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Karma and Dharma


© 2002 Online Teosofiska Kompaniet Malmö 


Even sages have been deluded as to what is action and what inaction; therefore, I shall explain to thee what is action by knowledge of which thou shalt be liberated from evil. One must learn well what is action to be performed, what is not to be, and what is inaction. The path of action is obscure. That man who sees inaction in action and action in inaction is wise among men. He is a true devotee and a perfect performer of all action.

The Bhagavad-Gita, IV, 16-18.


We need insight for the comprehension of the terms "Karma" and "Dharma." Among philosophical texts and treatises, the Bhagavad-Gita  offers profound thoughts, and by its light different persons form their own concepts of the two words, which are archetypal in character and enshrine a compact and consistent philosophy which affects every aspect of man's being. Naturally, therefore, each tends to emphasize his interpretation. The monotheist, the polytheist, and the pantheist; the philologist, the man of littérateur, the philosopher and the mystic; and even the politician and the social reformer – these and all others formulate contradictory philosophies of life in the light of their own partial understanding of the grand Poem, which expresses a sublime allegory and a profound practical philosophy.

The Occultist who tries to realize what he has heard from the Wisdom of the long line of illustrious Sages and Their Living Peers is humble and cautious in presenting his own understanding of the archetypal aspects of Karma and Dharma.

Here we are confining ourselves to a consideration of what is advanced in the above-quoted verses. They deal with the Path of Action, Karma-Marga; they offer the philosophy of what not to do as well as of what to do. And yet the Path of Action remains obscure for most. One reason for this is the failure to see that for actions to be truly righteous and beneficent one must possess knowledge and devotion. The dire heresy of separateness has compartmentalized the much spoken of three paths – Karma, Gnyana, and Bhakti. The result is that none of the three ways is correctly comprehended.

In examining the Religion of Works as it affects man's own routine life and his relationship with his fellow men, a few "do's" and "don't" have to be considered in the light of the Gita teachings.

Not to be active is the first of the negative rules. Bodily laziness, moral lethargy, and mental indolence are grave dangers, which touch the soul of man. Strong is the cosmic principle of perpetual motion, and so it is stated, "No one ever resteth a moment inactive." To loll about idly is a deed in itself.

But what actions must we perform? First, our congenital duties, duties which are ours by our very birth. Dharma is the fulfillment of our destiny built by ourselves through a long past; it offers us opportunities for further unfoldment through the elimination of defects, for which the most suitable environment and conditions are provided as part of our destiny. To determine what are our congenital duties we have but to look at our own mental and moral capacities and limitations.

The second "don't" reiterated in the Gita is to not attempt the duty of another. What is implicit in this? It is the Law of Necessity. Those deeds that it is not necessary for us to do cannot be our obligatory duties. The Rule of Necessity helps us to avoid many a pitfall, and saves that most precious of possessions – time.

The third "don't" is – to not be tempted by desire and lusts. The universe is surrounded by compassion – a divine, gracious power. Human beings, listening to the urges and the inclinations of the senses, grab at compassion-power without knowledge, selfishly and egotistically, and find passion in their brains and blood. This tempts a man so often to abandon the path of duty that is righteous and good.

Now, let us turn to the positive aspects.

The first of these is to renounce the fruits of action, not action itself. Even when we have determined to fight our passions, we need the field of duty, Dharma-kshetra. Not looking for fruits or rewards implies laboring without being impelled by likes and dislikes. Are not our sense- impulses, our fleshly appetites, part of our destiny and Karma? Should we not allow them to function? No, says the Gita. They were built by us in the past, and in the present they are to be overcome. Our Karma is related to our Dharma;  if our destiny points to a defect in us, our duty requires that we correct it. Therefore, the remedy is suggested.

There are three motives for right action. When the motor-power of wish and will is used to guide us aright in the daily routine of life, we walk fast on the Path of Good Works. Dana, Charity; Tapas thoughtful Control; and Yagna, enlightened Sacrifice are called Krishna's own deeds. There are two main stages connected with the deeds which are Krishna's. First, we must establish the habit of performing acts of right
charity, which hurts no one, of right asceticism, which harms neither body, mind, nor soul, and of sacrifice, which does not require special rites or elaborate ceremonials but endows certain small deeds with the purity of water, the humility of a leaf, the beauty of a flower, the nourishment of a fruit. This habit of doing daily a few acts of Dana, of Tapas, and of Yagna,  leads us to perform all our duties for the Ray of the Supreme Spirit at the core of our consciousness. Acts of daily life, whether at home, at the office, or at the club should be pure in motive, humble in execution, orderly and tidy so that they are beautiful, and helpful to the soul of everyone. Thus, man becomes "a perfect performer of all action."

We must not be hasty; the art of performing Good Works, like true knowledge, is not acquired easily or speedily. Our aspirations should go hand in hand with ever-deepening devotion that makes the waters of wisdom spring up spontaneously. Good acts require knowledge; true assimilation of knowledge requires devotion; these three ever go together.

Thus only will the aspirant of Right Living realize in time the instruction of The Voice of the Silence:

"Both action and inaction may find room in thee; thy body agitated, thy mind tranquil, thy Soul as limpid as a mountain lake."

From "Thus Have I Heard", pages 188-91.
Utgiven av Indian Institute of World Culture, 1959.


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