By Jayaram V
There is a popular saying in Sanskrit, dharmo rakshita
means if you protect your religion or dharma,
your dharma will protect you. Now what do we mean by the word
dharma? Actually, there is no equivalent to the word dharma
either in English or in any other language. In our
tradition, the word has many meanings and many connotations. But
at the most basic level, dharma means your natural activity or
propensity. For example, in case of an animal like the dog, its
dharma, among other things, is to eat and procreate, to be
friendly with human beings, and to bark and to bite if it is
subjected to intense fear or agitation. The dharma of a snake is
to crawl, live in dark places, to store poison in its teeth, and
bite its prey or anyone who tries to harm it. So as far as the
animals are concerned, their dharma is to fulfill their role in
creation, living according to their natural instincts, serving
as food to other animals and surviving against threats and harsh
nature. The dharma of gods or divinities is to help people and
other living beings and assist God in enforcing His laws,
protecting people from evil and maintaining righteousness
in the world.
When it comes to human beings, we know that we are not mere
animals, although some people prefer to live that way. We are
rational beings who are endowed with reasoning power, which we
call buddhi or discriminating intelligence. We are also endowed
with self-awareness and the ability to direct our will in
whatever way we deem fit. So in case of human beings, dharma means to live
according to our higher nature, controlling our lower nature,
animal instincts and baser desires. If you analyze carefully, you
will realize that all religions aims to accomplish this only.
All religions aims to teach that we should live with a certain
sense of moral and spiritual responsibility, curbing our baser
instincts and controlling our evil and immoral thoughts. Hence
in ancient India, spiritual teachings were equated with dharma
and it is why the Buddhists preferred to call the teachings of
the Buddha as Dhamma.
Now what is the higher nature or the true dharma of a human
being? According to Hinduism, as a human being, you have a
responsibility or a duty towards yourself, towards your family,
towards your society, towards your ancestors, towards your
divinities and towards all living beings in general. These
duties are essentially meant to establish peace and stability in
yourself, others and the world in general. God is the upholder
of dharma and the order of the universe. He makes sure that the
fire burns, the wind blows and the water flows because these are
their essential dharmas. In case of living beings, He enforces the law
of karma and allows them to indulge in willful actins out of
their desires and natural instincts. However, if the worlds becomes
too chaotic or disturbingly disorderly, on account of their
activities, He incarnates upon earth
and sets things right.
Our dharma also depends upon our births, the circumstances in
which we live and the profession we choose to follow. It is
better if you choose your profession according to your natural
inclination, or what you love most. But if you can't do that,
whatever may be the profession you choose, you should do
it with sincerity, discipline and dedication, as an offering to
God, because although we may think ourselves to be independent
individuals, we are part of the universe and our actions have a
bearing upon others and the world in general.
So whatever may be the religion or the personal philosophy
you follow, make sure that you contribute to peace and harmony
and do not disturb yourself or others in harmful and evil ways.
If you are for peace, harmony and order and if you strive to
establish them and maintain them in your life and your
environment, it is deemed that you are following your dharma and you are in tune
with your spiritual nature. God and all the divinities
whom we worship will be happy with you and respond to you
promptly whenever you pray them sincerely. It is through your
adherence to dharma that you become a true devotee of God and
fulfill the central purpose of your life. Here are a few
simple ways in which you can practice your essential dharma.
- Curb your baser desires and your animal instincts.
Refuse to be guided by your lower instincts.
- Identify yourself with your inner self, knowing that you
are neither your body nor your mind but the immortal self,
who is caught in the whirlpool of life.
- Offer whatever you have and whatever you do to God or
the divinities whom you love most. Make your life and your
activities an offering to God.
- Practice detachment so that emotionally you will be more
stable and peaceful.
- Cultivate sattva or purity by practicing virtue and
avoiding wrong doings so that you can experience
affinity with your spiritual side.
- Practice non-violence and compassion towards other
living beings. It will set you apart from animals and
provide you with an opportunity to practice universal
- Avoid thinking and harboring evil and immoral thoughts.
- Practice yoga and meditation so that you can control the
modifications of your mind and experience peace and harmony
- Worship your gods and divinities so that they will be
active in your consciousness as well as in the cosmos and
express themselves through you.
- Do your duty, whatever it is, without expectation and
with a sense of sacrifice.
- Fill your mind with positive and spiritual thoughts.
- Speak right words, think right thoughts and do right
It is the dharma of the animals to live for themselves. The
dharma of gods is to exist for others and help them according
to their merit. As far as we are concerned, we have a choice.
We have the freedom to live like animals or live like gods and
accept the consequences. We have a choice to live in whatever
way we want, provided we are willing to pay the price. We can
live for ourselves, living selfishly, fulfilling our material
desires, which is what most people do, or live for others, to
the extent we can, living according to our spiritual
aspirations and expressing the divinity that exists within each
of us. We can live as if this is the only life we have or live
with the awareness that our current life is a preparation for
the next life or afterlife. We have the freedom to live the
right way or the wrong way or move towards darkness or light.
This is an unique opportunity given to human beings. Hence it
is said that even gods, if they want to progress to still
higher planes, have to be born upon earth as human beings and
practice dharma to qualify for their further advancement.
Suggested Further Reading