Dharma is a multifaceted word in Indian philosophy that has found its way into western thought and usage. It’s commonly used to mean one’s duty, or to do what’s considered righteous, both morally and ethically.
Dharma also refers to universal values of life such as truthfulness, forgiveness, self-control, non-stealing, and fortitude.
From the standpoint of spirituality, dharma is the essential nature of a thing or being that supports its existence. Spirit or the Self, is our true nature or dharma and it alone sustains our existence.
Understanding dharma and the importance of living up to it will help us be happier not only in this life but also ensure a happier future life. It is the path of evolution and ultimate fulfillment.
The Law of Karma ensures that we will get the appropriate results based on whether or not dharma is upheld through our actions.
What are the ways we perform actions and the results that we get from them?
Types of actions and their results
We perform actions with the body, speech and mind. (Yes, even the thoughts are considered actions.)
The types of actions we perform determine whether we gain karmic merits or demerits.
Actions that follow the path of dharma purify the mind and lead to good results (merits) that bring us happiness.
Actions considered selfish or harmful pollute the mind and lead to bad results (demerits) that bring us sorrow. These are what are commonly called sins. They cause pain in the form of fear and agitation and guarantee future suffering through troubling circumstances.
Actions that are dharmic and those that are not
Actions by the mind: Holding kind, noble thoughts for oneself and others, devotional thoughts directed to God, and thinking about spiritual matters are dharmic actions. Lustful, selfish thoughts, or wishing ill of others, are opposed to dharma.
Actions by the speech: Reciting prayers or the scriptures, chanting mantras, speaking the truth, and offering kind words to someone in pain are dharmic. Abusive and unkind words towards others, speaking ill of others behind their back, lying and gossiping are not dharmic.
Actions by the body: Doing volunteer work for a higher cause and offering a helping hand to someone in need are dharmic actions. Cruel acts that harm yourself or others go against the principles of dharma.
The results of actions
Vibrant health, a loving family, faithful friends, a steady job or income, and living in a country that has economic and political stability are all examples of the results of past dharmic actions.
Poor health, financial loss, unstable income, and an unhappy family life, are examples of the results of performing actions opposed to dharma.
Never compromise on dharma
In one of his discourses on a spiritual text called the Kathopanishad, spiritual master, Swami Tejomayananda urges us to follow the path of dharma or righteousness under all circumstances, and not only when it is convenient. Very often we yield to temptation and waver from doing the right thing.
He strongly advises us to never compromise the eternal values of life in the hope of gaining some immediate worldly joy. After all, things, beings and circumstances are short-lived.
Upholding dharma builds integrity of character, inner strength and equanimity. These qualities will enable us to meet life’s uncertainties and stresses of life efficiently and easily.
Swami Tejomayananda tells us that the results of staying steadfast on the path of dharma surpass all transitory gains of the world.
Doing our duty promotes our inner growth
We all have duties to fulfill based on our role and position in life. Doing our duty is dharmic. This is why one of the meanings of dharma is “duty.”
Sounds simple and obvious, but Swami Tejomayananda reminds us to always do our duties. He tells us that 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? I don’t have time for this!
We must do our duties readily, happily, without worrying about others or the results that we will get.
In fact, because we all have daily duties to perform, simply performing them with the right attitude promotes our inner growth. Doing our dharma itself is a spiritual practice.
Making the dharmic choice
Sometimes we have to face challenging or confusing situations in life that make it hard to determine the dharmic course of action or response.
In Hindu Culture An Introduction, Swami Tejomayananda explains that in situations like these, we should consult three factors: what the scriptures have to say in such situations, what is considered noble conduct by society, and whether the choice we make will bring peace and joy to our own mind.
The scriptures lay down universal values of life that we should practice in our lives. Society lays down rules that respect the freedom and happiness of others. At a personal level, our own mind gives us clues whether an action is dharmic or not. If an action causes the mind to be disturbed, have regrets or fears, it’s a sign that our actions were not dharmic.
Ultimate fulfillment of life
Although it’s not always easy to know the right thing to do, if we have a genuine desire to live a dharmic life, and are totally honest and aware of any hidden motives within ourselves, it is possible.
Our conscience, our own inner “dharma-meter” will guide us to make the highest choices. Then, even if the outcome doesn’t turn out to be ideal, at least we would have the satisfaction of knowing that we did the best we knew at the time.
Swami Tejomayananda tells us that a clear conscience is the best sleeping pill!
Sincerely striving to live a dharmic life will purify and integrate our minds and gradually lead us to the realisation of the Self, our own essential divine nature. This is the ultimate goal and fulfillment of living a dharmic life.
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