What is Dharma?
Dharma is at the very centre of yoga philosophy. When thinking about the very foundation, what brings all the diverse viewpoints and methods together under one broad header, it is the belief in dharma. Indeed, classical yoga texts, as ambiguous and conflictive as this term may be, all believe that a certain rhythm to living life, pattern, dharma is to be our aim.
As opposed to this is doing whatever one feels like moment to moment. In other words, pursuing one’s own agenda as to whatever arises. This, it is said, will not lead to our most satisfactory experience of life. So, when we talk about yoga philosophy, classical yoga etc, it is now common to hear it referred to as the sanatana dharma, or, ‘eternal path’. In other words, yoga is about a method to living.
However, everyone has their own, unique, individual path or dharma. An idea that is not altogether without difficulties as it is presented through the caste-system (varna) traditionally in Indian teaching. Here we find the idea that peoples dharmas’ are defined by their birth within society. Traditionally, these have been divided into four; priest, warrior, shopkeeper and untouchable. Indeed, it is difficult to look at this favourably. Not only that, it’s so obviously outmoded for us today.
Dharma in Modern Times
Hence the idea of dharma is not without its problems today. On the other hand, the notion that everyone has their unique calling is one that makes sense. Albeit, that this is not as clear cut as it was originally, this is, perhaps, also, not such a bad thing. The main point to recognise here is that dharma goes beyond the individual will. Or, put another way, our wish to make ourselves happy through pursuit of pleasure. Instead, here, we are talking of our calling, vocation, or, to use the common term, even duty.
It is dharma then that sets the intention in yoga philosophy apart. Itdifferentiates it from every day, worldly life, where we almost always defer to our particular, individual wills’. Moreover, a will influenced by karma (we will return to this term), dictating from the subconscious realms, what seems rational to the rational mind. By way of contrast, dharma is a learnt methodology that transcends the limitations of our own, inevitably, limited, often confused, and individualistic thinking.
Dharma is to do the appropriate action at the appropriate time. Which, once more, in a world so complicated and thus unpredictable, is more about our right intention (ie. Following our particular dharma), than finding the right literal course of action. In turn, this is done by focussing our efforts on a higher goal than the material one the world is framed within.
Indeed, in the end then, dharma is to pursue the true experience of our being through the deepening of our intentions in day-to-day life. Or, to say it another way, through the transcendence of the worldy-motive. This may or may not necessitate a relationship with god, depending on the particular darshana or school of the sanatana dharma one is following. Yet, it always involves a method and always intends on some kind of transformation of the individual.