Universal dharma — That which gives order to the Universe and underlies the very structure of existence.
Individual dharma—How we act in the world and take personal responsibility for coming into alignment with the Universal.
Dharma is an immensely important and finely nuanced subject. It requires thorough consideration and contemplation to gain a deep understanding. Gaining increased perspective on dharma has the power to assist us in contextualizing how we choose to act and how we take our place in our individual lives, as part of – and in relationship to – the Universal. We can all think about this.
A key vantage point for approaching the subject of dharma can be found in examining the profoundly relational qualities of the world in which we live. We are in relationship on all levels of our being at all times. There is no end or beginning to the field of relationship. In the microcosm of our bodies we are intricately relating to ourselves at all times: cell to cell, fluids to membranes to fascia, glands and organs, time and space, movement and stillness, and all of the transformation and creativity that is continuously taking place. We are in relationship to the environment outside of our personal skin-membrane. We have our closest people, nature and the world around us. Our individual intelligence is wrapped and permeated with the Universal. Every breath we take, every thought and movement is happening within the field of relationship. From our tiniest essence to the Universal Everything, we are relationship.
How do we act in this field? How do we, as individual people, take responsibility for our place within this moving, breathing and undulating life? Are we actively involved? Have we committed to attending to this life with full participation and engagement? Or, do we perhaps unconsciously, abdicate our personal agency and simply submit to the influences around us? Are we in the game?
Questions like these underlie the inquiry into dharma. What is our place here? How do we choose to engage? How do we recognize our thoughts and actions to be wholesome and life supporting, or not? Do we really know the answer to that question? How does one discern one’s life’s direction?
Our perspective is important, and our perspective is yoga and its practice. Yoga is the process of discerning and clarifying what is real and lasting from what is constantly changing. Then, and importantly, we can open to the recognition of the actual unity and sameness of the changing and the non-changing. In Embodyoga® we value equally the changing and sustaining aspects of creation. We really are not that interested in valuing what is so called “Pure” (un-changing) and better, from what is “impure” (changing) and not quite as good. We are not at all interested in denying or overcoming our human experience. We are interested in experiencing all layers of our selves and our lives, from the most-subtle reality all the way through the most gross and messy aspects of personality. The weave is what interests us. How do we take our places within this weave of Awareness and form with grace and dignity? Can we do our best to witness the majesty of this life that we are given?
The fact that we are here on this planet shows that, to some degree, we have already said, “yes” to life. Questioning the meaning of saying yes to life can be one way of beginning a serious inquiry into dharma. What is our personal and Universal role in this? Sincerely asking these questions leads us the larger question: “What is the source of this…this life…this awareness?”
If we want to be effective at looking into the nature of who we are, we can’t just simply jump to a philosophical framework that we think we already know. Thinking that we already know something is a great hindrance to learning anything new. However, based on what we know from yoga philosophy in this case, we can proceed with our investigation and explore directly and personally what the sages and great teachers of all time have been pointing to.
First, we need to take responsibility for our personal perceptions. Then we can begin to investigate the possibility of having direct experience of the nature of life. Direct perception of the Vastness of Awareness and its universal flow becomes profound support for personal right action – dharma – in the world. Can we perceive a Universal Order and direction that is supporting and including all that we experience – neutral, pleasurable, or painful? Can we then put our personal ordinary-and-extraordinary lives into the perspective of a larger dharma – Universal dharma — the movement of all of life toward greater fulfillment and satisfaction?
Full engagement in life solves the problem of personal isolation and suffering. That is true. But, full engagement is deeper than we often think. Being fully engaged means more than simply inhabiting the manifest aspects of yourself and the world. Full engagement is engagement with life on all levels. That means that one is in active contact and relationship with the source of life as well as its manifestation. That means coming into direct relationship with the Vastness in such a way that it has a tangible presence in every waking, sleeping, dreaming, and transcendental moment. All the time.
Yoga tells us that this encompassing of the full range of living is not impossible at all. It does tell us that there may be practice and work involved in clearing the ego-mind to obtain a larger view – but yoga is very precise about how to do the work. This is a highly compassionate system. Yoga gives a tremendous amount of respect and puts a lot on the shoulders of the practitioner. Credit is given to each aspirant to figure it out as he or she goes along, and to use intelligence not to be fooled by the pitfalls that will show up along the way; destructive pitfalls and obstacles like thinking one knows something when one doesn’t, perceiving personal skills and inspirational thinking as one’s own personal property, egotistical perceptions of all kinds, giving in to lethargy and inertia, lack of persistence in serious inquiry and study, deluded thinking…etc. Assigning validity to any of the ego’s tricks of mind has dire consequences for the serious practitioner.
Don’t even try to extinguish your ego. But do put it in its place. Ego mind is not about to go away and bury its head in the sand. Ego itself isn’t the problem anyway. The problem is our excessive preoccupation with its ramblings. The problem is our acceding to its perpetual self-involvement. Ego-mind is here to stay as long as you are in form. So deal with it. Literally, deal with it. Make deals. Allow ego its appropriate territory of action and keep it under control. You don’t need to get rid of it. Don’t waste your time. That would be a futile and silly endeavor. Just see it for what it is – spinning thoughts – and don’t take it so seriously. There is much more important work to do.
Accept the whole deep picture of your individuality and delve into it. Do the down and dirty work of excavating the tricks of ego-mind. Some of the tricks will glorify you and some will create self-loathing and despair. None of them is particularly right or wrong. Eventually, we see that they just are. Enough! They just are. So what? They loose their power when witnessed fully, both the grandiosity and the misery are just ends of the same human perceptual range, nothing more or less than that.
Then the work can begin.
The inquiry into dharma is a deep submerging of body and mind into what it means to be in relationship with manifest existence and the Divine. Individual self and Universal Self are fully intertwined, but each practitioner must thread out the individual ego-mind from the Universal in order to recognize their relationship. They are not separate, but since the ego is often so confused about that, the work of differentiation must be done.
Living our dharma is the process of perpetually directing our individual selves, our actions, our relationships, and our work into alignment with the Universal life flow. To do this we need direct experience of Source. We need to learn how to access direct experience of the Divine. The teachings of yoga offer rich and important clues and instructions along the way. Even here we need to continue to be discerning and not blindly accept everything. According to yoga itself, all philosophy should be verifiable. Do your best to excavate, explore, and verify. Don’t give up. Meditate. Breathe and move. Practice. Meditate again.
As we practice and hone our personal embodied-awareness it becomes easier to step into the flow of evolution – the Universal dharma. Our personal dharma reveals itself. Once established in personal and Universal dharmas life becomes more comfortable and rewarding. It’s like one stops swimming upstream and simply relaxes into the flow. In realizing the futility and self-destructiveness of our resistance we can release our cravings, longings and confusion and be carried by the stream. This requires trust. You have to know that the flow will carry you and that it will not push you under. Trust is based on knowing that one is safe. Knowing that we are safe arises from the embodiment – the absolute knowledge that cannot be denied – of the unknowable hugeness of Universal Intelligence.
Dharma is about the very nature of life. It is love itself. When we recognize the depth of who we are, we spontaneously relax into the Universal flow of essential Self as it moves into form. Sat-chit-ananda or awareness-intelligence-bliss, is what carries us and sustains our efforts. Connection is what makes living dharma easy.