Inspired by a song off of Satsang’s latest album, Home (from Kulture), I decided to tackle a topic that is near and dear to me: dharma. It somewhat defies description in the West, and it has more than one meaning, but in this case, I am talking about the juice. The real stuff. Our callings in life. Released March 26, 2019.
When we set out into these lives we lead, not a one of us has any idea where we are going to end up. Sure, based on where we might have been born, who our parents were, in what era, what level of technology exists, we might get some idea about the types of challenges we might face. But as for the fabric of the lives we are going to lead: this kind of thing simply cannot be predicted.
What, then, can we say about a life well-lived? We cannot say that it will be the same for everyone, but can we say that it has a certain similarity? If so, what would be that similarity?
Every individual is unique, one of the many colours in the palette of infinity. One person might be born with a predisposition towards writing, another towards music, this one a nascent chef, that one with a knack for tilling the soil. Again, the circumstances of one’s birth does affect the amount of choice we have. Scrabbling for food in a feudal country some centuries ago might have precluded one from pursuing a leisurely endeavour like art, for example. Today, though, at least in the West, the sky seems to be the limit.
There is certainly an argument of nature vs. nurture, that trite old canard that gets rolled out in all discussions like these. Some of us might have our artistic predispositions, but if we can never exercise them, if we are never given the opportunity. If the next Beethoven is born so poor that he is sent to the salt mines instead of the Juilliard, then it is a squandered gift. Essentially, outer circumstance needs to match inner circumstance, and genius will appear. This argument, the one that would see some of us ‘lucky’ and others ‘unlucky,’ is about separation. There is a hierarchy in career pursuits, at least insofar as popular culture is concerned. Some are considered ‘better’ than others, when one attempts to keep up with the Joneses.
The easy example is a doctor or lawyer, another cliché. Essentially, professionals that can earn money are treasured. Why money? Because it helps us survive in the real world, of course. Without money, we might find ourselves destitute. Someone involved in stocks, as nebulous as that description is, could be another deemed winner. Then there is the rock star, the human being who holds the world in the palm of their hand, making so much money and living the high life doing what they love. One more is the inventor, a creator like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs with the business acumen to ensure financial success.
All of these ideas fit into the current paradigm. Our culture enshrines people who can earn money. Behind the scenes, though, what are we really doing? It’s not about work, because some of the hardest working people I know earn the least. They might not be educated, circumstance might have prohibited their climb of the social ladder, or they might be doing what they love. And yet, insofar as our society at large is concerned, the people who do not fit into narrowly defined categories are deemed, well, not unsuccessful, but usually just ‘not successful.’
Success. We define it in such a petty way. It has everything to do with money and status for a large swath of people. Deep down, sure, it’s about survival. We want to survive, same as any other organism on this green earth. But human life has gone way beyond survival. Most people can survive in big cities, even if it is only just (and there are many who cannot do so - those who slip through the cracks). But we have not shifted our focus away from survival.
So, it is about something beyond survival, at least in the West. It is about amassing and maintaining power. It is about hoarding wealth. It is about fear.
There is not a person on Earth who could not rightfully point out that if wealth was more evenly distributed amongst the people alive, not a soul would starve to death on the streets of a big city. Not a soul would do so in a small town, either. But we don’t see that happen, in spite of our material plenty. Instead, we see our leaders lie through their teeth to protect the hierarchy, corporations rape and pillage to the detriment of humanity, the modern-day nobility hide money in countries with laxer tax laws, our environment on the brink of collapse because of this lobby or that lobby – spectres of greed here, there, and everywhere.
I want to make it clear: I am not denigrating people who have worked hard to get to where they have gotten. I have nothing but respect for people who have done well for themselves. Hell, I am a lawyer and I am grateful for the opportunities I have had in life. The problem is that ‘it’s just business’ is another phrase that comes up when discussing the way people abuse each other for personal profit. The separation inherent in our view of money-making translates into the very essence of how we go about doing it. We have dehumanized each other in service to the currency deity – the god of separation.
Why, though? When we do it, is it ever really ‘just business?’ When we go home and lay our heads down on the pillow, are we safe from the repercussions of any of our actions? Do those who engage in greedy and horrific activity really ‘get away with it?’ Is the selfish man screaming about walls and generally making a mockery of life happy?
In Sanskrit, there is a word – ‘dharma.’ It has many meanings, but in this case I am referring to this one – ‘right and proper action.’ It goes much deeper than that, though. It is about the manifestation of reality, of cosmic law, in this world. As I stated in a previous Reflection, apparent reality is an illusion (don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself). What is truth, then? It is what is left when all of the noise is stripped away.
Greed, corruption, lying, dishonour, violence – all of these are adharmic, or ‘without dharma.’ These things are not ‘right and proper.’ At their core, they are spawned by a fundamental misapprehension of what is true.
And what is true, then? Simply put, unity is truth, separation is a lie. Apply that to any analysis, and you will most likely be fine. For example, that person who is starving. Is she separate from you? No, you are unified. Feed her. That handicap parking space is for people who need it. Do you appreciate that and not park in it? No? Then you are living a lie. Want to control someone, perhaps so much that you are willing to use violence, verbal or physical? Why, because they are separate from you? Again, not true. Have plenty of money saved up, more than you can ever possibly need? What are you afraid of? That you won’t be taken care of if you give some of it away? Why, because you’re separate from the world? Ah, ah, ah – there you go again, buying into the lie. Building a wall to separate one country from another is sad in many ways, but in a grim sense, it is funny. It is such a stark and symbolic testament to separation that it is quite literally an altar to a false god.
The thing about all of this stuff is that it tests you. And the tests simply seem like real life. And we fail them. A lot. Many of us have to hit a rock bottom before we see the light. The tests are generally about how much we are prepared to courageously surrender in spite of the very convincing illusion. But surrender to what?
When our moral compasses are less developed, we make decisions because of the potential social repercussions, like jail time. And if that is the only thing keeping us from acting like we’re separate, then it’s just a matter of degree. We will certainly do whatever that is within the bounds of the law that will still see us come out ahead. Wiring the billions to the Cayman Islands and avoid paying your just taxes may not be illegal per se, but is it ‘right and proper?’ Is hoarding money like a dragon ‘dharmic?’
Sins are called sins because they mean ‘without’ in Latin. Sure, sure, it means ‘without God.’ But that’s just semantics. What it really means is ‘separation.’ When you are without a sense of unity, you are separated. That’s why you think it’s OK to give in to lust and break your word to someone to whom you made a promise. That’s why you think it’s OK to give in to wrath and flip your shit at the postal clerk for taking too long with the guy ahead of you. That’s why you think it’s OK to envy someone else their lot.
Ah, there we go, back to it. Our lots in life. When we think in terms of separation, we attribute value to human beings. One is more or less valuable, which is why we let our leaders get away with shit that stinks so bad that it would tear the paint off of even the hardiest of outhouses (which is where many of their actions belong). It is also why the (to quote Bob Marley) ‘-ism schism game’ is alive and well. But racism, sexism, homophobia, class separation and all the rest are uniformly adharmic. What is right and proper is to attribute value to all human beings, equally, without any weights or measures. When we envy, we break this precept.
It is because we think we are separated that we become envious. In reality, we are unified. To quote Ram Dass, ‘you are your own grandfather.’ The game of life is to come to this understanding. I discussed karma in another Reflection, which is essentially a plot device that forces you to look into yourself. And see. And when you do see, there is no looking away. Dharma becomes you. Drinking deep of the nothingness whence consciousness sprang, you are suddenly recalibrated. Where you were once drowning in the river Styx, you have become Charon, the ferryman. It is your job to bring people across from the shores of separation to the site where they die. But the only thing that dies is ignorance.
In Sanskrit, the word ‘guru’ means ‘remover of darkness.’ Darkness, in this context, means ignorance. Following the path of dharma inexorably leads to the death of an ignorant being and the birth of a guru. It does not mean that someone becomes the next Jim Jones or Charles Manson, cult leaders who abused separation for their own purposes. It means that someone suddenly becomes a beacon of virtue. If sin is separation, virtue is certainly unity. Virtues like sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, respect. These people embody all of those virtues – actions that unify. Certainly, they remain human beings, imperfect and full of foibles (I mean, really, how would the game ever go on if there was no doubt about what was going on?) But they walk amongst us to show us the way. And to play the game the way it was meant to be played.
In surrender to unity. In surrender to love.
This is the only thing that matters. The rest of the stuff – money, status, material success – it is all noise. We are made of love and to love we return (hell, even in our ignorance, we were never really separate, but the game is fun). ‘But certainly gurus are only dudes in saffron robes washing their feet in the Ganges!’ you might say. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people in serving soup in a church basement, giving of themselves to the less fortunate, let them be your guru. The person who pays for the coffee of the person behind them at Tim Hortons, let her be your guru. The person who sacrifices their weekend to volunteer at the animal shelter, let him be your guru. To quote Ram Dass yet again, ‘we are all just walking each other home.’
The call of our conscience, the thing telling us that generosity is true and greed is a lie: let it be our gurus, let it remove the darkness of ignorance. Because, at bottom, that is all it ever was. A guru from the outside might hold open the spiritual door for us, and then we find it inside. We become at home, anywhere. Because that is unity. The guru is You. There is not a single ounce of separation anywhere. This life is a game that we play with our Self. To get home is to win the game of life.
We’ll keep lighting the way for our Self. All we have to do is come on home. And pick up our torch.