The Essential Practice of Dharma in Today’s World
by Jayaram V
Dharmo rakshita rakshatah – If you protect dharma, dharma will protect you. Taittiriya Upanishad.
The subject of dharma is presented here with a contemporary touch, as an aspect of your personality and essential behavior. You will learn that dharma is not just about religious practice, but about living itself, and why your personal dharma matters and is better than the dharma of another.
You will further know what dharma means, how dharma determines your way of life, what you can do with it, how you can manifest your intentions and aspirations, and how you can infuse your life with greatness and richness. Hence, the following discussion is worth reading for its practical value in your personal as well as spiritual life.
Dharma is a complex word with numerous meanings. At the most basic level, it means natural propensity, function, or property. For example, the dharma of fire is to burn, that of water is to flow and of air is to be light and invisible. Everything that you see here has its own dharma. A warrior’s dharma is to fight and protect his people. A ruler’s dharma is to uphold the laws of the land. A philosopher’s dharma is to inquire into the nature of reality and find the truths of our existence.
Your dharma may arise from your birth because of your genes or from your past lives because of your karma. Since dharma arises from the deepest core of your being, it is also equated with duty. Your duty depends upon your dharma, or your essential, inherent nature, quality, character or propensity. If your life and your dharma (duty) are in perfect alignment, you will be happy and peaceful.
Your dharma has a deep connection with your faith. As your essential nature, so is your faith. If you are violent, you will choose violent paths. If you are compassionate, you will choose peaceful paths. The religious significance of dharma is that it enables you to reach into the deepest core of your consciousness and find truths about yourself, know yourself and be in harmony with yourself. From that awareness you may learn the importance of attaining liberation and returning to your source.
Everything in the universe abides by Dharma. God himself practices it. The beings of all worlds practice their own dharmas. Even animals practice their respective dharmas, without their knowing. So are all the objects in the universe. The world is stable because things and all natural phenomena act according to their dharma. Imagine if fire refuses to burn and water refuses to flow, or if the seasons do not follow their regular pattern.
How dharma should be practiced in today’s world
Your dharma is what comes to you naturally, or what you prefer to do for the rest of your life. It is your passion, which may manifest in you as your natural talent, ability, or skill. The best way to practice your dharma is to practice it selflessly, as a service to God or to humanity, or for the welfare of all those who matter to you. When you make your life useful to others, even to your loved ones, you manifest the highest and truest purpose of your dharma.
Your dharma reveals itself to you through your deepest aspirations or through your core talents, skills, potentials and abilities. Therefore, to identify your dharma self-knowledge and self-awareness are very important. Pay close attention to your own thoughts and feelings, what you want to accomplish in life. See what comes to you naturally, what you are good at, what you love to do, what you want to be in life, and express that through your actions, dedication, and devotion.
Align yourself with your dharma and let it manifest through you. When you follow your true dharma, you will be in alignment with yourself and experience peace and happiness. You will accomplish many great things, as you make better use of your inborn talents and abilities. You will have greater energy, optimism, and motivation, as you put your knowledge and other resources to effective use.
Dharma is relevant and important even in worldly life. The world exists because internally dharma guides everyone in the direction of their essential nature and helps them self-actualize their talents and potentials. Thus, whether you practice any religious faith or not, you are a follower of dharma if you live according to your nature and temperament and manifest your destiny in harmony with yourself. The world exists because everyone and everything follow dharma, not just those who worship God, go temples or practice spirituality. In truth, all that exists here is bound by its own dharma.
What happens when you do not practice your dharma?
When you do not follow your dharma, you will experience dissonance. Since you will not effectively use your natural, inborn talents and abilities you will experience negativity, failures, and setbacks. You will struggle against odds and suffer from numerous problems, conflicts, doubt, confusion and weak morale.
The world puts a lot of pressure upon you to confirm to its values and standards rather than follow your own instincts and nature. It discourages you from being yourself. When you follow the world and ignore your own judgment, you will not be able to manifest your intended destiny. For the soul it is a major distraction and for you a source of dissatisfaction. Parents put a lot of pressure upon their children to choose their careers according to their personal wishes, instead of letting the children be themselves and manifest their destinies through their inborn talents and abilities. As a result, when they grow up, many people find themselves leading unhappy and incomplete lives and disliking their own parents.
Your dharma and current life are products of your karma. You come into this world with a specific plan, but you forget it the moment you are born. However, deep inside, you know vaguely in which direction your soul wants you to proceed. That is your dharma, your voice of truth, and you must follow it. As the Bhagavadgita clearly says, you should stick to your dharma and not resort to the dharma of another, even if it is superior. It is because it is what your soul wants you to do in this life. Listen to your inner voice. It is the voice of dharma.
Choose your profession according to your abilities and skills, not because the world loves it. If you like teaching, choose a teaching profession. If you like to explore new frontiers of knowledge, become a scientist or a research scholar. If you want to be true to yourself, you should pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and what you are comfortable with.
Obstacles or barriers to the practice of dharma
There are many obstacles to dharma, which prevent you from knowing yourself and being yourself. The important ones are listed below.
Ignorance: Ignorance arises when you do not pay attention to yourself and you do not know yourself, whereby you will fail to express the best in you.
Delusion: Wrong notions about your potentials, skills, goals and priorities can lead you in the wrong direction and prevent you from manifesting your true destiny.
Desires: Because of desires you may not recognize your talents and abilities or use them for wrong purposes, whereby you will subject yourself to unnecessary suffering.
Gunas or modes: The predominance of gunas can color your thoughts and cloud your judgment. Rajas may induce you to use your dharma for selfish ends and tamas for evil purposes. Your discretion is at its best when you are free from the influence of gunas and desires, and when you think rationally with a cool mind.
Pride and egoism: Pride and egoism can interfere with your ability to think and act clearly and make right decisions or choose right goals.
Evil influences: You can use your natural talents and skills for either good purposes or evil purposes. The importance of virtue in the practice of dharma cannot be ignored. When experts and talented people follow the path of adharma, they can cause a lot of destruction.
Your mind is subject to many impurities. They interfere with your thinking and perception. If your intelligence is clouded by prejudice and pride, you will not be able to discern truth or practice dharma. The Bhagavadgita emphasizes the importance of intelligence, or discerning wisdom (buddhi) for this very reason. Your knowledge of dharma remains covered with desires, attachments, delusion and ignorance. With discretion you must cultivate right thinking, right knowledge, right awareness and right perception. Only then you will be true to your destiny, God and soul.
Points to remember in the practice of dharma
In knowing and choosing your dharma you have to pay attention to the following.
- Your dharma is a product of your essential, inborn nature.
- You are happier, and in harmony with yourself, when you are true to yourself.
- Pay attention to your deepest thoughts and feelings to know your soul’s aspiration and what it wants to accomplish in this life.
- Free your mind from ignorance, delusion, egoism, attachments, desires, and habits so that you can discern truths about yourself.
- If you have too many problems in life or if you are experiencing chaos and confusion, know that you are not in alignment with your essential nature and with your personal dharma.
- You will be successful if you follow your own instincts and make use of your natural resources or God given gifts.
- Your dharma determines the flow and the direction of your life. It is truly the Tao, the Way. When you follow it, you will have the power of the flow with you and it will carry you forward along with the currents of life.
Dharma is not just about religion. Dharma is about you, your life, actions, character, natural talents and abilities. You are the sum of your Dharma. Whether you are bound to this world or liberated, both happen because of your dharma only and how you induce yourself to become bound to this world or become free from it.
Therefore, pay attention to your dharma or your essential nature. Find out what you are good at and what comes to you naturally. Take it up as your life’s message and mission. Express it and abide by it.
May God bless and protect you
Seth Kelly Curtis