Sunday, November 7, 1999
EACH one of us, depending upon our station and calling in life, has our own dharma to adhere to. Dharma is the wish-fulfilling tree, the foundation that supports life itself. The Arthasastra states that dharma is the eternal truth which holds sway over the world. Dharma is universal. There are many types of dharmas : Manav-dharma is the dharma of the human race, Sanatan-dharma is eternal dharma, Sva-dharma is the dharma of the individual and Jati-dharma is the dharma of the Jati or caste.
Dharma implies action and can never mean an escape from work. Action could be of many kinds. It could pertain to the physical labour of a daily wage carpenter or to the emotional, mental and spiritual work of a sage or the education which is imparted by a teacher. If the carpenter is incapable of creating pieces of furniture or is lazy, he is not only worthless but also untrue to his dharma. A teacher who is not true to his students or is insincere in the correct dissemination of knowledge is betraying his dharma. Similarly, a warriors dharma would be to slay the enemies of his nation with complete disregard to his own interests and safety. A doctors dharma is to save the lives of his patients, even those of his adversaries. A lawyers dharma is to protect and fight for that which is just and correct.
Each one of us perceives dharma differently. A religious person will see dharma as the divine law of God. An ethical person will see dharma as the inner principle that defines the standards of good and evil. An idealist will see it as the ideal, a realist as the law behind the existent show of life and a practical mystic will see in it the force which creates a feeling of brotherhood, strengthens the community and creates harmony in unity.
Dharma is the underlying principle in the social evolution of mankind towards the manifestation and demonstration of the soul. The word dharma comes from Sanskrit, the language of the Gods. It comes from the root word dhar which means to support, uphold and nourish. Dharma then is life supporting. It is the supreme force which sustains the world. It is understanding which actions are appropriate under any given circumstances. It means to act in accordance with ones duty. If this duty is followed, the world will be in harmony with its natural law.
Modern lives may not place a premium on a dharma-based existence. We may not even be aware of the dharma-factor when we take crucial decisions. But this does not mean that we are adharmis. Often we choose a path which is in conformance with our dharma but we are not conscious of it. Whenever we perform our duties with a certain amount of reverence, obligation and sincerity we follow the dictates of dharma. When a man says no to a plum overseas assignment so that he can take care of his handicapped son and infirm parents, he is not being blind to an excellent professional opening. It is, after all, something he has coveted for long. But when in the final analysis he decides to forego it and stay back in India, we see his dharma working for his parents and the child. It is the dharma of a true son and father.
Similarly, a woman who is asked to choose between her child and husband is following her dharma when she moves to the side of her husband. Her decision is not clouded by emotion and sentiment. She would not like to make this choice. But given a hypothetical situation, this is the dharma of the woman for whom her husband comes before all else.
The Dalai Lama gives a spiritual explanation to the concept of dharma. According to him, dharma is not about wearing special clothes, building monasteries and devoting oneself to complicated rituals. These things can accompany the practice of dharma but they are not dharma in the real sense of the word. The true practice of dharma, therefore, is internal. One who practices dharma has a peaceful, open and generous mind a mind which he knows how to train and which in turn is completely in his control. The practice of dharma then is that which allows us to be real, faithful, honest and humble enough to help, respect and make sacrifices without allowing the pulls and pressures of self interest tug at our heart and mind. Therefore, the training the human mind and living in harmony with others and with ourselves will assure us real happiness. Even if our daily life is ordinary, we can practice dharma.
The Dalai Lama gives some practical advice by saying, "Practice dharma in your daily lives by making some of your actions spiritual. Have a noble mind, one that is benevolent and open, not agitated and combative." To practice dharma is to gradually eliminate errors in order to acquire spiritual qualities. Practicing dharma does not depend on our external appearance but on our state of mind and inner motivation. The mind must be free of frivolities. The ultimate dharma is the cessation of all imperfection, the elimination of all illusion through the realisation of emptiness. The objective of taking refuge in dharma is to be able to abandon all error and obscurity. So dharma is the true refuge, and when we attain this state we get liberated from all sufferings and limitations.
Ultimate dharma cannot be attained immediately. Move towards that state step by step. Make a beginning by abandoning the harmful actions of the body (sexual misconduct); speech (lying, deception, slander, gossip, trivial speech, idle chatter) and mind (greed, evil intent, manipulation, cheating, treachery). We become aware of dharma not through books and ancient scriptures but by becoming aware of an urge within ourselves which we should diligently obey and follow. For the religious man, it is listening to the voice of God and for the ethical person it is doing his duty and obeying his conscience.
Dharma then is a natural law that guides us to recognise at any given moment the role each one of us is playing in our lives. Being true to the duty of that particular role at any given point of time and the very act of accepting and performing that action to the best of our ability is nothing but the implementation of dharma. When this act is backed by a similar sentiment, we find that our dharma has become our protector and saviour.
In the book Thick Face Black Heart, author Chin-Ning Chu advises the modern man of the world by saying, "Whatever your occupation, you will succeed if you properly identify your dharma to your job. Just the manner in which a chair to be useful must understand its dharma and allow people to sit on it, so also you must ensure that you dont become useless, defunct and redundant. This can happen only if you are in touch with your dharma." She goes on to say that dharma is the natural law which guides the rightness of our actions. It is possible that we may make incorrect decisions, doing things which are not in accordance with our dharma. But most of us do discover our dharma by trial and error. Once found, it is necessary to let it grow and become the guiding light.
By pursuing dharma ,
our life unfolds itself naturally and thus produces the
proper fruit at each stage of our life. By living under
the grace and guidance of dharma, life itself
becomes the eternal wish-fulfilling tree.
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