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  Volume 4 - Issue 07 JULY 2006



- A choice between Deha Dharma and Atma Dharma

Life confronts us with so many choices every day. These choices always lead to only two scenarios - either it further our progress on the spiritual path or take us back. Now, progress on the spiritual path is defined as anything which helps us to reveal our true nature as a divine being, forever selfless and blissful. And the opposite that which gives us joys which are temporary and come from selfishly enjoying bodily pleasures. But how do we orientate ourselves towards the divine with our every step and breath? That is what we intend to deal with in this article.

Swami has told us that we can either make choices that further our life as a separate body, or make choices that are in consonance with the Atma or spirit (or the Self).

Man implies three things - doing, knowing and being. When the body acts alone without regard to the mind and the Atma, that person is considered to be in the animal state. When the mind acts in association with the body without regard to the Atma, that condition is described as demonic. When man acts in consonance with the Atma, he achieves oneness with the Divine. Hence, man has in him these three potentialities, he can manifest himself as an animal, a demon or God.

- Thought for The Day June 13th 2006


Let’s look at two examples from the Sai family. Ask yourself, according to Swami’s guidelines above, what are the youth Seva dals following in West Bengal when they give their time and energy to clean toilets at railway stations?

Ask yourself what are the Seva dals following when they come to offer their time and love to Swami at Prashanti year after year with greater zeal?

They could all be using their spare time for a host of enjoyments that are available to them in the every day world. Yet they chose to do things that many people would laugh at and not understand. This points to a vast difference in behaviour and the motivation behind that behaviour.

The Greek Philosopher

A well-known Greek philosopher once happened to meet an Indian yogi. In the course of their conversation he said to the yogi. “The most worthy and fruitful study, is the study of man.” The yogi agreed with him and then added “But how can you know man without knowing God?” ‘Man Know Thyself’ therefore means realize your divine/true nature. What the yogi meant was that the deha dharma pertaining to the individual is not the final state. Only enlightenment proper, leads to the practice of Atma Dharma.

Swami says,

“Man is the greatest, the crown of creation. He is superior to all.” But Swami also says, “Man in his present evolutionary stage, is in the intermediate stage between the animal and the divine. He should not rest until he has risen to the level of Divinity itself. The proper study of Mankind is Man. ”

The Choices - Deha Dharma and Atma Dharma

To understand why there is this enormous disparity we need to learn about the two important dharmas that Swami refers to - deha dharma and Atma Dharma. Deha Dharma means those duties we discharge as a member of society, based on caste, age, sex, nationality and so on, all centred around the belief that we are a separate body. Among Hindus, Manu the Lawgiver has laid the codes down and these are known as Smritis; of course, every culture will have its own mores and customs. Deha dharma applies to our daily life and helps to create harmony, order and respect among people. It also permits us to enjoy ourselves, within decent boundaries, as much as we wish without reproach. Deha dharma leads to the heavenly worlds, but also to the round of birth and death. It does not lead us to liberation.

Yet for those on the spiritual path a higher path beckons which ultimately makes us free from all selfishness and desires, and leads us onto the path of liberation. This is Atma Dharma or Swaha Dharma. We may have instances when we are living by Atma dharma (albeit temporarily) – such as when we put someone else’s needs before our own; when our heart feels another’s pain; or when we decide to question our selfish traits and orientate ourselves towards a more selfless life. Then we know the peace, bliss and total contentment of Atma Dharma which is totally free from doubts, confusion and dualities of any kind.

A life lived in this way, in the permanent consciousness of our true self shines ever in the service of others. We know such people as saints, prophets and yogis who live the “life divine” and are examples of Atma Dharma, ever One with the Non-Dual Reality. They live beyond all categories altogether (right/wrong and happy/sad); no duties need to be performed by them for by seeing the One in all, they are in a state of total freedom where the Atma and Atma Dharma are one, and their life is a blessing to the world. The important aspect of this Dharma, as Swami says is “seeing the one in all, and the all as one”.

Room Full of Mirrors

To see and experience this all the time is difficult, for we are mainly bound by ideas of separation and of ‘me’ and ‘mine’. In this context, Swami gives a beautiful allegory of a dog entering a room full of mirrors. The dog sees its reflections as many different dogs and becomes wild. The more it gets excited and barks, the worse the situation; it finally leaves most upset at all the ‘other noisy dogs’ who came into its territory.

Later, a small boy enters the room and enjoys the whole show, laughing, and making faces at himself. It is a blissful experience for the boy, as he sees his own reflections everywhere. He sees the one in all and the all in one. This is a close analogy to the vision of the non-dual.


Swami says “Change your perceptions of the world, and the world changes for you. Many of us move around the world wearing glasses (spectacles) of envy, fear, worry, anger, etc and so the world appears as a terrible place. “Wear the glasses of Love instead” says Swami. This will help transmute deha dharma to Atma Dharma.

Arjuna’s Dilemma and Deliverance

One of the most famous examples of the transition from deha dharma to Atma Dharma concerns Krishna’s transformation of Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Swami has revealed that Krishna and Arjuna were inseparably together for seventy five years but at no time during that period, did Krishna teach the Gita to Arjuna. Why? Because during all those years, Arjuna treated Krishna as his brother-in-law and a close friend. During all those years, Arjuna was living with body-consciousness. The moment Arjuna surrendered, Krishna was ready to impart the Divine Message. Surrender, thus, is the right approach, as it takes one beyond the powerful delusion that one is a body-ego who must make all decisions for one’s own advantage.

Swami adds that although Arjuna had declared that he had surrendered to the Lord, he was still subservient to the triumvirate of the senses, the body and the mind - a powerful combination which invariably steers one in the wrong direction. However, he had sought refuge in and appealed to Krishna, and the ever-compassionate Lord was only too willing to do the needful even though, Arjuna's surrender at that stage was perhaps not yet complete; but no molly coddling! Thus, Krishna asks Arjuna sternly:

Why do you weep like a coward? Is it because Bhishma, Drona and the rest are about to be killed? No; you weep because you feel they are "your" men. It is egoism that makes you weep. People weep not for the dead but because the dead are "theirs". Have you not killed until now many who were "not yours"? You never shed any tears for them.

Today you weep since you are under the delusion that those whom you see before you are somehow "yours" in a special way. When you sleep, you are unaffected by this feeling of "I" and "mine", so you are unaware what happens to your body or the bodies of these "your men " or to your possessions, items which you carefully remember while awake. "Mine" is the possessive case of "I" and so it comes in its trail.

The fundamental ignorance, my dear fool, is the identification of yourself with something that is not you, viz., the body. What a topsy-turvy bit of knowledge is this! To cure this Ajnana (ignorance), I must administer the medicine jnana (Knowledge) itself.

Lord Krishna teaching the 'Geeta' to Arjuna...

To confuse the body with oneself and pine for the body as if something has happened to one is delusion. The body is but a mere inert vehicle for the Indweller or the Atma. It is transient whereas the Atma is eternal. When Arjuna used words like "I" and "mine", he meant the body or the lower self (i.e., the complex involving the gross physical body plus the mind) whereas what is eternal and therefore meaningful is the Atma or the Real Self. This misplaced identification, also called body-consciousness, is sometimes comprehensively referred to as ego or Ahamkara. (Ego as used in spirituality means much more than what dictionaries convey; basically it implies body-consciousness).

What Should We Do To Lead A Truly Divine Life?

Arjuna was not alone suffering from ego; all of us do, which is why death, especially of near ones, affects our feelings. So what is one to do? Firstly, we must, as Arjuna was told, make a conscious effort to realise actually that body is transient. Having done that, we must also not give the body excessive importance; instead it is the Atma which must constantly remain in our focus. Secondly, we must appreciate that life is but a bit of playacting (in a drama scripted by the Blessed Lord). Thirdly, we must not goof our part by forgetting the script/dialogue (meaning, we must not forget to do our duty). Swami's advice in this context is worth remembering,

Do all Karma (action/duty) as actors in a play, keeping your identity separate and not attaching yourself too much to your role. Remember that the whole thing is just a play and the Lord has assigned to you a part; there your duty ends. He has designed the play, and He enjoys it.


To explain Atma Dharma with the help of thoughts and intellect, which are dual in nature and as a third party observer is impossible. Yatho vacha nivartanthe aprapya manasa as the Vedas declare. But fortunately for us we have Swami - the best example of the practice of Atma Dharma.

Swami says “I have no duties to perform, no bonds that bind, yet I am active all the time.” Swami’s acts are spontaneous, He sees and knows the past, present and future of all and so His responses are varied and unpredictable to mortals.

On the other hand, mortal man lives and acts based on the deha (body) dharma. He has a dual mind. He is therefore ignorant of his true nature. Man’s state lies in between the two. One does not build a house in the middle of a bridge. The bridge is meant to be crossed so as to reach the other side.

At man’s present level, on the ladder of evolution he must not and should not stagnate. Sadhana and effort for upliftment is necessary. We should transmute Deha dharma into Atma Dharma.

How to Practise Atma Dharma

One potent means to further this is Karma Yoga, also called the Yoga of Disinterested Action. Why? Because the doer is not interested in the rewards.

In that case, why at all is the person engaged in action? Because he considers it to be his duty. Of course, this is not the way people normally behave. They engage in action because of specific desires. Krishna tells Arjuna your outlook should be similar; always seek to perform your duty, but do not claim the fruits thereof - that is what desireless action really means.

Some hold that thinking about and working for rewards is totally wrong and immoral. Swami has categorically refuted this point of view and observes:

This is a great blunder... When a man has a right for engaging in Karma, he has a right also for the fruit; no one can deny this or refuse his right. But the doer can, out of his own free will and determination, refuse to be affected by the result, whether favourable or unfavourable.

So there is nothing immoral in aspiring for the rewards of one's actions or effort. However, there is a catch! As Swami says:

If you have an eye on the fruits of your actions, you are liable to be affected by worry, anxiety and restlessness.

The Sun God’s Dilemma

The following parable is full of pregnant meaning on this topic. Surya Deva (the Sun God) had a devotee who admired him greatly. Everyday at sunrise the devotee would chant the thousand and eight names of the Sun Lord with great fervour and pay obeisance to him. Needless to say, the Sun God was pleased with the devotee’s prayers.

But there was one problem. One of the names uttered by the devotee was “Oh Saviour, thou who art the Enemy of Darkness”. This perplexed the Sun God and he said to himself: “I am a good being, friendly to all. I have no enemies. Who is this enemy he is talking about? I must find out.” So, he approached all the great gods for help. Each of them sent him to different places of darkness, like Patala (Hades), dark caves, dark forests, the bottom of oceans, etc. Wherever the Sun god went, he found only brightness and daylight. The sun finally returns to his abode and thinks to himself “This is an aberration in the mind of the devotee. There is no such thing as darkness. It is his illusion. I bless him that he may be freed from it.”


The non-dual vision of the Atma, destroys all darkness of ignorance. Man rises above deha (body) dharma to find peace and bliss in the realm of the Atma. Our Swami has said on several occasions: “I do not know what worry, sorrow and suffering are.” That is the sure indication of Atma Dharma. But we mortal devotees go to Him with our sorrows, our fears, and our worries hoping for (albeit temporarily) release from them. These are the limitations of deha dharma. “The Unlimited is always with the Atma alone” says Swami.

We end with an interesting story about Jadabharata from the Upanishadic times where aspects deha dharma, prior to atmic realization, are brought out beautifully.

The Story of Jadabharata

King Satyavrata of ancient times was a wise and just ruler. His kingdom flourished and all the people were happy and prosperous. As days went by, the king grew old and so he handed over the reins of his kingdom to his son, and as per the dharmic codes, proceeds to the forests for a life of austerities and tapas. (Vanaprastha stage of ashram dharma).

So great is the dispassion and renunciation of the king, that he gives up all worldly attachments and luxuries of life. He builds a small hut for himself by the side of a flowing river and lives an austere, spartan life devoted to meditation and contemplation. He lives on the herbs, roots and fruits growing in the forest.


One dawn, he is rudely disturbed out of his meditation. In his vicinity, there is a scream and scramble. He opens his eyes. A pregnant deer fleeing for her life, is pounced upon by a tigress. Meanwhile it collapses and gives birth to a fawn (baby). The stalking tigress later carries away the mother deer. Out of compassion, the king picks up the crying fawn and begins to look after it, feeding it, cleaning it and the fawn becomes very attached to the king.

In due course of time, the King is aware of his last days on earth and is on his deathbed. The fawn instinctively sits near him and sheds tears of sorrow. While contemplating on God, in his last moments, a thought comes to the King’s mind “Oh, what will happen to this fawn when I am gone?” and then he breathes his last.

“The predominant thought at the time of death decides the fate and the next life” says Swami. Swami as well as Krishna state “Those who depart from this world uttering ‘Om' merge in me.”

The king is therefore born as a deer in his next life. Due to the great austerities of his past life, the deer is aware of its past and wanders in solitude visiting sacred places, wherever the Name of God is chanted or sung, etc. The deer duly passes away in this manner. Swami says, “Surroundings conducive to the jiva’s spiritual growth in its next life, depend on the effects of its past karmas.”

In his next (third) life, the king is born in the house of a spiritually elevated Brahmin family and remembers his past lives. Out of great discrimination and worldly detachment, the boy appears dumb from birth as he is unresponsive to worldly ties and social contacts, seeing that these have landed him in trouble in the past.

His parents give him up as a dumb boy but as he is otherwise healthy and strong he is known as Jada-bharata (“jada” means heavy, inert, dull).

One day, Jadabharata now a tall young man, is sitting by the side of a path on a piece of rock, very unconcerned. It so happens that the king of that country is passing by in a palanquin, carried by four bearers.

One of the bearers has a limp, and so the king calls this young man as a replacement. Due to his height, the palanquin moves awkwardly and the king is angry and calls him a fool, etc.


Seeing his unresponsive attitude, the king threathens and draws his sword, in order to make him speak. It is said that Jadabharata opens his mouth for the first time and speaks the highest philosophy to the king.


“Oh King” he says “whom are you calling a fool? Is it this body of mine? In that case this body is not different from yours or any other as they come from the selfsame elements. Is it the Atma that you address as a fool? In that case also the Atma is One and undifferentiated. So who is it that you are calling a fool?”

The king questions him on several spiritual aspects, and is amazed at the words of Jadabharata. He falls at his feet, craving pardon and later he appoints him as his Rajaguru, preceptor for the kingdom. In this third life, Jadabharata attains the realisation of the Non-Dual Self.

Therefore, eternal freedom or liberation can be obtained only from following the dictates of our Atma or Self and not the deha or the body.

The body as Swami says in only an instrument and transcient just like a water bubble. When we believe and live in this principle, we experience true freedom. “The end of wisdom is freedom,” as Swami has told us often.

- Sri S Suresh Rao
And H2H Team

Dear Reader, how did you like this article? would you like more articles on this series of 'Vision of Non-duality'? Please tell us know at Please mention your name and country when you write to us. Thank you for your time.

Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 4 Issue 07 - JULY 2006
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