What is Dharma?

The following is an excerpt from Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata:
Sri Bhishma narrates an incident in the Devaloka where many Gods and Sages are assembled. One of them puts forth the question, ‘What is Dharma?”
The viewpoints of the other sages and gods on this topic are as follows:
Lord Surya said,
“On the new moon day one should not cut trees. One who does so is unwise. Even forceful shedding of leaves from the tree on new moon day is a sinful act. The person who perpetrates this act gives the sin to his future generation.”
Sri Devi said,
“Home-which is dirty, where utensils are strewn randomly, where the seats are broken, where ladies are put to sorrow, will soon lose the benediction of Devas and ancestors, it indeed is not a fit place to reside.”
Sage Garga said,
” Everyday guests should be invited and taken care of, meat should not be partaken, the names of holy places should be recited everyday. The habit of sleeping during the day time should be eschewed. The lamp(deepam) should be always lit at home. ”
Rishi Dhaumya said,
“Broken utensils, broken cot, hen, dog, a tree which has grown in the house itself, all these are harmful. They should never be in the house. The wise say that broken utensils breed conflict and broken cot destroys prosperity. The celestial ones(Devas) do not accept the offerings made in a home where dogs and hen are housed.”
Sage Jamadagni said,
“A person-with an impure mind, would only attain hell, even if he performs the most elaborate yagas(sacrifices), even if he repeats it many a time or even if he does intense penance by hanging upside-down. To a Vedic Scholar who is well versed and is a strict follower of all scriptural injunctions, if one were to whole heartedly offer even a handful of flour, that person would find a way to attain the heavens.”
Sage Lomasa said,
“The greatest dharma is the non covetousness of another’s wife. A vedic scholar should never covet wealth.”
Arundati said,
“After waking up in the morning, in an empty stomach, take a water jug and darba grass(Kusa grass) in the hand to the cowshed and sprinkle the water with darba on to the horn of the cow. Take the water which falls from the horn on to your head. This gives immense punya(merit).
A lazy person, a person who is egoistic, a person who covets Guru’s wife, these people are not fit for any conversation, so one should never talk of dharma to these people. To satisfy a guest is a great dharma. A person who gives cows in charity for twelve years, a person who undergoes various austerities(vratas) for a complete month, a person who gives one lakh cows as charity in the month of ‘Aani’ in the holy city of Pushkar- the amount of punya these people have earned is the wmount of punya one earns by completely satisfying the guest.”
Yama said,
“A person who gives water to the thirsty has earned immense punya. The dharma done in accordance to the status of the recipient never goes waste. So says Chitragupta.”
Thus Rishis and Devas explained the various aspects of dharma. Then they looked at Pramadas (ogres that torment wrong doers) and ask them, “Who are the ones who would be tormented by you all? What reasons stop you from afflicting humans?”
Pramadas explained thus-
“We trouble people who are the ‘fallen’. People who wear clothes- which touch the lower part of the body, on to the upper part of the body are considered ‘fallen’. Meat eaters, people who keep edible stuff on their head, people who lay their head in place where feet rests (sleeping on the cot in the reverse direction), people who excrete in ponds, people who spit sputum on public roads are also considered ‘fallen’. We torment only these people. We can not afflict homes which have tiger skin, tiger tooth, vapour of ghee, cats, black or red coloured goats. We do not afflict people who avoid eating meat.”

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