What is Dharma?

On Yoga Terms and Philosophy: What is Dharma?
[Third article in a series]
by Alice Koh

What is Dharma?

Dharma are acts of righteousness and goodness. It is a way of life that brings forth blessings and prosperity to those who adhere to them. It has to do with doing what is moral and decent, and the practice of charity. Not just to those close to you, but to everyone, for the whole of humanity is of one Father and of one Mother: this is to say, we are all related and belong to one big family. Its opposite is Adharma, the doing of unrighteousness which brings forth poverty, curses and ill health to those who practise it.

The golden rule of the Christians sums up the principle of Dharma: “So, whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 7:12 English Standard Version].

How you live your life brings true prosperity, blessings, good health and finally salvation which is the great goal of Dharma.

Dharma is also translated as ‘Duties’ that each individual is to follow. From the duty of a King to the duty of a farmer which differs immensely. The duty of a student as opposed to the duty of a husband, and the duty relating to a hermit is unlike that of a holy man. Nonetheless, the great goal of dharma is THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL.

Yes, all of us are prescribed duties. And in performing or ignoring these duties there is either salvation or damnation of the soul. For in the afterlife when the soul comes to be judged, it is his dharma, and not his gurus nor his saints, not even god himself, that will decide whether he is to attain liberation from the samsara of life. In other words, no one will save the person only the actions that he did while he was alive.

These are the duties of us all. To have courage, endurance, determination, self-control, equanimity, control of the senses, not stealing, doing good deeds, saying good words, and thinking good thoughts, seeking after understanding, knowledge and truth, speaking the truth, and controlling our anger.

Not being hypocritical, such as being philanthropic overtly in public view, but privately a misanthropic person who is mean and unkind.

These duties and guidelines are the Yama and Niyama laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (or the Eightfold Path).

In short, it is our duty to achieve the harmonization of the body (action), speech and mind.

People because they can fool themselves and others, they think that they can fool god: but little do they know that in the end, everything in this world will rise to be witnesses against them: the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, even their own hearts.

We should meditate on both the good and the bad and choose always to do the good because it is the most logical and correct path to follow than doing unrighteousness.

One should meditate on the Oneness of it all. The parts of my body are not my body but they make my body One. The trees, the stars, the bees, the sun and the moon are different entities but if you look deep inside of you, you will notice that you and what is outside of you are not different. The man having nothing to eat and you having everything to eat are the same person. That tree and you have the same fingerprint.

Everything indeed is interconnected.

Another duty of all people in a society that they must perform is the remembrance and ritual food offerings to the spirits of the ancestors and the recitation of the names of god. Remember and thank those who gave you life. This is the Ritual Duty of worship (or puja):

You accomplish such duty by lighting candles, offering incense and food, cleaning the temple, chanting prayers in front of the deity or photo of the ancestor.

God is like a high-ranking human being, a person who has come to your house as a guest.

How will you treat a guest like the Dalai Lama, for example?

Imagine that His Holiness comes to your humble dwelling. Will you close the door to him? Will you not welcome him? Will you not offer him a seat, a drink, food, and other hospitalities? Will you treat him and call upon him like any other human being? No. You will use endearing terms and titles such as "Your Holiness, please have a seat." You will also wash his feet. You will offer him a drink. You will make him feel comfortable. Light incense so that His Holiness is surrounded by sweet smelling fragrance. You will put good music so that His Holiness can relax himself. You will buy marigold and make a garland of flowers for him. Turn on the lights or burn candles. And when he leaves your humble dwellings, you will give him gifts. The worship of God is no different.

You can also worship god with just your thoughts. You can even construct a temple for god in your thoughts, and perform the rituals of worship in your thoughts. This, too, is our duty. To pay homage to God with our thinking.

Now, these are the duties of Rituals:

Rituals of decency.

Ritual of bathing in the Ganges before sunrise and before sunset.

Ritual of fasting.

Ritual of vigil and prayer.

A true prayer is when the devotee asks only to be possessed by god. For god to be in his life. For god to be in the life of others. For god consciousness. To be united with god. To be ONE with God.

There are also the duties of Ritual of cleanliness and purification: such as the cleaning and purification of the temple, of the household, and of the self.

The ritual in keeping the mind focused only on holy matters: such as cleanliness, beauty, spirituality, good breathing, etc.

Again, let me remind you that the doing of ritual differs from person to person. The Dharma duty of a priest differs from that of a Sadhu, and his duty differs from that of a common man. Where the first one does the ritual inside the holy temple, the other does it outside society near the river Ganges; and the last one does it inside his own house.

There is even the duty of feeding the cows and birds and other animals which also must be perform.

The duty of oblations poured into the sacred fire, is of a sacred nature.

The duty to perform the rite of cremation, is also of great importance [note, in Hinduism].

Self-knowledge is the duty that all Hindu society must obtain. For it is this self-knowledge that will bring Moksha: Liberation.

These and many more are the duties that we must perform in our own way, and in the best way that we can in order to attain good dharma in this life time.