Understanding Dharma

Ryan Baidya-
Ryan Baidya

  Ryan Baidya, PhD., MBA  is a freelance writer and an art lover. He has written numerous articles on various subjects. Professionally, he is an entrepreneur, an educator, and a mentor.

Dharma of Students – the future of our nation

Today’s learners are the tomorrow, common citizens, doctors, engineers, scientists, and leaders that include the President, Governors, and lawmakers – of a nation.   Their’s dharma today will be the collective dharma of the nation tomorrow, and that collective dharma will steer us from societal divides, internal conflicts, and external warfare.  This is all too common and we all know it; we prepare our students accordingly.  But, we do not adequately give importance and attention to helping students understand their dharma now as students, and later as the responsible unit of a global society.

Students’ primary dharma is to learn and help peers learn.  Respect teachers, parents, and elderly persons no matter what their economic situation is.  A student must earn a positive vibe and dissipate a positive vibe.  It is only possible as long as one keeps one’s heart and mind pure; understanding dharma and following the dharmic path help keeps the heart and mind pure.  It is very simple, as simple as rivers flow, and the wind blows.

However, we make it difficult to follow a dharmic path by introducing unhealthy competition, jealousy, wants, greed, lust, ungratefulness, and disrespectfulness in our daily life activities.  No, it is not your or our fault entirely to get some or all of these ill virtues, but certainly some of it.  So, let’s remove those that are in our control.  Rest that imparted on us by the system including, government, corporate world, media, and entertainments industry, law-enforcements, imperfect judicial practices, societal unfairness and unclean norms, discriminations, prejudice, and inefficiency.

As students, we can collectively erode these ill virtues rapidly as we move forward in our professional lives through by-passing that is not dharmic.  Yes, from time to time it will cost us dearly, but surely we will reach a critical mass when numbers of the dharmic population supersede the non-dharmic followers – a harmonious societal condition is achieved.

To teach and assist our students to follow dharma we as grown-up parents and educators must introspect.  Do we truly internalize dharma in our life; do we know the meaning of dharma? The answer to these questions could be yes, somewhat, and don’t know. Let us understand the understanding of dharma.

What is Dharma

In Vedic literature, Dharma refers to the ritual custom that maintains the order of the cosmos.  According to spiritual Sanatana culture, Dharma is an individual’s duty fulfilled by observance of custom or law.  This law is the basic principle of cosmic or individual existence.  The eternal and inherent nature of reality is regarded as a cosmic law underlying right behavior and social order.  Vedic wisdom of dharma is over 21,000 years old, and that supports the preceding statement.

Dharma is the intrinsic order of existence.

Robert E. Buswell, Jr. Irving and Jean Stone Endowed Chair in Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained Dharma as notoriously difficult to translate.  Dharma derives from the Sanskrit verbal root dhri, which means “to hold” or “to maintain. The Sanskrit term dharmadhamma in Pali, chos (pronounced chö) in Tibetan, fa in Chinese, ho in Japanese, and pop in Korean—is a term of wide import in the followers of Vedic and Sanatana ways of life.

Dharma is our innate sense of right and wrong. It is innate to all human beings. It is the authority that preserves humanity; it makes us ethical citizens or rather allows humans to act morally.  Dharma implies that there is a right or true way for each person to carry out their lives to serve both themselves and others. Dharma is closely related to the concepts of duty and selfless service.

It is our highest value or should be, but these days often takes second place in our desires for personal gain. This is apparent on an individual as well as a corporate level.

“Dharma is a form of universal collective conscience”

When collective consciences are largely pure and moral, the dharma is in good health, thus the society is in harmony.  When the collective conscience is affected by impure, corrupt, and deceptive thoughts and acts, the dharma is in bad health which leads to societal chaos, anarchy, grief, and despair.

What is our dharma in life

Dharma is the natural, eternal, and universal law that maintains cosmic and social order.  An Individual’s dharma comprises the duties of an individual towards family, society, humanity, and the environment.  Essentially, your dharma means your life purpose. Your dharma is your true calling – what you were born to do. Ancient Vedic texts describe dharma as a pearl of inner wisdom or cosmic guidance that governs not only you and us as individuals but the entire Universe itself.  We are connected through the universal collective conscience, and dharma is the decree that is intended to keep this universal collective conscience pure and clean.

Dharma steers personal mission or purpose. In Vedic culture, an individual’s dharma is thought to be pre-determined. A contemporary explanation could be if one continues to do what one’s parents and grandparents did, that person continues to receive similar rewards from the universal collective conscience.  However, one’s deeds (karmas) could overwrite one’s pre-destine life. If you are born poor, you will remain poor if you continue to do what your previous generation did.  If you want to be rich, you must do what is scientific, natural, and entrepreneurial in a dharmic way.  The result of living a rich “dharmic way” is to be self-realization and enlightenment. Above all, when your life is aligned with your dharma, it brings a sense of joy and fulfillment.

Erroneous use of the word dharma

When life is simple, following dharma becomes simple.  When life becomes complex through the influence of ill virtues that we just mentioned above, following dharma becomes very difficult.  In our daily life, we will interact, and get affected by hundreds of individuals and their good and ill virtues directly and indirectly.  For this reason, rituals, and collective practices were introduced to the individuals’ lives.

With time, different geographically situated societies developed their distinctive rituals and collective practice methodologies to follow the dharmic path of life.  The followers of these rituals and collective practices with time began to be identified as proper nouns.  Their ritual and practices were begun to refer to as the dharma of that group, even though the dharma is eternal and universal.

Societal or tribal rituals and collective practices of their rituals, also known as religion, are intended to hold or maintain that society’s existence –the dharma.  It becomes the dharma of that society or religion.  Over time to hold or to maintain society got precedence over anything else.  Thus, restrictions, boundaries, coercions, deceptions, miss information, and misinterpretations were employed to keep the society together.  Universal dharma is being modified for tribal (narrower) objectives – a beginning of the end of eternal peace and harmony of coexistence.

Dharma is dharma.  It cannot be hyphenated or added with any other words to make a noun.  To give an analogy at this point, let us consider water (H2O).  Water from a stream, a river, a well, rain, or a Kalash vessel is simply water (H2O).  It is not changed because of where it is; so is the dharma.  When societal or tribal rituals and their collective practices are represented with the hyphenated word religion, it seems less confusing in contemporary times and environments.

To make it simple, tabulated, and practicable for our generation of tablets and smartphones, we extracted a few bullet points for us to remember and observe dharma in our respective spheres.  In our contemporary vocabulary, we use words such as Integrity, Loyalty, Honesty, Faithful, Gratitude, Compassion, Empathy, Happiness, Peace, and Success.  These are the outcomes of dharmic life.  Dharma is the source of these virtues.  Without observance of dharma, none is truly and fully possible in the long run, even if transiently acquired through non-dharmic paths or practices.


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