Dharma and Nyaya : Dharma and Justice


As Manu says in Manusmriti

परित्यजेदर्थकामौ यौ स्यातां धर्मवर्जितौ। धर्मं चाप्यसुखोदर्कं लोकनिकृष्टमेव च।।
The desire, wealth and the heartfelt wish which is adverse to Dharma should be rejected, if it’s not enough reject that Dharma which is adverse and which will pull you in great difficulty or the Dharma which will be unfavorable of the whole society and its beings.

It’s very interesting to know that Manu himself guides on the principles given by him and guides thru his Smiriti (scripture) to reject the principles & values which are not in line with Dharma or even reject that Dharma which is not for benefits of larger meaning of society, structure or your own true purpose.

As per Mahabharata,

गुरोरप्यवलिप्तस्य कार्याकार्यमजानत: | उत्पथं प्रातिपन्नस्य न्याय्यं भवति शासनम् ||

One who is elderly and holds power or authority, if puffed up with pride, and is unable to discriminate between the proper (Dharma)  and improper (Adharma) thing to be done, has taken a wrong path, punishment to such a person is Justice.

An old story from Ramayana gets reminded whenever the topic of Dharma and Nyaya or Justice gets open. In this story a person who was rejected and treated like stray dog explains the way of justice to Shri Ramachandra.

This is a time when Shri Ram was ruling the mighty Kingdome of Ayodhya. He and his obedient brother Laxman followed a ritual before taking their dinner. Laxman would reach out to the door of palace and see if anyone is hungry and has not eaten that night, once he confirms that there is no one who is hungry at the door of palace, Shri Ram and Laxman would eat their supper.

One day Shri Ram requests Laxman to see at the door of the palace, if anyone is hungry. As per the rule Laxmana shouted at the door step “Is anyone hungry tonight?” He followed that there is a man who was treated by society like a stray dog is crying at the door step of palace.  Sri Ram and Laxmana called the man and asked for the reason of his pain and cry.

The man replied “I have been beaten by a Brahmin (knowledgeable clan of the society). Shri Ram ordered the Brahmin man to be present in the court room, and asked “is this man telling the truth? Have you have beaten him?”

Brahmin said “Yes I did. He was sleeping on the road with his dirty cloths, smelling like dog and he was blocking my way, hence I have beaten him with a rod. These dogs like people should be treated like this.”

Shri Ram understood that this was a crime done by Brahmin, he turned to the man who was beaten and asked him “What do you wish me to do with this Brahmin who has beaten you with a rod?

The man replied “Make him the head of department of ethics in the university”.

Ram smiled and asked the man “This Brahmin who has beaten you with rod and you wish him to the head of ethics at university? Once he becomes head of department he will have many students and followers, how will that be a justice for you?”

The man replied “I was also head of ethics department once upon a time, and I just preached and did not follow what should have been followed. The power, fame and wealth of that post made me go against the principles of that post and I made many mistakes, and by means of the law of karma now I am suffering like a stray dog. Let this Brahmine also be on that post and understand how unethical he is behaving and if he doesn’t behave as per the principles of the post he holds, he will also be like me one day- a stray dog”

Nature of the person and the requirement of job being done, many a times they are opposite to each other, in this tussle questioning and deciding what is right and what is wrong is the essence of dharma and the outcome or decision is Nyaya for self and others.

Let’s take example of one more story; this story is from Buddhist literature.

Once, Buddha and his disciples visited the Capitol City- Shravasti. Some of his disciples went out to collect alms in the city, while returning back, clouds gathered in the sky and it started raining. To take a shelter from the rain, these disciples went to a nearby place, which happened to be the court of judgment. And they saw that the judge is corrupt and he was accepting bribe from the people. And it was not only one of the judges following this corrupt path but most of them were following same path. They ignored the arguments of both the sides and the decisions were given in favor of people who were paying them bribe. All the disciples were upset to see this kind of scene.

When they returned to Buddha they narrated this incidence to Buddha and said “these judges were corrupt, they were Adharmi (not following dharma), till date we were thinking that the one who sits on the seat of judge provides justice, it is the path going against truthfulness, they are providing judgment which is against the Dharma, their behavior is against the Dharma”

Buddha explained them “Oh Bhiukkus (disciples), the judge who follows his own directionless path, doesn’t abide to the basic values of the post they are holding, not doing their duties as per the principles of the job they are doing are not following the path of Dharma”

He further explained “Judge who gets into the depth of the case. Weighs the right and wrong of the case and his judgmental options then further he decides the appropriate judgment is the one who follows Dharma”

He gave two gatha (principles) at that time

न तने होति धम्‍मट्ठो येनत्‍थं सहसा नये। यो च अत्‍थं अनत्‍थज्‍च उभो निच्‍छेय्य पंडितो ।।

असाहसेन धम्‍मेन समेन नयती परे। ध्‍म्‍मस्‍स गुत्‍तो मेधावी धम्‍मट्ठोति पवुच्‍चति ।।

One who takes a decision or provides judgment without thinking is not the person follows the path of Dharma

And the person who thinks, questions and ponders on what is right and wrong, what is just and unjust, follows the path of thinking, questioning, decides with the mind of equality and with the neutral mind  is the greatest,  knowledgeable and just person following the path of Dharma

During the period of vanavaas or exile the eldest among the Pandavas, Yudhisthir in search of shelter entered inside a Place of a Rishi (Monk). The place is called aashram, where the knowledge is imparted by Rishi (monk) to the disciples. Following is the conversation amoung Rishi and Yudhisthir.

Rishi asked “Who are you?”

Yudhisthir replied “As of now a person from forest, a sufferer of Adharma and injustice. We are in search of Dharma and justice (Nyaya)”

Rishi replied “Are you in search of Dharma or Nyaya?”

Yudhisthir said “Is there any difference between them? I believe they are same or inseparable”

Rishi smiled and said “Yes indeed they are inseparable, however I can teach you Dharma and I can’t grant you justice. A university or knowledge centre can teach you what is Dharma as well as you can read and learn Nyaya, but the justice has to be done by self or by authority.  Nyaya is attached to punishment or reward. For Nyaya you have to have tussle with your thoughts.  And for Nyaya you have to defeat your enemy, however for Dharma you have to defeat your on deflecting thoughts. Justice can be asked while Dharma has to be practiced. Nyaya has authority however Dharma has responsibility. Dharma comes from knowledge and Nyaya comes from principles, belief system. One can grant justice but one cant grant the Dharma it has to be followed”

Yudhistir replied “Indeed Nyaya and Dharma are partners but they have separate existence”.

As one of the Subhashita says,

शस्यानि स्वयमत्ति चेद्वसुमती माता सुतं हन्ति चेत्, वेलाम्बुनिधि र्विलङ्घयति चेत् भूमिं दहेत् पावकः । आकाशं जनमस्तके पतति चेदन्नं विषं चेद्भवेत्, अन्यायं कुरुते यदि क्षितिपतिः कस्तं निरोद्धुं क्षमः ॥

If the earth who produces grain eats all of it, mother who is the reason of giving birth kills an innocent child, sea crosses the limits, and if fire burns the earth, if sky falls, food becomes poison and the person who is suppose to follow duty goes against it, who is powerful to stop them?

And the key for following dharma is justice.

As we have seen that 10 characteristics of Dharma, which are also the basis of Justice or Nyaya

धृतिः क्षमा शमोऽस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियनिग्रहः।  धीर्विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम् ॥

धृतिः Dhruti- Determination, क्षमा Kshama- Forgiveness, शमः Shama- Control of mind, अस्तेयं Asteyam- Non- Stealing, शौचं Shaucham- Purity of Physical Body, Mind and Soul, इन्द्रियनिग्रहः Indriya Nigraha- Usage of senses , धीः Dhi- The ability to question , विद्या Vidhya – Knowledge , सत्यं Satyam- Truthfulness , अक्रोधः Akrodha- Anger less

Base of both Dharma and Nyaya is questioning and then reaching to the truthful action.

One of the important aspect of Nyaya and Dharma is Mercy or Compassion, following is a scripture guides us what can be the base of Dharma.

त्यजेत् धर्मं दयाहीनं विद्याहीनं गुरुं त्यजेत् । त्यजेत् क्रोधमुखीं भार्यां निःस्नेहान् बान्धवांस्त्यजेत् ॥

One should reject Dharma which is intolerant and dis-compassionate or merciless. Reject the teacher who is without knowledge; Give away angry spouse and leave the friendship or relationship where there is no warmth.

I will continue this blog series on Dharma with more stories and more compilation from ancient scriptures. Keep reading and keep sending your suggestions.

Image Courtesy: https://ppm4u.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/do-you-want-the-right-answer/


5 thoughts on “Dharma and Nyaya : Dharma and Justice

  1. Sandeep, I appreciate your mastery and knowledge about not just “Dharma” but also various aspects of spirituality. It reflects from your write ups that you are well read and possess an organized and rational school of thoughts. I am not an expert like you to talk anything about this topic and please forgive me if what I say does not make any sense.

    What I know about Dharma (very little though) is nothing different than what you have been explaining step by step through this series. What I feel, the difficult part for a common man is to understand exact difference between “Religion” and “Dharma”. When I read about the difference told by great people I get enlightened and felt the same way when I read your write ups but when I try to make my learning instrumental I get confused and cannot find the way to execute what I learn or follow my “Dharma” rather even to understand what my “Dharma” is? Sometimes I feel “Dharma” is surreal which can be talked, discussed, argued, celebrated, glorified but cannot be practiced.

    An illiterate old farmer in the village do not understand intricacies of “The Ultimate Real” meaning of “Dharma” but there are few basic principles to live in a society which need not be taught to anyone and an old farmer follows all those norms. He is kind to people around as well as animals. Also, he is careful that no one is getting hurt by his activities, he extends help to the people in need as per his capacity and also worships almighty for everything he is blessed with…
    Now he is living a satisfactory life without knowing what the REAL meaning of Dharma is? Does he follow Dharma? If yes, What is his “Dharma”? If I would choose to follow the same path, do the things what I enjoy doing without hurting anyone in any possible way, practice to be kind, helpful, courteous, compassionate do I need to know what are different theories and principles of “Dharma” are drawn so far? Do I even need to even know the references given in various epics, scriptures etc?

    I may sound vague as I am asking these questions, forgive me if they do not make sense but I have to present them as they have been with me since some time. Also, these questions are not for you and I know that I need to find the answers of these questions by my own as I believe finding answers to these questions is nothing but a fulfilling journey. However I appreciate if you would comment on it.

    Again, I appreciate your write ups and thanks for providing good food for thought. I am looking forward to the next in the series. 🙂


    • Vishal Thank you so much for the feedback and the question. I recall a story from Holy Quran in the context of the question.
      There was a Mulla or Maulavi, as per guidelines of ritual he would pray 5 times and follow rituals said by the prevalent society
      On the other hand there was a farmer who was following his duties of taking care of his wife, kids and most important produce the farm products.
      whenever there would be call for prayers would come (Azaan) the farmer would say “Oh Lord forgive me as I think I am deep involved in fulfilling my duties I am unable to follow rituals, I salute you from here itself”

      Quoran guides that at the time of Judgement the farmer would get priority to choose the award as he was following his right duties than a Mulla or Maulavi who would just follow the rituals.

      Here we can see two terms Duty and Reward
      As said in the Blog that Dharma is nothing but this “Dutifullness” and “Reward or Punishment” is nothing but Nyaya.

      The above story is not just in Quran, but in real life i have seen a couple, where the wife works as domestic help and husband is just following rituals and stays at the religious shrine in fear of death. The Female in this case is determined about educating her two children and bringing them into good status in society. Vishal you have met this female isn’t it? and you have also seen the courage on her face and helplessness about her husband on the other hand.

      I will keep writing about Dharma but more specific about common man’s tussle.
      Though we feel we follow our duty and going as per what is needed and project ourselves as following the correct path, but are we following the path of Dharma?


  2. Sandeep, the article is nicely written in the context of dharma and Nyaya but I disagree with you for the part where you mention, justice being the key for following dharma in the context of manusmriti. What makes me confound is the dharma that you are talking about in the article? If you are quoting Manusmriti, then its Hindu dharma offcourse. Your quote from manusmriti at the start of the article, where it talks about rejecting the dharma if it is unfavourable to the society and its being, makes me recall about the same manusmriti where it puts out a long list of Hindu Laws in which you can find several codes for discriminating the same being in the society according to their varnas. So shall we reject it? The 10 characteristics is so paradoxical to what manusmriti preaches about in its Hindu Law or Dharma as you may say that they in no way can make the society equitable. As a matter of fact these 10 characteristics are so universal that we listen to them delivered by all dharma guru ubiquitously. The question which raises is “following the Dharma given by Manusmriti according to the 10 characteristics is possible?” The answer is NO. Following the code of manusmriti or dharma with these characteristics will in no way be just and good for society and its being. Justice for this dharma can never be a key, and if it is anyhow made true then the whole world will fall onto its knees. These characteristics should only be followed with a dharma that preaches self and the knowledge of self, where the key of justice will no longer be necessary and the whole concept of dharma and nyaya will be redundant.


    • This is a wonderful feedback… we need to understand why the context of Nyaya and Dharma came into existence. Dharma is a word coming from a context Dharana. Dharna means belief system. and if the belief system deflects from larger benefit of the self, its people, society and the universe in larger, the whole human being will be in a condition where we can say that they will be equal to animals with Hunger, Sex and fear as instincts.
      In Kishkidha Kand when Ram kills Vali and at the death time Vali questions Ram why did he kill him? Though the answer is elaborate by Ram, i would like to quote below things
      राजभिर्धृतदण्डास्तु कृत्वा प्रापानि मानवाः । निर्मलाः स्वर्गमायांति संतः सुकृतिनो यथा ॥ ३१ ॥
      शासनाद्वा विमोक्षाद्वा स्तेनः स्तेयाद्विमुच्यते । राजा त्वशासनात् पापं तदवाप्नोति किल्बिषम् ॥ ३२ ॥
      When kings impose proper punishment on the humans who have sinned, they become sinless and enter heaven as with the pious souls with good deeds.’ So says one verse of Manu
      Either by punishment or by clemency a thief will be absolved from sin, but the king who does not impose proper punishment will derive the blot of that sin.’ So says the other verse of Manu.
      Leave away the metaphor of heaven but the essence of these two verses is
      Until there would not be reward and punishment system for the benefit of society the whole society will suffer. And thus for the reward and punishment the concept of Nyaya is important.
      And thus to protect the Dharna (Belief of self, its people, society and universe) the Nyaya sanstha is important.
      In one of the story of the blog, when Yudhisthira himself was confused and mixed Dharma and Nyaya together, the answer is that they are not same, they are separate and they have their own existence.

      and about 10 Characteristics of Darma, I shall bring few more examples from Upanishada, Purana and Dhammapda in future.


  3. I totally agree with you sandeep on nyaya and dharma, but I have doubt about its proper application since this nyaya could only be true when dharna emanates from self, society and universe and not when it is reverse, as you too have mentioned. The struggle to get to the true “Dharna” or belief system by an uninitiated mind is like the struggle a child makes to get his favorite candies from top of a shelf. This belief system, I am afraid, most of the time comes from belief of universe, society, its people and self rather than coming from belief of self, its people, society and universe. Punishing individuals with no true dharna is like punishing a child, as (s)he has no knowledge about good or bad. A child knows only when (s)he is taught about the beliefs (which are the beliefs of the parent). And for the same reason people engage in religious rituals touted by universe and society to follow as dharna. Punishing individuals for these universal dharna does not make sense as (s)he does not know anything about real dharna. Nyaya can only be rationalized when the dharna are true i.e., comes from self, its people, its society and universe.

    For in the manusmriti does the same, propagandizing the beliefs of manu to be the belief system of the self, its people, its society and universe, which in fact is reverse. Do we really need these twisted dharnas? I don’t think so. Reality is distorted! For a person who is enlightened, the reality becomes totally different and so changes the person’s belief system. This attained dharna can again lead individual to be maryada purushottama or rakshasa and for the latter we really need nyaya!


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