What’s the Right Thing to Do: A Meditation on Dharma, Reason and Offering – Part 3

Essay published in Collaboration: Journal of the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Vol. 40 (2), pp. 29-33.

In the presence of great music we have no alternative but to live nobly


Then the question arises – what to do, how to decide our actions, make our choices till one is living in one’s soul, one’s truth of being.

Before we address that, let us meditate a little more on the idea of Dharma through these words of Sri Aurobindo:

Dharma is generally spoken of as something eternal and unchanging, and so it is in the fundamental principle, in the ideal, but in its forms it is continually changing and evolving, because man does not already possess the ideal or live in it, but aspires more or less perfectly towards it, is growing towards its knowledge and practice. And in this growth dharma is all that helps us to grow into the divine purity, largeness, light, freedom, power, strength, joy, love, good, unity, beauty, and against it stands its shadow and denial, all that resists its growth and has not undergone its law, all that has not yielded up and does not will to yield up its secret of divine values, but presents a front of perversion and contradiction, of impurity, narrowness, bondage, darkness, weakness, vileness, discord and suffering and division, and the hideous and the crude, all that man has to leave behind in his progress. This is the adharma, not-dharma, which strives with and seeks to overcome the dharma, to draw backward and downward, the reactionary force which makes for evil, ignorance and darkness. Between the two there is perpetual battle and struggle, oscillation of victory and defeat in which sometimes the upward and sometimes the downward forces prevail. This has been typified in the Vedic image of the struggle between the divine and the Titanic powers, the sons of the Light and the undivided Infinity and the children of the Darkness and Division, in Zoroastrianism by Ahuramazda and Ahriman, and in later religions in the contest between God and his angels and Satan or Iblis and his demons for the possession of human life and the human soul.[1]

The above passage throws light on what may be dharmic as opposed to adharmic choices or actions. But more importantly, it emphasizes that that the various forms that the ideal of dharma may take in the lived world are changing and evolving because human beings, for the most part, are constantly aspiring toward the ideal of dharma, not really living in the ideal. This evolving nature of dharma however is not in contradiction to the eternal and unchanging nature of what Dharma in its essence is.

Dharma, therefore, is not an easy concept to intellectually comprehend and analyse. It has to be actually ‘lived’ as per our level of consciousness and its ascending journey. However, in order to at least mentally comprehend it, we must first develop an intellectual practice and habit that accepts multiple truths co-existing simultaneously.

For example, while Ahimsa (non-violence) may be the supreme Dharma on a very high spiritual plane, it cannot and should not be applied universally as a moral principle on each plane of existence and action. When a soldier kills in a battlefield, he too is following his dharma. Failure to do so will mean abandoning his dharma. When a colonized people start an armed revolution against their colonial masters their action is not a-dharmic. Passively accepting oppression and unjust foreign rule may actually be against the spirit of the group-dharma which enjoins the group members to live and discover their individual dharma in freedom.

We have seen so far that Dharma is universal and individual at the same time. It is eternal and ever-changing at the same time. A tiger kills and devours others as per its dharma, a flower gives fragrance and beauty to all as per its dharma. It is only human being, however, who perhaps is often not sure of his or her dharma and feels a sort of evolutionary crisis within. There are times when one must abandon the dharma that seemed right and true at an earlier time or stage in life, and go toward a higher dharma, a higher law of being. And this creates an inner tension of sorts, an inner battleground where dharma alone can help resolve the crisis.

But how?

We must remember that we are not one single, unified being. Instead we are a composite of many parts – physical, vital, mental, each with its own dharma, a true law of being – held together by a central, true inner being, the psychic being within. The body, vital and mind can be seen as instruments of the soul, the true inner being.

It is this inner being, which is a spark of the Universal Spirit, the Supreme, which alone can be the source of that Right Inner Voice, the voice that can guide our other parts to their right and true action and way of being. But since ordinarily, this inner being remains hidden under many thick veils of our physical-vital-mental nexus, we in our ignorance continue to follow the whims and fancies of these parts in their un-illumined forms.

Only when the light of the inner being shines upon these parts can they find their true law of being, their dharmic action. And the extent to which this light can enter is dependent upon the extent to which these parts are open and receptive. The open-ness and receptivity, in turn, are a function of the development and refinement of these parts. The more fine-tuned, shaped up and refined these instruments are, the more they will be receptive to the voice of their master, the true being within.

What does this all mean for how we should make a decision? Or how we should resolve the crisis within when we don’t know what is the right thing to do?

Man is not like the tiger or the fire or the storm; he cannot kill and say as a sufficient justification, “I am acting according to my nature”, and he cannot do it, because he has not the nature and not, therefore, the law of action, svadharma, of the tiger, storm or fire. He has a conscious intelligent will, a buddhi, and to that he must refer his actions. If he does not do so, if he acts blindly according to his impulses and passions, then the law of his being is not rightly worked out, , he has not acted according to the full measure of his humanity, but even as might the animal.[2]

[1] Essays on the Gita, CWSA, Volume 19, pp. 171-173
[2] Ibid., p. 221
Have you read Part 1, Part 2?

6 thoughts on “What’s the Right Thing to Do: A Meditation on Dharma, Reason and Offering – Part 3

Add yours

  1. How beautifully this is all coming together! My respect for you grows ever deeper. Your thoughts have such engaging clarity that reading you is an absolute pleasure.

    Looking forward to more…

    Liked by 1 person

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