What is Dharma? Why is it relevant to us, in the modern world? Why did the sages of old, of every civilisation, insist that Dharma is the only TRUE path to fulfilment?
Dharma is a cosmic principle that is difficult, if not impossible, to define. Our Dharma is our true place in the cosmic process: in time, in space, in awareness, in thought, deed and desire. The eternal principle of Dharma determines the harmonious functions of the cosmic machine. In order that we fulfil our role in the divine play we must behave within our Dharma. That is, we ought to do the right thing, at the right time, In the right way, and for the right reason. By this we attain balance. To establish balance within ourselves ensures our own welfare and the welfare of society. And opens the path prepared for us by the divine.
Dharma is an Eastern term whose Western equivalents might include morality, ethics, virtue, righteousness and purity. Sadly, most of those terms are distinctly unfashionable in our modern culture. Yet it is Dharma by which the seeker of truth can evolve to gnosis.
In India the deity Sri Vishnu is believed to have taken more than 9 incarnations (avatars) on this earth to defend the righteous (i.e. those living within Dharma) against the demonic forces (adharma).
As the warrior-prince Sri Rama (c. 6000 BC), Lord Vishnu, rescued the Goddess Sri Sita from the immoral intentions of Ravana, the 10-headed demon King of Lanka. Ravana was a violent, materialistic and egotistical conqueror who despised the will of heaven.
The pure and innocent Rama fought a mighty battle against the demon king and his army of darkness, finally slaying him with a single silver arrow. Rama's army of bears and monkeys, whose weapons were little more than rocks and tree trunks, rejoiced for their beloved Sita had been reclaimed and the Divine Order restored.
This legend of Rama, the Ramayana, teaches that a person who defends dharma is destined to vanquish evil and ignorance. Indeed, the entire cosmos comes to their aid as is shown by the allegiance of the bears, monkeys and other aspects of nature. Fundamental to the defence of Dharma is the sanctity of woman, in this case Sita, who is a Goddess; the Divine Feminine incarnate. Ravana's death from a single silver arrow demonstrated the cosmic power of Rama's dharmic purity.
Sri Krishna (c. 4000 BC) also incarnated to destroy demons opposed to Dharma. Unlike in the age of Rama, impurity (adharma) was not exclusive to the demonic races alone but had begun to enter into the minds of men. Krishna's life culminated in the Mahabharata war which was a single, momentous battle between two royal families involving the deaths of over 2 million warriors on a battlefield called Kurukshetra (now north of New Delhi). The entire battle pivoted around a divine woman called Draupadi.
The Kaurava family (the bad guys) had insulted her chastity in the royal court after cheating the Pandava family (good guys) in a game of dice. By threatening a woman's chastity the Kauravas had sunk to the lowest level of 'adharma'. Thus the egotistical and hate-filled Kauravas threatened the ancient essence of Indian civilisation.
Krishna guided the Pandavas to victory on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, often by miraculous intervention, so that Draupadi was avenged and Dharma restored.
Unlike Rama, Krishna did not adhere to an external code of Dharma. Rather, he saw to the essence of each situation and acted in such a way as to manifest the greatest divine good.
Despite many modern interpretations of Krishna, he was not a womaniser the ancient (and more authentic) scriptures show that he was completely innocent of lust and greed. Thus Krishna, as the essence of purity, was the master of yogic spirituality, the essence of dharma.
Today Kurukshetra is the battlefield of the human mind. The Mahabharata war is the struggle between our sublime aspirations (truth, beauty and awareness) and our gross desires (security, sensation and power). As individuals we merely choose sides. When we choose as the Pandavas, we choose Dharma and its fruit of spiritual evolution. The entire cosmos (Sri Krishna) guides us through the battle of life and we ultimately defend the sanctity of Draupadi, the divine feminine, fountain of truth within us. Choose the Kauravas and we are destined for defeat for we elect to move against the divine order. Dharma itself will destroy us and the ultimate prize of spiritual awareness becomes forfeit.
These legends illustrate both the heavenly and earthly importance of Dharma. The Mahabharata is very much older than the famous works of classical Greece (in fact it is longer than Homer's Iliad and Odyssey combined); even its origin is mystical, having been written by the sage Viyasa who perceived the entire story in the state of meditation thousands of years before it occurred.
When Moses brought down the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai he taught the Israelites that Dharma was the divine law by which they (who loved truth) aspired could free themselves from their Egyptian slave masters (the base desires) and reach the promised land (spiritual liberation).
Although Mohammed led his followers into a bloody and terrible war to defend the law of Islam (Dharma) from the child-murdering and mysoginistic idolaters, he described that physical war as the 'lesser jihad'.The 'greater Jihad' is the infinitely more difficult war which the seekers fight within themselves for moral purification, death of the ego and victory over desire, attachment and conditioning.
Shakespeare's morality plays were all lessons in the cosmic supremacy of Dharma over human folly. Thus Hamlet's vacillation between his princely duty and his frivolous irresolution led to the death of Ophelia (loss of the divine feminine) and his own extinction the tragedy was that by procrastinating his Dharma he forfeited his destiny to true fulfilment as king (truth). Whereas Henry V, by immediately taking to his Dharma as a fair king, won not only a miraculous, victory (the Battle of Agincourt in which the English were outnumbered 25 to 1) over the arrogant French (human ego) but also the fair French princess (sublime beauty and truth).
Christ taught us that forgiveness frees us from our own petty ego (and its qualities such as pride, vengeance, aggression, grudge bearing) so that we can stay on the path of Dharma. Christ's message is encapsulated in statements such as 'He who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery' in other words an external morality or ethic is insufficient, for true Dharma is purity of heart and mind.
So Why is Dharma so absent from the consciousness of the Western mind?
A significant share of the blame falls upon mainstream Christian doctrine. As more light is thrown upon the gnostic (mystic) Christian sects and their so-called heretical scriptures such as the Nag Hammadi library and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we see that Christ did in fact confirm the then popular ideas of Karma, reincarnation, self-realisation and the Divine Feminine (Holy Ghost/Mother Mary) as reality.
The church's erasure of the principle of karma reduces our feeling of direct responsibility for our life, our circumstances and our personal spirituality. It actually encourages immediate gratification and sensationalism. Cancelling the principle of reincarnation in preference for a single-life doctrine also encourages irresponsible action since we can supposedly atone for any bad actions by last minute conversion. Worse, it blinds us to the idea of spiritual evolution through many lives through observance of Dharma. Paul was neither a saint nor an apostle, in fact many of the gnostic accounts describe him as an enemy of Christ's true teachings. His ideas of 'blind faith' and 'conversion' in order to enter heaven after death negates possibility of sustained experience of heaven while in the physical body. The cancellation of mysticism is furthered by the doctrine of 'original sin' in which human beings are said to be fundamentally flawed and therefore unable to perfect themselves let alone be worthy of the divine and its experience.
Finally, it is Christian false doctrine that denigrates women beginning with Eve's temptation and ending with the misogynist Paul. It is no wonder that the Holy Ghost/Divine Feminine is not understood in the Christian West since the patriarchal churches have virtually edited it out of existence.
Now the Christian West is comprised mainly of individuals with little real sense of connection to the cosmic order and so their mundane religion today has little bearing on spirituality. Nor does spirituality and its experience depend on their behaviour. Rather than living according to Dharma that pervades their life people are mentally enslaved to Church Doctrine and its empty promise of salvation. Whether or not we are Christians, the churches unauthorised cancellation of these principles has separated the Western awareness from its spiritual roots. Hence the poverty of Dharma in the West today rests considerably upon the shoulders of the Protestant and Catholic churches who have propagated their subtly Anti-Christian doctrines for over 1000 years.
When the Western Europeans colonised the New World the Amer-Indians there were stupefied by the whites' lack of relationship to the land and the gods, and also by the incredible credence given to material possessions. There was an AmerIndian prophecy predicting the coming of whites: Apparently if the whiteman came bearing the symbol of a circle the Age of Truth would begin. If they came bearing a cross it would signal the end of the world. Apparently the Amerindian's were forewarned of the followers of Paul who came literally with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. While the gun may have murdered Indians, the Paulian distortion of the Bible murdered an entire spiritual culture.
The modern Churches of today continue that tradition by paying token respect to Christ while passively encouraging the culture of materialism, dogmatic dependence and superficiality to which He was so obviously opposed.
'True spirituality can enlighten science
so that it serves rather than enslaves'
Institutionalised religions and their inherently fake theologies are not the only culprit. While the Vatican and others like it may have cut the living heart out of religious experience, they still pay lip-service to the memory of morality.
Modern society has a new religion which has supplanted irrational faith. It continues to undermine Dharma with its narrow but self-glorifying creed of 'rationalism'. This new faith is 'science'.
When Newton 'explained' that the universe was little more than a giant piece of clockwork and when Descartes 'proved' that the human being was simply a complex machine devoid of divine inspiration, the age of rationality began.
The irrational ideas of spiritual experience (which so far can't be measured) and Divine Will (which is beyond intellect) were discarded in favour of reason and logic. The industrial revolution taught man that his science and technology could dominate Nature, whose laws, until then, he honoured and respected.
Metaphysics was discredited as illogical. Religion, mythology and many other aspects of the universal Dharma were explained away as 'coping mechanisms' designed to maintain 'psychological homeo-stasis' in a 'hostile environment'.
'Science' and the religion of 'rationality' became the pre-eminent cultural shaping force. Since, the scientists said, God doesn't exist, neither does 'goodness' nor 'badness', 'right' or 'wrong'. Moral instinct, wisdom and conscience (Dharma) were discouraged as illogical. The spiritual glue which holds a civilisation on a cohesive and Dharmic path was scientifically removed and replaced with the materialistic ethos called 'technological advancement', 'consumerism' and 'permissiveness'.
A society which could have looked to the beacon of spiritual experience and used its guiding light of Dharma to the betterment of all now scrambles blindly after the dollar in a lifestyle appropriately called the 'rat-race'. No wonder, then, that Western culture can create a sense of disintegration in so many of us.
However to simply blame science or the dead religions is unrealistic, for, I feel, they actually represent forces operating within us. Could science and rationality be symptoms of our own ego and intellect which has developed without relationship to the Whole? So much so that it dominates our awareness and convinces us to forget the innate dharma within us? Not unlike spoilt children who try to dominate their wiser parents with their own petty desires.
Do religious institutions represent the conditionings and fears within us? They exist only because we want to be told what to do, what is right and wrong, true and false. Our mind screams for something comprehensible to cling to rather than embark on the painful journey of self-awareness which ends not in dogma but in 'Gnosis' that will put an end to ego and mind as we join the divine intelligence.
True spirituality can enlighten science so that it serves rather than enslaves, and it can resurrect the spirit of universal religion that exists within us all.
The tenth avatar of Lord Vishnu is 'Kalki'. His name means "pure" and the prophets say he will ride a white horse at the end of this millennium to destroy the enemies of Dharma forever. St John's revelation foretells "The Rider" whose name is 'faithful and true'. He too will ride a white horse and avenge the true saints. Many other ancient cultures prophesy the coming of an awesome being who will bless the upholders of the Cosmic Order (Dharma) and wreak vengeance on the negative forces and their sympathisers. As the world teeters on the brink of ecological and cultural collapse, it seems that the salvation of humanity, indeed the world, lies in the path of balance and awareness called Dharma. The ancient prophecies remind us of the urgency with which we must choose our final path.
Our common sense, the ancient Scriptures, the prophets, the signs of Mother Earth and now the scientists themselves all promise that the path of 'adharma' will end in catastrophe, judgement and apocalypse.
To resurrect our civilisation from this imminent course requires the awakening of the essence of Dharma within us. Our culture does not teach us divine law, let alone the means to realise it. So we must look within to our true being, the Spirit, the source of living Dharma. The Spirit is made known by the process of self-realisation which occurs in the infinite space between two thoughts -ie. meditation. By true meditation the spontaneous and innate dharma can be awakened and made manifest in each of us.
The collective salvation of our civilisation requires the inner transformation of every individual from the ignorance of materialism and individualism to the Gnosis of collective spiritual awareness. The genuine seekers of truth will receive the spiritual awakening not by psychedelic drugs nor by occult practices. Nor shall they have to abandon society to join some spiritual aristocracy of monks, priests or hermits. Those who seek the truth with the depth of their heart shall have it awakened in them spontaneously and silently by the strength of their pure desire. They only need to recognise that it will manifest not in thought, image or philosophy but in the silent space between two thoughts. In this space inspires the breath and will of the Divine, the fountain of Dharma.