The Ultimate Dharma of Hinduism
is Bhakti (Devotion to God)
In Hinduism, dharma has two very important stages and one ultimate aim.
Although in the West, dharma is understood by many as "teachings" (i.e. Hindu dharma or Hindu teachings), or one's nature ("It's not my dharma," meaning "It's not for me - it goes against my nature") or it is understood simply as the way things are ("What can I do? It's my dharma to belong to this family.")
In actual fact, dharma refers to the knowledge, teachings, and practices that elevate you from a lower state of consciousness to a higher state of consciousness. In other words, they elevate a soul from absolute material ignorance all the way to the realization of divine bliss.
This progression happens over many lifetimes, and in any given lifetime, there is a teaching that corresponds to the state of any given person. The aim of that teaching is not to keep an individual at the same stage of dharma forever.
Instead, through those practices he purifies his heart and mind so he can keep moving ahead to receive further teachings of dharma, which continue the process of his spiritual refinement.
What is mental purity?
In Hinduism, the mind is considered the doer or performer of action. Everything is dependent on the mind. From a spiritual point of view this means the thinking of the mind determines whether we remain in the cycle of birth or death, or we are liberated from it. Either we remain in the field of limitation (maya) or go beyond.
Think of it like this -- the mind is like a packed suitcase. It has an unlimited capacity to record the effects of actions you have performed in uncountable births. These are arranged historically, from the oldest to the most recent, creating layers of opaqueness or darkness. This obscuring effect is mental impurity.
The state of your mind could fluctuate between more purity or more impurity according to your current emotional attachments, environment, and sanskars.
Sanskar simply means the conditioned mental reflexes caused by our previous lives' actions. Our habitual actions from the past create mental impressions we carry with us from birth to birth. These "conditioned mental reflexes" are reflected forward into our current awareness and comprise what we call our 'nature' - our tendency to do, like or be good at something.
Imagine a window. It is covered in dirt and grime. This has caused the glass to be opaque. Because of this, you can't see what is outside. It doesn't mean what is outside has ceased to exist. You may think this because you don't see it, but the problem is really due to the dirt.
On the other hand, if the glass were clean, you could see everything. And seeing is believing.
Mental impurity induces materialistic, selfish behavior. It makes it impossible for you to understand your own relationship to God as a soul, and your faithlessness may also inspire you to make it impossible for others.
Mental purity makes it possible for you to understand your relationship to God. When the "windows" of your perception are clean, you develop an inner awareness of the soul's existence. This is called experienced knowledge. This inspires great faith, because again, seeing is believing.
A person isn't benefited from being thrust into a practice or forced to believe something that is not at his level. He makes progress more happily, faster and naturally if there is a teaching or philosophy appropriate for him in his current state of consciousness. The goal then is steady progress towards mental purity.
Two kinds of dharma
In this sense, the teachings of Hinduism are very generous. There are two kinds of dharma: apar or lower dharma, and par or higher dharma. The practices and knowledge of apar dharma lead to our physical and mental happiness. The practices and knowledge of par dharma are for the happiness of your true self, the soul.
Bhakti is the highest dharma
Bhakti or devotion is ultimate focal point of all the Vedic scriptures. It is called par dharma, the supreme and final Divine dharma, because it joins a soul with God.
For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, the last instruction that Krishna gave to Arjuna was, "Sarva dharman parityayja." "Abandon all dharmas."
This might be a confusing statement, since Hinduism is the religion of dharma, and Krishn is supreme God. Isn't He working against Himself by saying this?
He adds right after this, "Mamekam sharanam vraj." "Surrender to Me alone."
In other words, do devotion or bhakti to God, but wholeheartedly. Don't mix it up with any other kind of aspiration that isn't related to finding perfect Divine happiness, even if it includes another teaching of dharma!
The ultimate Hindu dharma teaching is that all our actions, practices and knowledge culminate in bhakti for the attainment of supreme Divine Bliss. This is also our ultimate aim.