|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 419 ]
The word dharma is often simply translated as “duty.” Yet this definition alone really doesn't say anything meaningful, nor catch the full significance of this concept. It can actually be misleading, implying that one has a particular assigned job which one is obligated to attend to.
The 'duty' of dharma, in its real sense, means the natural obligation which we all have, to adhere to the laws of nature, assuming of course that we wish to experience the fruits inherent in following this course.
It is in fact true that we all have this obligation, the responsibility to adhere to the truths of the Universe. If we don’t, then we get slapped, via the laws of cause and effect, or karma. A life lived according to dharma is one which is lived in peace, health and harmony. One lived in opposition to dharma is one destined for disharmony and wrought with difficulties and turmoil.
One can say then that dharma is the root, or the foundation of stability. Nandi, the bull upon which Lord Shiva rides, is the symbol of dharma: strength, stability and power. Lord Shiva is the representation of goodness and evolutionary change. This appropriate symbolism reveals that without dharma, righteousness cannot proceed, and hence, evolutionary change cannot take place.
Thus, dharma is really the essential righteousness of any action. When we speak of righteousness, however, it is important to remember that we are not referring to a conceptual system of right or wrong. Indeed, nature makes no such judgements. In the eyes of nature there is neither right nor wrong -- good nor bad. The true spiritualist who understands this will meet every occurrence in life with the same assessment—It is neither good nor bad. It just IS.
The yogis have recognized the inevitability of the evolutionary journey of the jiva, and made a conscious choice to accelerate that 'return of the Many to the One'. Thus, when we refer to righteousness, we refer to those actions that are in keeping with the laws of sanathana dharma, those actions that support the furtherance of the evolution of mankind.
The yogis have simply recognized which behaviours are evolutionary and which are de-evolutionary, and have chosen to pursue the former and avoid the later.
Thus, dharma can be seen as the essential righteousness of any action, the truth of whether or not a particular action is in keeping with eternal laws and supportive of evolution. This righteousness means knowing the correct response to any given situation. It means performing the right (evolutionary) action in the right way at the right time -- always.
Dharma thus implies the wisdom and the skill to use everything (in life) in the right (evolutionary) way...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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