Dharma – Concept of natural state or conditioning

School of Yoga explains dharma and karma.

  • Whenever we receive any stimulus, we either like or dislike it.
  • If we find congruence with the stimulus, we bring the source of the stimulus closer to us (rāga) but if we dislike the stimulus, we push the subject or person away (dveṣa).
  • This action of bringing the source of stimulus closer or pushing it away is called karma (action).
  • We like or dislike anything because we evaluate the stimulus against our personal standards or natural state. This standard is called (dharma). 

Dharma is the natural-state of any entity. It is that state when the entity is in harmony with itself, its environment and its actions.

Dharma occurs at multiple levels. They are;

  • Generic natural-state or sāmānya-dharma.

Generic natural-state or sāmānya-dharma can be defined as those characteristics which are common to any family or genus of entities.

For example: Gold has specific characteristics which are different from lead or silver. However, all of them come under a common category of metals. All metals have a common natural state. They are solid and have the same properties such as malleability, tensile strength etc. and this is called sāmānya-dharma.

Also, metals as a category, exhibit characteristics which are different from animals, trees, fishes or humans. This specific defining character which defines each category, family or genus is called sāmānya-dharma

  • Unique natural-state or viśeṣa-dharma.

Unique natural-state or viśeṣa-dharma is the natural-state of individual entities within a category.

For example: Within metals, gold is different from copper, silver or iron.

In wood, teak is different from oak or rubber. The family of wood will conform to the category of sāmānya-dharma. However, the unique natural-state (viśeṣa-dharma) of teak will be different from oak, sandalwood or rosewood.

This logic can be expanded in multiple directions. For instance, the unique natural-state (viśeṣa-dharma) of a table will be different from that of a chair or sofa, even though they may both be made from the same tree. Thus, all tables will exhibit a unique natural-state, regardless of the material used to make them.

In fact, this concept is applicable to all entities. A heart has a unique natural-state, regardless of the body. It and cannot do the job of the stomach, even though both may be in the same body. 

  • Individual natural-state or conditioning (svadharma).

Each of us behaves differently. This is on account of conditioning brought about by DNA, family, upbringing, societal norms, diet and habits. Consequently, this allows individuals to select information, analyse and process it in a unique manner and behave in the way they do.

This specific characteristics of capability at an individual level is called svadharma (sva = self + dharma = conditioning). Since this natural-state is unique to each of us, it becomes our conditioning.

  • Universal natural-state or sanātana-dharma

Dharma covers operation of all animate and inanimate entities, including planets, galaxies and nations. Everything can be classified under generic, unique or personal natural-state. This concept is universal in its applicability; hence it is called universal natural-state or sanātana-dharma.

For example – the natural state of the earth is position, shape, atmosphere and ability to sustain life. In the case of a nation, its dharma can possibly be its constitution, flag, states, people etc.

School of Yoga explains dharma as it is applied to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.

Dharma is not a belief. It is a practice, a way of life. This means that dharma requires and ensures that people live in harmony with the natural frequencies of things as far as possible.

For example, the dhārmic structure of Hindus is designed to ensure balance and harmony in the way people live, making it a way of life:

  • The Vedas, Vedāṅga, Vedānta, Shad-darśana, Brahma-sutra, Itihāsa and Pūraṇa provide the conceptual basis of existence. These texts detail the essence of existentiality and guide practitioners on how to live life, transcend materiality (māyā) and merge with the Truth/ source (Brahman).
  • The above concepts are then converted into rites of passage (samskāra) which people can follow through their lives. These rites are mostly celebrations and they are designed to bring people and societies together harmoniously as well as to ensure that all understand and practice dharma. These include sīmantonnayana (parting of hair), nāmakaraṇa (naming ceremony), vivāha (marriage) and antayesti (last rites) to name a few.
  • Samskāras are then adapted with local language, food, climate and other natural aspects to make them unique for a community (jāti). This harmonises the practice of dharma with specific groups of people.
  • To ensure that practices of groups do not clash with each other, yama (behaviour control with the environment) and niyama (ability to internalize stimulus and respond peacefully) are practiced by people.
  • Since many of these ceremonies are performed at the temple, the temple becomes a centre of wellbeing of the people. So, the temple becomes the anchor of dharma and society.
  • People are given the option of worshipping deities according to their personal preferences. Adi Shankara has classified six major schools of worship (shan-matha-bodham), these being śaivam (worship of Śiva), śāktyam (worship of Śakti), vaiṣṇavam (worship of Vishnu), śauryam (worship of Soorya or Sun), gaṇapāṭyam worship of Gaṇeśa) and kaumāram (worship of Kumāra or Karthik).
  • Furthermore, in addition to the above major schools, there are multiple smaller deities. For example, embedded in śauryam is worship of nava-graha (nine planets), in the form or Sun (sūrya), Moon (soma), Mars (maṅgala), Mercury (budha), Jupiter (guru/ bṛhaspati), Venus (śukra), Saturn (śani), Solar-node (rāhu) and Lunar-node (ketú). Actually, rāhu and ketú have no real Western equivalence, calling them nodes is for convenience only.
  • Importantly, all Hindus are expected to perform pañca-maha-yajñá (five major sacrifices) everyday. Pañca-maha-yajñá are rishi-yajñá or sacrifice to those who give conceptual understanding to life, deva-yajñá (sacrifice to the deities, which can include kula-devata or family deity, iṣṭadeva or personal deity, grāma-devata or village deities etc.), pitṛ-yajñá or sacrifice to the ancestors who gave us life, bhu-yajñá or sacrifice to nature and manuṣya-yajñá or sacrifice to other humans in the form of food, clothing, shelter etc. Since sacrifice is woven into the Hindu way of life, Hindus are naturally and uniquely sensitive to all creation.
  • Additionally, Hindus festivals are uniquely aligned with seasons. In fact, Hindus recognise the electromagnetic impact of various planets on individuals and celebrate various conjunctions and planetary transits. This is the level of sensitivity of Hindus with their existentiality.
  • Hindus also recognize that dharma must change as one ages, this is called āśrama. The four āśrama are brahmacarya-āśrama (stage of youth), grahastāśrama (stage of a house-holder), vānaprasthāśrama (stage of retirement) and sannyasāśrama (stage of renunciation).
  • Lastly, dharma changes with respect to puruṣārtha or material objective, these being artha (material outcome), kāma (outcome driven by desire), dharma (outcome driven by righteousness) and mokṣa (outcome driven by transcendence).
  • Finally, dharma is driven by kāla (time), sthala (place) and pātra (plate). This means that dharma is modulated by place and what one eats at various times of the day.
  • All this is conveyed by language (shruti) that is unique to each people.

One can see the granularity to which dharma has been defined and codified as well as the open structure of its construct, which allows accommodation of all forms of opinions, behaviours and personalities (svabhāva). This is how Hindu way of living becomes universal and is hence gets called sanātana-dharma.

However, it is important to recognize the despite the codification, the key driver of dharma is only one, that is that there are multiple paths to the Truth (Brahman) and the objective of life is to find it. Since, each person may follow his or her own unique path, development of awareness (prajñā) through Yoga, tolerance of other paths is hardwired into practitioners of Hindu way of living. 

Unfortunately, it also makes this open-format way of life vulnerable to religions which have very different views on life and living. This results in confrontation and destruction of harmony as well as increase in strife and chaos (adharma).

School of Yoga explains dharma, karma and adharma

  • Whenever action conforms to the natural state of any entity, there is no agitation. Therefore, the natural state of dharma is a state of peace or harmony.
  • However, when action is performed counter to the natural state of any entity, there is disturbance and this is called adharma (chaos/ contrary to the natural state).
  • Consequently, when a cow is fed with meat, it is adharma (against its natural state) and the consequence to the cow falls sick with “mad cow disease”. 

Points to ponder on dharma;

Internal Tags:  Self Awareness or Asmita, Karma

External Tags: homeostasis

  • How do we recognise our natural state? 
  • How do we recognise the linkage between natural state and behaviour? 
  • What is the linkage between dharma, adharma and righteousness? 
  • What is fear of failure? 
  • Can God be linked to dharma or natural state? How? 
  • Is there any link between dharma and prayer? 
  • Can we really control events or are we mostly reacting to them? 
  • Is death a natural state? 
  • What is the linkage between dharma, stress and karma? 
  • Is it hard to admit that you are experiencing adharma? 
  • Is it possible to recognise a person who is in adharmic state?
Editor at School Of Yoga
School Of Yoga is a single point resource for all aspects of Classical Yoga practise. We try to achieve this by placing Yoga's traditional methodology in front of the reader and eliciting his or her experience. We value everyone's Yoga experience and would like you to share and enrich other practitioners so that everyone benefits.
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