Stumbled upon this while reading the comments under a post by Sandeep on his blog. It's an excerpt from the forward by P.S. Mishra, former judge of the High Court of Madras of the book "Hindu Dharma" which is the English translation of two volumes of the Tamil book "Deivatthin Kural" by Sri Sri Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswamiji. Very profound I must say, and has most of the answers to the questions I raised in this post.
"Man is no different from animals," says Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada in his Sutrabhasya. "Pasvadibhiscavisesat".
Texts tell us: "Human beings and animals have the same urges. They eat and sleep and copulate and besides, the feelings of fear are common to both. What, then, is the difference between the two? It is adherence to Dharma that distinguishes human beings from animals. Without Dharma to guide him man would be no better than an animal."
"Aharanidrabhayamaithunam ca samanyametat pasubhirnaranam
Dharmo hi tesamadhiko visesah dharmena hina pasubhissamanah"
The Lord says in Bhagavad Gita: "When a man thinks of the objects of sense, attachment to them is born; from attachment arises desire; and from desire arises anger. Anger causes delusion and from delusion springs loss of memory; loss of memory leads to the destruction of the sense of discrimination; and because of the destruction of his sense of discrimination man perishes."
Dhyayato visayan pumsah sangastesu pajayate
Sangat samjayate kamah kamat krodho bhijayate
Krodhad bhavati sammohah sammohat smrtivibhramah
Smrtibhramsad buddhinaso buddhinasat pranasyati
Commenting on these two slokas of the Gita, Swami Chinmayananda says that evil develops from our wrong thinking or false imagination like a tree developing from the seed. Thought has the power to create as well as to destroy. Rightly harnessed, it can be used for constructive purposes; if misused it will be the cause of our utter destruction. When our mind constantly dwells on a "sense-object" an attachment is created for that object. When we keep thinking of this object with increasing intensity, our attachment to it becomes crystallized as burning desire for the same. But as obstacles arise to the fulfilment of this desire, the force that at first caused the desire now turns into anger.
Swami Chinmayananda further observes that anyone whose intellect is in the grip of anger becomes deluded and loses his sense of discrimination since he is also deprived of his memory. A man who is the victim of anger is capable of doing anything, forgetful of himself and his relationship with other people. Sri Sankaracharaya observes in this connection that a deluded fool will fight even with revered persons like his own parents and preceptors, forgetting his indebtedness to them.
Says Socrates: "The noblest of all investigations... is what man should be and what he should pursue". And Samuel Taylor Coleridge observes: "If man is not rising upward to be an angel, he is sinking downward to be a devil. He cannot stop at the beast."
It is perhaps because of his understanding of the instincts of man and the need for human actions to be inspired by dharma that the famous poet Nilakantha Diksita said: "If, even after being born a man, one does not have any sense of discrimination, it would be better for such a one to be born an animal since animals are not subject to the law that controls the senses."
Our rishis knew that "all except God will perish". Man with his capacity for discrimination must be able to grasp the truth that the Atman is not different from the Bhraman. The Atman has neither a beginning nor an end. Every individual goes through a succession of births and, determined by his karma, either sinks further and further down or rises further and further up. But in life after life the Atman remains untainted.
There is a difference of opinion even among the learned as to the meaning of the word "dharma". The word is derived from "dhr" to uphold, sustain or nourish. The seers often use it in close association with "rta" and "satya". Sri Vidyaranya defines rta as the mental perception and realization of God. The Taithriya Upanishad also uses it with "satya" and "dharma". It exhorts students to speak the truth and practise dharma ("Satya vada"; "Dharmam chara"). According to Sankara Bhagavatpada, satya means speaking the truth and dharma means translating it (Satya) into action.
"Satyamiti yathasastrarthata sa eva anusthiyamanah dharmanama bhavati."
In this connection, the explanation given by Sri.K.Balasubramania Aiyar is relevant:: "An analysis of the significance of these three words (rta, satya and dharma) brings out clearly to us the fundamental basis of dharma as the ideal for an individual. While rta denotes the mental perception and realization of truth and satya denotes the exact true expression in words of the truth as perceived by the mind, dharma is the observance, in the conduct of life, of truth. In fact, dharma is the way of life which translates into action the truth perceived by the man of insight as expressed by him truly. In short, rta is truth in thought, satya is truth in words and dhrama is truth in deed."
To right-thinking people "dharma" and "satya" are interchangeable words and their goal is --- as it has always been --- to rise higher so as to realize Him who alone is the Truth. For them there is no pursuit higher than that of practising truth in thought, word and deed.
"Bhutahitam" is Sri Sankarcharya's answer to the question ( that he himself raise), "Kim Satyam ?" It means that truth (or truthfulness) is what is spoken for the well-being of all living beings. To the question,"Ko dharmah?", his answer is "Abhimato yah sistanam nija kulinam". It means that dharma is that which is determined by the elders and by learned people.
Of the four purusharthas or aims of life, dharma is always mentioned first, artha second, karma third and moksha last. The four stanzas of the Mahabharata that together go by the name of "Bharata-Savitri" contain these profound truths: Dharma is eternal but neither happiness nor sorrow is eternal; the Atman is everlasting but not that which embodies it; and from dharma arise artha and kama. They also contain Vedavyasa's lamentation: "With uplifted arms I cry but no one listens to me, 'From dharma spring artha and kama. Why is dharma then not practised?' "
Sri Sankara Bhagavatpada observes that even the wise and the learned, even men who have a vision of the exceeding subtle Atman, are overpowered by tamas and do not understand it even though clearly explained in various texts.
The Reality is perceived by one who has sraddha or faith which, according to the saints, is acceptance of the truth as proclaimed by the scriptures and as taught by the guru. By following the reasoning of the sastras and the path shown by the guru the bonds of avidya are broken and one becomes aware of the Atman. One's own experience obtained through one-pointed meditation of the Truth is another means to achieve the same goal. These moments are indeed blessed, the moments during which the Truth dawns on us as we receive instruction from our guru and as we gain wisdom that is supported by the authority of the scriptures. Yes, these indeed are moments of bliss when the senses are quietened and the mind is firmly fixed on the Atman. Thus dharma, to be precise Veda Dharma, has been and is essential for man to become a real man.
According to Sri Chandarsekharendra Saraswati, the Mahaswami, dharma is our only protection. In this book, the Great Acharya recounts all that we need to know about dharma and presents in an integrated form the various systems of thought that have flourished in this country. "The Vedas", Sri Mahaswami affirms, "represent the lofty principle that it is the one Truth that is envisaged as all that we perceive."
The discourses that make up this book are remarkable for their simple and enchanting style. The most complex of ideas are explained with such lucidity as to make them comprehensible to the ordinary reader. Sri Mahaswami deals not only with the wisdom of the Samhita part of Vedas and with other scriptural matters, he takes in his stride even modern scientific concepts like those of time and space. It is all at once so wide-ranging and so profound that we bow our heads in reverence to the Great Master of our time, the Sage of Kamakoti Pitha. His approach shows that he has no doubts in his mind, no hesitation in affirming the truths in the Vedas and sastras.