Dharma or Constitution

A sage, seated beside the Ganges, noticed a scorpion that had fallen into the water. He reached down and rescued it, only to be stung. Some time later he looked down and sees the scorpion thrashing about in the water again. Once more he reached down to rescue it, and once more he is stung. A bystander, observing all this, exclaims, “Holy one, why do you keep doing that? Don’t you see that the wretched creature will only sting you in return?” “Of course,” the sage replied. “It is the dharma of a scorpion to sting. But it is the dharma of a human to save.”

The word dharma is almost impossible to translate into English. It can be thought of as “teachings” “sacred laws” “the essential order of things” or “the harmony of the universe.” Any way of looking at it, living life according to dharma is something we should all strive for.

I have been involved in an on-going debate about the significance of the American Constitution with my father. He is a firm believer that it is a very important great document. I do not doubt this. However, I question weather there is dharma in this law of the land? What do you think?

How might Senator John McCain’s recent remarks, “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation,” be part of this conversation? See

3 Responses to “Dharma or Constitution”

  1. David Samnga-Lastri Says:

    Dear ShankarWolf:
    Obviously the Constitution doesn’t qualify as dharma! Dharma is celestial, the Constitution is terrestrial! It’s a part of what has been called “the relative world,” and is an ambitious and praiseworthy attempt on the part of mortal humans to figure out a way to shape their society in accordance with principles of justice and equality, a task confronted by many serious philosophers, Plato among them, and social theorists in the Western Tradition. As such it is imperfect, as are all mundane enterprises. And of course we don’t give a shit about what John McCain, a politician, said! As my son-in-law remarked not long ago, “All politicians are lying cocksuckers!” And as I.F. Stone added to a similar denunciation many years ago (he just called them “liars”), and we should never believe a word they say. But consider how misguided this alternative is. We live in a secular society. What else could we expect but secular analysis, secular thought, secular hopes, secular goals? Dharma guides us to heaven: to realization, illumination, enlightenment, the supreme purpose of human existence. The Constitution, and its interpretation by the Supreme Court, on the other hand, addresses the conflicts and problems of our mundane earthly affairs. Clearly the commonwealth requires both. In a traditional society the two could have been one. But we don’t live in a traditional society. So confronting dharma with the Constitution in the present context is absurd.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Interesting comment on the radio this morning re. dharma and medical ethics..

  3. kaivalya Says:

    I’m not sure what I think about the Constitution and Dharma. However…

    John McCain is mistaken about his History. Many many of our “Founding Fathers” were Deist. My favorite being Thomas Jefferson who was a very well read man and more-or-less an Atheist. I believe John Adams was a Deist and signer of the Constitution. If America is a Christian nation, it’s only because they did such a good job missionizing it early on (see Father Sierra’s California Missions).

    Did you know Conservative Judaism was founded in America in the last century?

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