What Is Dharma?

Path to Siva Commentary, Lesson 32

Dharma is religious patterns which when followed promote the wellbeing of the individual, the family and society. Patterns so that the soul matures and gets closer to God, closer to realizing the Divinity within. Dharma is: "The orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature or destiny," working on instinctive, intellectual and intuitive natures. Destiny is fixed: Realization. Personal dharma, "your own perfect pattern in life", is different for the sannyasin and the householder.

Path to Siva, Lesson 32.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone.

This morning we are reading from Path to Siva, Lesson 32.

"What Is Dharma?

"When God creates the universe, He/She endows it with order, with the laws to govern creation. Dharma is that divine law prevailing on every level of existence, from the sustaining cosmic order to religious and moral laws that bind us in harmony with that order. It is goodness, ethical practice and duty. It is the path which leads us to liberation. Dharma is at work on four levels of our existence: universal, human, social and personal. Universal dharma rules the natural world, from subatomic quantums to galactic clusters. Social dharma governs society. Human dharma guides life's four stages. Personal dharma is your own perfect pattern in life. It is determined by your past karmas and how the other three dharmas impact you. The key to discovering and understanding your personal dharma is to worship Lord Ganesha. He knows our past lives and can clarify our right path in life. Gurudeva wrote: 'When we follow this unique pattern--guided by guru, wise elders and the knowing voice of our soul--we are content and at peace with ourselves and the world.' At every step in life, your main dharma is to follow the path of good conduct. As a youth, a big part of your dharma is to be a good student and a good daughter or son. It is your parent's dharma to care for you. It is your teacher's dharma to teach you. It is the dharma of the police to protect you. As an adult, you may become a parent, and it will then be your dharma to raise and support your family. Later, as an elder, your dharma will be to guide the younger generations. Yogaswami said that dharma is like the tracks of a train, and like the train we must stay on the tracks to reach our destination. Dharma is so important that the Sanskrit name of Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, the eternal path."

We have the quote from Gurudeva:

"Dharma is a rich word which encompasses many meanings: the path to God Siva, piety, goodness, duty, obligation and more... By following the ancient path of dharma, we avoid all this suffering and mental pain and bring ourselves into positive, creative and productive states of consciousness, bringing us ever closer and closer to the holy feet of God Siva."

One of the challenges, in thinking about dharma is it has so many different meanings. Which one do you choose? Dharma! One way around that is to use another word with it. Svadharma, purusha dharma, shtree dharma. That helps narrow it down, right there. That's why it's written that way lots of times in an explanation that'll chose a specific aspect of dharma, we just try and explain that.

But in terms of, in terms of an overview, the word I like is pattern. Or more specifically religious pattern or patterns. Dharma provides us religious patterns to follow. So you'll notice the word pattern is used by Gurudeva in his quote there which we'll look at in a second.

So it's giving us patterns, religious patterns to follow for the wellbeing of the individual, the family and society. In that regard it's similar to what all religions are trying to do, they're interested in the wellbeing of the individual, the family and society. The dharma fits into a Hindu concept of society. So in a Hindu concept of society we have the concept of reincarnation, we have the concept of samsara, we have the concept of eventual realization and liberation. We don't find that in western society. There is no concept of reincarnation, eventual realization and liberation so, so that's what makes it different. It's providing patterns, not just for material life and to keep everything harmonious but it's providing patterns so that the soul matures and gets closer to God. Get's closer to realizing Divinity within. That's the idea of dharma; it's giving us patterns to follow in a very slow process.

And not only is realization of Divinity within part of it, it's an important part of it. Given a high priority, shall we say. The Hindu view of the world gives realization of Divinity the highest priority. So it's important to be following it consciously in all of our lives.

Gurudeva's definition, some of you may remember it, word by word, beautiful one of dharma: "The orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature or destiny." Remember that one? "The orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature or destiny." So have you ever wondered why it just doesn't say: The orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature? Why does it have destiny? Well one interpretation of that is because it encompasses the soul. Encompasses the human being and man has a very varied nature. We have instinctive nature, intellectual nature and intuitive nature. So, we're not just trying to provide the orderly fulfillment of our instinctive and intellectual nature. Trying for a fruit tree to produce a fruit. That's the orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature. But that's all it's going to do; it's going to produce a fruit. It's not going to do something different next year. It's not going to start meditating or something, you know. It has a nature. It's, it's fixed. But man's nature isn't fixed. It's moving from instinctive to intellectual, instinctive intellectual to intuitive. More and more intuitive. It's working toward a destiny. A realization of Divinity within.

So, we're working toward a destiny. I think destiny, that's one meaning at least that I've pulled out of that which is, applies to spiritual unfoldment. Or destiny gives us something we're striving for that's not, that's not exactly our nature. Cause we have instinctive, intellectual and intuitive natures. Three different natures we're working with. But the destiny is fixed: Realization.

There's another insight from Gurudeva that's very important. It has to do with personal dharma and how we find our personal dharma. This is important in today's world. Used to be very simple a few centuries ago. When boys grew up they did what their father did, when girls grew up they did what mother did. There wasn't any question. Not a question of what should I do when I grow up? Just started learning it from a very early age. And now-a-days because of general education there's choices and confuses a number of individuals. Even when they're in the university they're not confident on what they want to do with their life. Because there's so many choices that they don't know.

But Gurudeva gives some advice on that:

"Personal dharma is your own perfect pattern in life. It is determined by your past karmas and how the other three dharmas impact you. The key to discovering and understanding your personal dharma is to worship Lord Ganesha."

So that's the key. If you want to know what to do in life, if a young person want's to know what to do in life, young Hindu, quite confused, realizes worship Lord Ganesh; He'll help you figure it out.

"When we follow this unique pattern, guided by a guru, wise elders and a knowing voice of our soul we are content and at peace with ourselves and the world."

Is the idea of doing your work. Yogaswami, if you search through "Words of Our Master" for the word work, find it in there lots of times. Constantly telling people: Now go. Do your work. Work is svadharma. Go do your work. The Sun's doing its work, the tree's doing its work. You go and do your work.

So it's very, very strong and it fits into our concept of dharma and the, I think I mentioned to this group, toying with the idea, The Publisher's Desk, called "Employment." Just a job or the fulfillment of dharma. That to point out the difference with, in western thinking our job doesn't help us unfold spiritually. It's like we can look at our job as taking us away from meditating all day. That's of course, we're the getting the two paths mixed up. Only monks are supposed to meditate all day. (Cat's helping to lose my point.)

But the idea here is that when we approach employment through the perspective of dharma, it's as Gurudeva said in a lesson, Master Course lesson of the last few days: "All of life is religion." One's employment is not only a job, it's also one's service to God and humanity. So we're trying to make society a better place in whatever way we can in our employment. Trying to help people out. Trying to improve our community in whatever way we can in our sphere of influence. Taking employment and making it a fulfillment of dharma. We're concerned about the wellbeing of others and how, how we do our job impacts that wellbeing. Impacts employment from the perspective of dharma.

And as I mentioned in my Publisher's Desk on dharma, one of the confusions is between the householder dharma and the sannyasin dharma. We must give up desire, be detached from the world. Well when those teachings are spoken it confuses younger Hindus. How am I supposed to be detached from the world? One young man was an investment banker and he said: "You know investment banking's kind of worldly. How am I supposed to be detached from the world?" Well those ideas are meant more for the sannyasin than the householder. you need to have desire and channel it into material activities to support a family, to support a household. You know you have to have desire and support the family well. And then give of our abundance to charity. That's the householder view. So these teachings get mixed up.

And the "Tirukural" has sections on each and that's the way I found is easiest to be clear on the difference. If you just look through the titles of the path of the family and the path of the sannyasin and by the titles themselves you can see what each one is supposed to do. And giving up desire is in the sections of the sannyasin as he's realizing true destiny. And the householder one has self control and love, being charitable. Becoming famous by being charitable. So puts a lot of emphasis on charity and being so charitable you're famous from your charity. Those are qualities the householder has to manifest.

So, different dharmas. The sannyasin and householder, different dharmas according to our age. That's also another one that's not clearly understood that our dharma changes as we mature. Up to 24 and up to 48, 72 and then beyond, there are different approach to what we should be doing. Our duties in life change according to our age. That's an important Hindu concept.

So to make the beginning point again in summary: A simple rendering of dharma is religious patterns which when followed promote the wellbeing of the individual, the family and society.

Thank you very much.

Photo of  Gurudeva
I can tell you from experience that zero tolerance for inharmonious conditions is a workable law and sadhana that can and should be adopted by all spiritual groups and individuals.