Dharma is a concept much talked about in Buddhism as well as in Yoga and its sacred scriptures.

There are many translations of this popular word, but what does it actually mean? To get a feeling for it we might as well go right back to the root in the ancient Indian thought-world, where we meet the Sanatadharma… the eternal laws, cosmic laws according to which the cosmos functions, and these are basically three:

  1. There is total interconnectedness of all existence within and as the One. Only that is not quite right, because when we think of interconnectedness there has to be parts that can be connected. So it’s not really like that! As soon as we think or talk about something, our mind has to make separation, distinctions or it cannot think/talk about it. So One is total inclusion…beyond words or concepts, and it expresses in our perception in many forms, and does so according to certain patterns we could call laws. Which brings us to see …
  2. That everything is an expression of Divine Consciousness; so forms are many, essence is One.
  3. The forms appear to us, as if they function in terms of cause and effect, but these happen on so many dimensions, that it is very difficult to comprehend, so we look at things in sequence and separate out.

How each individual manifestation of that One behaves /is within the One is that individual’s dharma.

So we talk of dharma on two levels, the cosmic, the collective dharma and the individual’s dharma. In terms of individual dharma a simple example can be given. It is the dharma of a tree to be a tree; i.e. being a tree means to turn nitrogen into oxygen… is to give off oxygen…is to shelter insects and little animals…is to store water etc. and all of this for and within the circle of life for the benefit of All of existence, as Swami Rama has it, “To include all and exclude None”.

So the individual dharma is part of the collective; it serves the Whole. So the tree has a being-ness (or ‘suchness’ as it’s called in Buddhism), or a dharma which is – being a tree; and that with all its qualities and gifts. In this way, the Owl has its own being-ness…which is to be a unique form of the divine, i.e. being an Owl.

The Bee has its being-ness… to be Bee. The Human Being has its being-ness… as Swami Rama says, “…to be truly human”.

So the dharma of a human being is to be truly human, and that for each one in its uniqueness (as well as with the awareness of being of Divine essence). So the Sanatadharma shows the laws according to which all the individual dharma ‘play as the cosmos’ we perceive. These laws are eternal; they don’t change.

However within that, each has something to contribute to the Whole, and that makes all the colours of the universe. Within this, so one could say each has to live according to her own integrity and that means, with integrity fulfilling one’s role in the Whole. Meaning, there is the One existence in which the diverse forms have a task, a purpose, a ‘job to fulfil’; each has a dharma to fulfil, – for and within him/herself which is at the same time the dharma towards the entirety of existence.

Not living according to that, living only for oneself, is self-ish; is a-dharmic.

In the Tattva Samasa it says, each Being has been given certain talents, sort of gifts with which to contribute to the existence of the Whole. The Whole only functions with health and harmony when all its expressions fulfil their dharma, their being-ness for ‘the Good of ALL’.

Understanding this completely changes the perception from what we in modern society think life is about; i.e. our, yours and my – life is about. We are conditioned by our Western ‘educated mind’ to think – (that is if we think at all about these things) that we exist for our own pleasure, for our own fulfilment, and that usually is coloured by someone telling us what they think we should do! Hence what counts is what we achieve, what we can do, what we can get. Yet when we consider dharma…then life is not ‘for me’ but life lives through me for the benefit of the entirety.

But wait a minute….You, I, We are part of that entirety. So it doesn’t mean neglecting your own health, path, evolution…but is seeing and living it in a wider context.

If we narrow it down, it means becoming aware of the consequences of our actions on/within the Totality (and on ourselves). And that immediately makes dharma or – living a dharmic life a very modern issue!

Why? Because we live by enlarge in a state of ‘coma’, we don’t think anymore, we don’t question things anymore. We follow the trends of our times, be it in what status in life we have to achieve, what we wear, what we eat, what we use of the resources of our globe; be it in how we think about other people…you name it. We are not only not aware what our dharma is (what our contribution to the Whole is), we are not even aware of what we could contribute. We are mostly merely concerned about simply serving our own little limited, conditioned being; our own emotional need, our own ‘animalistic drives’, what Swami Rama called the “primitive fountains”.

That’s being stuck in separatism, unaware that we exist only as part of the Whole. It’s being stuck in a-dharma; being unaware of our dharma. In some contexts such as the Bhagavad Geeta, dharma is often translated as ‘duty’. In today’s world we don’t like to think of ‘having a duty’; we want to be free of such obligations. With this we just show our ignorance, not being aware that what we consider freedom from duties… is slavery to our illusion of independence and separate existence.

We need to wake up and become aware of our total dependency on the rest of existence. And if we cut the trees, pollute the air, exploit the earth and its resources, poison our food and environment with all sorts of radiation and chemicals – then all we are doing is polluting ourselves, poisoning ourselves. In other words, we live against our nature, we live against the cosmic laws, we live a-dharmic.

To return to a dharmic life we need to turn around, start to focus on playing our part in creating a beautiful world, learning to give of ourselves, finding our talents, finding love and contributing from that to life, helping to heal, adding beauty and peace to whichever environment we find ourselves! In fact the great teachers the world over (including Swami Rama) say this is our duty! To do our duty in life means to act effectively with love, skilfully and mindfully, freely and lovingly in mind, body and speech towards all existence – that is living according to our dharma.

But there is danger here too, and that is our conditioned mind thinks/imagines/feels from its limited perspective…what it is that I need to contribute, what I can do, what I understand etc. As long as we contribute from that limited perspective it is difficult to see, what it actually is that is needed for me to do.

So something has to change in ourselves; that is we need to clean the conditioned mind to see clearly. That’s where Yoga, as a science of the mind, comes in.

Furthermore it needs for us to cultivate patience, compassion and generosity of spirit. We need to keep our vision focussed on the Totality, think of the benefits for others! Better even, realise that there are no others, there is only ONE humanity! One earth! One existence!

How to practice? Do what you do with complete integrity! Let your mind, your thoughts, your speech, your action all come from that one place of love inside you. No division, no ‘split-ness’ within your intention, thought or action.

We must become one with life! One with the dance of life, meaning living with full awareness, yet at the same time with full absorption. Think of a dancer; There is movement, yes, but the movement feels only ‘true’ and beautiful, if the dancer- the person disappears in the dance…and there is ‘just dancing’. That is meant with total focus, total absorption, total integrity, total love.

As quoted above, Swami Rama called us to act for the benefit of all, “effectively, skilfully, freely, lovingly and happily”…. Then there is no space for separate little ‘I’s, and their worries and suffering; then there can be only dharmic action. There can be only Love!

Again, how to practice? Listen deeply to Nature, hear Her whispers, She knows the dharma. She lives by the dharma; She is the Sanatadharma. Just be still and listen. Enter that silent space, where there is ‘just being’; no otherness! Living from that inner wisdom, is living a dharmic life!