Assembled on the field of Dharma,
O Sanjaya, on the field of the
Kurus, eager to fight, what did
my people and the Pandavas do? (I.1)
Commenting on this verse, Maharishi (1967) singles out the term "dharma," and provides a precise definition of it:
"Dharma" is that invincible power of nature which upholds existence. It maintains evolution and forms the very basis of cosmic life. It supports all that is helpful for evolution and discourages all that is opposed to it.
Dharma is that which promotes worldly prosperity and spiritual freedom. (pp. 26-27)
As Maharishi's commentary progresses, it becomes evident that this definition is fundamental to the entire teaching of the Bhagavad-Gita. Maharishi identifies dharma with "nature," "cosmic life," and "existence." Dharma is thus to be found everywhere in creation, as an essential attribute of cosmic life. It forms the unified "basis" of life, and operates from there: It is, in other words, one with the universal field of pure intelligence.
In addition, dharma is the "invincible power" of nature: It is an active principle, or what Maharishi (1972) has elsewhere termed "creative intelligence." Its role is to "uphold" existence by maintaining "evolution." The term evolution is here used by Maharishi in a technical sense that is different from modern usage: It refers to the dynamics, implicit in the design of life, through which life rises to its highest value. Dharma upholds evolution in a direction that we would uniformly recognize as good: It "promotes worldly prosperity and spiritual freedom" (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1967, pp. 26-27).
Maharishi (1967) explains that dharma conducts the process of evolution in two ways, by lending "support" to elements that are "helpful" to evolution, and by "discouraging" things that are "opposed to it." In this it is invincible because, being the essential nature of life itself, nothing could lie outside its sway.
Maharishi (1967) goes on to describe in detail the mechanics of evolution for which dharma is responsible. He notes first that the movement of the evolutionary process is composed of two elements that are opposite in character:
When life evolves from one state to another, the first state is dissolved and the second brought into existence. In other words, the process of evolution is carried out under the influence of two opposing forces-one to destroy the first state and the other to give rise to a second state. (p. 27)
The role of dharma, he goes on, is to coordinate the functioning of these two elements so that they work together in a perfectly integrated fashion:
These creative and destructive forces working in harmony with one another maintain life and spin the wheel of evolution. Dharma maintainsequilibrium between them. By maintaining equilibrium between opposing cosmic for ces, dharma safeguards existence and upholds the path of evolution, the path of righteousness. (p. 27)
In the more recent formal presentation of his Vedic Science, Maharishi (1986a) describes this process in terms of the laws of nature that have their basis in the unified field of all the laws of nature, the field of pure intelligence, and are always self-referral in their functioning:
From the most quiet, transcendental level, nature performs, and it performs within itself. It is the self-referral activity of natural law that is responsible for absolute order in creation. . . . It is the most refined level of quantum-mechanical activity of nature, from where absolute orderliness controls, commands, and governs all affairs of the universe. . . .
Natural law is always powerful, and every natural law has two sides to it, creative and destructive. In balancing the two processes of creation and destruction, natural law promotes evolution. The promotion of evolution requires a balanced state of creative activity; nature does this spontaneously by self-referral functioning. (pp. 75-76)
Here again Maharishi identifies the central elements and relationships of the basic functioning of nature: the creative and destructive aspects of natural law, whose balanced state (equivalent to "equilibrium" above) is linked to evolution. Evolution in turn is connected to "self-referral functioning"; that is, to the way in which the parts are continually connected, or referred, to the whole, in such a way that "absolute order" is maintained (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1986a, pp. 109-110). The concept of the self-referral functioning of natural law and its role in maintaining balance in nature is discussed in more detail below.
In his commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Maharishi (1967) applies this understanding of dharma and evolution to both individual and collective human life. He affirms, firstly, the existence of free will for mankind: "Man's life is so highly evolved that he enjoys freedom of action in nature. This enables him to live in any way he desires, either for good or for evil" (p. 27).
The results of action, Maharishi goes on to explain, are determined by the quality of that action: "As he behaves, so he receives" (p. 27). Dharma operates according to this principle in a completely set and automatic way, like a machine, its output determined by its input. Maharishi (1967) describes this process of action and reaction in terms of a principle of equilibrium:
When the good increases in life and the positive forces tend to overbalance the normal state of existence, then the process of dharma, restoring equilibrium, results in feelings of happiness in the heart and satisfaction in the mind. In the same way, when evil increases in life and the negative forces predominate, the power of dharma, restoring the balance, produces sensations of pain and suffering. (p. 27)
Here Maharishi seems to refer to the relationship between action and its effects as unbalanced until the cycle is completed: Until one reaps the fruit of one's actions, the relationship is in a state of disequilibrium.
Maharishi emphasizes that the increase of good or of evil is brought about solely by human action. Knowingly or unknowingly, individuals give support either to the creative or to the destructive (positive or negative) aspects of natural law. In the following passage Maharishi (1967) refers to a different kind of equilibrium, one that distinguishes between the results of positive, as against negative, thoughts and actions:
Life is as we want it-either suffering or joy. When we allow the positive and negative forces to remain in their normal state of equilibrium, we live through normal periods of life. Assisting the growth of negative forces results in suffering; when we help the positive forces to increase we share the joy of life. "As you sow, so shall you reap," expresses the role of dharma in practical life. (p. 27)
It appears that Maharishi is using the term "normal" here to describe a relatively static state of life, one where evolution proceeds at a slow pace, as he describes more fully elsewhere:
The life current or stream flows constantly, carrying all life along with it spontaneously. We are all floating along with it, and that is the way most people are evolving. However, human beings, having been given free will, can modify this in two ways. We can deliberately and consciously begin to swim with the current and thereby progress faster. . . . Or we can try to be different, asserting our little ego, and swim against the current. And that means incessant struggle and sure failure. This last causes only struggle. (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 1986b, p. 576)
Here Maharishi indicates that normal life involves a slower process of evolution, indicated by the metaphor of floating in the stream of life. In his Gita commentary, Maharishi (1967) describes the effects of the acceleration of one's evolution that the force of dharma produces from accumulation of positive thoughts and actions:
. . . a high degree of concentration of positive forces fails to maintain life in its normal state. The life of an individual under the influence of increasing positive forces enters into a field of increasing happiness and is eventually transformed into bliss-consciousness, in which state it gains the status of cosmic existence, eternal life. (p. 27)
This last statement contains a principle of the greatest significance for the structuring of human society. It establishes an absolute standard for the conduct of human life. It locates an ultimate goal for the life of all human beings: "bliss-consciousness, in which state it gains the status of cosmic existence, eternal life." As explained later in the Bhagavad-Gita, this is the full development of human life, achieved through the regular practice of Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation technique (please refer to p. 25-26), in which the individual conscious mind finds itself to be in reality universal. The term "bliss-consciousness" refers to the nature of the direct experience of the field of pure consciousness through Transcendental Meditation. A life established in bliss-consciousness, Maharishi (1967) teaches, is spontaneously lived without mistakes: It is a life of complete fulfillment, and infinitely nourishing to all aspects of creation (p. 449).
Speaking more recently in terms of his Vedic Science, Maharishi (1986a) explains the essential principle governing the possibility of gaining such a state of life. He describes the field of self-referral consciousness as ". . . that all-powerful activity at the most elementary level of nature." Continuing, he notes that:
If this state of consciousness, or this state of nature's activity, could be brought on the level of daily life, then life would naturally be as orderly and as full of all possibilities as is the nature of this self-referral state of consciousness. (p. 26)
This is individual life in enlightenment, where one is able to reflect and embody the universal value of life, able to spontaneously think and act in accord with natural law, and able "to accomplish anything and to spontaneously live life free from mistakes" (World Parliament of the Age of Enlightenment, cited in Dillbeck & Dillbeck, 1987, p. 398).
We note further that Maharishi (1967), in the Gita commentary, describes the nature of the path by which enlightenment is achieved: It is "a field of increasing happiness" (p. 27). Unhappiness or suffering are not held to be aspects of this path. On the contrary, as we have seen, they arise in the context of the increase of the destructive value of natural law returning the results of negative, or nonevolutionary, actions to the doer. Maharishi does not associate the necessity for suffering, the concept of gain from suffering, or of learning from mistakes, with the path of evolution. He emphasizes that the path of evolution is a path of happiness; and it is, in fact, a path of increasing, rather than fixed, happiness. This increase accords with Maharishi's definition of evolution as always progressive.
In describing Maharishi's unique contributions to the understanding of the role of dharma in the growth to enlightenment, it is worth noting the difficulties other translators have found in dealing with the notion of dharma. It has been variously translated, for example, as "righteousness" (Radhakrishnan, 1948), "Truth" (Mascaro, 1962), or "virtue" (Sargeant, 1984). As Maharishi's commentary makes clear, while all these ideas are implicit in the notion of dharma, none of them does justice to its range and significance, to its role in supporting the path of natural evolution. The essence of Arjuna's dilemma-how even the righteous cannot seem to live a life free from suffering-and the answer to it rests on the full understanding of the nature of dharma, as applied to practical life. It is therefore evident that the value of such translations and commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita as those quoted above must be limited.
In summary, Maharishi's commentary on this verse presents a fundamental and comprehensive account of the inner mechanics of nature's functioning, and of the nature and goal of human life. These are absolute principles: They are true for all times and all places, regardless of historical period or of cultural or geographic context. As Maharishi (1967) remarks later, "Here is a great teaching of vital importance which has been missed for centuries. It sets a standard for any society." (p. 69). These principles arise from Maharishi's direct investigation into the unified basis of nature's intelligence on its own level, the field of pure consciousness, through the subjective techniques of the Vedic tradition (described below). A theory of society based on these principles will have the same absolute status in its explanation of the nature of society, of the causes of social dysfunction, of the goal of social life, and of the best strategy of social advancement. This is the absolute theory of society presented in Maharishi's commentary on the rest of Chapter I of the Bhagavad-Gita.
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