By Swami Harshananda
Adhikāra literally means ‘competence’.
All people are not endowed with equal ability. To perform an act properly and efficiently one must have at least the minimum capacity and competence in that field. Training can improve it but cannot create it. This patent fact has been recognized by the scriptures and propagated under the nomenclature ‘adhikāra.’
For instance, a man who is endowed with physical strength and mental courage has the adhikāra for joining the armed forces. Similarly a person who is endowed with more than average intelligence, a fair degree of scholarship and a capacity to speak well, has the adhikāra to enter the teaching profession. Again a person who has practiced at least to a certain degree of purity and self-control has the adhikāra to become a monk.
In most cases, adhikāra can be developed by assiduous cultivation. One who has adhikāra is called an ‘adhikārm’ and the doctrine that advocates the need for adhikāra is called ‘adhikāravāda.’ The differences among the adhikārins are termed as ‘adhikāribheda.’
In this creation there is nothing that is absolute. Everything is relative. Divergences and differences do exist. The ‘Doctrine of Adhikāra or Adhikārabheda’ is just a recognition of this patent fact. It does not necessarily suggest a gradation, with its corollary of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ status, implying pride or contempt. It is more an acceptance of a fact as it exists, helping one to understand where one stands and start one’s progress from that base. Also it is designed to awaken one to one’s duties rather than to one’s rights and privileges.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore