In ‘Rigveda’, the belief in the fact that the natural order and harmony pierce through nature and world, is manifested in the Veda conception of rita which serves as the laws of nature, as a certain fixed order of matters in the Universe. Rita has a certain resemblance with the ancient Chinese term of dao. This order in the Universe reflected in Veda religion was the historic predecessor of dharma conception. The idea of rita was stated in Veda anthems and served as the basis for dharma in classical Hinduism. Dharma was mentioned in the following poem of ‘Rigveda’: “Oh Indra, lead us along the way of rita – the true way along which we will be able to overcome evil”.
The transition from rita to the modern idea of dharma in performed in ‘Brihad-aranyaka-Upanishada’. In Upanishadas, dharma is considered as the Universe law, order, harmony, verity which become apparent from Brahman. Dharma serves as the controlling moral principle in the Universe. This is sat – verity, one of the main principles of Hinduism which is originated from the conception of ‘single verity’ (‘ekam-sat’) stated in ‘Rigveda’. Sat acts in Vedas as one of Brahman’s features, sat – chit — ananda (verity – knowledge – bliss).
Dharma is not just a law or abutment, this is an original verity. In ‘Brihad-aranyaka-upanishada’, it is explained as follows: Dharma is identical with verity. The person who is telling the truth (verity) is ‘telling dharma’. In ‘Mahabharata’, Krishna defines dharma as what supports order in both the material and spiritual worlds.
Varnashrama-dharma is the Veda system if dividing the society into four estates (varnas) and four ways of of spiritual life (ashramas).
According to the system of varnashrama, the society is divided into four varnas:
Brahmans – teachers and priests;
Kshatriyas – warriers, rulers, noblemen;
Vaishyas – farmers, tradesmen, business owners;
Shudras – servants and workers.
According to the religious traditions of Hinduism, varnashrama-dharma existed since the appearance of civilization and was created by God Himself. In ‘Bhagavad-gita’, Krishna announces himself as its creator: “In accordance with the three gunas of material nature and activity connected with them, I created four classes of human society”.
In various papers of Hinduism, it is explained that the social system cannot function normally without varnashrama. This ordered structure of human society is the natural form of organizing the civilized society. Varnashrama exists for ordering social relations, creating conditions for people’s spiritual self-awareness and giving them the possibility to develop spiritually.
In Veda society, varnashramas were considered as a perfect material instrument able to elevate a human up to the spiritual level: “If everyone serves to God discharging one’s duties, piece and prosperity will reign in the society, and a human will be able, in the end, to reach moksha (liberation)”.
The Veda system of ashramas corresponds to four ways of spiritual life which are practiced in all the main directions of modern Hinduism. A human life (its duration is considered to be 100 years) is divided into four equal periods of 25 years each:
Brahmacharya – the first period of life, the stage of studying which a student spends as a monk while practicing sexual continence, serving to a guru and taking spiritual knowledge from him;
Grihastha – a family life, work (In this ashram, there are purusharthi (purposes), kamas (sensual satisfaction) and arthi (collecting material things). An Indian family man’s duty is to support his parents, children, guests and sacred personalities.
Vanaprastha – escape from business and preparing for complete renunciation of material world. (In this stage, all the material duties are gradually given to the grown-up children, and more time is dedicated to the spiritual practices and pilgrimage to sacred places);
Sannyasa – the last stage of life, the stage of complete renunciation of material world, which is characterized by asceticism and full dedication to self-consciousness and spiritual practices of Yoga. In this ashram, there is a necessary preparation for the moment of death and achievement of moksha (spiritual liberation).
According to Veda literature, in the past varnashrama was not just a speculative conception. It was a whole system of social structure which existed all over the world. Its central element was a powerful pious tsar who followed Brahmans’ advice in his activity.
While moving through the four stages of spiritual development (ashrams) of Veda society (brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha and sannyasa), an individual carries out simultaneously the four main purusharthas, or purposes: dharma (supporting the social-moral principles), artha (economic development, material things and mundane merits), kama (sensual satisfaction) and moksha (liberation from sansara – transformation of life and death). The final purpose, moksha, is the most important in the last two ashrams of life, whereas purusharthas of artha and kama are practiced mostly in grihastha-ashram. However, dharma plays the key role in all the stages of spiritual life.
Yama, who is also called Djarmaradja, becomes apparent as the god controlling dharma and watching over its following. It is defined that he was born from the breast of Brahma, the creator of the whole manifested Universe. It should be reminded that Yama is the first ‘Lord of Yoga’; it is Yama whom the statement is ascribed to: “Proficiency in feelings – that is called Yoga. … Such is the knowledge told by Death” (Katha-Upanishada”).
In Buddhism, dharma is the universal law of being discovered by Buddha, the inseparable component of being. It is the elementary ‘brick’ of consciousness and world: ‘something round’, ‘something long’, avidity, non-avidity, thought, consciousness, etc.
Dharmas are momentary; they appear and disappear continuously; their agitation forms a human (or some other living being) who comprehends the world. The more a human is racked by violent passions, the less is the number of good (and more of non-good) ones among dharmas, which (according to karma law) results in greater sufferings experienced by a human. If a human lives morally, follows Buddha’s or other gods’ admonitions, good dharmas dominate in his ‘stream of consciousness’, and in his current or some following lives he doesn’t suffer much, and he can even be born as a heavenly being. But heavenly beings are also subjected to the law of karma and are mortal.
In order to stop the agitation of dharmas, it is necessary to be aware that there is nothing unchangeable — neither the world itself, nor God-Creator or the eternal soul. When this all is not only understood but realized, the process of ‘existence’ is over, and nirvana is achieved – the state which cannot be called either the eternal being or complete destruction: all our notions cannot be used to describe nirvana. Dharma is considered one of the central and most complicated categories of Buddha conception.
In Mahayanistic Buddhism, the features of Dharma become equal to the features of absolute which is identical to the nature of Buddha. The highest of the three bodies of Buddha, dharmakaya (the body of Buddha) is only defined through the negation of different features (‘non-movable, non-comprehensible, non-dual’).
While considering the human psychic sphere, Buddhists saw two aspects in it:
- Dharmas (the stream or process of certain psychic states);
- Separate contents of consciousness (i.e. discrete fragments of the human mental-psychic experience).
Here, they didn’t suppose any substantial basis: in other words, Buddhists understood psychics as the constant changing contents of consciousness which has no basis. For Buddhists, consciousness is discrete (discontinuous, separated, divided) in time.
In this question, the Buddhist metaphysics and classical Yoga are different. Patandjali and Vyasa understand consciousness as something continuous (uninterrupted, integral, united). Yoga adds the consciousness itself to dharmas and the separate contents of consciousness as their receptacle, carrier or substantial basis. So, Yoga notices three aspects in the human psychic sphere:
- Separate contents of consciousness;
- Consciousness as the continuum substance.
Thus, Vyasa (in his interpretation of Patandjali’s ideas) supposes that dharmas are the changes of consciousness contents in the stream of its transformations. But these transformations are within the limits of their substantial basis – the consciousness as it is, which always remains the essence or the spiritual substrate of the first two aspects of psychics: dharmas (the stream or process of certain states of psychics) and separate contents of consciousness.
- The notion of ‘consciousness’ in classical Yoga
In the structure of a human, classical Yoga marks out the spiritual, psychic and corporal elements, in other words, spirit (Purusha), buddhi (psychics-consciousness), the organ of mind (manas), life power and body. The spiritual consciousness (Purusha) is reflected in buddhi (psychics0consciousness giving birth to expanding the contents-images of consciousness) and fills its originally unconscious sphere with the ability of comprehension and self-consciousness. In such a way, ahamkara (‘ego-division’) appears, that is, the illusion of psychic separation or ego itself: having become conscious, buddhi falls into the illusion that he is the subject of experience, whereas buddhi is only the psychic mirror, the reflector of experience which the true subject -Spirit, (Purusha) – contemplates.
The forms of the common feature of isolation (ahamkara) are three groups of human organs: the organs of perception, acting and mind. The organs of perception are the specific forms of buddhi manifestation; these are the organs of hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell. The organs of acting are arms, legs, organs of excretion and reproduction, organ of speech. The organ of intellect (mind) is manas.
The supreme Yoga, i.e. the unification of individual spirit-consciousness with the World Spirit-Consciousness is performed when the illusion of ahamkara is destructed and spirit is separated from the mental-psychic sphere of buddhi.
So, in Yoga there is a notion about different kinds of what is called ‘consciousness’. This is:
- Absolutely pure Consciousness, or Energy of Consciousness – the World Spirit (Purusha). This kind of consciousness has no personal features and contents (objective images) characteristic of other (lower) aspects of consciousness (i.e. buddhi); it is pure, empty, hollow, impersonal, purposeless and eternal;
- God-Ishvara possessing super-consciousness and absolute knowledge;
- Psychic sphere – buddhi which is originally unconscious, but (reflecting the pure Consciousness of Purusha in it) gets consciousness and the ability to keep the content of consciousness, i.e. the fragments of mental-psychic experience.
Thus, the psychology of Yoga has an idea about super-consciousness, consciousness and unconsciousness and uses it to control psychic process. In this connection, and for historical justice’ sake, it should be noted that “the discovery of unconscious sphere” does not belong to the Austrian psychologist Zigmund Freud’s thought, as the authors of psychology books assure us. If the Western World had been more attentive to the Oriental cultural experience, it wouldn’t have had to ‘discover’ ideas which had been comprehended by the men of wisdom before.
Let’s consider the relations of Cosmic Consciousness (Purusha) and personal consciousness from the positions of Yoga. As a result of interaction between Cosmic Consciousness (Purusha) and Material Substance (Prakriti), some transcendental (which is outside of possible experience) cosmic formation (buddhi-mahat) appears. This is the reflection of Pure Consciousness (Purusha) in the psychic sphere of buddhi containing the ideal prototype (model) of the Universe (i.e. mahat). Cosmic buddhi is still inanimate consciousness as it is not connected with living beings yet and isn’t embodied in them.
When separate living beings appear, it’s possible to speak about individual buddhis (chittas) containing personal consciousness. It performs an auxiliary function in the process of the world evolution. Personal consciousness unites Cosmic Consciousness (World Spirit) with the objects of the material world through which Spectator (Purusha) gets experience and from which he consequently liberates himself. At the end of the cosmic evolution, the personal consciousnesses of living beings are absorbed by Cosmic buddhi, and he, in his turn, is dissolved in the material substance (Prakriti) which has created him. Only the eternal pure Consciousness-Spectator is left, i.e. World Absolute Spirit.
Yoga’s important idea is the understanding of consciousness or mental-psychic world (buddhi-chitta) as the mirror (the reflecting thing) of experience, on the one hand, and of spiritual substance, on the other hand. “The activity of living beings becomes possible”, wrote Vyasa,” owing to the reflection of processes happening in their psychics: ‘I’m angry’, ‘I’m scared’… Without reflecting the processes happening in one’s own consciousness, such an activity is impossible”.
Patandjali states: “Consciousness, which is coloured by Spectator and by the things perceived by Him, becomes all-objective.” It means that personal consciousness (individual buddhi) is simultaneously both the object (for the Universe Consciousness – Purusha) and subject of experience (i.e. relative to the things of the objective world). It becomes both animated (when it comprehends the world) and non-animated (when it is itself the object for Spectator – the Universe Consciousness). In this way, the personal consciousness of every living being serves the transcendental purposes of Spectator who is the only subject of experience and the only truly animated (i.e. possessing Spirit) Substance.