In real life there are circumstances where we are in dwanda (indecisive state of mind) and we cannot make a clear decision on what is dharma and what is adharma. For example:

  • When someone with the intent of destroying asks my address, what should I do?
  • If a whole organization gets affected by telling truth to someone else, being untruthful is correct as our mind says but what should be one's dharma in such a situation?

How can we decide what is dharma in a particular situation? Since we are in post modern era how should we cope with old dharma shastras being really unreasonable in this era? Since Dharma is eternal truth, I am sure it is unchangeable so what is dharma for Rama and Krishna is dharma for me too. But how can we say that the dharma shastras are not interpolated and modified in such situations? E.g., Manusmriti dictates that a bramhachari should not communicate with any female person other than guru's wife and mother, which is nearly impossible to follow in this age.

What is the Vedic and Shrimad Bhagwad Geeta's dictation on the decision of dharma?

  • Related chat discussion.
    – Rickross
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 11:14
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    Only humanity and kindness are Dharma exist on the earth.
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    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 15:20

3 Answers 3


What is dharma and adharma is determined by scripture. Krishna says in the Gita (XVI. 23-24):

He who discards the injunctions of the scriptures and acts upon impulse of desire attains neither perfection nor happiness nor the Supreme Goal.

Therefore let the scriptures be your authority in determining what ought to be done and what ought not to be done. Having learnt the injunctions of the scriptures, you should do your work in the world.

But what is dharma for one person may be adharma for another person. For instance, it would be adharma for a sannyāsin to kill someone, but dharma for a soldier in war. Krishna says in the Gita (III. 35):

Better is one’s own dharma, though imperfectly performed, than the dharma of another well performed. Better is death is the doing of one’s own dharma; the dharma of another is fraught with peril.

But He does give some specific guides. Krishna says again in the Gita (XVI. 1-3):

The Lord said: Fearlessness, purity of heart, steadfastness in knowledge and yoga; charity, self-control, and sacrifice; study of the scriptures, austerity, and uprightness;

Non-violence, truth, and freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, and aversion to slander; compassion to beings and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty, and absence of fickleness;

Courage, forgiveness, and foritude; purity, and freedom from malice and overweening pride—these belong to him who is born with divine treasures.

And further in Uddhava Gita (XII. 21) Krishna says:

Non-injury, truthfulness, freedom from theft, lust, anger and greed, and an effort to do what is agreeable and beneficial to all creatures—this is the common duty of all castes.

It is good to read all of chapters 3 and 16 of the Gita and chapters 5 and 12 of the Uddhava Gita for a good understanding of the subject.

Swami Nikhilananda in his writings on Hindu ethics (The Upanishads, Vol 2) says:

Besides the objective duties based on the castes and stages of life, there are laid down the common duties of men, the sadharanadharma, which are the foundation of the moral life. Manu, the lawgiver, enumerates these common duties as follows: steadfastness (dhairya), forgiveness (kshama), good conduct (dama), avoidance of theft (chauryabhava), control of the senses (indriyanigraha), wisdom (dhi), learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absense of anger (akrodha)...the aim of Hindu ethics is to enable a man ultimately to conquer his lower self and attain freedom from passion, desire, and attachment.

All Hindu philosophers regardless of their conceptions of the supreme end of man, admit the empirical reality of the individual, endowed with volition, desire, will, conscience or consciousness of duty, emotion, etc. The goal of Hindu ethics is to train these faculties in such a way that they shall lead the individual to the realization of Moksha, or Liberation.

Therefore all the schools of philosophy have described the virtues and their opposites in detail. It is expected of the moral agent that he should follow the former and shun the latter. We propose to discuss the virtues and their opposites according to the classification of Nyaya and of Patanjali's system.

Vatsyayana, in his commentary on the Nyaya aphorisms, classifies will as impious (papatmika) and auspicious (subha). The impious will leads to unrighteousness (adharma), and the auspicious will, to righteousness (dharma). Righteousness, it is necessary to add, is conductive to the Highest Good, whereas unrighteousness produces evil. The purpose of ethics is to subdue the impious and to manifest the righteous will. Unrighteousness may take three forms, namely, physical, verbal, and mental, depending upon the condition of its functioning. Physical unrighteousness manifests itself as cruelty (himsa), theft (steya), and sexual perversion (pratisiddha maithuna); verbal unrighteousness, as falsehood (mithya), rudeness (katukti), insinuation (suchana), and gossip (asambaddha); mental unrighteousness, as ill-will (paradroha), covetousness (paradravyabhipsa), and irreverance (nastikya).

The practice of continence, highly extolled by all the philosophers and mystics of India, implies, besides the literal meaning of the vow, abstention from lewdness in thought, speech, and action through any of the sense-organs. Through the practice of this virtue, one develops the capacity for subtle spiritual perception.

So although there are actions which are specific to a person that lead to dharma, there are also actions which are for all people to follow that lead to dharma.

  • So the conclusion is dharma is constant and is defined by dharmashastras. The sanyasin and kshatriya dharma both are mentioned in manusmriti. Good answer, to the point. Who is swami nikhilananda?
    – Yogi
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 9:45
  • @Yogi en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Nikhilananda Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 10:01
  • I dont agree with your philosophical sect but despite that, I agree with you on this "He who discards the injunctions of the scriptures and acts upon impulse of desire attains neither perfection nor happiness nor the Supreme Goal". So Injunctions of scriptures are the ultimate authority on dharma as told by yogeshwar krishna, and that is where I get the answer and support from BG itself on my belief of Scriptural authority, thank you for quoting that.
    – Yogi
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 18:55
  • @Yogi, if Gita is read with 1 context then it's full of contradictions. At least 2 sloka in Gita disregard Veda, Would we buy them? No. Why? Context. "Scriptures" doesn't necessarily mean the ShAstras wrote before Gita. In this contexts that's socially accepted rules. The society differs from time to time, hence the rules. Country's constitution is the highest "scripture" for any society today. IMO that's meant by Krishna. Not Veda, Manu, Gita itself. Many radical outfits exist in world today, who want society to be tuned according to 7th century scriptures, which were good then.
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 2:14
  • @iammilind: which two shlokas in gita disregard vedas ??
    – zaxebo1
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 1:12

Manu Smriti 4.176 says that one should not perform a particular Dharmic action if its performance at a particular time will bring sorrow and if that action has been considered as unsuitable by the society. Therefore, it is not wrong to go against the prescriptions of Dharma in circumstances which demands that.

Now, regarding your first question, Mahabharata has a story of Vishvamitraeating dogs for preserving his life, and he says only if we have life then we can perform Dharma. (http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/m12/m12a140.htm) Also, there are instructions in Smriti regarding Self-preservation and protection. Thus, lying to protect oneself is not Papam. If you dont want to lie, you can simply refuse to give your address to that person. No scripture says one must always speak. One may stay silent or refuse to answer.

Regarding the second question regarding the company, what kind of truth about the organization that you are telling. Whether you are revealing the secrets of the company, which you are bound to not reveal, or whether you are acting as a whistle blower and trying to expose corruption and illegal activities that a company is indulging in. In the previous case, if you speak to someone about company secrets you are doing Adharma. In the latter case, you are doing Dharma by exposing Adharma that is happening in your company.

Now about your question- " When someone with intent of destroying asks about my address, what should I do."

In answer, Manu Smriti 2.6 says Vedas, Smritis, Sheela (i.e. character and actions of our ancestors as can be known from Purana and Itihasas), conduct of Satpurushas i.e. people in our own life whom we perceive as living a Dharmic life, it may be parents, Guru, friends, etc. and finally 'Atma-Trupti'- inner conviction and conscience are the valid means of knowing Dharma. In other-words, we should keep scriptures and life lessons from Ramayana etc. and lessons learned from others as guidelines and then in every situation we must exert our free will to perform an action which is both satisfactory with the inner conscience and also largely adhering to basic principles of Dharma.

Next question- Since Dharma is eternal truth, I am sure it is unchangeable so what is dharma for Rama and Krishna is dharma for me. But How can we say that the dharma shastras (for e.g. Manusmriti Dictates that bramhachari should not communicate with any female person(other than guru's wife and mother) Which is nearly impossible in this age.) are not interpolated and modified in such situations. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The essence of Dharma is eternal, but not the practical implementations. It is for this reason, we have Yuga Dharmas, and Dharmas based on Desha and Kala. Though, the essence of Dharma is eternal, its implementation is highly contextual. The Smritis have two aspects Drishya/Vyakta (Visible) and Adrishya (Invisible) and only the Adrishya or Apratyaksha aspect of Smriti is considered as Shastra or valid means of knowledge (Vishnu Dharmottara Purana 3.5.7).

When perceived from this light, the injunction that Brahmachari should not come into contact with any woman is the external/practical instruction, which is subjected to change. The essence is that the Brahmachari must be dedicated to acquiring knowledge without any distractions. Brahmacharya is meant to assist children learn control of mind and senses among other things. To learn Indriya Nigraha, non-contact with women is not always necessary. Especially in today's world when women are objectified, it is important that boys are taught to treat girls as humans with feelings and this is best possible in co-education. The point is, teaching Indriya Nigraha is the essence of the instruction, and implementing that should be our mission.

Secondly, lets dive deeper in Brahmacharya ashrama, this Ashrama strictly refers to having Upanayana and studying Vedas etc. and this does not refer to having secular education. Hence, in today's situation when most children go to secular education, the rule about Brahmacharya has no relevance in literal application. Though, I concede that development of Indriya Nigraha is very important irrespective of whether it is secular education or Vedic education and its sad that Indriya Nigraha is not taught. Anyways, as pointed earlier, segregating boys and girls may not help much in today's context in teaching Indriya Nigraha.

  • REgarding organization , the organization is exactly as project team, so that I can refuse to tell other than doing adharma by not abiding project laws, or telling lie. I reject the Idea that one can maintain absolute bramhacharya with co-ed or something like that, your thoughts are forcibly attracted towards it, and the one who claims that is a lier. Claiming that absolute bramhacharya is possible with women is like claiming to be in deep medetation without closing eyes.
    – Yogi
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 15:23
  • Good answer. I am astonished that Manusmriti & other relevant scriptures quoted here have so many relevant texts! Your interpretation is admirable. The keyword here for me is "inner conscience". This part is eternal and comes with everyone. Not all have access to scriptures, but all have access to this part. Unfortunately it's difficult to convince who take scriptures as supreme. We often forget that there was also a time, whic existed before scriptures were composed and people still lived correctly. :-)
    – iammilind
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 16:09
  • @iammilind - The time you are refering to is time before dwapara era of vyasa and scriptures existed in uncompiled form , and were transmitted from generations to generations orally, but manusmriti was even before that because manu gave it to rishis at the time of creation of manvantara,en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_units_of_time#For_Brahma, If inner conscience of every jiva was so developed from the start then there would be no souls without moksha, because they all would be jnani.
    – Yogi
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 17:51
  • @Yogi I have nowhere spoken about absolute Brahmacharya. I am only speaking about learning Indriya Nigraha. Brahmacharya in true sense is only possible for a Vairagi and such a student who is Vairagi will never enter Grihasta, but instead take Sannyasa. Therefore, students who go on to become Grihasta, need to develop Indriya Nigraha and are not expected to develop absolute Brahmacharya! And as I pointed out, needs of the times change and with changing times, the practical applications of Dharma also changes. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 18:28
  • +1 I agree with you on some points but not everything, like there is nothing as just partial Bramhacharya or indriya nigraha (taking out indriyas out of samsara), bramhacharis are expected to be in full control as well as without desires since kama (desire) and krodha (anger) are the sources of all evil, and indriya nigraha does not stop desires. Which means even though they are physically celebate they would have desires left in them which would make them do evil things or adharma. Since desires tempts man to take easy choice rather than correct one. Vishwakarma was a kshatriya meat eater
    – Yogi
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 19:44

Suppose I have 2 perpendicular sides of triangle, which are only known to me. Can anyone tell me the length of the 3rd side? No! But still the 3rd side exists. Any helper at best can tell me to use the "Pythagoras method". Similarly, the amount of your knowledge (GyAna) and type of actions (Karma) are only known to you. No one can objectively tell your Dharma, but you. Yes of course there can be methods, which can be subscribed from the eternal truths derived out of relevant scriptures.
Though not entirely, Dharma will differ person to person more or less, because all individual are different. Neither they have exactly same knowledge, nor do they act similarly.

Following Swa Dharma = SAtvika action(s)
Don't limit SAtvika with a very calm & non-violent person alone.

One easy way to decide right/wrong is to keeping your self in others' shoes (situation). Will I like if done with me?

"'How' can we decide what is dharma, in a 'particular' situation.

'How' -- Natural Selection.
'particular' -- Ofcourse, no single answer. Quite possible that, if you and me are put in a "particular" situation, where we may act differently, yet both act perfectly in Dharma.

"Natural Selection" is the way of SAtvika life. It's neither "Selfish Selection" (RAjasika) nor "Impulsive Selection" (TAmasika).

[BG 18.47] — Defective (faulty) Swa Dharma is better than well performed Para Dharma; Naturally prescribed performance of Karma never achieves sinful reactions.
[BG 18.48] — O son of Kunti, trivial(natural) Karma should never be given up even though (they are) defective; All initiations (of Karma) are defective, like how smoke covers the fire.

Above 2 verses say it all. There are always faults (findings) in all the actions. But just because the actions are faulty, one should not abandon them; If really abandoned then, such wrongful sacrifice is RAjasika [BG 18.8].

  • Lot of bacteria are killed when we boil the food, but then we don't play with our health to save them
  • The environment is polluted when vehicles run on the road; But in today's time, the economies will collapse if people stop commuting the way they do today;

So we prioritize the actions depending on situations. It doesn't mean that we don't have any commitment towards environment & correcting ourselves. But the corrections have to be "natural" rather than "abrupt".
"Natural Selection" isn't guaranteed to be harmless, it's just the path of "possible least harm", which can miserably fail as well. Still it's preferred.
Being natural allows us to not to be conscious about our 'false' self.

"Dharma is eternal truth, I am sure it is unchangeable"

Correct. Dharma is eternal truth and it defines separately for different entities in form of Swa Dharma. The Swa Dharma may not change so easily.

"so what is dharma for Rama and Krishna is dharma for me."

Nope. To me it's naive to relate others' Dharma with own's. The verses are already mentioned above.
To win a war, RAma probably would never create a "false hoax" in the active battlefield and ask any of his commanders to say lie to sustain such cheating. But Krishna did with Drona and few others, despite Krishna himself regarded the truth as supreme.

For Rama "truth" was priority while deciding Dharma, for Krishna "justice" was priority while deciding Dharma. Both acted well in Swa Dharma with clear contradictions.

"someone with intent of destroying asks about my address, what should I do?"

It depends on who you are. There is a nice quote from a very good answer from @sv:

Truth may be unutterable, and even falsehood may be utterable where falsehood would become truth and truth would become falsehood.

In a situation of peril to life and in marriage, falsehood becomes utterable. In a situation involving the loss of one's entire property, falsehood becomes utterable.
He is a fool that practices truth without knowing the difference between truth and falsehood.

Suppose during your upbringing, if you always learn to prioritize ...

  • ... Truth over everything then that becomes "nature" of yours. Hence in above situation, you should say the truth and let the person destroy the property. e.g. RAjA Harishchandra who let go all his wealth and family to be truthful
  • ... Protection over everything then, truth becomes secondary. In such case you must naturally misguide the person by any means or falsehood. e.g. Unknown young martyr from Kashmir who misguided Pakistani Army in 1947 to disallow occupation.

To me, both are good examples of following Dharma properly.

"Manusmriti Dictates that bramhachari should not communicate with any female ..."

You have answered in your question already. Things change with time.
Certain truths are eternal (e.g. maths) and certain truths are local to time (e.g. way of commutation). 1 + 1 = 2 will always be as it is, irrespective of when it was discovered. However, people have stopped commuting on horses for any general travelling.

Finally, all the actions are not in anyway our control. They are done by God. e.g. Not fighting the war was not a choice for Arjuna. It was a temporary repulsion before the battle started. He was anyway destined to fight:

[18.59] — Taking shelter of (false) ego, if you believe that "I won't fight", then it's incorrect decision. Your nature will engage you (in war).
[18.60] — O son of Kunti, involuntarily you will be bind to do even that Karma born out of the nature, which you don't desire due to illusion.

So despite any advise, you will do what is destined for you!

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