Life is fired at us point blank.
You may take pride in your commitment to do the right thing when suddenly you run into a situation where the right thing is not all that obvious.
It could be a marriage proposal from someone with whom you have mixed feelings. It could be two job offers, both equally attractive. It could be a decision to pull a relative off sustained life support when there is a possibility that he could eventually come out of it.
Sometimes life requires us to act when the proper course is not all that clear to us. What do we do?
Dharma is an ancient Sanskrit term for doing your duty, initially based upon your caste, and the responsibilities assigned to it. If your parents choose an older man for you, you must marry him, irrespective of your opinions on the matter.
In the worst case, you are born in the servant class, and you must sweep the floors for the rest of your life, no matter how smart you are.
Dharma connotes the cosmic order, and actions done in harmony with it, such as following the way of heaven. It connotes acting appropriately with your nature.
If you are a Brahmin, or priest, it is your nature to focus on the intellect. If you are Kshatriya, or ruler, it is your nature to lead people, either in the government or the military. If you are a Vaishya, it is your nature to craft things, or buy and sell as a merchant.
In modern times, the meaning has shifted to acting in accordance with your own inner light, whatever your position may be in society.
Second, we are also here to make this a better world for all we meet. This is the horizontal dimension.
Third, we are to use our unique talents to lovingly serve the people in our life. This is our outreach to others, our unique gift to the world.
Most often, people think of dharma as unquestioning adherence to an arbitrary bunch of rules, regardless of how you feel about them.
A good soldier goes out into the battlefield and engages with the enemy, even if he must die in the process. Orders are made to be obeyed.
We see an exceptional case with the story of Edward Snowden, who served the U.S. intelligence community, showing exceptional technical brilliance and potential for the highest ranks within the NSA.
Snowden had tried earlier to enter the U.S. Army, but sustained an injury in basic training, and received a medical discharge.
Considering himself a patriot, he sought out dangerous situations where he could put his hacking skills to best use.
Snowden ended up being asked to spy, not on national enemies, but on the American people, themselves. He was charged with disclosing the most private details of their lives, simply because of the remote possibility of association with a terrorist.
At some point, Snowden could not continue doing this in good conscience, as he felt this surveillance was undermining his fellow American’s freedom, something which he was sworn to uphold.
Snowden finally decided, at great risk to himself, to become a whistle blower of the covert apparatus.
He reasoned that he could never do this internally, as he would be court-martialed on the spot for treason under military law. He therefore defected to Hong Kong, and revealed the intelligence to prominent international correspondents, so that they could, at their sole discretion, reveal the abuses to the international news media.
At the end of Oliver Stone’s masterpiece, Snowden, Edward walks into the light and feels a deep sense of rightness, even though his decision all but ensured permanent exile in Moscow.
Snowden did not follow the rules that were set by some government organizations, because he felt that those rules were violating peoples’ rights. He was engaged in higher-order thinking. Speaking of Dharma, he cared about the bigger picture and sacrificed his own life for it.
The right course of action has to do with living all out in accordance with your personal destiny, to do what you were meant to be.
If you admit the possibility that nothing happens strictly by accident, there is often a hidden purpose to every moral dilemma you may encounter.
Jackie, a powerful feature film recently released portrays the wife of President John F. Kennedy immediately following his assassination. It shows her own struggle to maintain his, and her own, dignity, as she was summarily sidelined as the Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, was sworn in as President.
Jackie was summarily asked to leave her own home, the White House, by the very government to whom her husband had given his dying breath.
Jackie makes the difficult decision to stick to her principles and give one of America’s greatest Presidents the honor and dignity he deserved.
Rather than conduct a quiet funeral ceremony far removed from the public eye, Jackie chose an elaborate parade with horse-drawn hearse, walking behind her husband’s casket for eight blocks in which she could easily have been shot by a sniper.
Other heads of state honored her commitment, and the late President Kennedy was conspicuously buried in a prominent site within Arlington National Cemetery.
History went on to vindicate Jackie’s faith and integrity. More than any other person, President Kennedy with his passion and charismatic vision, lead us to literally leave this planet and deploy a man on the moon before that decade was out.
The entire social, cultural and political agenda of the last half of the 20th Century was irrevocably shaped by this brilliant young President. He was our inspiration and hope for a brighter future!
Mahatma Gandhi, in freeing India and bringing down the entire British empire, made a 50-year commitment to the project.
He began by experimenting with civil disobedience.
Gandhi refused to comply with unjust laws, following higher law, while treating his enemies with the greatest possible respect. This resulted in his being jailed not once, but many times. Gandhi used the time to intensify his passion to free India.
Many times during those 50 years, Gandhi could have broken down in better discouragement and given up. He could easily have lashed out at the British and advocated violent retaliation.
Rather, Gandhi took the attitude that the British were his friends, and that the very system that oppressed Indians actually oppressed the British, as well.
If we follow our heart, our intuition, rather than relying strictly upon our head, our reasoning faculty, we may end up doing things that at first look crazy, but in the end are marks of genius.
For example, Gandhi announced repeated fasts unto death…but no one would let him die. The world loved Gandhi too much to see him become a martyr to his own high principles.
When looking at your dharma, at doing what you were meant to do, you can resolve difficult situations by taking an action, any kind of action, whether or not it is right or wrong. Many times, you won’t know if it is the right action or not.
You will simply know that taking no action in the circumstance is worse than taking the wrong action.
For example, Bernie Sanders, who came very close to winning the Democratic nomination for President in 2016, chose to join forces with Hillary, rather than contest her nomination in the Convention, in order that the principles of the Democratic party might prevail over the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
Even though Donald Trump went on to actually win the general election, and become the President-Elect, Bernie chose to put his principles ahead of his political aspirations. Four years from now, he may be in charge of the Democratic Party, not Hillary Clinton.
Ultimately, whatever you do is perfect. You always do what you do, and you don’t do what you don’t do. Doing what you are meant to do is a way to focus on your mission in life.
Part of your mission in life is to move through uncertainty and stay true to that which you hold sacred.
Whatever you do, consciously choose, and then everything will work. Life is a learning process. Every choice you make advances you yet another step to your ultimate goal.