Yesterday I tried to “scientifically” describe essential principles of irreligion. Just like every activity in this world is influenced by a combination of the three modes of nature, every irreligious undertaking must be influenced by a particular combination of five irreligious forces.
It’s all speculative, though, might have zero actual substance behind it.
So far I’ve covered two out of five principles. First is vidharma, which means activities obstructing one’s real dharma, or, as Prabhupāda once said, anti-dharma. Is there a contradiction between these two definitions? Only on the surface. “Anti-dharma” would appear something like breaking regulative principles while obstruction of real dharma would be something relatively innocent as staying in bed late on Sunday.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, however, explains it like this:
In whichever position you may be, if you try to satisfy Kṛṣṇa according to your capacity, sva-dharmācaraṇa śaktyā, here it is said. Sva-dharmācaraṇaṁ śaktyā vidharmāc ca nivartanam. Vidharma…., vidharma means anti, anti-occupational duty. Ultimately our occupational duty is to serve Kṛṣṇa. Anything which does not help me in serving Kṛṣṇa, if we give it up, and anything which helps me to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we accept, in that way if we live,
Here he mentions SB 3.28.2 where vidharma is translated as “unauthorized duties” or “duties not alloted to him”. Ultimately every duty except pure devotional service is unauthorized and not alloted, it doesn’t have to be specifically forbidden, like meat eating.
In that sense everything we do in the material world qualifies as vidharma, practically speaking, which is fine – we are talking about essential aspects of irreligion that should be present everywhere just like all three modes of nature.
So, the first principle is that irreligion is not spiritual, which sounds too obvious but must be said anyway.
Second principle is paradharma, activities imposed by others. I’d say that the idea behind it is what is good for them might be above our own level and so should not be imitated. It does not specify that the activity itself is harmful, just that it’s not suitable for us.
The key here is that it comes from others, not form one’s guru. Only a guru can give a real dharma, everyone else will mislead us (unless they are guru in their own sense)
The third principle is upadharma. There are several definitions again. First, it’s introduced as upamā, “principles that appear religious but are not”, which in full translation becomes “analogical religion” (SB 7.5.12). In the next verse it’s “concocted religious principles” which becomes “A new type of religion created by one who is falsely proud and who opposes the principles of the Vedas” (SB 7.5.13).
The purport to that second verse starts with “To create a new type of dharma has become fashionable in this age” – this is promising and apparently follows the definition from the translation, but then it continues: “So-called svāmīs and yogīs support that one may follow any type of religious system, according to one’s own choice, because all systems are ultimately the same. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, however, such fashionable ideas are called vidharma“. So we are none the wiser.
Let me try to distill the essence of upadharma the other way. The clue is given in the first definition from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam – it’s upamā, which means “similar”. Now we can see how it can become “analogical” and then “concocted” and then “created by those who…”
The idea is that it looks genuine but it isn’t. Even its proponents and inventors think it is genuine. Take Rāmakṛṣṇa, for example – he must have believed in this own BS about yata mata tata patha method, which means “every method is okay”. It sounds reasonable, considering proliferation of different religious schools in the world, but it’s still BS. There’s only one way and it must be acceptable by God, we don’t get to choose ourselves, as Rāmakṛṣṇa implied.
How do such seemingly solid ideas come about? They are created by people who perceive themselves as ācāryas, become falsely proud, and somehow believe their own inventions even if they oppose genuine principles presented in the Vedas.
In short upadharma looks genuine, propagated by people who think it’s genuine, but it isn’t, it’s just an imitation of real religion.
The fourth cheating principle is chala-dharma, “cheating religion”, or “interpretation by one’s jugglery of words”. This one is specifically explained in the purport:
When Kṛṣṇa directly says something and some rascal interprets it to mean something different, this is chala-dharma — a religious system of cheating — or śabda-bhit, a jugglery of words.
The difference from upadharma would be that it is intentionally misleading. Proponents of chala-dharma know they are wrong but they imply various methods to justify themselves anyway. If upadharma is the product of sincere ignorance, chala-dharma is produced by con-men.
We can easily spot this in our lives when we try to invent excuses for ourselves. We can also easily spot this in the public discourse – when devotees propose something that doesn’t sound right and then plow through our books for quotes to justify it anyway, like female dīkṣā gurus, or when one wants to justify his criticism of vaiṣṇavas. I would say all our debates on all controversial issues are examples of chala-dharma. First one concocts some nonsense and then tries to make it sound legitimate.
The difference from upadharma is not only in that one knows he is wrong but also in the method one applies to legitimize it – word jugglery.
Finally, the fifth principle – ābhāsa, “pretentious religious principles” which also becomes “dim reflection” in SB 7.5.14. “Pretentious”, however, is mentioned three times while “dim reflection” only once.
These two meanings are somewhat contradictory because pretentious means “exaggerated”, which the opposite of “dim”. How come? I think we should consider the dynamics here. “Dim reflection” is meant to appear in comparison with a real religion while “pretentious” is how it’s supposed to appear before ordinary men.
This approach defines ābhāsa not in absolute terms, not for what it is, but by how it is made to look – like a real thing. It’s like a fake Rolex watch that is presented with the air of awe and reverence built around venerable brand. It doesn’t testify to the quality of the watch itself, which might be perfectly acceptable for everyday use, but it’s about asking people to value it by evoking the real thing.
In this sense it’s very close to chala-dharma, religion presented by con-men. Abhasa would be the “con” part of it while chala would be the cheating itself.
I don’t know if the list has become comprehensive yet but I think I’ve got enough to try and summarize all five features of irreligious activities.
First, they all obstruct our real service.
Second, they are presented by anyone but not a real ācārya.
Third is that they looks similar to a real thing but they aren’t.
Fourth is that they are meant to fool people.
Fifth is that they appeal to our existing respect for a real religion.
Sounds comprehensive, too early to say if there is anything missing, but, most importantly, it all sounds self-evident, much better than when I noticed this the first time, so some progress has been made.
And on that note I beg to retire for the day.