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What is meant by Dharma? What is the essence of Dharma? Can Man, common man, lead a happy life and survive if he sticks to Dharma? These doubts confuse the mind of man naturally in the course of his life. Solving them is necessary, even urgent.
As soon as the word Dharma is mentioned, the ordinary man takes it to mean: The giving of alms, feeding and providing lodging to pilgrims etc., the adherence to one's traditional profession or craft, law-abiding nature, the discrimination between right and wrong, the pursuit of one's innate nature or the freaks of one's own mind, the fruition of one's fondest desires, and so on.
Of course, it is a long, long time since the spotless countenance of Dharma has been tarnished beyond recognition. Beautiful fields and groves run wild with neglect and soon become unrecognisable bushland and thorny jungle; fine trees are hewn by greedy men and the shape of the landscape is changed. With the passage of time, people get accustomed to the new state of things and they do not notice the transformation, the decline. This has happened to Dharma also.
Every man has to acquaint himself with the outlines of Dharma, expounded in the Vedas and the Sastras and the Puranas. Misunderstood by incompetent intelligence, unbridled emotion and impure reasoning, they have been grossly diluted and their glory has suffered grievously. Just as the rain drops from the clear blue sky get coloured and contaminated when they fall on the soil, the unsullied message of the ancient Rishis, the example of their shining deeds, the bright untarnished urges behind their actions are all turned into ugly caricatures of the original grandeur, by uncultured interpreters and scholars.
Books written for children contain illustrations to clarify the text; but they spend their time with the pictures, forgetting what they are intended to make clear; in the same way, the unwary and the uneducated mistake the rituals, designed to illustrate the grand truths, as profoundly real in themselves; they ignore the truth which they were meant to elucidate. Travelers moving along the road rest for a while in wayside shelters but during their stay, they damage by neglect or misuse the very structure that gave them rest. So, too, the dull and the perverse alter the very face of Vedic morality and deceive the world into believing that their handiwork is what the Vedas teach!
When such mauling of Dharma took place, when the face of Dharma suffered
disfigurement at the hands of the enemies of God, the Lord responded to
the call of the gods and the godly and saved the world from ruin, by restoring
Right and Truth in the field of Dharma and of Karma, i.e., in both Ideal