by Jill Christianae Rendon
We hear people say that life is larger than things most of us are most likely to be inclined to and those that happen naturally for us, that there is a role for each person to play in some specific relation, or in some particular situation. Some call it calling; others say it’s duty. The Indians, however, call it dharma, one of the important Hindu ideals around which the lifestyle of Indian men and women revolve.
For Hindu men, ownership of one’s fate is very important. This is clearly shown by how Rama of Ramayana wholeheartedly accepted his fate of banishment by his father who favoured his brother Bharat as regent-heir over him and even despite knowing of Kaikeyi’s influence over his father’s decision. This choice of him submitting to his fate is fulfillfing his dharma as a son: to give respect and honor to his father all the time, despite falling victim to a seemingly unjust decision made by him. It was also observable that Rama did not only live according to his dharma, he also tried to help his wife, Sita live up to hers, assuring her that everything was going to be fine and that she should submit to Bharat’s authority, herself. In fact, he encouraged her to have a good relationship with him and those related to him and did not talk wicked about them or told her to seek revenge. As a son, his father’s will became his ultimate priority and as a husband, helping his wife live the right way surpassed his need for comfort. This is the same character shown by Satyavan of the story Savitri, who after rising up from the dead, badly hurt by a deadly arrow, assured her wife Savitri that he was strong again. Somehow, we could see that what is common to these men is their innate, natural tendency to try to be strong for their wives and make them feel secured.
Respect for holy things is also important to them. This is exhibited when despite of being a king, King Dushyanta of the story Shakuntala, paid honor and respect to the hermitage and even to a deer that belongs to it. This was specifically shown when not wanting to disturb the hermitage, he dismounted from his horse from a distance. He also tried to wear modest garments on entering, giving his jewel and the bow to the charioteer. It is therefore seen here that for Hindus, it is expected that every one submits to each other’s position.
The Hindu principle of dharma is likewise important to women as it is to men. For them, fulfilling their dharma is equivalent to living life, in general. Sita of Ramayana, for instance did not mind the adjustment she had to make from living in the palace to staying in the forest with husband Rama for his banishment. To her, her role as a wife, which is to follow her husband wherever he goes and to serve him and make him happy, weighs heavier than any comfort or convenience she could have. The same is true for Savitri who chose to step out of her comfort zone to serve her husband who did not have a very fortunate state. She in fact faithfully fulfilled her duties as a wife, serving not only his husband, but her husband’s parents. She also tries to fulfil her dharma as a potential mother, by trying her best to bring back her husband’s life so she could be a mother to noble children. This is the same faithfulness to a dharma that makes Shakuntala take care of her plants with so much sensitivity and faithfulness. She notices even small details about them, and waters them faithfully. It is also might be a Hindu ideal for women to check their motives and question their feelings, evaluating the appropriateness of a certain emotions.
There may be apparent, very prominent things of this life: comfort, romance, and many others many of us seek to attain. For Hindus, however, life is not about experiencing them but sometimes letting go of them to really “live life”. This is dharma. There is just more to life.