Ádarsha and Iśt́a


The subject of today’s discourse is “Ádarsha and Iśt́a.” Now, what is Ádarsha and what is Iśt́a? We are all constantly on the move: each and every entity of the universe from the huge dinosaurs to the smallest blade of grass is in a state of constant motion – nothing is fixed, nothing is static. Movement is life, and perishability is the natural law of the universe. When everything is in a state of motion, then what is the goal of movement? Every movement certainly has a terminating point, and that terminating point is ádarsha. Human beings also move on, but to move forward sometimes they need energy. But where does this energy come from? The source of all energy is Parama Puruśa. With His energy all entities are moving. No living being has its own energy: endowed with the energy of Parama Puruśa, it moves forward towards its ádarsha.

Is there any difference between ádarsha and iśt́a? This is a knotty question indeed. Ádarsha is that which is the very goal towards which all entities are moving. The word ádarsha is derived from á – drsh + ghaiṋ; when the feminine suffix uniiś is added to the word ádarsha we get the word ádarshii which means “a mirror”. What human beings wish to become is their ádarsha.

Human beings are constantly on the move, but the question is, what is the culminating point – the point they reach at the end of their movement? Take the case of a small child: it is always weak and powerless. If it wants to be strong, it has to undergo regular physical exercises. If the child grows strong and powerful through physical exercises, that is it’s ádarsha – that is to say, ádarsha is a state endowed with particular qualities.

Now, when human beings do not move towards that state, what happens? I have just said that movement is the law of the universe. It is a providential decree that movement is a must for all: caraeveti, caraeveti – “proceed on, proceed on.” Naturally human beings must keep on moving ceaselessly; but supposing one does not have a goal, then one’s movement will be like that of a rudderless ship sailing on stormy sea. If you keep rowing a boat without a fixed goal all your labour will go in vain, your time will be wasted, and you will also run the risk of being caught in a whirlpool. Therefore human beings must always have an ádarsha, an ideology before them.

Now, what is iśt́a? The word iśt́a has two meanings: the entity which you love most, or which is your most favourite, is your iśt́a. Now the question is, what is the most favourite object? Every microcosm has an existential “I” feeling, and every microcosmic “I” feeling is an expression of the greater “I” feeling. Now, each microcosm has two “I’s”: one is the small “I”, and the other is the greater “I”. Parama Puruśa is the greater “I”; the small “I” is finite happiness, whereas the greater “I” represents infinite happiness. Every microcosm desires [[finite]] happiness, but the dearest object of all is infinite happiness. Finite happiness is an individual’s affair, whereas infinite happiness is a universal affair. Infinite happiness is that aspect of Parama Puruśa which is generally called Personal God.

According to philosophy, the Supreme Entity who controls this universe is Parama Puruśa; He is also the nucleus of the cosmological order. But the Parama Puruśa of philosophy, the hub of the universe, is a formless, impersonal entity, whereas human beings always prefer a personal God whom they can love, and to whom they can explain the pleasures and pains of their life. Human beings cannot feel extreme love and affection towards an impersonal God or philosophy because that is only a metaphysical concept, and the human heart cannot fully identify itself with an abstract idea. People cannot reveal the stories of their joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures, loves and affections, to an abstract idea. They want a personal God to whom they can fully convey their feelings and sentiment. This is an absolute necessity. Human beings do not search for their God in distant nebulae and meteors – they seek Him right near them, in their very midst. They want to accept Him totally as their shelter in life. In the play of abstract imagination people may derive some temporary satisfaction, but not lasting peace. The God of philosophy cannot provide complete fulfillment to people’s deep internal urges: they want One to whom they can open their hearts. Such an entity is one’s iśt́a.

What is the difference between dharma and iśt́a? That which sustains is dharma: Yah dhárańaḿ karoti sah dharma. Dhriyate dharmah ityáhuh sa eva paramaḿ prabhuh. A microcosm is distinguished by its innate property: we say “this is oxygen” because it has such-and-such characteristics. We say “this is fire” because it has its own property. Similarly, air also has its own unique property. Thus every object in the universe is distinguished by its unique characteristic. If fire ceases to burn, we no longer call it fire; if air stops blowing, we no longer call it air, because mobility is its inherent characteristic. In Saḿskrta there are two words nila and niila. Nila means “blue colour,” whereas nila means “fixed, stationary.” If air is immobile, then it becomes nila or stationary, and not anila or mobile. In this way innate properties or characteristics of objects distinguish between animate and inanimate, organic and inorganic, movable or immovable entities.

Human beings, animals, and plants, all have life. Just as plants have certain common characteristics, animals too have certain common characteristics. Of the numerous differences between plants and animals, the major difference is that plants are relatively static, whereas animals are dynamic. Now, if plants become more dynamic, then they too will come within the category of animals. Now, what is the difference between human beings and animals? Human beings follow Bhágavata dharma but animals do not. The common characteristics shared by humans and animals are eating, sleeping and dying. But human beings have the unique property of Bhágavata dharma which is lacking in animals. This is the speciality of human beings.

Now, if this unique characteristic is lacking in human beings, then they will degrade themselves to the level of animality; and if animals develop this characteristic then they will be elevated to the status of humanity.

What are the special characteristics of Bhágavata dharma? They are: vistára (expansion), rasa (flow), seva (service), and tadsthiti (realization of the Supreme). The first criterion of human greatness is the spirit of expansion. Human beings want to give an aesthetic expression to all internal feelings and propensities; this is the first aspect of Bhágavata dharma – vistára.

Rasa means “flow,” Endless waves are emanating from the hub of the cosmological order, and surging in troughs and crests in all directions. These Macrocosmic thought waves are dancing according to the cosmic will of Parama Puruśa. Human beings are also dancing in the rhythm of these aesthetic waves, to the tune of the sweet musical cadence of Krśńa’s flute as He remains in the nucleus of the universe. This is the second aspect of Bhágavata dharma.

The third aspect is sevá or service. Now what is service? Prańipátena pariprashnena sevayá. Among animals there is no spirit of service, but among human beings it is certainly present. Prańipátena means “through total surrender”. Pariprashnena means “through proper queries”: and sevayá means “through service” – that is, Parama Puruśa is attainable through total surrender, spiritual queries, and selfless service. Parama Puruśa Himself does not require any service, but in this universe each and every created object is His progeny. If you serve the children of Parama Puruśa, if you serve the distressed and afflicted human beings, if you render all-round service to humanity in the physical, mental, mundane, supramundane, social and spiritual spheres of life, Parama Puruśa will surely be pleased. This is the real service to the Supreme. If you want to please a mother, simply serve her children and the mother will be pleased. This is the third aspect of Bhágavata dharma.

Service is always unilateral or one sided: that is the major difference between service and business, for business is mutual – you give some money and take something, say, pulses in return. The transaction is mutual. But service is quite different: it is always unilateral. You give something to Parama Puruśa without asking for anything in exchange. When you offer everything unto Parama Puruśa, what else can He ask for? Moreover, who will ask? When you have offered everything to Parama Puruśa, then you have become one with Parama Puruśa, what else can He ask for? Moreover, who will ask? When you have offered everything to Parama Puruśa, then you have become one with Parama Puruśa, and obviously there cannot be anything left to ask for.

The fourth aspect of Bhágavata dharma is tadsthiti: it means to merge your individual identity in Him, your Supreme Goal. I have already said that Parama Puruśa is Táraka Brahma; He is your iśt́a, your personal God. This is not a theoretical concept. The human mind can be delighted with some philosophical ideas, but the heart is not satisfied thus. This four-fold Bhágavata dharma is like a silver line of demarcation between human beings and animals. Bhágavata dharma is the human dharma, mánava dharma; besides this there is no other dharma for humanity.

In the Bhágavata Giitá, Lord Krśńa proclaimed, Shreyán svadharma viguńah paradharmát svánuśt́hitát. What is paradharma or “others’ dharma”! Here Paradharma means that dharma which is followed by plants and animals. The dharma of human beings is Bhágavata dharma. Animals and plants also have their own dharma, but this should not be followed by human beings. Thus Lord Krśńa further declared, Svadharme nidhanaḿ shreyah paradharma bhayávaha; Death is preferable to neglect of one’s own dharma: one should never follow another’s dharma. Out of ignorance, some people misconstrue paradharma to be Hindu dharma, Islam dharma, Christian dharma, etc., but this is not correct; Paradharma means the dharma of animals and plants.

Human dharma is one, and that is Bhágavata dharma. And iśt́a means the personal God with whom all unit beings can establish a relation of love and affection, to whom they can reveal their pains and pleasures, and surrender themselves and take the safest shelter in Him. That Parama Puruśa, that personal God is not the God of philosophy. Human beings cannot establish a very close relationship with something theoretical. If one closely follows Bhágavata dharma, the final result will be the realization of the Supreme, becoming one with one’s iśt́a. Some time ago I said yato dharma tato iśt́ah Yato ista tato jayah. When spiritual aspirants become one with their iśt́a, they no longer remain as insignificant people; in that case their finite happiness is transformed into infinite happiness. Then with their limited strength they become able to perform gigantic tasks. So although there is a theoretical difference between ádarsha and iśt́a, practically both are the same. Human beings can become one with their iśt́a, through the relentless pursuit of Bhágavata dharma. Those who do not follow Bhágavata dharma are almost like animal.

A mystic poet has said,

Krśńa bhajibár tare saḿsáre áinu
Miche máyáy baddha haye brkśa sama hainu.

Human beings have come onto this earth only to follow Bhágavata dharma, and not for any purpose. You have many tasks to perform: whatever you do, you should always feel that all your actions are part of Bhágavata dharma. Wherever you are, you must do something to remove the poverty and distress of the people in that area, to ameliorate their socio-economic condition. But even while discharging your duties thus, you should always remember that whatever you are doing is not a mundane duty it is an inseparable part of your Bhágavata dharma.

20 July 1979 DMC, Bhuvaneshwar
Published in:
Subháśita Saḿgraha Part 12