Dharma (Law of Life) and Karma (Right Action) - Dharma and Karma

Dharma and Karma

Introduction

The world of today presents a bright aspect on account of great scientific and technological advancement. Communication and transportation have developed to such great heights that the world has shrunk and even countries and continents have begun to look like provinces of one globe. There also prospects that if humanity could arrive at a new cooperative spirit, drudgery and poverty can be eliminated and life could be lived on this earth with continuous progression towards higher and higher levels of prosperity. In this great task, all of us and young people, in particular, can play a decisive role.

 And yet, on the other hand, we witness a state of great confusion and perplexity. Consequently we find lack of leadership, lack of consensus, lack of transparency and accountability, rise of fundamentalism and terrorism, and gulfs between generations also between ends and means.
 

This confusion is pervasive and covers all domains of life, whether social, political, economic, ecological, ethical or spiritual. This confusion has created anguish and anxiety and there is widespread search for effective solutions.

Palliatives, such as methods to reduce stress, structural changes in the economy or systemic reforms in various fields are being suggested for improving the quality of our lives, but they do not touch the roots of the problems. It appears that we need to go deeper and understand the underlying reasons for the present situation of chaos.

Solutions are often sought at the level of speculations which only end in inconclusive debates; sometimes references are made to unfounded dogmas of the past which are covered in mythologies; or else suggestions are made to regulate life by rituals, ceremonies, and customs.

None of these approaches is satisfactory to the modern mind which bases its orientation on verifiable, repeatable and expandable knowledge which alone can give a secure basis for techniques, methods and their applications.

A concerted effort is therefore required to discover, develop, and articulate the knowledge that is needed in this regard

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Dharma and Karma

Unfortunately, even in institutions of higher learning, research into this knowledge is marginal or absent.

It seems that one line of inquiry would be to uncover those resources of knowledge which have remained buried not only in the ancient traditions of wisdom but also in the later developments of these traditions.

Often people belonging to practical walks of life seem to wonder how reflections on such abstruse subjects like dharma and karma would promote their capabilities and possibilities of success. We must therefore address to this query with all seriousness. We shall also need to present the right perspective. What we intend to do is not to philosophise but to present contents of knowledge and formulas of methods and techniques which can be applied by people in various vocations and professions, including business, industry and politics.

And we shall have special emphasis on dealing with the question of success.

It will be seen in the ultimate analysis that when we have clarity of vision, and when we begin to work for larger causes and interests, we shall have the possibility of attaining to true success instead of false success, to durable success instead of transitory success, and even to higher levels of heroism and glory.

We often find people thinking about themselves instead of thinking about larger interests of larger number of people. This leads to confusion and wrong judgment; we also fall into vicious circles of narrow competitions in which each one tries to outdo the other by defeating rather than developing competitions in which one encourages the others to excel and to surpass one's limitations. All these aspects need to be taken into account if are looking to the attainment of growth, progress and all-round advancement of human civilisation and culture.

It is a common experience that leaders, whether in spiritual life or political life, truly succeed only when they practice what they preach. But otherwise, when leaders cannot provide inspiring examples of their life and actions, it is the common man who becomes a victim and is led to live life at lower levels gripped by fear and anxiety. This is an aspect which has to be kept in view. It is only when we can make common people fearless by providing to them the right type of leadership and right type of examples of true success that can break the vicious circle of our present predicament.

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Dharma and Karma

It is in this large context that we propose to present in the following pages valuable insights that we can extract from various records of knowledge. We propose to begin with the exploration of the Vedic tradition; at a later stage, we shall also study other traditions.

The Vedic tradition begins with four compilations, called "samhitas", namely, "Rigveda", "Yajurveda", "Samaveda" and "Atharvaveda". These "samhitas" tend to be identified exclusively with Hinduism; but when we study them impartially, we find that they are records of the earliest inspired seekers of knowledge and wisdom and their discoveries have universal significance.

The greatest discovery that the Vedic explorers seem to have made is that of the fourth world, as distinguished from the world of matter (prithvi), world of life (antariksha), and the world of mind (dyau). This fourth world was called "turiyam swid", the world of unmixed truth (stayam, ritam), ‒ the world of everlasting light.

They also discovered and perfected the path by which other seekers and explorers can travel to that world. It is in this context that they spoke of "agni", not the ritualistic fire, but the Mystic Fire, which is described in the very first hymn of the Veda as the leader of the journey, knower of the truth, and the one who can call down higher knowledge into the lower human world.

They also laid down four conditions for the attainment of the goal; these consist of the cultivation of universal wideness, universal friendliness, intense power of austerity, and the capacity to bear the highest bliss.
 

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Dharma and Karma

Our aim is to help people to understand deeper knowledge in a simpler way so that they can be led to apply that knowledge in their practical life and day-to-day affairs.

The Vedic explorers who were called Rishis devoted themselves to teaching in order to generously share their precious knowledge with members of the younger generations.

The system of education built by these Rishis was based upon sound psychological principles and provided stimulating conditions for building up personalities and characters of students.

In due course, however, the system declined due to the gradual loss of the spirit and knowledge that were prominent among the Rishis and they began to be gradually eclipsed among the Acharyas, Pandits and Purohits who succeeded them.

Even today, attempts are being made to resurrect the ancient system and it is hoped that the knowledge eclipsed by time will be recovered integrally. This is the task to which we are committed and to which invite all our readers.

Three important methods which they developed as an aid to the attainment were meditative concentration, performance of action with view to exchange human energies with cosmic energies, and dwelling on the truth at the levels of the mind, life and body by their full consecration.
The knowledge of the fourth world and of the methods to reach that world gave rise to further knowledge of dharma (law of life) and karma (right action). It is this subject on which we shall concentrate in a language that avoids technical complexities which bewilder the common man

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Dharma and Karma

II

WHAT IS DHARMA?
WHAT IS KARMA?

1

The concepts of Dharma and Karma have been derived from the discoveries that were made by the great seers of the Vedic period. Among these discoveries, the central discovery was of what may be called 'Substance'.

In their own peculiar language, they described it as something that subsists eternally, and which is wonderful. The wonder of the nature of this substance was that it combined together "essence" and "power". Just as in modern physics, we have the strange nature of the ultimate constituent of Matter which is, in one sense, of the nature of a particle and, in other sense, of the nature of a wave, even so, the Substance discovered by the Vedic seers (Rishis) was that of Vasu, (essence) and Urja (energy or power) at the same time.

It was further discovered by them that essence and power, although one, had internal interrelationship. In this relationship, essence is foundational and power is subordinate. Hence, while essence could be independent of the movement of energy or power, the movement of energy or power could subsist only on the ground of essence and the will of the essence.

Essence was termed in Sanskrit as Sat and energy was named Chit or Chitshakti. The union of the two was called the status of Supreme Delight (Ananda). This gave rise to the concept of Sacchidananda subsequently in the Upanishads.

The Vedic seers also discovered that the energy or power moves forward from the essence or remains contained and latent in essence in accordance with the Will that is inherent in essence. Essence is free to exercise the Will or to withhold the Will. This power of exercising or withholding the Will was, according to them, will-force or Tapas.

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Dharma and Karma

When the will-force is exercised, vibrations issue out of Tapas. These vibrations have a rhythm which translates the will or intention that is inherent in essence. Vibrations issuing out of Tapas with definite measures of rhythm, their regularities and their uniformities was called by them Eternal Law. This Eternal Law, they declared, is 'Sanatana Dharma'.

For, Dharma means the law of life that sustains and regulates rhythms of vibrations and holds together these vibrations within the limits of measures determined by Tapas. Accordingly, 'Sanatana Dharma' is supposed to hold the eternal time-sequences of creation in the system of integrity and unity. The Vedic seers declared that it is by applying the knowledge of this Dharma that one can become a harmonious part of the unity of creation and develop one's life smoothly in accordance with the intention that is contained in the creative activity of Tapas.

The Vedic seers went farther in their search and their discovery. They found out that the basic rhythm of creative activity followed a very specific pattern.

This pattern consisted of essence emanating energy from within itself and energy returning back again to offer itself to the essence. Self-giving of essence to the energy and self-giving of energy to the essence, they declared, is the fundamental law of all that subsists in the world.

This mutual self-giving was called by the Vedic Seers as Karma (Right Action). It is only when this mutual self-giving is perceived that one can get the clue or the secret of right action and it is only when this is applied in life that right action is performed.

It will be clear that right action or Karma is an action that is determined by Dharma. Where there is no dharma, there is no right action, and where there is action but no dharma, action becomes either distorted or perverted, which is also called 'vikarma'.

In the technical language which was used by the Vedic seers, the act of mutual self-giving was called Yajna. Yajna is translated as "sacrifice". It was, therefore, declared that Karma in the sense of right action should be performed in the spirit of sacrifice.

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Dharma and Karma

Sacrifice often indicates some kind of a painful abdication or renunciation; and we are often told that one should sacrifice one's attachments, even though this may be proved to be painful. But this idea of painful sacrifice is only valid at lower levels where we have not understood the secret of right action and the secret of intention of Creation. When this secret is rightly understood, one is inspired to offer not only one's attachments but all that one is and one has, and the resultant is not pain but joy and enjoyment.

It is for this reason that the Ishopanishad, which is the shortest treatise of Dharma and Karma lays down two important applications of the knowledge of the creation as a movement of mutual self-giving. First of these two applications is as follows:

"It is only by performance of right action that one should continue to live and wish to live even up to hundred years. This is the only way, and there is none other." The second application is contained in the famous prescription:
"By renouncing one should enjoy, one should not covet to oneself what belongs to someone else.”

These two statements contain all that is essential in the understanding and application of Dharma and Karma

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Dharma and Karma

III

Two things that cannot be doubted (individuals and circumstances)

Let us pursue our understanding of Dharma and Karma. The Indian idea of Dharma begins with two things that cannot be doubted. There is, first, the experience of each individual as observer who observes, experiences, acts and reacts. And there is, second, a field of circumstances in which the individual finds himself or herself and in which he or she works, learns, and struggles to arrive at mastery.

Circumstances are favourable, unfavourable or indifferent, depending generally upon how the individual looks upon them. Even a blooming garden may appear to be a desert, if one is depressed; on the other hand, everything may seem bright and friendly, if one is in a serene state of mind and heart. But often one finds oneself quite oppressed by circumstances and one seeks to change them or even to escape from them, if that were possible. It is here that one speaks of the problems of life and one wonders what life is about and whether life has any meaning, and, if so, what precisely is that meaning

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Dharma and Karma

IV

Quest of the meaning of life

There are several answers to the question of the meaning of life; and when we consider them, we are led to speculation and to debate; but we arrive at definite knowledge only when repeated experimentation and verification impose upon us a secure and sure conclusion. Till then, the best thing we can do is to take life and its varied experience as a process of learning and cultivate patience so as to avoid one-sided opinions and narrow convictions.

In the meantime, there are certain attitudes that can be derived from the Indian tradition of knowledge, which can help everyone in dealing with life and circumstances.

V

How to deal with life and circumstances

The following ten formulas can be regarded as basic to Dharma and Karma, and if one abides by them, one can easily graduate to higher levels of maturity and dexterity in dealing with life and circumstances.

  1. Do not allow circumstances to overpower you to such an extent that you cannot observe them with impartiality and objectivity.
  2. Learn to observe your state of mind and heart and register your reactions to your circumstances.
  3. When you are happy with your circumstances and when you find that your life is proceeding smoothly, avoid excitement. Remember that happiness is enjoyed best and lasts longer when law of restraint is followed. This means that nothing is done in excess. Speak only what is indispensable; think with quietude and seriousness; act with generosity and nobility; enjoy with increasing sense of detachment and renunciation of the sense of possession.
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Dharma and Karma
  1. Even when circumstances are unfavourable, avoid sense of disappointment and depression. Remember the wise maxim: "This will also pass."
  2. Do not try to escape from circumstances. Take them as opportunities to learn and to grow. Even difficulties are there to be overcome. At the end of the tunnel, there is light. Remember that even stones around you can give useful sermons if you cultivate the art of patient hearing. You also arrive at state where you have dialogue with stones.
  3. Do not do anything merely to seek pleasure; but find pleasure in whatever you do or whatever you are required to do.
  4. Nothing gives greater happiness than the cultivation of your capacities, potentialities and faculties. And as you cultivate them, uncomparable happiness will come when you express your actualised capability, ‒ in whatever form you are best at: writing, painting, conversing, listening, or even in contemplation in silence.
  5. There is always something in you that is responsible for the circumstances in which you are situated. If you want to change them, find out what vibrations there are in you that correspond to what you dislike or disapprove of in your circumstances. Change your inner vibrations and you will see that the outer circumstances will gradually change. Do not expect, however, immediate changes; both your inner vibrations and outer circumstances have the force of habit and they have tendency to recur. Be therefore patient and work constantly on yourself ‒ again and again. You are bound to succeed.
  6. Think over yourself, your natural inclinations and your highest aspirations. Think over individuals in your circumstances, their inclinations and their highest aspirations. Think over the characteristics of your circumstances, which of them facilitate your progress and which of them obstruct your progress. Place all these thoughts in your active awareness: and ASPIRE that everything, ‒ yourself, individuals in your circumstances, and circumstances themselves change in such a way that the very best emerges.
  7. For any problem of life, there are horizontal solutions, which can all serve as provisional solutions; but prepare yourself for what can be called vertical solutions, which alone can really be satisfying and durable.
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Dharma and Karma

Horizontal solutions depend upon devices and their applications that can be conceived at various levels of our thinking and mental judgments. They will inevitably present themselves in our journey of life, and they can all be utilised to uplift ourselves vertically on a higher level of our being. But when we are really uplifted vertically, we shall find increasing quietude, control over our passions, inner harmony and serenity, and genuine humility that eliminates selfishness and egoism. Two things will aid us in arriving at vertical solutions: Goodwill and Fearlessness.

VI

WHEN IN CRISIS

Crisis is a situation where a problem or a group of problems becomes extremely oppressive because its solution is urgent and imperative while it appears to be almost impossible to be practicable. In the life of individuals, as in that of nations or of the world, critical situations do arise and they constitute most important episodes of life during which radical changes occur or when desperate urge arises to escape rather than to confront the burdens of responsibility.

Greatest aid should, therefore, be provided to all those who are passing through a crisis.

The following preliminary advice relating Dharma and Karma may perhaps be found in order.

  1. The urge to escape from the problem should be discouraged; it should at the time be emphasised that no crisis can be overcome by allowing the crisis to persist in the hope that it will disappear by lapse of time. There is often a tendency to build up rational arguments in favour of escapist measures; this is what can be called rationalisation, and one should reject it.
  2. There are some who tend to become flippant and stoop to ignoble means to resolve the problem. Both these tendencies should be strictly eliminated.
  3. The most important thing to be done is to remain utterly quiet and unshaken in the faith that the right solution will open up if one sincerely aspires to get the needed help. As Christ had declared: Knock and the door will be opened; ask and you will be given. One should remember how Arjuna in his moment of crisis at the battlefield of Mahabharata approached Sri Krishna and asked for his advice. His humility led him to declare to Sri Krishna: "Rule over me", "Shadhi mam".

In the moment of crisis, must turn to the wisest advice that may be available in the given situation.

And must prepare oneself to make whatever radical changes one is required to make in his personal attitudes, thoughts, feelings and activities.

Sacrifice of one's limitations, attachments, preferences and egoism is normally the one thing needed to overcome a crisis.

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