Introduction to Dharma

by Rebecca Barry

November 2017


In Sanskrit, Dharma literally means “that which holds together,” or “righteous action.” Earlier this month I was trying to make sense of what this means and I kept stumbling at the word “righteous.” It seemed a troublemaker in that what might seem like righteous action to me could seem like very un-righteous action to someone else, and historically hasn’t this caused all kinds of trouble? And maybe that’s the part of the point of dharma, that all of our righteous action is different. In any case, I looked the word up.

Righteous has two meanings:

  • morally right or justifiable, virtuous.
  • Excellent, very good

So I went with the second meaning and came up with this: dharma is that which holds together your excellent, very good actions.

Of course, dharma is a multilayered concept. There are pages—books!–written about it, including the Bhagavad Gita. But there were two things that stuck out to me this month from what I read. One, according to the Mahabharata “the secret of dharma is hidden in the cave of the heart.” That secret is the spiritual connection that uplifts our ordinary ideas into something sublime.

I loved that.

And the other thing I loved was your dharma belongs uniquely to you, like a birthright. No one else has your dharma, and no one can take yours. The more you uncover and express your dharma as truly as you can, and the more everyone else does the same, the more we all shine like bright stars in a wondrous galaxy.

There is no competiton. It is only you, listening. You, being more truly, and divinely you.

I loved that, too.

The trick, then, is uncovering your dharma, and in one of the books I was reading, “Resonate With Stillness,” I found was the directive, “If you are confused about your dharma, sit and watch a river.”

So I went to the spot by the water where I meditate and asked. What secrets to my dharma are hidden in the cave of my heart? What can the water tell me?

Then I got quiet, and immediately my heart spoke:

“Sing your heartsong every day,” it said. “This is your dharma. If that’s too hard, let one thing you do each day be from your heart. If that’s too hard, let the first words you speak each morning be from the heart and filled with love. If that’s all you do, that’s enough.”

Then the water spoke:

“I sing constantly. All day to the sun, all night to the moon. I don’t worry about where I’m headed because it doesn’t matter. I just go. I don’t worry about going faster, or slower, or how much more successful other creeks are. I know there is time for stillness. Flow like this. This is my message to you. Flow like this with a glad heart! Just for one week. Try it!”

In any case, I had a pretty good week. This autumn has been filled with a light I’ve never seen this time of year—is it because of the heat, the way the warmth is affecting the sun being lower in the sky?–but it’s as if the light coming through the leaves and off the water is suffused with radiance that sparkles like stars. Every day I ride my bike to the coffee shop beneath a canopy of light-filled branches and I can’t believe the luck of being alive and the beauty of this time of year.

And still, we are living in an intense and demanding time, I know this.

Sometimes, when I read the news or see what’s happening to the animals on our planet, I get overwhelmed with grief, or rage, or fear.

But the secret that lies in the cave of my heart is that I am committed to being as fully alive in this lifetime as I can be. For me, that means not being too busy or overwhelmed to see the love and radiance that courses through my village, to cultivate the presence to enjoy the ride to the coffee shop, to listen to what the water has to say—and to guard this fiercely even when other voices (including my own) say, “that is not should be doing something productive.”

This planet is so full of splendor. It just wants us to see, feel, and remember this.”

What secret to your dharma lies in the cave of your heart? What calling lives there, waiting for you to listen? What do the trees, the mountains, the rivers or the stars say to you? Sit still. Take a breath. Put your hand on your heart. Listen.

Let us know what comes up! Come take our workshop on dharma, where we’ll be contemplating and working with more of the dharmic messages!