The purpose of dharma is to make man a better man, and make him behave in a better way. Dharma means man’s duty towards man – the wife’s duty to her husband and the husband’s duty to his wife, the father’s duty to his children, the children’s duty to the father. This is called dharma.
A man is a very complex creature, because he can hate, he can feel. so from the very beginning of society man has always been trying to practise dharma, so dharma and man, they are born together.
But a man lives in different circumstances, like hot country, cold country, poor country, rich country, forest country, desert country, so according to the situations there is little difference in dharma and that is why dharma becomes different in different countries. In desert countries when a man dies they bury him, because there is no water and no trees, but in a forest country if the man dies they burn him. So the difference is there.
Then many times there are wars. Men die in wars and there are many widows. So people say, okay you can have two or three wives. Dharma is a very adjustable thing depending on geographical, political, economic, social and other circumstances.
Giving a simple background, dharma means good actions, proper actions. What is my dharma to my mother? What is my dharma to my father, what is my dharma to my children? What is my dharma to my nation? What is my dharma to my kingdom? It is a duty and that is called dharma.
When Christ was born there was great poverty, injustice, exploitation, sickness in his country. So Christ used to teach compassion, service, love. When Buddha was born, India was very rich and people used to indulge in a lot of enjoyment: music, dance and a lot of drinking, what you call sensual enjoyment. So he told people not to do it. That is why different dharmas are born.
There are certain elements of dharma which are universal, the same throughout the world, all the time. Duty to parents is the same, everywhere, east, west, south or north – duty to parents and duty to children.
When you practise dharma then your family and your society is peaceful and when your society and family is peaceful then you can remember higher things, you will always think higher ideas, and subjects.
In India, they kept the society very peaceful through dharma, and that is why in India they were thinking about spiritual things, all throughout history. And if you do not practise dharma in life, if you do not practise dharma in society, if you do not practise dharma in your family, then you will be disturbed, and naturally you will not be able to think about higher things.
23 December 1997, Rikhiapeeth, India