Righteousness is not a singular term in its meaning—the powerful and weight-carrying word ‘Dharma’ has one of its meanings in this word. ‘Dharma’ has two meanings in local languages—duty and righteousness. So while discussing this word righteousness, we should give careful attention to the importance that it carries.
धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः (Dharmo Rakhśti Rakhśitaḥ)
Righteousness protects the protector of righteousness! Once we resolve to tread the path of virtuous conduct, we are bound to emerge victorious.
Virtuous conduct (dharma) purifies the mind and leads you to God. It creates a taste and deepens your Love for the Name and the Form of your favorite Lord. With Love in your Heart, you will, then naturally respect and obey the command of the Lord. Have the Name of the Lord on your tongue, and the Form of the Lord in the eye, and the demon called unending desire will fly from your mind, leaving joy and content behind. This kind of constant dwelling on God will promote in you love for all beings. You will then only see good in others.
-Satya Sai Speaks, Vol 5, Ch 12, 22-Mar-1965
One of the most obvious things that happen to a righteous person is problems. He faces barriers, humps, roadblocks and pitfalls that cause a lot of trouble and tension. Oftentimes, the virtuous person feels that he/she is the most troubled person on earth and all others are living a quiet and easy life. The virtuous person is made to believe that only his/her way is wrong and whatever others are doing is right. But this is a stiff test put by God and it is really tough. No need to stress that only a few pass this test and reach the stage of realization that they seek.
Let’s take an example from the great political scientist of olden times, Chanakya or Koutilya as he was known. He has to say about Dharma:
विद्या मित्रं प्रवसेषु भार्या मित्रं गृहेषु च ।
व्यधितस्यौषधं मित्रं धर्मो मित्रं मृतस्य च ॥ (Vidyā mitraṃ pravsèṣu bhāryā miṭraṃ gṛhéṣu c, vyadhitasyōṣdhaṃ miṭraṃ dharmo miṭraṃ mṛtasya c)
Knowledge is a person’s friend in foreign land, at home wife is the best friend,
Medicine is a sick person’s friend, ‘dharma’ is the only friend after death.
It is clear that righteousness is the only thing that would accompany us when we make our exit from this phenomenal drama; as the wise sayings of all people from across the world mention that we can’t take any possession while we leave this material world. It is only our righteous actions that will count.
God plays with us like a child. He is never fed up of this playfulness of His. However, once He is fully satisfied by the lessons learnt by a seeker, there is no limit to His bountiful mercy and compassion—He showers His grace profusely and does not keep anything away from the aspirant. Virtually, the aspirant is granted the mergence so as to impart the oneness with the One!
There is arguably one potent question that one would love to ask: “what is the benefit of doing good and in a righteous manner when others are not following suit? Why it seems only me who is concerned or ponder on righteousness? Why I anyway need to care about this?”
This is where the electronic model of life comes to us again that we discussed in the habit of non-dual vision. We are again given a chance to choose—if we keep doing things in a righteous manner, we will be moving in the closer orbits to the nucleus; otherwise, we would be dissipating our credibility and going farther and farther. There are some beautiful words that we would consider here.
कबीरा तेरी झोंपड़ी गल कटियन के पास।
जो करेंगे सो भरेंगे तू क्यूँ भयो उदास।। (kabīrā térī jhonpḏī gal kaṭiyan ké pās, jo karéngéwo bharéngé tu kyun bhayo udās)
The revered saint Kabīr vindicates the idea that on the path of evolution, we are bound by our own Karma. There is nothing we can do to change the destiny of others; we should be concerned about own first. I need not stress the point that you would like to have positivity when you tread the path of spirituality. Though God will test us by providing all the negative forces around us and giving us the question of solving the riddle to get out of it. It is up to us: if we emerge victorious, we would be awarded mergence in the absolute; otherwise, we would have to lurk in this elemental world again and again. A conducive atmosphere for spiritual growth is a blessing and it should not be taken as granted—people who face difficulties due to atmosphere and situations around them know how hard it to do any spiritual activity when everything seems to work against them!
Falsehood looks easy and profitable, but it binds you and pushes you into perdition. Purify your feelings and impulses. Do not worry that the others are not doing similarly. Each person is carrying their destiny in their own hands. You should strive for your salvation, at your own pace. Two people may have two acres each in the same village, but they reap different quantities of harvest, depending on the skill and attention they bestow and the quality of the seeds, soil and the manure they use. You have no right to the fruits grown on another’s tree.
– Sathya Sai Speaks, Vol 5, Ch 22, 29- Mar-65.
Swāmi clearly tells us that we should not consider the falsehood as the one-and-all. It is always the truth and righteous person that win the game. However, I would like to admit that sometimes situations seem out of human capacity and you seem to lose every hope and exhaust every try from your side. The answer to this situation would be a pat on the back! –human excellence lies in trying its best: results are always in the hands of God. If you tried your best and could not achieve what you thought, you should pray to God to take over and do as He pleases. There is nothing to worry about; remember: “Everything is in divine order!”
The above discussion can arouse another question in our minds—are not we becoming selfish if we do not care what others do? However, Swāmi clearly tells us that we should take whatever positive others do; negative leads or examples should not be repeated.
Now, let’s take an example from the past where we will come to learn how succeeding through the severe tests of God, a righteous person achieved mergence.
In Indian mythology, if you have to talk about righteousness and want to take an example of a person who never wavered from his word and upheld the highest ideal of humanity, it will invariably lead you to Mahārājā Harīścandra. There is, if it is to be said, none parallel to this person and not to wonder that he achieved the highest point through his steadfastness to his word and truthfulness. Almost no child in India has been reared without retelling the story of Mahārājā Harīścandra. Since eons, the legend has been going on to inspire people from all walks of life. The eldest among Pānḍavas, Yudhiṣṭhra, was also inspired by his story and was able to withstand the tests of time. In the 19th century, Mohandās Karamchand Gandhi was inspired by the same story. Let’s recount this legend for good:
Mahārājā Harīścandra is believed to be the 28th king of the Solar Dynasty. It is the same dynasty in which Lord Rāma took birth later. No wonder that all the scions of this dynasty were famous for keeping their words and never going astray from righteousness.
It so happened that the great sage Viśvamitra, once approached Mahārājā Harīścandra and asked him to fulfill his promise that he made in a dream of the sage. Some other accounts of this legend say that the king had to make this promise so as to pacify the sage when the king had disturbed the sage’s penance. We are hardly concerned here about the mode of promise but the virtuosity of Mahārājā Harīścandra was so magnanimous that he immediately donated his entire kingdom to the sage and walked away with his wife and son.
A common and the modern mind would question the sanity of this step and it is indeed difficult how one can renounce everything just to uphold what he said or perhaps said in a dream (!). However, we need to consider the time period of this legend—during those times in India, penury, problems and even death was dealt with a realistic view. Nobody blamed why he had to undergo what? Everything was takes as the Kārmic reaction and the Will of Lord. Moreover, all over the world, God creates benchmarks in the form of great people who set ideals for the rest of the world. No wonder that Mahārājā Harīścandra’s life has been the benchmark for an ideal life, though even the exact time-period of his sojourn on earth is not known.
The testing has just begun—the sage proclaimed that for an act of donation to be completed, an additional amount as Dakśina (honorarium) had to be paid by the king apart from the donation of the whole empire that the king has just made. Now, Mahārājā Harīścandra, though no more the king of the empire, had to pay something so that the act of donation can be completed. He went on to sell his wife and son to a Brāhmin Gṛhasṭa as domestic help so that he could pay for the Dakśina (honorarium). However, all was still not well! –the money thus collected did not suffice and he had to sell himself also. He did so and took the position of a guard at the cremation ground. His duty was to collect taxes for the bodies to be cremated.
The irony of destiny was that the king, who had treasures full of taxes at his disposal to spend for the betterment of his subjects, was reduced to the condition of a mere guard who had to ask for taxes for dead bodies. But highly spiritual people carry out all the duties bestowed upon them with equal zeal and with unmoved fervor.
It is not imperative to mention here that the king, his wife and son had to sustain tremendous hardships doing their respective chores and sustaining the toughest test put by God himself to check the steadfastness. The decree of destiny was that once the son of the king had been to the garden to pluck flowers for his master’s prayer—he was bitten by a snake and he died instantly. You could imagine how difficult it could have been for a mother during those times to get her son cremated and more so when her husband is not with her.
When she moved towards the cremation ground, the guard asked her for taxes to cremate her son. The mother had nothing to spare due to acute penury; she could not even pay the taxes needed to cremate her child. The lady had one boon—the Mangalsuṭra (the Indian jewel worn by married ladies giving indication of the marriage and believed to be highly auspicious for a married lady) of the lady could only be seen by her husband Mahārājā Harīścandra. He could see her Mangalsuṭra (because he was her husband) and asked her to spare it. The lady immediately recognized that it was her husband in guise of the guard and she immediately revealed her identity. The pain and agony of the king was unbearable—he had to charge his own wife for performing the last rights of his own and only son. The cruelty of fate was indeed severe.
However, the king was very much firm on his resolve and he did ask his wife whether she is ready to undergo further hardships and stand by him in this hour of calamity. This is where ladies of those times were champions—they never wavered from their path of duty and always stood by their husbands. The harmony of married life stood on such high ideals during those times.
The faithful wife readily gave assent and was ready to pay whatever she could so that the guard father could cremate his own son while performing his duty to charge the tax. She had in her possession only a sari that she was wearing. She got ready to part with half of that dress so that it could be used as a tax. This was indeed the climax of test and they did pass it with flying colors. It is said that when she got prepared to remove her dress so that she could part with half of it, Lord Viṣnu, Inḍra and all Devas and the sage Viśvamiṭra themselves manifested themselves on the scene—no wonder that praise was heaped on Mahārājā Harīścandra for his perseverance and steadfastness and his resolve to stick with righteousness under all circumstances.
The son was brought back to life and they were offered a place in heaven. There were no riches of earth that could match the glory that Mahārājā Harīścandra received at that time. Lord coming Himself and saying that there is none comparable to one; what more one could expect from this petty life!
The story is so much encouraging and inspiring that there had been millions of instances where it has been retold throughout India and abroad. There had been thousands of plays, dramas, stories, poems, and other creative expressions that have been guided by this legend. But yes, to a modern mind, this would sound impractical. How can a person bring his family so down in order to just keep his own words? This is where the power of words is given the prime importance.
But yes, it sounds so impractical in modern times. But if you have read the life-story of Swāmi, you will instantly recognize the similarity of steadfastness that Swāmi has kept to His words. He has always done what he declared, how much stupendous the task might seem. And indeed, the tasks were ultra-human in nature and could never have been completed without divine grace.
When parents preferred to restrain their children from studies due to sky-rocketing fees, He opened institutions offering education totally free.
When people sold water with the price of milk, He quenched the thirst of millions, totally free.
When expenditure of medical care killed more people than the diseases themselves, He built temples of healing offering ultra-modern medical care, totally free.
All these projects undertaken by Swāmi were for the betterment of humanity and were completed within unimaginable time-period and with utmost technical precision.
Swāmi’s words on Righteousness
Dharma is the norm, which he must adhere to, so that he changes from good to better, and from better to the best. Dharma is that which is ‘worn’. Man must wear the apparel of Dharma, so that he is saved from the cold wings of ego. Man has been endowed with Buḍhi or intelligence, so that he might at every turn decide as to what beneficent for observation is and what is detrimental.”
-Satya Sai Speaks, Vol. IX, edition 1985, pp. 214 & 215
It is clear that Swāmi gives us an option to perform the right things with clear conscience. It is also clear that if we have some negative Karma, then we can wipe it out with the help of some positive Karma. Desisting from doing bad is also a good and positive Karma.
Don’t allow yourself to think you are forever bound by Karma. Deny it. Whether your Karma is good or bad, don’t accept any Karmic limitation. You have to have good Karma to destroy bad Karma. Then rise above them both.
–The Divine Romance by Paramhamsa Yogananda, pp. 206
We have to cancel our bad Karma through determined effort and then to give up attachment to any type of them. We would be discussing this detachment factor later in this book.
How Swāmi exemplified this habit
I would not be making a revelation by giving any number of examples that would show how our Swāmi always exhibited righteousness; why, He is righteousness personified and there is nothing false that He thinks, utters, or does. It is always in the proper manner of highest order that He goes on to execute even the smallest of chores.