Dharma is a multifaceted word in Indian philosophy that has found its way into western thought and usage. Dharma is commonly used to mean one’s duty, or to do what’s considered right, morally and ethically. Dharma also refers to universal values of life such as humility, truthfulness, forgiveness, kindness, and patience.
From the standpoint of spirituality, dharma has yet another meaning. It refers to the essential nature of a thing or being that supports its existence. For example, the dharma of a clay pot is clay; the dharma of an ocean wave is water. Clay supports the existence of the pot and water supports the existence of the wave.
In the same way, Spirit or the Self, is our true nature or dharma as it alone sustains our existence.
Living a life of dharma entails:
- doing our obligatory duties well and with the right attitude,
- cultivating virtues within ourselves and expressing them in our daily interactions and,
- living in alignment with our innate spiritual nature.
Doing our duties is doing our dharma
We all have duties to fulfill based on our role and position in life and doing them is considered our dharma.
Doing our duties include many tasks, some of which we may dislike. We often want to do only what we enjoy and try to avoid or delay doing what we find difficult, inconvenient, or unpleasant. We often allow our personal likes and dislikes to get in the way of doing our duties and doing them well.
When we are influenced by our likes and dislikes, we start asking many questions and make excuses to try to avoid doing our duties: Why must I do this? Why can’t someone else do it? Can’t you see I’m so busy already?
We must do our duties to the best of our ability, cheerfully, happily without complaining or resisting. We must not allow our personal likes and dislikes to determine what we do and how well we do it.
Duties must also be done without a feeling of ego. Our physical and mental abilities such as being able to see, hear, speak, walk, think, and feel are gifts from the divine. They make it possible for us to do the work that we do. Therefore, there should be no feeling of pride or arrogance when performing our duties.
When we remember the divine and dedicate our actions to it with a feeling of gratitude, this converts our work into worship. There is no insistence on any particular outcomes, and the results are accepted cheerfully with an even mind. This is why it is called the yoga of action, or karma yoga.
Doing our obligatory duties or dharma requires doing them well, without ego, likes, dislikes, cheerfully detaching from outcomes and accepting the results as blessings from the divine. When done in this way, fulfilling our dharma becomes a spiritual practice that promotes our inner growth.
Living virtues is dharma
Being loving, kind, honest, forgiving, humble and accepting of others are virtues that we all appreciate in others. Living these virtues is dharma. Unfortunately, we don’t always live up to these virtues ourselves.
We often yield to temptation and waver from doing the right thing. For example, we value honesty, but we sometimes lie when we don’t want to deal with the potentially undesirable repercussions of telling the truth.
In one of his talks, spiritual master, Swami Tejomayananda urges is to follow the path of dharma or righteousness under all circumstances, and not only when it is easy or convenient. We should not compromise higher values for gaining some immediate worldly joy.
When determining the dharmic course of action isn’t easy or clear, Swami Tejomayananda tells us to consider three factors:
- What do the scriptures have to say in such situations?
- What is deemed as noble conduct by society?
- Will the choice we make bring peace and joy to our own mind?
The scriptures of the major religions of the world guide us to live our lives staying true to the higher values of life. Society lays down rules that respect the freedom and happiness of all. And at a personal level, if an action causes our mind to be disturbed, have regrets or fears, it’s a sign that our actions were not dharmic.
Cultivating virtues builds inner strength and integrity of character that will help us meet the uncertainties and stresses of life with greater ease and efficiency.
Living in alignment with our higher nature is the highest dharma
We are spiritual beings on an evolutionary journey in consciousness where we outgrow our identification with the personality self and come to realise our true spiritual nature. This is the very purpose of life.
The Self within is the changeless “I”. It is our true nature. The personality self is our lower self that keeps changing.
Not knowing the real “I” is the cause of all suffering because when we identify with the changing personality, we think we are finite and mortal beings always seeking happiness from the world. The reality is that our real nature is infinite, eternal and bliss.
Living in alignment with our higher Self entails detaching from our identification with the conditions of the body and mind and identifying with being the inner observer of them.
When we do this, the mind becomes peaceful and balanced.
Read how to identify with the peaceful witness within.
Living dharma brings fulfillment in life
The path of dharma is the path of evolution. It purifies the mind and brings peace and harmony within and around us. It will gradually lead us to the realization of the Self, our own essential divine nature. This is the ultimate goal and fulfillment of living a life of dharma.
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