Dharma and Spirituality

Shanti is a senior yoga teacher who attended my Dharma workshop last year at the Acorn Wellness retreat in the Yorkshire Dales. Her questions and our discussion reflected her study of Vedanta and her interest in spiritual life.

“Your presentation of Dharma is unique. I haven’t heard it explained like that anywhere. I am familiar with the four principles of Dharma – truth, respect, purity and effort. But I’ve always heard it explained as ‘right-living, virtuous and ethical behaviour, occupational duty and good conduct.’”

“Yes, you are right. That’s how it’s usually explained,” I replied.

“You focus primarily on the underlying principles. Can you explain why? Also, I wonder if people might be confused or misled by this focus?”

“In what way?”

“Maybe they’ll think that you are divorcing the principles from their customary expression as ‘virtuous living’ or ‘doing one’s duty.’ What do you think?”

“The Dharma Diamond is the outcome of research we did at Cranmore Foundation, our educational charity. The aim of our research was to study wisdom traditions to identify universal principles that can be carefully reformulated as design principles for making a better world.”

“You mentioned that in your presentation.”

“To identify those principles, we had to look closely at what it means to live a virtuous life. What does it take to succeed in performing one’s occupational duty?”

“Different occupations have different standards,” Shanti replied. “A doctor has to act in one way to be considered virtuous, a lawyer in another way, a farmer in one way, a banker in another way.”

“That’s right. But in all cases the underlying principle is that they have a truth that defines their meaningful purpose; a beneficiary for whom they work (respect); standards that guide their actions (purity); and right effort for performing their duty.”

“I see. So, by focusing on the underlying principle you actually deepen the understanding of what defines the Dharma of particular occupations and roles.”

“That is my hope.”

“Can I ask another question? How does Dharma relate to spiritual life? You talk about making a better world, but I have my doubts. It seems impossible to me.”

“I agree, but we have to do what we can do. ‘Hope springs eternal.’”

“My point might seem a bit selfish. My personal focus is to make my inner world a better place. I think if I do that, then I’ll be able to affect the world around me in a good way ­– by just being me, if that makes sense.”

“Gandhi said, ‘be the change you want to see.’ It makes perfect sense to me.”

“I understood something from your presentation about how Dharma relates to spiritual life. For instance, truth suggests that I have to be honest with myself. Respect tells me that I have to respect myself as well as others. Purity tells me to aim high. I should try to make advancement in my yoga, meditation and chanting. Actually, I like purity the most because it affirms my goal to become fully self-realised.”

“Yes, why not? Isn’t that what life is really about?”

“I think so. But then again, perhaps I am not average.”

“The principle of purity tells us not to be average but to stand out and be exceptional. That’s an idea which is common to all wisdom traditions. Ideally we will aspire to perfection.”

“Well, I am a perfectionist. Which is why effort resonates with me. I like working hard to reach my goal.”

“I think you’ve grasped the meaning of Dharma very well,” I said.

“One more question. How would you explain yuga dharma? I am familiar with the term from my yoga and Vedanta studies. What is your take on it?”

“The Vedas say that there are great spans of time called yugas that are themed by different qualities. I tell my students that the yugas are like the seasons of the universe.”

“And we are in the Kali yuga now, right?”

“Yes. Kali yuga is like the winter-season in universal time.”

“Not a good time then, is it?”

“No, it’s not. That’s plain to see. It’s a time of increasing strife and argument. But there is at least one good quality of the age, which is that spiritual self-realisation is much easier now.”

“I’ve heard that. You can see it in the explosion of spiritual interest now.”

“To answer your question, yuga dharma is ‘the means to achieve one’s complete benefit in life,’ which in this age is known in yoga circles as kirtan of the holy name.”

“I love kirtan! We have kirtan in my yoga studio every week.”

“Great, I’d like to come next time I am here. I presume you sing the mahamantra in your kirtan?”

“You mean the Hare Krishna mantra?”

“Yes. That’s the one…”

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna,
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,

Hare Rama Hare Rama,
Rama Rama Hare Hare Hare

 “We do. I love the feeling that mantra gives me…”

“That’s good, because in the Bhakti Vedanta it says it’s the easiest way to find contentment and peace of mind in an age of strife… Also, that it’s the yuga dharma. By such meditation one can obtain the fulfilment of all desires…”

“One last thing, the principles of Dharma are conducive to the highest good and exist even in the spirit realm. If you live by them and keep chanting, you’ll find complete satisfaction – and self-realisation.”



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1 Comment

  1. Rasangi

    A very beautiful explanation that anyone can understand! I especially liked how you were able to weave in the current yuga Dharma into the conversation so seamlessly!
    Hare Krishna!


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