The Ten Characteristics of a Dhármika



The nature of an object is determined by certain distinct characteristics. Regarding the characteristics of a person following the path of dharma, it has been said in the Vedas;

Dhrti-kśamá damo’steyam shaocam indryanigraha,
Dhiirvidyá satyamkrodhah dashakamdharmalakśańam.

“Dhrti”. The word “dhrti” has a number of meanings, the most important being “patience”. It is not at all wise for human beings to get upset in any circumstances. One should always remain calm and be ready for the future.

Sadasi vákpatutá yudhi vikramam,
Vipadi dhaeryyaḿ puruśasya lakśańam.

With which qualities should one be endowed? The greatest quality of a person within an assembly is the capacity to convince others. The highest quality in the battlefield is “yudhi vikramam”, or valour in the battle. While in danger, one’s great quality is patience. So what are the qualities of a dhármika (virtuous person)? First, he or she must have patience. Without patience one’s intellect can easily get misguided resulting in misunderstandings as to what should be done and what should not be done. Losing the faculty of judgment, one is easily defeated.

“Kśamá”, or forgiveness. The first letter of kśamá is “kśa”. This is the last and fiftieth letter of the Saḿskrta alphabet. “Kśa” is itself composed of two letters, “ka” and “sa”. The Rg Vedian pronunciation is “kśa” (“ksha”) whereas the Yajurvedian pronunciation is “kha”. In Saḿskrta, both pronunciations are recognized. What is forgiveness? It means to remain free from vindictive attitudes towards anyone. Suppose someone has done something inimical to you, you, in turn, need not be revengeful or vindictive towards him or her. It is of course quite natural for an ordinary person to take revenge against someone who has done an inimical action: there’s nothing wrong if an ordinary person does that. But one who is virtuous, that is, one who has risen slightly above the rest, cannot act in this way. He or she should behave otherwise. How should a virtuous person behave? If one is satisfied that the wrong-doer’s habit has been rectified, one may pardon him or her. If someone is perpetrating atrocities on thousands of Ananda Margiis, however, one has no individual right to excuse the wrongdoer because he or she has harmed thousands of innocent people. But if a person commits atrocities on me alone, and if I am satisfied that his or her nature has been transformed, it would be proper for me as a dhármika to show forgiveness. However, if his or her nature has not been rectified, my forgiveness may result in that person becoming even more of a reckless scoundrel and in such a case forgiveness would be considered as a sign of my weakness. This is the dhármik interpretation of kśamá. That is, neither is it proper for me to blindly forgive a wrongdoer, nor is it proper for me to blindly punish a wrongdoer. We should think properly before we act. If someone goes against the collective interest of the society, a collective decision should be made whether the wrong-doer should be forgiven or not, keeping in mind whether he or she has already rectified the bad habit. No individual can take a decision in this regard arbitrarily.

“Dama”. The actual meaning of the word “dama” is self-control. The verbs “sham” and “dam” are almost synonymous in Saḿskrta. The root verb “sham” + suffix “kta” = “shanta”. “Sham” + “anat” = “daman”. Damana means “control of oneself” and shamana means “control of others”. A person who fights against the antisocial elements and controls them is said to be doing “shamana”, while one who controls oneself is said to be doing “damana”. Death controls the human beings and maintains a balance in this universe so death is called “shamana”. In common parlance, the mythological god of death is also called Shamana. One who practices self-control or prepares oneself to fight against injustice, or controls one’s desire to harm others by the application of psychic force, is said to be practicing damana. A dhármik person must have the quality of damana.

“Asteya”. Asteya is a very important principle in our code of conduct. It means, “non-stealing”. There are two kinds of stealing: internal and external. To deprive others of what is legitimately due to them or to take away things from others without their knowledge is called external stealing. Internal stealing is stealing within one’s mind. Although internal theft does not harm anyone, unlike external theft, it nevertheless makes one a thief. It is done mentally out of shame, fear, or lack of opportunity. So asteya means desisting from theft of any kind.

“Shaocam”. This is cleanliness, remaining free from dirt. Bathing or wearing clean clothes does not make one holy, although it is a part of holiness. Real shaoca is:

Shaocantu dvividhaḿ proktaḿ báhyamábhyantarantathá,
Mrjjlábhyaḿ smrta báhyaḿ mayah suddhi stathántaraḿ.

The spirit of shaoca is to keep the mind pure and the body clean. How can the mind be kept pure? There is an external way and an internal way. What is the external way? People are normally totally preoccupied with thoughts about their immediate environment. If people do good deeds in their environment, good thoughts will occur in their minds whenever they rest. Conversely, those who always harm others, will think about doing more harm or committing more crimes in their leisure time. So the first and foremost method for keeping the mind pure is to engage oneself in virtuous deeds. “Kuru puńyamahorátram”. That is, do virtuous deeds night and day.

And what is the internal way? The internal way is to look towards one’s goal, one “abhiiśt́a” (or in Saḿskrta, one’s “shrat”). The spirit of the Saḿskrta root verb “dhá” is to lead the mind towards “shrat”. So “shrat” + “dhá” = “shraddhá”.

So externally there should be selfless social service, and internally there should be shraddhá. In these two ways the mind is compelled to remain pure.

“Indryanigraha”. When human beings successfully attain control over the five motor organs and five sensory organs, the afferent and efferent nerves, and the sensory and motor nerves, it is called “indryanigraha”.

Cakśuná saḿvaro sádhu, sádhu shotena saḿvaro
Ghánena saḿvaro sádhu, sádhu jihváya saḿvaro
Káyena saḿvaro sádhu, sádhu vacáya samvaro
Manasá saḿvaro sádhu, sádhu sabbattha saḿvaro
Sabbattha saḿvaro bhikśu, savva duhkha pamuccati.

Human beings utilize their sense organs in every stratum of life. They internalize and externalize ideas through the medium of various nerves, which act according to the way they are guided. These nerves carry information from the external world to the mind, and from the mind to the external world. You must have experienced that while walking it is very difficult to enjoy the taste of good food. That is why people say, “Sit down and eat your food calmly.” also, on some occasions, you don’t hear what a person standing beside you is saying because your mind is engaged somewhere else. To control the sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, etc. or to suspend one indriya keeping the other indriyas active, is called indryanigraha. What does one gain from the practice of indryanigraha? By suspending the activities of the indriyas, one can direct one’s entire mind towards one’s goal with undivided attention. That is why indryanigraha is an essential aspect of dharma.

“Dhii”. Dhii means “wisdom”. A person who reads thousands of books will be unable to remember everything which was read. It is natural for the reader to forget most of the contents as human memory is short. The nerve cells of the human brain don’t possess the capacity to retain everything within their memory for long. There is, however, another type of memory – extra-cerebral memory – which does not depend upon the nerve cells of the brain and which is independent of the body. Non-cerebral memory is carried on from one life to another. One has to arouse the power of this memory by dint of one’s sádhaná and for this human intellect is required.

The goal of one’s life should always be fixed before one’s eyes; it should never be lost sight of. When one remembers one’s goal twenty-four hours a day one develops the actual memory. In the scriptures, this sort of memory is called “dhruvásmrti”. Here, dhruva means “fixed” or “stationary”. The star which remains fixed in one place is called the pole star. A person sitting in a silent place may think, “Let me recollect my Iśt́a for a while”. Then while recollecting the Iśt́a, a pot of tea suddenly comes before his or her eyes and the dilemma starts. Instead of the Iśt́a, the thought of a cup of tea has entered the mind. In this case it is clear that the fixed memory has not yet been established. Dhii means that dhruvásmrti or fixed memory.

“Vidyá”. Vidyá means “self-knowledge”, that is knowledge which leads human beings towards Paramártha. Knowledge which leads human beings towards mundane objects is called “avidyá”. People have to labour hard to attain either vidyá or avidyá. For dhármika people, vidyá is essential. Avidyá, however, serves minor purposes and is not to be completely rejected. “Satyam”. As you know the definition of satyam is:

Parahitárthaḿ váuṋmanaso yathárthatvaḿ satyam.

That is, the right application of thought and words for the welfare of humanity is called satya. That which one thinks or says with a view to harming others may be a fact or a factual statement, but it is not satya.

“Akrodha”. Krodha means anger. Akrodha means “free from anger”. A dhármik person – and indeed an intelligent person – must be free from anger. The great devotee Narottama Das Thákur once said:

Krśńa nám Hari nám barai madhur
Jei jan Krśńa bhaje se bara catur.

Suppose you are free from anger, but your opponent is quite angry with you; so angry that his or her hands and feet are trembling and his or her faculty of judgment is paralysed. If you say something rational, he or she will be defeated because the mind has become restless and fails in any logical argument. He or she is sure to be defeated in argumentation. Even if it comes to a physical fight, he or she will surely be defeated because, with hands and feet trembling, he or she will fall down at the slightest push. So if you are clever you will avoid anger. Rather, you should make your opponent angry – that will surely make you victorious in the fight. Many experienced lawyers succeed in making the [[witnesses]] of the opposing party angry, and thus manage to extract much valuable information. So one of the criteria for a dhármika person is to be free from anger.

These ten characteristics are clearly manifested in a dhármik person.

10 November 1978 evening, Kalikata
Published in:
Ánanda Vacanámrtam Part 4