I am not going to tell you what is the true meaning of the word, I simply don’t know, but I would like that we would consider together at least one particular meaning, one that has given me personally a clear insight into the spiritual life, and at the same time been to me a practical subject for meditation in my personal search for growth.
It seems natural to connect Dharma with another Sanskrit word, namely Karma. They are closely related, but of different nature, and play a different role in the clockwork of the Universe. Karma plays the role of an immutable Law, impersonal, absolute, invariable and universal. It is always active and everywhere the same. Dharma is not a Law, it is individual and ever changing, i.e., each individual, a group of individuals, a species or a whole, has its own or unique Dharma, which is ever changing according to the actions, attitude and even the outer circumstances of that individual or group. In a way one can say that Dharma is the relationship between so-called acquired Karma and the Universal order or the inherent harmony of Existence.
My private Dharma is thus my private and ‘normal’ path to universal harmony, and accordingly my ‘duty’ towards the Existence or God. No individual or person has the same duty as I have. Everyone has a unique Dharma, and there is actually no way to compare the Dharma of different individuals. To be a ‘bum’ may thus be the closest that a certain individual can come to fulfilling his/her individual Dharma. As a ‘bum’, that individual has a role, or Dharma, that can be well or badly performed as the case may be.
On the other hand, one can’t expect any ordinary human being to fulfill his/her Dharma to the point, without exception, all the time. That would only be in the power of an Adept or an Arhat, which lives the universal harmony moment by moment, and thus doesn't create any personal karma.
How then can I know what my Dharma is at this moment?
Dharma is my natural flow of life. It is the natural path to go in each moment of life, and from a certain point it can be viewed as my personal thread of destiny. Dharma does not restrict life in any way. It is only a clue pointing to the way back, the way home again.
Let’s just look at the free will of man, to be able to choose. The free will does not mean that we can choose whatever we want. We are not almighty, but we have relatively wide freedom to mold our lives and our closest environment. One can say that most choices are out of phase with the Existence, i.e., not according to the Dharma of the moment. We must not think though that Dharma only gives one correct possibility in any one situation. There are still countless possibilities in the cards to make a harmonious choice.
Dharma is not about sitting down and finding the correct path once and for all, and then live according to that idea for the rest of your life. To approach Dharma we have to approach life itself, moment by moment, and adapt our life in each given moment to the circumstances present. Dharma is about learning from the moment, to be sensitive to the effects of our actions, and to instantly correct that which turns out to be in disharmony. Approaching Dharma with our thoughts is not effective, simply because when the thought is formed the Dharma has changed into something different than the idea that we had about it. An idea is also never the reality anyway.
All the spiritual advisors are in reality about how we can approach Dharma. Meditation is the direct path to experiencing what we are, and where we are heading. It is an important part in the understanding of Dharma. But a perception does not suffice unless there is also a harmonious action. It is only through life itself, that we really can encounter our Dharma.
We must not think for a moment that any form of inner or outer struggle is needed to fulfill our Dharma. Every action that craves effort, renunciation, self-control or inner struggle is surely in contrast with Dharma. Dharma is the path of harmony, and can’t be reconcilable to any form of disharmony, neither within nor without. The search for Dharma is the search for inner harmony, which eventually and inevitably will result in outer harmony. When you have found your Dharma, you will ‘know’ that you are doing the right thing. And now, don’t think that I’m talking of something exceptional, that only happens to few people or rarely at all.
We all have our moments when we are in harmony with existence, and spread the harmony to others by only being there. We all have moments when all is well, so absolutely perfect, that we don’t even take notice. Let’s pay attention to these moments, for they are our closest contact with our Dharma. This does not mean that Dharma in life is any kind of inaction. The real trick is to bring harmony into every situation in life, something that is meant in ‘The Light on the Path’ when stating:
"Stand aside in the battle to come, and be not the warrior even while you fight."
This is exactly the thing, not to be the one that is doing things, but someone that existence uses to do things with. This is the absence of self, and at the same time a union with the Godhead, being in unison with one's own Dharma.
How should we then proceed in approaching our Dharma and living up to it in our everyday life? What requirements does Dharma inflict on us?
Let’s first consider how Karma works in our life. The concept of Karma seems to mean two things: firstly, it is the Law of cause and effect, how the consequences relate to the cause. Secondly, it refers to our Karma-debts, i.e., causes that have not yet given birth to their consequences. The Law then states; that everything that happens to us, moment after moment, every second of our life from birth to death - are Karma-debts in fulfillment. What happens in this moment is a consequence of earlier actions or an interplay of actions, and this particular Karma is thereby fulfilled and will never return again. It does not say that another similar or identical one will not come. That depends on how we react to what comes to us, or rather, if we react at all.
Let's take a very simplified example. Let’s say that I get a blow in the face, right out of the blue. According to the Law, I had it coming, because I some time in the past apparently gave that person one on the trumpet, too. We are therefore even, if… - if I don’t react to the blow. On the other hand, if I hit the person right back, pay him in the same, I have restored the disharmony, which I will have to straighten out later. In most cases it is not quite so simple. In reality, karma works mostly through the emotional principle, for it is in the subconscious that we keep our accounts. It therefore depends first and most on how and if we react emotionally, whether we leave a track of karma or whether we walk the world without any footsteps in the trail. It is rarely the outer actions that tell if we are acting rightly or wrongly, but the inner attitude, inner feeling or understanding.
The one that acts out of a perfect understanding and love, will never do an evil act, whatever his actions may be! In this the mystery of being ‘righteous’ is concealed. Scrutinize your attitudes rather than your actions, when you try to discern if you are doing the right thing, and be very careful in judging the actions of others, for they will not always tell you what the real character is like. This is where we are approaching Dharma. But Dharma is more than just doing the right thing. Dharma actually includes the purpose of your life. Not your personal purpose, your purpose, but much higher and more profound purpose - the purpose of the Existence itself with your life. And to find out what your Dharma is and approach it, you will first have to find out what the universal purpose of Existence is in its whole, and then what your special role is in that enormous scheme, - not was, not will be in the future, - but is now. Don't seek far from yourself, in books or with the sages, for your Dharma is nowhere but within yourself.
Let me present an example, simple and easy to understand. When an egg meet a sperm, a certain process starts, with the separation and multiplication of the cells by the millions. To start with, they seem all exactly alike. Actually they all are. Soon the time will come that they will divide into certain groups, that will later become the different ‘limbs and organs’ of the new fetus. Although all the cells seem the same in the beginning, it’s like the position in the body will give them different roles or Dharma. In a sound and healthy body, these billions of cells work together like an undivided whole. They all do their ‘duty’ in some extraordinary way. The yogi tells us that they would do so, much longer and more effectively, if the emotions and thoughts of the inhabitants, you and me, would not be present. And what happens if some cell cuts itself from the harmonious cooperation and starts to live its own life, minding its own business? One thing that we know can happen is called cancer, uncontrolled division of cells, without the concern of the environment.
This may perhaps give us some limited, albeit realistic picture of the nature of Dharma. It tells us that my Dharma, your Dharma, and everyone else’s Dharma is interconnected into one whole, and that my thoughts and my actions are the concern of the whole world. We are all one inseparable whole, a cell in one big flower of the world. But do we live accordingly today? How many ‘sane’ cells are there in the body of humanity?
This shows us what is the mystery of righteous life. The keyword is obviously wholeness, oneness, which in our lives means the same as ‘brotherhood,’ a total absence of egoism, to live in harmony with the whole, to fulfill one’s own role, instead of perpetually interfering with others - but first and last, to understand and care for the Existence as it is, and know one's role in the whole.
This is the path to Dharma, the road to perfection.
© Einar Aðalsteinsson. All rights reserved.