By Prashant S. Shah; www.spiritual-living.in
The spiritual tradition in ancient India talks in terms of karma and dharma. When you act with personal or selfish motives you generate some imbalance, which is called karma. When you do what is proper and act without personal motives you generate balance and harmony, which is called dharma. Freedom and contentment are built on the foundation of Dharma.
In society the acts of dharma are fairness in dealings; balance in rights and obligations; restricting individual freedom where it transgresses the freedom of other people; subordinating personal benefit for the benefit of the team, group or unity; and serving the genuine needs of others.
True freedom and contentment are inner-life attainments. And to experience them you have to make some adjustments in your attitude and assumptions according to the rules of dharma or proper living. What are these changes and how can you make them?
- Make the necessary inner changes
- Freedom and how to achieve it
- Approach life as a banquet
- Act well the part that is given to you
- All advantages have their price
- Our duties are revealed by our relationships
- Control your interpretations
- Serve the greater purpose
1. Make the necessary inner changes
The ancient sages believed that there is a pre-decided element regarding all the major events of our life. The events are outcomes of past actions; other players are involved with the events; and there are hidden intelligences in the interior worlds that have their own agenda. Hence, it is said that we arrive at the events of our life. Our efforts in the present only make some cosmetic changes or adjustments.
So, whether we like it or not we have to accept the happenings of our life. We can do it in the same way as we accept other things that we cannot control – like the weather, the past, the market behaviour, etc. When we can do that, we can live peacefully and without experiencing frustration. On the other hand, if we keep on protesting or defying the situations of our life, we only hurt ourselves.
Whereas we cannot control the events that are happening now or are decided for us, there are many things that we can control. For example, we can control our expectations and how we respond to other people and events. We can always choose how we interpret the happenings in the world. Hence, instead of crying over the things we cannot control, we have to focus on controlling the things we can control.
First let us distinguish between what is under our control and what is not under our control: Our actions are always under our control, but another person’s actions are usually not under our control. We can influence other people’s behaviour by how we relate with them (by how we regard them, take interest in them, etc.) but we can never control them sufficiently. We must accept this reality just as we accept the other things that we cannot control.
When we keep our focus on controlling the things that are under our control, our attention is automatically directed to our own actions. We become more aware of our attitude, beliefs and actions; and the effect they have on other people and the happenings in our life. When we can observe all this, we become intensely aware of the inner changes that we need to make to be able to live a more peaceful and contented life.
You begin by becoming clear about what changes are under your control and what changes are not under your control. Then you accept the things you cannot change, and focus on making the changes you really need to make.
Here we explain the rules of dharma so that you can know the changes that you need to make.
2. Freedom and how to achieve it
Is freedom doing whatever we please, or does our freedom arise from understanding the limits of our power and the limits set by society, the natural law, and a higher authority?
To appreciate the idea of freedom first we have to understand how our wants control our actions: When we want something desperately, we get totally focused on having it irrespective of whether it is good for us, appropriate for us, or morally right for us. The only thing we see is the object that satisfies our want. We disregard other things or undervalue them. In this way our wants control our actions.
To experience freedom first we have to weaken our bondage (slavery) to our wants – to the cravings and compulsions that arise from within our nature. To do that, we have to deliberately regulate our wants. We have to give due regard to what is proper for us in society (according to the moral law) and what is enough (according to the natural law). We have to accept our limitations and the inevitable; and learn to work with them rather than try to fight them.
If we become easily obsessed by the desire to do things that are not right for us or which are not within our reach, our freedom is actually lost! If we cannot exercise control over our wants, the desires in our mind and body will enslave us. Then we cannot perform the duty of our roles properly. Then our actions will become out of sorts and we shall experience helplessness and frustration!
True freedom is not having ease and comfort; it is not bossing over others; and it is not doing whatever comes into our mind regardless of others. To experience true freedom you have to be able to conduct yourself according to the existing situation without giving in to your personal tendencies or temptations. You have to accept the limits of your power and the limits that are set on you by a greater authority.
3. Approach life as a banquet
Sometimes we think that if we don’t grab our share in life we shall miss out; if we don’t horde our wealth we shall get depleted. We think like this when we feel insecure; it causes us to grab things.
However, as a human being we are a part of a larger network that is governed by a greater intelligence and authority. We are connected to others on the inner planes; there is a law governing human life; and there is a greater intelligence in the inner worlds that administers justice and looks over our affairs. As a result we are only given things according to the needs of our roles or according to what we have deserved (according to the law of karma).
So, when we take the roles that we are given, we have to also trust that the greater authority will provide us with what we need to fulfil our roles. It will not make us struggle unnecessarily. When we understand this fact we can behave graciously in all situations. We know that we shall be given a part to play in the drama of life on earth; and that we shall be provided with what we need to fulfil that role or part.
When we understand this, we can approach our life as a BANQUET: When dishes are passed on to us, we take a moderate portion. If a dish passes us, we enjoy what is already on our plate. Or, if the dish hasn’t been passed on to us yet, we wait patiently for our turn to arrive.
When we choose to act according to dharma, we can never become jealous of others. When we find that someone has succeeded, we consider that today it is their time to succeed. Our time will also come. However, if we become impatient and grab for things before it is their time to arrive, we spoil everything.
4. Act well the part that is given to you
We get to choose only some of our roles life. Most of the roles that we have are given to us.
We are like actors in a play. A greater authority has assigned us with some roles without consulting us! Some people will act in a short drama, and others will act in a big movie. Some are assigned the part of a poor or retarded person and some are given the role of a celebrity or a leader.
Although we cannot control which roles are assigned to us, we are always responsible to act our given roles as best as we can, and to refrain from protesting them.
This brings us to the classical issue of dharma: Should we crave for different or better roles or should we seek to perform well in the roles that are given to us? Does our true satisfaction arise from getting into positions of great opportunity or does it arise from how well we perform in the roles we are given?
To choose here we have to see things in the correct perspective. We must understand that our true happiness does not arise from the roles themselves. It arises from within us as we perform the roles.
Thus, true fulfilment arises when we perform well in the roles that we are given. The outer conditions only provide us with the situations in life. However, it is up to us to make ourselves happy or sad as we pass through these situations.
Thus, it is a deception to think that our happiness arises from getting better or more attractive roles. Further, if we keep on craving for better roles in life, we shall remain continuously dissatisfied.
Hence, seek to perform the roles that you are given as best as you can – without protesting your situation. In whatever circumstances you find yourself, give an impeccable performance. If you are a teacher, teach well; if you are a maid, serve well; and if you are leader, lead well.
5. All advantages have their price
Does somebody enjoy the privileges, the opportunities, or the honour that you desire? Does it make you feel jealous, envious, inferior, or unfortunate?
We become jealous of others when we think that they got it easier or they did not deserve what they got. However, this is a deception. It arises because we have a partial or limited view of things.
When we take a wider view of things, we can see that people get authority and resources according to the needs of their roles or they get it according to their karma. The law of justice has no favourites — it works invariably for all.
If we look at situations carefully, we can find advantages and disadvantages in every situation. Hence, no situation is absolutely more favourable or unfavourable. Further, authority is not merely a privilege. Authority and responsibility always go together. They are like the two ends of the same stick. When we pick up one end, we also get the other.
Still further, our happiness also does not really depend on the situation we are in. It depends more on what we make out of the situation that we are in. We can never earn the same reward as others without employing similar methods, or without investing a similar amount of time and effort. It is unreasonable to think that we can have the rewards without paying the price.
Hence, we should not envy those who have more than us. They had no real advantage over us. They have simply paid the price for their reward.
The true reward that people get in real life can also be very deceptive. The saying is, “The roses come with the thorns”; but the thorns are not always apparent to a superficial view. A man may have a beautiful wife, but she may crib all the time because she was used to having too much attention. An actress may have to show a happy face even when she inwardly feels degraded by what she is asked to do.
In our life it is always up to us to choose from the opportunities we get; and to decide how much we shall invest in it. For some things we may consider the price as too high: It may cost us our integrity; we may be forced to praise or appease someone whom we cannot respect; we may have to do the work for which we are not apt; or we may have to convince the people of things that we ourselves don’t believe in!
The truth is that all privileges have their price. So, before you demand something, ask the golden question: What is the price and are you willing to pay it?
6. Our duties are revealed by our relationships
In society we are not an isolated entity, but a unique and irreplaceable part of a network in a perfectly ordered human community. Hence, it is important to know where we fit into this web or network.
Our duties in society are defined by our relation with others. To know our duties we have to look carefully at the people we are connected with. Our duties emerge naturally from our family, our neighbourhood, our workplace, our community or our nation. Our role as a parent, a child, a wife, a neighbour, a manager, a citizen, etc. arises from our duty. Once we know our role to the people we are linked with, we can intuitively know what are the right things to do.
For example, if a person is our father, certain emotional and practical claims follow from this relationship. There is a natural link between us, and accordingly, we are obliged to care for him in old age; to listen to his advice even when we think differently; and to regard him with respect.
However, let us suppose that he is not a good father — that he is uneducated, crude, or holds outdated views. Then we have to ask ourselves: Does nature give everyone an ideal father, or just a father? When it comes to our duty as a son or daughter, whatever our father’s nature may be, whatever his personal habits are is secondary. The greater authority has not designed people or circumstance according to our tastes. Whether we find this person to be agreeable or not, he is still our father, and so it is our duty to live up to our obligations.
Suppose we have a brother or sister who treats us badly. Why should that make a difference? We still have a moral obligation to recognise and maintain our fundamental duty to him or her. The key to dharma is not focus on what he or she does, but simply look to ourselves and try to serve the role the greater authority has assigned to us – and to do it to the best of our ability.
True and authentic freedom places demands on you. It requires that you accept the obligations of your role and perform your duties sincerely. So, let others behave as they will; that is not within your control anyway, and so it should not concern you very much. The only question that should concern you is: “What is your duty and are you serving it?”
7. Control your interpretations
When we carry out our actions according to our duty, the greater intelligence or authority will support us. Then, we shall not feel victimised by the words or deeds of others. If others are selfish or ungrateful, we should take it that they are performing their duty poorly. Why should we let that bother us?
Except for extreme physical abuse, other people cannot hurt us unless we allow them to. If we don’t consent to be hurt, we won’t be hurt. Whatever happens in the world outside, it is always up to us to choose how we interpret it. So, our interpretation of events is a choice over which we can have absolute control!
People think of events or people as being good or bad, but we can ask: “What is a good event?” or “What is a bad event?” There is really no such thing. If there is a fire in our enemy’s camp, we may call it a good event. If there is a fire in our camp, we may call it a bad event. Otherwise the event by itself is value neutral. It simply happens. In the same way, there are really no ‘good people’ or ‘bad people’ out there. Each person has come to earth with his or her purpose. For some time destiny brings some people together. Then we find some people to be agreeable and some to be disagreeable.
Hence the rule is: Never react to events. Instead, exercise control over your interpretation of the events. When you can exercise that control, the events cannot hurt you or make you feel sad
8. Serve the greater purpose
When we consider the future, we must understand that all situations and events unfold as they do regardless of how we feel about them. Our hopes and fears sway us, but not the events!
Hence, a wise person does not project his hopes and fears onto the future. Such projections can only generate fantasies. There is a place for planning and making provision for uncertainties. But true preparation for life consists in developing self-control and good personal habits. And to make this preparation, we have to review our actions from time to time so that we can keep them free from the hold of fear, greed, jealousy or neglect.
Do not allow the happenings in your life to distract you from serving your greater purpose. To serve the greater purpose, just keep one question in your mind: “What is the proper thing for me to do right now and how can I get on to doing it?”
For information on the book: Solving the Problems of Life, click here: http://a.co/fDEjbYR
For details on the correspondence courses for implementing this philosophy, click here https://darshanacentre.wordpress.com/correspondence-courses/