Between Saving Dharma and Saving Lives, as per Vedic wisdom which comes first?

  • Your question is meant to elicit opinions. Doesn't Dharma include saving lives??? Why do you see them as opposed to each other as an either/or proposition? Jul 4, 2022 at 4:42
  • I am not knowledgeable but if Dharma and Saving Lives are same then Kurukshetra Arjuna killed his own adharmic relatives so it is a special case ?
    – Kanil
    Jul 5, 2022 at 12:36

3 Answers 3


First of all you need to understand what is dharma? In simple words, Dharma is the moral duty of a person towards the society and god.

Dharma is meant for the protection and well being of people.

Dharma protects and preserves the people. So it is the conclusion of the pandits that what maintains is Dharma. [ Karna Parva 69]

Dharma was declared (by Brahman) for the growth and well being of living beings. Therefore, that which leads to well being and growth is dharma. Dharma declares that one should not harm any other creature. Therefore, that is Dharma which prevents injury to creatures. Dharma is so called because it upholds all creatures. [ Shanti Parva 109]

So the sole purpose of dharma is itself the protection life.

  • Does Dharma is really bound to Morality ?
    – Kanil
    Jul 5, 2022 at 12:40
  • @Kanil Dharma is all about morality. Jul 5, 2022 at 14:09

Aphorisms on Dharma, can be well understood in 'Letter and Spirit' through their delineation in Smrithi, ithihasa Puranas .As an eg.

Manu-smṛti 4.138

सत्यं ब्रूयात्प्रियं ब्रूयान्न ब्रूयात्सत्यमप्रियम् । प्रियं च नानृतं ब्रूयादेष धर्मः सनातनः ॥ satyam brūyat_priyam brūyan_na brūyāt_satyam_apriyam । priyam cha nānṛitam brūyādéṣha dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ
One should speak truth, speak congenial, not speak unpleasant truth, Nor should one speak pleasant untruths, this is the eternal law (dharma).

Explanatory notes by Ganganath Jha
That only such truth should be told as is agreeable; it quotes the words of Vyāsa to the effect that ‘only such truth should be told as is beneficial to living beings.’
Yājñavalkya (1.132).-‘He shall never expose himself to danger; he shall not, without reason, say what is disagreeable, nor what is not beneficial or untrue; he shall not be a thief, nor an usurer.’(wisdomlib)

Lord Sri Krishna narrates the story of Sage Koushika to Arjuna.-Mahabharata,Karna Parva

अनृतं तु भवेद्वाच्यं न तु हिंसा कदाचन।।

Kaushika who had undertaken the vow always to tell the truth. One day a group of travelers fleeing a band of bandits passed by a crossroad where he was sitting. One of them pleaded with him not to tell the bandits which way they were going. But when the bandits showed up and asked, he told the truth, and the bandits found and slaughtered the travelers. Kaushika is said to have lost all of his accumulated merit for this one act of selfishness
Thus, in the conflict of universal dharmic precepts of truth-telling and noninjury, Kaushika misvalued telling the truth over saving innocent lives. What is most important to note, however, is that whenever there is a conflict between a universal dharma and a visesha dharma, the latter always prevails.
(story briefed in Mystism and Morality -Lexington books)


The following anectode of Sri Shridhara AyyavAl seemed to be so connected to this question .

Sri Shridhara AyyavAl was a true Bhaagavatottama in every sense, and saw the presence of the Lord everywhere. Once, overcome by compassion, Sri Shridhara AyyavAl fed the food prepared (ready) for shraaddha ceremony of His father to a chandaala dying in pangs of hunger,and saved his life. Coming to know of the incident,He was condemned, by the village ,unless sought praayashchitta to absolve His sin, by taking a dip in the holy Ganges. Sri AyyavAl's physical health would not allow Him undertake such a long journey from down south to top North, so He composed the 'Gangaashtakam' and devoutly prayed mother Ganga to appear and relieve him of his trouble. In response to his prayers, Ma Ganga appeared in His well, and started flooding the streets of Tiruvisalur. Sri AyyavAl then prayed to the Ma Ganga thus – भगीरथमनोभीष्टसिद्धये भुवनाश्रिते । ब्राह्मणानां मनःपूर्त्यै मम कूपे स्थिरा भव ॥ Ganges withdrew and stayed in the well at Sri Ayyaval's house. This incident happened on the Amavasya in Kartika month(Souramana)

Celebration of this incident until now, as Gangavatharana Mahotsavam, is the proof of this anectode.

  • Agree with you, now I could get it
    – Kanil
    Jul 5, 2022 at 12:42

Perhaps, it can be both Yes, and No.

Yes = Save Life First.

No = Dharma First.

The Vedic Dharma is very subtle, and sometimes present with conflicts which look irreconcilable.

1. Yes.

  • Sometimes, for the benefit of many, saving lives becomes important, and that assumes the nature of Dharma.

As I discuss in this answer,

Chapter 11, Kularnava Tantram

  • 76, 77. O Kulesvari! For the protection of Guru, Devata, Kaulika, Kulāgama and Kuladharma one who dies after killing a reproacher, merges in Parama Siva. Where there is the welfare of many by the death of one bad person, the murder of such a bad person is considered a meritorious action.


Bhishma in the Mahabharata advice thus, to Yuddhishthira on the positive aspect of life-affirmation, if one's presented with a mortal peril, citing the famous case of Sage Vishvamitra, when he ate the dog meat sourced from a Chandala's hamlet.

Chapter 141, Book 12, Mahabharata

"Even thus, when the end in view is the preservation of life itself, should a high-souled person possessed of learning and acquainted with means rescue his own cheerless self, when fallen into distress, by all means in his power. By having recourse to such understanding one should always preserve one's life. A person, if alive, can win religious merit and enjoy happiness and prosperity. For this reason, O son of Kunti, a person of cleansed soul and possessed of learning should live and act in this world, relying upon his own intelligence in discriminating between righteousness and its reverse. "

Note that, in any case, one has to consider the larger implications of Dharma are to be followed.

So, when saving lives (apparently at the cost of Dharma) , even that act maybe considered Dharma, for it's for the larger good.

2. No.

I discuss in this answer, the act of saving life of a mother afflicted with a terminal pregnancy via abortion, with both perspectives.

So, as per this view Dharma takes precedence over any kind of life-affirmation. So, if view 2 is considered, bet it any circumstances, Dharma takes precedence, even if it comes at the cost of one's life

  • 1
    Totally agree and understood, it's intricate and one needs the required knowledge to grow into such understanding
    – Kanil
    Jul 5, 2022 at 12:45

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