Discover yourself through Dharma

The theme of The London Yoga Festival, 13th-14th October 2018, is   Dharma: finding your individual, authentic path.

The theme of The London Yoga Festival, 13th-14th October 2018, is Dharma: finding your individual, authentic path.

If we want to be happy, successful and healthy in our lives today then Dharma is the most important idea that we can come to understand.

How many times as a child were you asked: 'What would you like to be when you grow up?' Maybe you imagined great things: an astronaut; a Prime Minister; an environmentalist; a Princess; a millionaire; an artist; a Doctor. However, this question would never have been asked in the East - a place that originated our understanding that a person's Dharma, or virtuous duty, is fundamental to the meaning of life. So fundamental in fact that Indian philosophy holds it to be the secret of our ongoing individual happiness and success.

In fact according to Indian Yoga philosophy there are four fundamental goals in every persons’ life. The first goal, Dharma, was something to be practiced and learnt while young before moving onto to the stage known as; Artha, a time of earning wealth in the world; followed by Kama, the stage of enjoying family life, pleasures and responsibilities; and finally after the age of 70 years old the stage of reflection and spiritual liberation: Moksha, the ultimate goal of yoga. Known as the puruṣārtha in sanskrit. These four goals were in ancient times shaped and supported by the community and defined by one’s position in society.  

Dharma comes from the Sanskrit root dha which means to hold, or to be held. So dharma is something that holds you – not something you constantly question. Dharma works on the principle that what you believe will define youand whatyou do in life should hold you: hold you at all levels of your being: physically, mentally and spiritually. Dharma’s role is to keep you stable and connected to those around you. It stops you from falling – falling from grace and falling into the wrong job, wrong lifestyle, wrong relationships or wrong belief system.  

How often have we found ourselves stuck in a frustrating job imposed upon us by perhaps a simple twist of fate or false notion of ourselves? Most likely it would be because we were going against our dharma–adharma. Anything adharma will bring us suffering and confusion and will always include ignorance or misunderstanding: ajnana.  

Yoga philosophy states that suffering is inevitable if we choose the distraction of the senses: such as overeating, over thinking, over indulgence, laziness, ill-discipline, materialism, lack of faith or confidence, fear and desire – which we all do at certain times simply because we are human. It is the fear and desire which intrude and mess up any good actions relating to our virtuous role in life. Yoga calls these human traits the klesa. These are perfectly natural attributes that when honed and directed can be really useful to us – but out of control they can cause us to trip up, fail and loose our path. In order to help, yoga has developed tools, more than 2,000 years old, that are there for yogis to practice daily.

In order to clear our minds and refine the senses we have breathing practices (pranayama); to keep our bodies supple and strong (asana or positions) for a spiritual practice (japa mantra or chanting); svadhaya (self-study, with a teacher or councillor), ongoing study of ancient texts and philosophy (agamat); bhavana or visualization to achieve focus and meaning and tapas: meaning heat – austerities and disciplines, for discipline and power to achieve life goals. ALL of which help yogis achieve a potency and execution of our true dharma. As normal human beings we have access to these tools and philosophy even today.

The universal dharma principle of ahimsa– non-violence and satyam – truth –so famously practised by world leaders such as Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela, noted in many of the ancient texts, can lead to both extreme suffering and extreme success as these men have demonstrated. In the Mahabharata, a key dharma text: ‘Non-violence is the highest Dharma’. To do ones duty without desire or fear for the fruits phallam is a key Buddhist teaching also. Buddhists can become self-realised by ‘doing their dharma’- by applying Buddha’s teachings.

In fact a simple definition of dharma is found in every major culture and tradition. The Jewish scriptures state: ‘That which is hateful to you, do not do your fellow this.....’ whilst the Bible’s commands, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do to you.’ Islam teachers: ‘Not one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself’ and Confucius gave the same instruction to his students: Zigong asked: ‘Is there any single word that could guide one’s entire life?’ The master said ‘Should it not be reciprocity? What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others'.

That all of these traditions should be expressing precisely the same teaching lends a strength to dharma’s ancient wisdom – so well understood, but so hard to practice in our fiercely competitive, highly distracted and violent modern age.

According to yoga text the Dyana Malika – one of the prerequisites for meditation is to practices your dharma (dharma sadhama). So to meditate you actually need to be practicing your dharma in life. Our food (ahara) and lifestyle (vihara) are essential components to live a full and happy life. Meditation, in the true sense of the word, is not possible without these components. Most of what modern-day yogis call ‘meditation’ today is simply guided relaxation.  

In the Bhagavad Gita, the great dharma text, Krishna is teaching Arjuna, the warrior king, to face his dharma. The decision is not an easy one. Arjuna is over-looking the battlefield and he does not want to kill his brothers and relatives on both sides or bring shame and suffering to countless women and children for generations to come. He wants to give up, go home, renounce his role and religion, deny who he is to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. Krishna explains he must act. He must fight as his dharma in life dictates that he is a soldier.  

Arjuna’s universal crisis symbolizes our everyday modern depressions, family battles, fear and loneliness, relationship breakdowns, hating our jobs, spiritual and mental breakdown. There is nothing new about life’s confusion and pain. What is new is the speed and intense level of distractions that are now available to each and every one of us. More urgently than ever we need to work on ourselves, discover hard truths, face reality and put into practice actions that will help not only ourselves but all those around us. When you are following your dharma life becomes joyful and meaningful - worth considering.

© Miranda Taylor, writer and yoga therapist

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