Mahabharat Episode 14: Dharma and Karma – What’s the Connection?
In this Mahabharat series, Sadhguru explores the relationship between dharma and karma. Only by establishing your dharma, he explains, you can perform your karma and create your life in the direction you need to go.
Participant: Sadhguru, you said that everyone can have their own life, freedom, and dharma without colliding with someone else’s dharma. But is it not the other way around nowadays, that we build our dharma based on our personality and thus crash into each other?Sadhguru: That is why I said it is a very sophisticated thought. If we have simple needs and we construct our dharma around them, invariably we will collide with someone. That is why people created their individual dharma in such a way that their ultimate aspiration does not collide with someone else’s, but to operate on the street, in the house, in the marketplace, there is a common dharma that everyone needs to follow. In road traffic, it is established that all of us drive on one side of the road, depending on the direction we are going. This is a common dharma that you should not break just because you have a different individual dharma.
Your individual dharma is about you reaching your ultimate nature. Essentially, it is an internal process and therefore will not collide with anyone else’s dharma. In contrast, the codes and rules of the outer world are the common dharma that everyone has to stick to. When we question that, there will be collision and conflict. Dharma is many-tiered. To live in a family, there is one kind of dharma. To be an ascetic, there is another kind of dharma. To be a king, there is yet another kind of dharma. To be a merchant, there is another kind of dharma, and so on. But for you as a being, you have the freedom to choose your own kind of dharma and stick to it. Ultimate liberation does not happen by doing something in particular, but by hanging on to something in an unwavering manner – Nishchala Tatvam, Jeevan Mukti. If you change direction every day, obviously you will end up in circles.
Participant: Sadhguru, when you are talking about ultimate nature and dharma – I understand dharma as a set of laws. Why not deal with life and things as they come, rather than having a set of laws?
Sadhguru: Life does not just come – life is constantly being created. Either you created it yesterday and it is befalling you today, or you are actively creating it today. Nothing comes by itself. There are two aspects – dharma and karma. To perform the right kind of karma, you need a dharma. Otherwise, every day, every moment, your actions will be a series of confusions. Dharma establishes the way you perform your karma, so that you create your life in the direction that you want to go. Creating your life is not about choosing your house, car, husband or wife. These things are secondary. The most important thing is what kind of being you will be. This decides the quality of who you are, the quality of your life, and if you live well, the here and hereafter. With whom you are, what you have around you, whether you live in a palace or not, whether you eat food or gold makes no difference. Except that if you eat gold, you will die soon! First of all, you do not know where life is. You are knocking on all the wrong doors, which is not going to work. Establishing your dharma is to ensure that your karma does not deviate from the fundamental life process. It should constantly remind you that your dharma is to be in a certain way.
Establishing Your Dharma
This is about the laws of the universe, the dharma of the universe, because everything that you do, the way your heart beats, the way you breathe, the way your system performs is deeply connected with the rest of the universe. If you consciously follow the laws of the universe, you will function in a phenomenal way. Right now, you do not feel good either in body or mind because you do not follow the fundamental laws of the universe, unconsciously. But whether this happens consciously or unconsciously, the result is the same. This is the way of existence. Whether you consciously fall off the roof or you unconsciously do so, it hurts the same. It is just that if you consciously fall, you may try to land on your feet, while otherwise you may land on your head. But apart from that, the experience of pain and suffering will not be different. Even if you unconsciously go off track, you are still derailed. Dharma is not going to work for someone who thinks he understands it. It is only going to work for one who implements it, who becomes it.
First Dharma, Then Karma
Bhishma said, “My dharma is harsh – I have taken it and I have become it. No matter what, even if it costs my life, I cannot change my dharma because it has become me.” If you are like this, by establishing your dharma, you establish your way of being. Yogasthah Kuru Karmani means, first establish your way of being – then act. First your dharma – then your karma. Now you create too much karma without knowing your dharma – this is the problem.
Karma is not only in the things you are doing in the world – it is in the many nonsensical things you are doing in your head. This is karma. Karma means action. There are four levels of karma – physical action, mental action, emotional action, and energy action. Every moment of your life, you are doing the four dimensions of karma. If you eat, you are doing it; if you walk, you are doing it; if you are fast asleep, you are still doing the four dimensions of karma – every moment of your life, in wakefulness and in sleep. For this karma not to take you away from wellbeing, you must establish your dharma.
If you have not established your dharma, karma will take you away from wellbeing because most of your karma is unconscious. But if you establish your dharma, then your karma naturally follows the pattern – your karma will have an order, a direction, a goal, and a fulfillment. If you have not established your dharma, your karma wanders all over the place. Whatever you see – your mind, emotion, and body may run behind it. That way, you become a confused being. When your being leaves this body, it will not even know where to go, because it is confused. I am not talking about a confused mind, which you know very well – I am talking about a confused being. The being is confused because there is no dharma. When you exit this body and this being does not know which way to go, that is ultimate suffering. That is the worst thing that can happen to a human being. And it is happening large-scale, unfortunately, because people do not establish any kind of dharma for themselves, thinking this is freedom.
Discarding Genetic Games
If, in the name of freedom, we repeal the road rules as to on which side you should drive, if everyone can drive wherever they want, people will not become free – they will only get stuck. Freedom does not come by breaking rules – freedom finds expression only if there is a clear-cut path. So, do not think things just come in your life and you can handle them as you feel like. That is not spontaneity – that is compulsiveness. Even for spontaneity, you need a footing. If there is no footing, there is only compulsiveness, not spontaneity, because the very way your body is structured is not determined by you. Your body still looks like that of our forefathers in Krishna’s Dwapara Yuga. Though people may have mixed in between, still the genetic material of these forefathers is playing games with you.
The genetics of people who lived here even a million years ago are still playing games with you today. Going beyond what is playing up from within and establishing your own dharma is not a simple thing. Saying, “This is my dharma” means you are going beyond your father, beyond your forefathers, and whoever else. You are discarding your genetics and establishing your own path. Bhishma saw that his father had certain behavior patterns, that he was a compulsive “falling-in-lover.” Periodically, he fell in love, but that was not Bhishma’s karma, nor was it his dharma. “I will never deviate from my dharma. My life is dedicated to the nation, and that is all I am.” He broke away from his genetic pattern and established his own way. This is what spiritual sadhana is about – establishing your own dharma in such a way that the past does not take over your life. You know, when someone told Jesus that he wanted to go and bury his dead father, Jesus said, “Leave the dead to the dead.”
This looks like the most inhuman, uncompassionate thing to say when a man has lost his father, but that is what he said, because he not only meant to leave the dead father but all the dead ancestors who are dancing inside of you. If you do not leave the dead to the dead, not only do you not have your own dharma, you do not even have a life of your own. Someone else is trying to live through you. Establishing your own dharma means leaving the dead to the dead and carving out a new path for yourself. This is freedom.
To be continued...
Editor's Note: A version of this article was originally published in Isha Forest Flower, January 2016.