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What is Dharma?

By Jacob Devaney on Monday July 20th, 2020

The Power of Aligning with Our Dharma

While I acknowledge that this topic is worth a lifetime of exploration, there are some very good reasons to consider the implications of this concept in your life right now. Just as the slightest twitch of the archer with his bow pulled back can change the trajectory of the arrow dramatically, a moment of reflection now may change the direction of your life for many years to come. Dharma is a complex word with no simple translation but this short article will give you an opportunity to consider it’s significance in your life.

The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which means “to hold, maintain, keep”, and takes a meaning of “what is established or firm”, and hence “law”. It is derived from an older Vedic Sanskrit stem dharman, with a literal meaning of “bearer, supporter”. – Wikipedia

Because of the way society is set up we often equate laws, discipline, and order as things that are enforced (or forced) on us externally. Even many religions like Christianity often assert a sort of punitive control on us to do good or we’ll need to confess to the preacher or be turned away from the pearly gates when we die. Dharma comes from a tradition that is centered from the in-side-outward with much emphasis on spiritual growth, direction, wisdom as things that we seek and find internally. This is not to negate the importance of external laws, order, teachers, etc. but to bring some balance to our ways of thinking that don’t always put much value on listening to one’s own inner self or intuition.

Hinduism describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be contented and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. – Subhamoy Das

ContentedTo be contented and happy and in flow. Image: Alexandros Nicolopoulos

It is true that we spend so much time seeking external validation, praise from friends, success through power and money, that we can end up feeling a bit hollow. When laws are something that are only understood to exist externally then we might fool ourselves into thinking we can get away with things when nobody is looking. Spiritual traditions remind us that this is not possible. Being accountable to ourselves, our own values, our own higher purpose, even sometimes at the cost of earning praise from those around us is the source of true happiness and personal power. This is part of understanding our dharma.

Monier-Williams, the widely cited resource for definitions and explanation of Sanskrit words and concepts of Hinduism, offers numerous definitions of the word dharma: such as that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, nature, character, quality, property. Yet, each of these definitions is incomplete, while combination of these translations do not convey the total sense of the word. In common parlance, dharma means ‘right way of living’ and ‘path of righteousness’. – Wikipedia

Coherence between our inner selves and the world around us is a powerful place to be. Often we struggle to accomplish anything when we are out of alignment with our own true nature. We can push through this sometimes to attain material success and praise from others but inside we know that something is missing. Other times we see the opposite of this when we witness a talented but starving musician or artist who is fulfilled internally but unable to take care of themselves in the ‘real’ world.

Prayer wheelsThe moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Image: Aron Visuals

Dharma is a cosmic principle that is difficult, if not impossible, to define. Our Dharma is our true place in the cosmic process: in time, in space, in awareness, in thought, deed and desire. The eternal principle of Dharma determines the harmonious functions of the cosmic machine. In order that we fulfil our role in the divine play we must behave within our Dharma. That is, we ought to do the right thing, at the right time, In the right way, and for the right reason. By this we attain balance. To establish balance within ourselves ensures our own welfare and the welfare of society. And opens the path prepared for us by the divine. – Ramesh Manocha

When we are aligned with our dharma, it is as if a force greater than us is propelling us. Obstacles fall away and we feel our place within the flow of life like a surfer that has caught the perfect wave. This is how we see true masters that take the wisdom of their inner discipline and can apply it to the world around them in physical or spiritual ways. For example, a musician who can apply harmonic musical theory to their social relationships, or an architect who can also build bridges of understanding between people. In this way, dharma encompasses our whole life, extending from our center and affecting everyone and everything around us.

We know that the accomplished musician spent much time practicing scales, and the surfer missed many waves on their journey to mastery. We also have tools that are meant specifically for attuning us to our dharma. Tools like meditation, yoga, diet, listening to our gut (or intuition), and more are readily available to anyone who wants to learn.

We are engaged in a lifelong journey with ourselves and everyone around us and this is why we reach towards each other through media or community. There are endless ways to support each other to find our inner calling, but each of us has our own unique way to align with this dharma. If we never take time to consider this we may spend our whole lives seeking external gratification while feeling hollow inside.

~

Do you know what your Dharma is? What practices, if any, do you use to keep yourself aligned with your Dharma? Do you feel that being aligned with your dharma helps you? We would love to hear your answers and experiences in the comments below.

Much love and clarity on your journey,

Team UPLIFT

How do you feel about this article? Join the conversation.

Jacob Devaney

Founder and director of Culture Collective, creative activist, musician, and producer.

 

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14 Responses to What is Dharma?

  1. How ironic – Minutes ago I just finished journaling about the question of what is my true nature. I’ve spent time looking and finally seeing the barriers I created that worked to feed my ego identity. All of it was about looking for external validation – thinking some person, place, experience or thing would bring me happiness. These identities I used worked to control everything so I would get what I wanted. All of that was based on fear – not enough, shame, abandonment, not feeling safe and deficiency. Finally, I see how and why I pursued that path and all the avoidance tools I employed to protect myself. I am working to just make observations, not judgments and to recognize my feelings and the needs underneath them – universal needs of well-being, connection, acceptance and truth.

    I’m learning to accept what is, staying present and trusting myself, life and others. Everything that shows up is fine. I still have wants but I’m loosening my attachment to them. Thank you for your words and perspective!

    • Wow – these are really great inquiries and reflections Bob! And I love that the article found you at such an apt time 😀 It sounds like you’re getting some powerful insights into your inner tapestry and learning a lot about yourself along the way. It’s very inspiring to read 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and especially for sharing 💖

      All the very best on your journey of self-discovery.
      Team UPLIFT

  2. Thank you for your time in writing this article. I see what you mean. I have understanding of this concept. I feel it. But I cannot articulate with words. This is my struggle—to feel so deeply but I am not able to communicate it except through being a compassionate listener, giver, toucher, supporter, encourager.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing Nancy. I can relate to what you describe here – being a deep feeler. I think expressing it through listening, giving, touching, supporting and encouraging is perfect 🙂

      Much love to you on your journey <3
      Team UPLIFT

  3. Good article. I do believe we are a life long journey to better our soul. I meditate, I am always mindful and in the present. I reflect on my past and how I have improved . I get advice from my Angel tarot cards. The Archangels are who I go to for giving me insight for day to day.

    • I love that Melissa, thanks for sharing 🙂 It sounds like you have found some great ways to keep yourself on your path, very inspiring!

      Blessings,
      Team UPLIFT

  4. Now at the age of 80 years and after reading this article and starting to understand the true meaning of dharma, I will start to look for my inne-self and my true being. Thank you so much. Frank

    • The very best of luck to you on that journey Frank. It’s never too late 🙂
      Thank you for reading and sharing <3

      Blessings,
      Team UPLIFT

  5. The practise of “observing” rather than “judging” is a fundamental approach to living in the Now. To not jump in with the learned responses when something appears to upset us makes a huge difference. I understand us all to be One, so arguing with another essentially means you are arguing with yourself -or another aspect of your Self! Whatever remark another says, simply smile…..there is no need to prove a point one way or another.
    Your understanding and reality is yours and yours alone….everyone else has their own unique reality. We do not know what the other person is here to learn so we cannot judge. Be still….the Universe sends us signs all the time however, they are subtle….if we are distracted we may miss what the Universe is trying to show us. The answers you seek, you already have within you so simply go within to find them.

    • This is a lovely and rather comforting perspective Fraser, thank you for sharing it 🙂

      Blessings,
      Team UPLIFT

  6. I love hearing about dharma. I wonder if dharma can be a temporary circumstance. For the last several weeks I have helplessly and with great joy been providing a small daily meal to one who is in service to many. This action is without thought, the process simply begins and completes itself daily and it is the most joyous feeling to both of us…though we don’t speak of it except by occasional random, short comment.

    Right now I am in quarantine and unable to continue until health is assured; and, even so, there is still mystical flowing around the process, almost like it didn’t stop just because the action did.

    • Wow, that’s really beautiful Caroline. Thank you for sharing this touching story and feeling that is carrying on within you <3 Perhaps this is a temporary dharma of yours as you say, or perhaps the act of caring for others is your dharma? Or perhaps we can have more than one... Who knows?! I think, in the end, only we can decide for ourselves what is true and meaningful to each of us 🙂

      Much love to you on your journey and in quarantine.
      Blessings,
      Team UPLIFT

  7. Hello,
    I learned something about myself through reading this article in that as interested as I am in hearing about dharma I could read no further once the reference to Christianity and what felt like belittling of it. Had that pointing not specified one religion, the response may not have been so intense. Why did the example of religions need to be included in the example? Perhaps it could have been worded more kindly…. Christianity is a beautiful religion and is sacred in it’s own way. I am not Christian, though I have been and beloveds close to me are Christian and it is not in the least Uplifting to me to hear it nor any other group put down especially in such a pointed and unflattering way (just as I seem to be doing here).

    Thank you for reading this.🙏

    • Hi Caroline, I understand your thinking that the writer was belittling Christianity, But I don’t see it as belittling, since what he wrote is TRUE of Christianity… Pastors and Preachers use certain passages in the Bible to scare people into submission to their authority by telling them they will go to hell and suffer if they don’t do certain things in repentance.
      Telling a truism about a religion is just stating a fact…. not belittling…. yes, Christianity can be a beautiful religion once one realizes that hell is not a burning pit and something our loving God uses as punishment…. and rituals are not necessary for everyone to practice in order to live a life of forgiveness and love. Dharma is similar to Christians that listen to the Holy Spirit .

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