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From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Sat Jul 26 1997 - 07:31:42 PDT

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", 

In the cultural traditions of India, "visEsha-dharmA" is generally known to
be that course of human action undertaken in a spirit of absolute

An act of "visEsha-dharmA" is loosely defined as "transcending" normal,
expected codes of conduct or ordinance ('sAstrA', 'vrutti') or any hallowed
moral tradition ('sampradAyam').

Let me explain this a bit to make it less abstruse.

Good individuals in society act strictly in accordance with a
well-established code of "sAstrA". Such acts are surely praise-worthy and
are to be always encouraged.

Nevertheless, even in such good acts, if you notice, there invariably creeps
in an element of "selfishness", isn't it? It's a healthy kind of selfishness
.... but selfishness it nonetheless is ... because the individual performing
such a "good" act usually does so very 'self-consciously' ..... "Here I am;
I'm doing this act because it is virtuous; it is as per "sAstrA"; it will
enhance my moral stature and promote my well-being !" 

Such "selfish" feelings are usually latent in most "good" individuals.

Feelings of "virtuous selfishness" (or "selfish virtue", as the case may
be!) are usually what finely differentiates "sAmanya" from "visEsha-dharmA".

In "visEsha-dharmA" an "act" or "choice" of an individual is not driven by
his/her obligation to comply with a code of conduct or moral injunction. It
is not 'moral Imperative' which fuels those acts of "visEsha-dharma".
Instead, it is dictated by, what I choose to call, "the moral Inevitable" !

Usually, in life, it is a lot less difficult to submit to "moral
Imperatives" than to "moral Inevitables". While the former only involves the
making of a clear "moral CHOICE in life" (between embracing or violating
conduct-codes) the latter, "visEsha-dharmA", on the other hand, involves
seizing rare "moral OPPORTUNITY in life" ! 

And if you think about it deeply, "seizing opportunity" is infinitely more
difficult than "exercising choice" because, in the human world, one is far
less alive to "opportunities" than to "choices". 

Long after an "opportunity of a lifetime" has swiftly passed us by, simply
because we "did not see it coming" or were "unaware" of it even as it stared
us in our faces, the many banal "choices" of ordinary, day-to-day living
will continue to fill our lives till the end of our days.  

It is perhaps always possible to expiate transgressions of "sAmAnya-dharmA"
or "moral Imperatives". 

The price of transgressing "visEsha-dharmA" or of missing "moral
Opportunity", on the other hand, is irreversible damnation. 
Now, you may ask : what do I mean by a "moral Inevitable" ?

A "morally Inevitable" act of a person is one which normally does not stand
scrutiny or cannot be "judged" by the moral peers/superiors of such a person.  

Such an act usually possesses the following characteristics : 

(A) it is seen to "transcend" (sometimes to "transgress" or "exceed") acts
of 'sAmAnya' 'nitya-naimittika' or "kAmiya" dharmA; in other words, it
stands apart in a CLASS of ITS OWN, "sui generis", and cannot be compared to
the mores and conventions of ordinary men or society of the times;

(B) not everybody becomes an "adhikAri" (competent) to "transcend"
"sAmAnya-dharmA" and perform "visEsha-dharmA". Only "mahA-pUrUshA-s" or
"mahA-yOgi-s" who have long practised and perfected a life of steadfast
"nitya-naimittika-kAmiya dharmA" attain a state of exaltation which enables
them to perceive rare "opportunities" in certain life-situations when
"visEsha-dharmA" is a truly valid substitute to all other "dharmA-s".
Unfortunately, not everyone attains the exaltation of a "mahapUrUsha" such
as BhishmAchArya-r did in his lifetime. Hence, not everyone can really
presume to be fit to able to "transcend" or transgress "sAmAnya-dharmA".

(It is worth noting here how Swami Desikan gives a clear definition of such
"mahApurUshA-s" (like BhishmA) in 2 superb verses in the "sUbAshitha-nIvI" :

       satAmEva KhapUshpatvam yEshAm yath-sada~sathvayOhO  I
         na jAthu tasya thath~thAmyAmiti tEshAm sa vishva-dhruk II

(Meaning : Even amongst the company of the virtuous, there will stand a
many-splendoured one who will tower above all. He is the 'vishva-dhruk' ---
the community's moral fountainhead.)

        sanni~yOgEna shishtAnAm varNA-dInAm sva-sUtrata : I
         pravritthi cha nivritthi cha na BhindhyAth~sADhu-shabdhavath II

(Meaning: Such an exalted one i.e. the "vishva-druk" is one who ever remains
steadfast and faithful to his :

 ** "sanniyOga" (principal codes of behaviour or "vrutti" prescribed for
one's      station in life by birth), 
 ** "varnAdeena" (codes of propriety enjoined by one's social situation or
family antecedents),  
 ** "sva-sUtra:" (ethical codes prescribed by manuals such as "Apastamba,
AsvalAnayana etc. "sUtrAs"), 
 ** "shishtAnAm" (behavioural injunctions), 
 ** "pravritthischa, nivritthischa" (detailed "DOs-&-DONT's")      

How many of us can ever hope to measure up to Swami Desikan's tall
specifications for a "mahA-purUshA" and dare attempt "visEsha-dharmA" ?!!)

(C) the outcome of an act of "visEsha-dharmA" invariably works to the
extreme DISADVANTAGE of the person who performs it; usually it leads to
his/her own destruction. And yet the person is usually fully aware of the
"disadvantage" or "self-destruction" accruing to him/her when the choice of
action is made; 

(D) the outcome of an act of "visEsha-dharmA" invariably works to the
wholesome ADVANTAGE of everyone around the person performing
"visEsha-dharmA"; in other words, while the person upholding
"visEsha-dharmA" does not himself/herself derive any benefit whatsoever from
his/her "moral" act, a majority of those around him do so handsomely !

(E) and last but not the least, long after the individual has vanished from
the scene, he/she knows that his/her deed of 'visEsha-dharmA', ALAS, will be
misunderstood by posterity and remain the subject of endless debate amongst
men of lesser moral-fibre !  

On the basis of the above 5 criteria, the act of BhishmAchArya-r, in doing
what he did on that fateful night in Kurukshetra ---- when he gave away
"military- intelligence" to Yudhishtra that proved critical to the Pandava's
eventual victory in Kurukshetra  ---- that act of BhishmAchArya-r was most
unmistakably an act of rare "visEsha-dharmA".... certainly as rare as any
described in the lofty literature of the epic 'Mahabharatha' !

We will see how in the next post.

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yatindra mahadesikaya namaha