribute or a series of them. The Almighty is an individual, and in that complete manifestation He is all-attractive. It is for this reason that in sanatana-dharma the Almighty is addressed as Krishna, among many other names.
Being the object of dharma, Krishna is Himself quintessential righteousness. This may not be easy to understand at first, for Krishna has forms, activities and attributes. When not heard in the proper context or when applying a viewpoint influenced by personal desire for exploitation of material resources, this fact about Krishna is not easy to understand. Still, there are various ways to get confidence in the matter.
1. He gives the Vedas
Veda means “knowledge.” Originally, there is only a single Veda. It is not written down, as man doesn’t need to look at notes to remember things. Since it is passed down in an aural tradition, the Veda is also known as shruti, which means “that which is heard.”
The Veda comes from Krishna. Another word to describe the Almighty is Ishvara. He is the origin of everything, including knowledge. He is righteousness personified since He gives the fundamental knowledge needed to maintain dharma. There is no date of inception of the Veda since it is timeless. It is as beginning-less as the Supreme Lord Himself.
2. He explains the Veda through Vyasadeva
There is the original Personality of Godhead, and there are expansions and incarnations. Vyasadeva is a partial incarnation. Since he divided the Veda into four parts, He is also known as Vedavyasa. The division was done to make the original system of knowledge easier to understand. As further time elapses from the beginning of the population, man’s adherence to dharma diminishes. This is because he becomes more enamored with illusion, or maya. The more one is in illusion, the more help they need getting out of it; sort of like falling deeper into quicksand.
Vyasadeva made the four Vedas and he also wrote extensions to them. He explained the same philosophical concepts in story form through works known as the Puranas. These are also known as smriti, since they are remembered. Vyasadeva also composed a work of epic proportion known as the Mahabharata. This is commonly referred to as the fifth Veda. Within the Mahabharata is found the Bhagavad-gita, which is the most authoritative word on the Veda delivered by Shri Krishna Himself. So Krishna’s incarnation blessed the world with endless explanation of the highest knowledge, and the Lord Himself put His own words within the Mahabharata.
3. He upholds the Vedas, such as with Shri Rama
There are generally four classes of men within any society. Those who know and explain the Veda are in the intelligentsia class. They are known as brahmanas in Sanskrit. If you considered society to be a single person, the brahmanas are the brain of that person.
Since they are in a sense bookworms, brahmanas are not known for physical strength. In the first time period of creation, there are only brahmanas. As adherence to dharma diminishes, society needs protectors. There needs to be a class of men who protects from injury. That class is known as kshatriya.
imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā
yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.2)
The ideal kshatriya is a protector of dharma through preventing injury to the brahmana class. In the beginning periods of the creation they pass on Vedic wisdom in a chain of disciplic succession known as parampara. Since these are saintly kings, they are known as rajarshis. The rajarshi is naradeva, or a lord of men. He is a representative of the Supreme Lord.
Krishna protects dharma by proxy through the saintly king and sometimes He descends as one too. The most notable of these descents is the Shri Rama avatara. Rama established what is known as Rama-rajya, which was the ideal kingdom. Everyone was equal in the sense that they performed their prescribed duties while maintaining attachment to the Supreme Lord. They were all merged into dharma, or the original occupation of the spirit soul.
4. He is above duality
Dharma is known as righteousness, but sometimes the right course isn’t always obvious. Right and wrong can flip based on situation. An example is telling the truth. The brahmana class is known for being truthful, whereas the vaishya class, who are the businessmen, are known for occasionally lying.
Imagine a deranged lunatic coming to your home. They are looking for someone in order to kill them. They knock on your door and ask if you have seen that person. In fact you have just seen them, as they are your friend. You know them to be upstanding and innocent. You know the person at your door to be crazy. Should you tell the truth in this situation? Actually, lying is the right thing to do.
In the same way, Shri Krishna does not always follow the principles of righteousness to the letter. When He descends to earth in His original form, sometimes He steals butter. Sometimes He advises against a ritualistic practice that has been going on for ages. He will dance with young, beautiful girls who are already married. All of these acts are actually in line with dharma because Krishna knows the nature of duality. He is never bound by strict rules.
5. He is the object of dharma.
Sanatana-dharma is devotional service. It is bhakti-yoga, or linking with the Divine through love and devotion. Krishna gives the Veda so that the countless souls in the material world can reunite with Him. By following sanatana-dharma, the ultimate end is returning to the spiritual world; back to Godhead.
As He is the object of dharma, Krishna can never go against it. This seems like an easy way out of explaining questionable behavior on His part, but those things which He does that apparently go against righteousness actually further substantiate the claim that He is the Supreme Lord. Those who follow bhakti-yoga eventually come to realize this. They understand the real meaning of dharma.
Shri Krishna, how quintessential dharma can be?
Stealing butter, dancing with gopis does He.
Original Veda to world providing,
Then through Vyasadeva the same dividing.
Above always duality of world to stay,
As Shri Rama, ideal kingdom to display.
Service to Him meaning of dharma real,
Bhakti-yoga secret gradually to reveal.