The Tree of Knowledge
The word “dharma” has multiple meanings. According to some scholars, the performance of actions is dharma. According to others, actions upheld by righteousness alone are dharma. According to the Bhagwad Gita, karma or action has Brahman as its origin. This indicates that by performing actions rightly, one can attain Brahman. Any action can become a part of dharma so long as it is truth-oriented. Loving all human beings is dharma. Helping others ahead of one’s personal gain is the dharma of those who follow the path of selfless service. Defending one’s nation and society is the dharma of soldiers and warriors. In other words any action, big or small, that is free from selfishness is part of dharma. However, action is dharma only when one performs one’s duties for the welfare of humanity lovingly and selflessly and, above all, dedicate the action and its fruits to the Divine. One who has attained this highest form of dharma performs his duties in the world and yet remains above it. All his thoughts and actions become a part of dharma. His whole life is a field of dharma. He works hard without being attached to the fruits of his actions by offering everything to God.
The awakening of dharma can be initiated by proper education. Today’s education, based on mere information, is incomplete. In modern educational systems, we are taught as many mundane things as possible, but this education does not offer any method of self-evaluation and inner exploration. Present education does not teach us how to make the best use of our heritage. Independent, critical thinking is not encouraged. That has resulted in leading people to confused and, at times, contradictory conceptions, and to then imitate one another blindly. As a result, some people erroneously believe that practising a religion means either renouncing the world and chanting religious hymns and songs, or observing penances alone.
The Upanishads, however, do not advocate any of these ideas. In the Upanishads, we find universal dharma that includes both action and morality. These are the two great pillars on which the mansion of human virtues is erected. The goal of life can be attained by following a balanced path of discipline and righteousness. Such a dharma helps one live in peace and harmony. It helps the aspirant attain the right goals through the right means. The aspirant can help himself without harming others. Such a person can attain his personal goals and at the same time inspire others. His every action is directed toward defending dharma, supporting virtue, and inspiring others. The greatest scriptures, like the Vedas and the Upanishads, set forth such an eternal dharma. The intellect is superior to physical strength, but one must not forget that a sound mind dwells in a sound body. The body and mind interact and influence each other and become great instruments only if they work in harmony. As a means, they are of utmost importance in attaining the goal of life. The Upanishads repeatedly state: “Live long and help others live long”.
The tradition of the Vedas was handed down by illumined seers and sages who realized the truth within. They did not simply think about religious value, but experienced them directly. Their direct experience is the foundation of their teaching… Dharma has been a great force in uplifting the human race. Dharma can help us today as it did in ancient times, but only if we start living the truth, not merely believing in it. Turning away from dharma and distancing ourselves from the truth is not a desirable way of living. It ultimately leads to misery. One who disregards dharma and ignores moral values remains confused. Such a person cannot have peace of mind. In the practise of dharma one is advised to shed the veil of ignorance and practice truthfulness in one’s thoughts, speech, and actions…
Some essential aspects of dharma:
1. Practising dharma means maintaining God-consciousness through every activity in life. One accepts God as the supreme principle and allows one’s individual life to be led in the light of God-consciousness. Accepting God means allowing truth and discrimination to guide all activities of life and consequently attaining freedom from selfishness, weakness, lack of discrimination, desire, and anger. The essence of dharma lies in practising morality. The more we purify ourselves, the closer we move to dharma.
2. There is no need to teach a new dharma. Rather, the need is to purify one’s life and make it truth oriented. The method of purification must be in accordance with one’s innate tendencies and inner inclinations. Dharma consists in making oneself pure in thoughts, speech, and actions. Cleanliness, contentment, and morality are the signs of adhering to dharma.
3. Dharma should be practised in every aspect of life. The highest good lies in reaching the centre of one’s being, Atman, and finally experiencing the oneness of Atman and the supreme truth, Brahman. In order to attain the highest good, one passes through various stages of spiritual awareness. First the seeker attains knowledge. Through constant practice and contemplation, the knowledge is assimilated and then becomes an inseparable part of one’s being… One attains pure faith and surrenders oneself to the divine force, once and forever.
4. Dharma protects the individual, as well as society, whenever materialism tries to swallow humanity in its ever growing thirst for the accumulation of worldly riches. Therefore only ethics and politics based on dharma can be beneficial for human growth.
5. Today politics has separated itself from dharma and thereby has created chaos in our society. We must uplift ourselves; we must not allow human values to be undermined…
6. Dharma protects human beings from becoming lost in the material world. It reminds the aspirants of the importance of spiritual life by pointing out the transitory nature of the objects of the world and the sense pleasure derived from them. With the decline of dharma, the ugly forces of selfishness, egoism, violence, prejudice, and discrimination invade our minds and hearts…
7. Dharma means discovering love, truth, and peace in one’s life… It is good to contemplate the Divine, but living the life of philosopher, while escaping from one’s duties and wandering hither and thither without organizing one’s life cannot be condoned. Such researchers of truth contribute nothing to the welfare of others… An aspirant withdraws himself from worldly affairs not as an escape but rather with the intention of managing his time and energy for higher achievements…
8 .The sense of security is the mother of peace. Human beings cannot achieve security by competing for material wealth or by running after endless successes in the fields of science and technology…
9. The awareness of dharma comes from the realization that the stream of life is not confined to the tiny part of our being we know so far. The steam of life originates from the Divine, which is higher than, and superior to, human life. By realizing this truth, a sincere seeker of dharma casts off his ego and begins experiencing the oneness of the life force within all living beings. Such an aspirant never considers any sectarian belief to be of higher authority than the truth.
10. Today, we need a path of discipline to help us maintain the peace and happiness usually compromised by disease, old age, and the fear of death. A path that helps us remain unperturbed by such afflictions is the dharma of mankind.
11. There was a time when the sentiment “This is mine, and that is yours” was the attitude of those with little minds. For a person with high character and a broad mind, this whole world is a family. Such a humanitarian and egalitarian attitude is the ethical aspect of dharma, whereas the direct experience of non-dual truth is the spiritual foundation of the perennial dharma. Whenever humanity is ready to set forth a universal religion, it will have to return to the gems of truth from the Vedas and the Upanishads, which long ago declared “The Whole World Is One Family”.
(Contributed by Geeta Currimjee)
Source: ‘Spirituality: Transformation within and without’, by Swami Rama
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