Everywhere I go, I meet another person who is quitting a job to start a new business, pursue a passion, or launch forth into the world to create change, achieve a vision, and spark transformation. Despite (or maybe because of) the economic collapse, the hum of war, and our ecological woes, people are feeling more urgency to create a life that is meaningful to them—and to others. I think of it as a sort of dharmic revolution.
The word dharma, like so many Sanskrit terms, has different meanings depending on context and who’s defining it. The idea of one “living one’s dharma” has historically meant that a person lives in a way that is in accordance with the laws of nature and destiny. In India in years past, this was sometimes interpreted to mean living according to your caste or gender or some other constricting or arbitrary factor. But another, perhaps truer, interpretation of this is the idea of simply doing on this planet what you were meant to do.
Like many people in the US, I didn’t know a whole lot about Steve Jobs until he recently died. I’ve always had PCs and I’m generally not that keyed in to goings on in the tech world. But when Jobs passed away, his 2005 speech at Stanford University started circulating on the Internet. “Do what you believe is great work,” says Jobs. “Love what you do … if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle.” I think Jobs is talking about discovering your dharma.
Is doing what you want to do the same as doing what you were meant to do? I believe that depends on whether the desire comes from ego or from the soul’s desire to express itself into the world. We practice yoga, as one of my teachers says, to better align what we want with what we need. As we keep bringing our bodies, spirits, and minds into greater union, the things we desire are things that will not only serve us, but serve others. When you’re in love with your work, and it’s serving the world, you know you are doing your dharma.
At a wedding last night, a friend told me this adage, which I’d not heard before: If you want an hour of happiness: have sex. A day of happiness: go fishing. A year of happiness: get married. A lifetime of happiness: Love your work. It was funny on one level, sure, but the deeper implications of it ring strikingly true. Loving your work (which may also be raising children) regardless of what it pays or the fame it brings you, is yoga in and of itself.
Do you think you are living your dharma? Can our personal desires align with the universal laws of nature? Does a yoga practice bring us into better alignment with that which we are meant to be doing? Write in and tell us what you think!
Thanks for this beautifully written post!
I think the practice of yoga allows us a greater capacity to get quiet, and truly be able to discern what we’re meant to do, without the ego getting in the way.
Just as we may ease our way into an asana (starting where we’re at) and then continually refining the posture, I think finding one’s dharma is often a series of refinements as the ego gets less and less in the way. For many of us, we may find ourselves in an occupation that does not serve our higher self, and that starts the ball rolling in finding the passion that truly drives us. I think we often start with a vague idea of what we might want to do, what specific industry we want to work in, and then the universe starts to line things up and we can begin to hone into our specific path.
Another thought-provoking treat…thank you!
I think that, as you described it, the definition of living your dharma could be just as heterogeneous as people’s dharma, themselves. Finding meaning, joy, and purpose in what you do (whether you get paid for it or not) might or might not come effortlessly–but maybe it is important to *find* the dharma in your life, just as it is to try to choose the life you are ‘meant’ for. In the (albeit sporadic) yoga that I do, I find that the focus and calm I achieve helps me see more clearly into the good I do in my work and the joy I get from doing it. Maybe sometimes we need to blow the dust off of our dharma to see that it’s been there all along.
Great post and great comments! To me, living your dharma is about living whatever you happen to be NOW fully and without the constant arguing with and bargaining with the present moment that we all engage in. If you’re fully accepting of the present moment then you are being exactly what you are, at that moment, and that surely is your true nature or dharma.
Living a righteous life and letting others do the same is “Dharma”.
“Dhrama” means that which holds.
Great Article Karen. You got me thinking…can Dharma be a many limbed path too??? Feel like it is at present…so many disparate paths at the moment: therapy, nursing, being an aunt… drumming, yoga practice…and then… not..alll just opportunites to practice kindness and then sometimes they all intersext in wonderfil “ahas”
Beautiful article, Karen… Thank you. I think you are spot in recognizing that there are many people all around us who are waking up and realizing that they do not need to live dogmatically, or as Steve Job’s says, following the path that results of other people’s thinking. We are waking up and discovering our own voices, our own paths, and finding the ways in which we can make our own genuine contribution, hopefully to help to heal the world. Tikun olam…, & Namaste. 🙂 (Spoken as a true Ju-Bu, right?)
ah yes, living your dharma, how wonderful. of course in the old days living your dharma meant unquestionably following your caste’s social/moral responsibilities, rigidly determined by cosmic necessity and your own karmic debt. to not follow your dharma would upset the galactic apple cart and earn you a black mark that would eventually come back to haunt you somewhere down the road. we’ve all read about that most shining traditional example of “following your dharma,” Arjuna, who’s reluctance to follow his kshatriya dharma and slaughter friends, relatives and valued teachers earned him the ridicule and censure of his upstandingly dharmic charioteer. in the end as we all know Arjuna “followed his dharma” as did all the warriors on both sides of the Pandava/Kaurava issue, resulting in an apocalyptic massacre that proved exactly nothing. isnt it interesting how nowadays everybody’s dharma seems always to be perfectly in sync with what they want to do anyway? what would the reaction be if someone wrote in here extolling his dharmic path, which urged him to join the Army so he could fight in Afghanistan and so protect America against its avowed enemies? the whole “follow your dharma” thing is just another example of how we westerners take traditional ideas from india and reinterpret them to suit our own needs and preconceptions. i have a suggestion: lets drop these indian ideas, why do we imagine they’re any better than what we’ve come up with in the west? look deeply into yourself, for sure, and when the self reveals itself to you, remember what the madman Aleister Crowley advised: Do What Thou Wilt. if you’re true to your self, and you act in this way, it’ll all be for the good.