By Laura A. Roser
In his version of the Bhagavad Gita, Eknath Easwaran writes, “The word Dharma means many things, but its underlying sense is ‘that which supports,’ from the root dhri, to support, hold up, or bear. Generally, dharma implies support from within: the essence of a thing, its virtue, that which makes it what it is.”
There is an old story about a sage sitting beside the Ganges river. He looks into the river and notices a scorpion has fallen into the water. He reaches down and rescues the scorpion and the scorpion immediately stings him. Later on, he sees the scorpion stuck in the water again and reaches down and rescues the scorpion with the same results – another stinging. A stranger asks him, “Holy one, why do you keep doing that? Don’t you see that vicious insect will keep stinging you in return?”
“Of course,” the sage replies. “It is the dharma of a scorpion to sting. But it is the dharma of a human to save.”
Dealing with Our Own Scorpions
Once I spoke with a businessman who told me that he had been betrayed badly when he was younger. His partner had taken a great deal of money and left him with many debts. He said this caused him to become bitter and untrusting of everyone. He would watch his employees like a hawk and be suspicious of the plumber or sprinkler repair person – they could all take advantage of him. He’d constantly beat himself up for how naive and trusting he had been and how that weakness had allowed his partner to blindside him.
Then one day, after watching an employee sneer at him when he berated her for not logging her time correctly, he decided that he was disgusted by what he had become. He was going against his better nature. Being a trusting person was who he was. He was happier when he was trusting. He was kinder and more loving. He had more friends. He was less paranoid. And that’s when he decided that he would begin to operate in a way that empowered others again and gave them the benefit of the doubt. He reasoned that if he was taken advantage of occasionally, that was okay. The risk was worth it. He went back to being the kind, caring man he’d been before the incident with his business partner (with more checks and balances when the stakes became high – there’s no reason not to learn from your mistakes) and he became happy again.
Dharma has that quality to it. The idea that we should act according to the highest good despite the outcome. It is about maintaining a standard of kindness, love and virtue. It’s having the wisdom to understand that by not trusting those around us (for no apparent reason) or by not saving the metaphorical scorpions in our lives, we become an uglier version of ourselves, one that is contrary to our personal growth and development.
Introducing Karma Into the Equation
Then there’s karma. Simply put, karma is action. Every event – even every thought – has consequences. The Upanishads made a strong connection between thought and physical action. If the seed of a thought is given enough time to germinate and grow, it will be made physical.
“The law of karma states unequivocally that though we cannot see the connections, we can be sure that everything that happens to us, good and bad, originated once in something we did or thought. We ourselves are responsible for what happens to us, whether or not we can understand how. It follows that we can change what happens to us by changing ourselves; we can take our destiny into our own hands.”
He then goes on to write:
“Karma is sometimes considered punitive, a matter of getting one’s just desserts. This is accurate enough, but it is much more illuminating to consider karma an educative force whose purpose is to teach the individual to act in harmony with dharma – not to pursue selfish interests at the expense of others, but to contribute to life and consider the welfare of the whole. In this sense life is like a school; one can lean, one can graduate, one can skip a grade or stay behind. As long as the debt of karma remains, however, a person has to keep coming back for further education.”
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by Laura A. Roser
CEO and Founder of Paragon Road
#1 Expert in Meaning Legacy Planning