by Michael Ketterhagen
Dharma is a challenging concept in the yoga world. Simply defined—dharma is our purpose and meaning in life, our vocation, the pursuit of happiness that fulfills one’s reason for being born. It also is translated as “duty.”
According to the Yoga Tradition, each of us has a general dharma and a very specific dharma. Each of us was born into this world to be a human being. We weren’t born a grasshopper, or a lion, or a flying creature. No! We were born to be human. Therefore, it is our duty and our purpose in life to be as fully human as possible.
Each of us also has a very specific purpose in life. Each of us is called to a certain vocation, a certain career. For instance, I was called to be a teacher. I fulfill my life whenever I am teaching someone something. I can’t help myself! When someone asks me a question, I don’t just give a quick answer. I give the context and as many details and examples as I am allowed to share, so that the person hearing my answer gets as much of the whole picture as possible. Just ask my son, Isaiah, who one day told me that I should write a book, titled “More than you ever wanted to know.”
Finding our own specific dharma is a process that means searching within and finding our particular way of living that makes us truly happy. Sometimes that’s a challenge, but it is always fruitful in the end because we are fulfilling our duty in life.
Rather than reflecting on how each of us finds our specific dharma, I would like to reflect on finding and living out our “human” dharma.
It seems that fulfilling our general dharma of being a human being is much easier, even though for many of us it is a struggle. What does it mean to be human? Does it mean pursuing our self-centered path to security, pleasure and power? Doesn’t it just mean being ourselves? But which part of ourselves are we supposed to fulfill if we want to be a human? Are we to fulfill our basic urges of food, sleep, sex and self-preservation that we share with the animals in our world? Or do we have a higher duty in life?
Spiritual and religious traditions tell us what our purpose in life is:
Catholic Christianity tells us that we “are to know, love and serve God in this world and to be with him in the next.” (Baltimore Catechism, #6)
Evangelical Christians, according to Paul of Tarsus, are meant to be “other Christs.”
In Judaism’s mystical tradition, an angel journeys with us in our mother’s womb and encourages us and promises to help us fulfill our life’s purpose. According to the angel, we will be given all we need to perform our duty.
Yoga says that we are meant to be in union with Ultimate Consciousness called Brahman. The Yoga Sutra 1.33 indicates that our task in life is to cultivate friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion toward those who are miserable, happiness toward those who are virtuous, and non-judgment toward those who are non-virtuous. This is the duty of the human, to be one with God, Universal Consciousness. We are, as humans, to act as God acts.
Gee! If we look at today’s current world, we could say that many people are not fulfilling their dharma, their duty.