Dharma is a sacred word with a number of meanings. The word is often closely associated with Buddhism. However, the term . . .
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| . . . existed
in Hinduism prior to the development of Buddhism.
In yoga and
vedic thought dharma refers
to the eternal teachings of religion
By JULIAN LEE
Dharma also means good and virtue.
Dharma refers to the duty inherent in appointed social roles.
Besides pointing out the eternal path to the overcoming of sorrow, dharma organizes society and provides security, stability, and happiness to families and their children.
"Sanatana dharma" is a Hindu phrase meaning "the eternal religion" of India. Krishna states in the Bhagavad-Gita that when dharma declines, "I send forth Myself, to subdue the wicked and to raise up righteousness." Dharma is considered to be imperishable and changeless. The way to liberation, or dharma teachings, are imperishable, changeless, and ever effective. Because the problem of human suffering is found to be with the human mind, and because the the essence of the human mind is changeless from age to age, for this reason the dharma teachings remain essentially the same from age to age. They primarily address the cause of suffering by directly addressing the problem of the human mind itself. Secondarily dharma teachings include moral teachings that are supportive to spiritual practice. Even these are relatively changeless. Most of the blatant differences seen between various religious traditions are generally introduced by organizations after the death of the founder, or they are a product of social change. These differences are usually relate to issues that not part of the essential dharma.
Tibetan Buddhists "take refuge" in "three jewels," the first being that of "The Buddha" (analogous to "the guru"), and the second being "the dharma," or the teachings and canons of Buddhism. (The third "jewel" is "The Sangha," or the fellowship of fellow believers.)
is not used in Christianity, however, it's meaning exists. Christians
find their "dharma" in the Bible scripture, and in various canons
developed by the various sects of Christians. For example, the Catholic
repository of "dharma" includes various encyclicals issued by popes on
evolving social and moral questions. The Mormons have additional
scriptures such as the
Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants.
regard the Koran to be the prime repository of dharma, along with
various pronouncements over the centuries by Moslem leaders. For
Bahai's, dharma is enshrined in a number of scriptures or
communiqués from the religion's founders, most notably The
Hidden Words and the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Book Of Laws).
and spiritual teachings can seem confusing to many. There is such a
profusion of philosophies and religious systems that a spiritual
aspirant can feel confused about just what to believe, just where to
focus attention, just what to pursue.
Some of the
religions make a bid to synthesize the
various religions, or pay some tribute to "common ground." These claims
can be founded on a superficial understanding of the
other religious system. A good example of this is the Baha'i Faith,
which sells itself on the "inclusive" notion that all the
religions say essentially the same thing. But if you open to any page
of the Bhagavad-Gita (an important Hindu scripture) and start reading
most Baha'is will want to head for the door. Without some real work he
will find there appears to be little in his own scriptural milieu that
can "answer to" the Bhagavad-Gita. (What is this "three gunas" thing?
What is this business about "offering the inbreath into the outer
breath?" And what is this "ahamkara" thing?) Even though he has glibly
stated that "all the religions really say the same thing," many of the
concepts in this and other Hindu scriptures will seem alien to him.
saints and gurus -- the Realizers -- do a better job of affirming
religious common ground. These divine masters affirm the common ground
more lucidly and effectively because they realize the unity of
religions inwardly and personally. Secondly, they often have no
organizational agenda. They are free of the quest for organizational
ascendancy and worldly power that is the characteristic of foundations.
So really finding and affirming the common ground is no sacrifice or
threat to them.
of the great saints and gurus affirm the essential truth and value of
other religions and other gurus. There have also been some influential
intellectuals and philosophers who developed the idea of the common
ground between religions. An example was Marcus Bach, one of the
founders of the Christian "unity" movement which became the Unity
Church. Other synthesizers and common-ground seekers founded the
Unitarian Church. Author Aldous Huxley attempted to distill the
aspects of several religions in his book "The Perennial Philosophy." He
made the case that certain teachings or concepts arise again and again
in different religions having different founders.
infers that principles held in common by several religions might be of
greater interest or hold more validity. When one feels religiously
common ground feels like more solid ground. The assumption is that the
divinity, appearing to various peoples through different founders,
might give repetition to
universal or timeless principles. Thus philosophers love to
probe for common ground as a way to mitigate confusion and or even in a
quest to "unify"
human beings religiously.
religions themselves nevertheless continue to present themselves
somewhat diversely, whether at their founding or through the mutations
and human distortion. Religious ideas can become so multifarious that
aspirants can wander bewildered for many years before cognizing vital
essentials. One can waste a lifetime in metaphysical speculation and
spiritual dilettantism. The Theosophists who had their heyday in the
30's and 40's were excellent for getting good-and-lost in the
forest of metaphysical speculation. You can be endlessly entertained in
a Theosophical Society library without ever mastering any profound
religious principle. You could spend years without ever being sure of
what any of them might be. Meanwhile you might become quite proud about
some worthless learning (such as Madame Blavatsky's epic rendering of
divine hierarchies). Then there are some cases of fruitless
oversimplification such as the Hare Krishna movement and some
Protestant Christian churches. (Fruitless simplification is when you
simplify down to just one or two things, but you remain disinterested
or lukewarm about those one or two things. This is as opposed to
religions can be confusing, I have
distilled a set of eight concepts I consider to be at the core of vital
religion and spiritual practice. I am pulling this set of berries
forward for your notice partly because of their importance, partly
because of their timelessness, and partly because of the particular
cultural and philosophic atmosphere of this century. I call them the
"Great Eight" or the
"Kali Eight" in honor of the Hindu concept that we are living in a
particular dark age called Kali-Yuga. The most important religious and
spiritual elements are these:
given these in
order of importance. Attend
to these eight, and you will really get
somewhere. Especially number 3 and 4. Within each
of these, especially knowledge, there are subcategories; other berries
on the same vine. Out of these eight, two stand out as containing all
the others and comprising complete religion. If this list is ever
overwhelming or confusing, you can take these eight and distill them
down to just two: Guru and Devotion. All of
the other six
elements are contained in these two.
Deeper in Your Own Religion By Study
Of Other Religions
It is my
feeling that most religionists, no matter who their founder, will make
better progress in their faiths if these eight are well understood. And
to truly understand them, you should study the way that they appear in
various religious traditions.
Many of the
known religions contain these eight elements, yet adherents often
minimize, or misunderstand them. The founding writings of the Baha'i
faith are teeming with devotional and mystical
elements, and even contain meditation technique. But both mysticism and
devotion are downplayed
or undervalued by modern Bahai's. The Baha'i is usually unconscious of
whole concept of "spiritual technique," or ever ill at ease with it,
notwithstanding the fact that meditation technique is provided in the
Baha'i Book Of Laws.
has strong traditions of purification
and technique, plus a de facto devotional and guru approach. Yet modern
Christians tend to ignore technique, have lost much of the Christian
culture of purification, and are generally unaware of the fact that
they employ a "guru principle" as a spiritual technique.
these eight elements are found somewhere in all of the major religions,
providing many points of intersection. Almost all of the major
religions have the samadhi concept somewhere in their background or
lore. This includes Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism (the
mystical wing of Islam). Yet the samadhi concept is usually
misunderstood or completely unknown to many of these religionists.
(Many Hindus, hearing about the state of some Christian saints, assume
that the saint had attained one of the samadhi states. But the average
Christian has heard nothing about samadhi.)
devotion concept (bhakti) is definitely present in Hinduism,
Christianity, Islam, Baha'i, and even Buddhism where it is called "guru
yoga." Yet there is great variance in the way the different adherents
understand devotion. In some cases (such as Baha'i and Buddhism) the
concept of devotion is not well recognized or discussed.
I view the
situation as something like this:
ignorant of auto mechanics are given the parts for ten engines and
asked to figure out what each part does and how the parts fit. Each
engine possesses a
carburetor, and the carburetor performs the same essential functions in
each of the cars. However, each carburetor is somewhat different, is
located in different places, etc. We give the ten people the time to
try to understand their car engines. When we go around and ask the ten
people what they know about the carburetor one says he thinks he must
pour gasoline in it from above to make the car run, and has been doing
that by hand. (He has part of it right.) Another has no idea what it is
and has given up trying to figure it out. Another has not even noticed
the carburetor in the first place. A fourth has begun to use the
carburetor as a handy flower pot. The next one has taken it
out and thrown it away because he thought it was unimportant. One or
two persons may have really figured out what the carburetor is and what
In the same
way certain vital elements exist commonly in several religions, but
is a great variance in the way the different religionists understand
the concepts, sometimes little comprehending them at all. Some are
using their carburetors for flower pots; some are using their stoves to
store plates. If each of
the ten people were to be able to look at the cars of the others, see
that they too possessed carburetors, and examine the functioning of the
carburetors in each car, most of them would have a better chance to
understand what the carburetor is, and its universal value in
In the same
way, by making a deep survey of a number of religions, one can
encounter the same principles described in different words. Through
this study, one can gain a much better grasp of his own religion. An
example would be technique and Christianity. If Christians studied
Hinduism they would hear about techniques that Christ himself
referenced. However the Hindu scriptures give fuller explanations of
those techniques. If Baha'is would study the devotional attitude that
many Christians cultivate toward Christ, or the great weight Hindus
give to devotion, they would better comprehend the devotional attitude
evident in their own scriptures. (The Baha'i book called "The Hidden
Words," for example, is fairly dripping with bhakti.) Many Hindus can
get a clearer understanding of meditative states by reading esoteric
Buddhists can better grapple with their own "guru yoga" by hearing
about bhakti from the Hindus.
of various religions then becomes a way to make a better "etching" of
an elemental concept. Instead of taking the etching once one takes
strokes and gets better resolution, seeing the principle emerge more
clearly and more fully. It is like taking more scans to see a much
clearer picture. It took me much study of Hinduism before I appreciated
how "bhakti oriented" the Baha'i Faith actually was. It was in that
way, too, that I comprehended how important the idea of devotion is as
a basic Baha'i principle. And it is evidently much more important than
some of the "ten basic principles" usually presented in Baha'i
promotional literature. This points to another phenomenon in religion I
call "pulling the fruit."
that each religion is like a bush that bears fruit. Imagine there are
varied fruits on the vinelike bush. Some of the fruits are large, some
small. The fruits have different shapes and tastes. Some of the fruits
are more valuable as food than others.
reach into the bush and choose a certain set of the fruits,
then pull them forward for better viewing. As we pull some vines
forward, other connected vines are somewhat pulled forward. But we can
choose to pull
certain fruits forward and ignore others.
human being goes to "teach" a religion or explain it to others he is
always making this sort of selection. The teacher reaches
the "bush" of that religion and chooses to bring forward only certain
"fruits," or teachings of that religion. He chooses based on his own
personal understanding or predilection. Maybe he can relate to some of
them more than others.
Maybe he is excited more about some of the fruits than others. Perhaps
he feel there is utilitarian purpose in choosing to emphasize
particular teachings, maybe because they will be more popular and gain
supporters for his religion.
do the same thing, and probably much more. That is, an organization
representing a religion will tend to emphasize certain of the fruits
(pull those forward for view), and ignore others based on an
organizational agenda. Human organizations will also tend to obscure
certain of the fruit-teachings, or even clip them off and let them fall
in order to promote a particular organizational agenda. This
part of the natural entropy that afflicts religious organizations, and
does not mean that religious organizations are by definition bad. But
the point is made that both individual teachers and religious
organizations do some deciding; they make some choices about which
berries on that bush should be pulled forward for view. Even the best
religious teachers will do this, because they are evaluating their
audience to determine what they most need; what will most help them.
In my own
studies of religion and spiritual tradition, I myself am reaching into
the bush and pulling forward the special "bunch" of berries that I feel
is most important to know in this age. And these are the "Great Eight"
or the "Kali Eight." This list of eight religious principles contain
some which are vital and at the same time obscured or misunderstood in
many of today's religions. By understanding the ideas and applying them
within your own religious system, you will make greater spiritual
progress within your own religion.
talk a bit about each of the "Kali Eight" principles of living religion.
includes ordinary worldly knowledge, so as to be able to function
morally and competently. The ability to understand words, material
processes, and then metaphors. Then it extends up to the study of
scriptures and the statements of sages. Finally the highest knowledgeknowledle
is the direct knowledge of God within which occurs in the state of
samadhi. (Samadhi is brought out separately as element eight). But
there is one berry of knowledge in this category that needs to be
brought out explicitly right here, and that is the teaching thainside
us, and happiness is found within rather than out in the external
world. When we appear to be made happy by external things, it is only a
phenomenon in which we have been but into contact with our own inner
Self because of associations. Until we actually realize personally that
God is within, the teachings and statements of saints attesting to it
are an important part of knowledge. Meanwhile, all that follows below
is more knowledge. One could say that to gain the knowledge of God is
the point of all religious and spiritual questing.
five major roles in spiritual development. First, faith is important
for its role in keeping an aspirant out of trouble. Because of faith
in the validity of law, he causes less trouble to himself, just as a
child who has faith in the word of his parent avoids much harm by
avoiding things the parent warns against.
faith gives greater calm and peace to the mind in general, which
supports some of the spiritual techniques of calming the mind.
faith is needed for the cultivation of bhakti (devotion), which is
itself a profoundly important religious principle. Faith inspires
devotion. Conversely, devotion creates cause for greater and greater
Faith is a
critical ingredient in certain landmarks of religious experience
including initiation (shaktipat, baptism), and the experience of
samadhi. Both of the last items are themselves numbered in the Kali
faith attracts the involvement and protection of the divinity in the
same way that the faith of a child draws the protection and emotional
involvement its parents or protectors.
Now we come
to one of the most vital and one of the most misunderstood religious
principles. He who fails to comprehend the guru principle will get far
less fruit from religion and spiritual techniques. Many have
resistance to the guru principle because of bad scenes they have
manifested and cynicism, and this slows their spiritual
development. A number of points will help explain the guru principle.
Something to be attracted to
with the divinity we must become attracted to it. To become attracted
to it we must be able to both cognize it, and relate to it. Because we
are material and dualistic, we can best cognize things that are part of
the dualistic material world. And because we are human
are able to become most attracted to other human being. We can find
attraction to another human being much more easily than to material
things or abstract concepts. The yogic scriptures state that one
catches a deer by using another deer, a horse by baiting with another
horse. In the same way, God captures the human heart by appearing as a
human being. We become easily attracted to other human beings. For
example, many are easily attracted to people they meet, or even various
movie actors. If you feel more attraction to a movie star than to God,
you are disadvantaged in the God quest. Thus God in compassion
incarnates in a human form to adequately attract our mind.
Something to focus the
We will see
later that one of the Great Eight is the spiritual technique of
stilling the mind. When the mind becomes still, one experiences God
directly within. The guru can serve as a powerful point of focus in
techniques of stilling the mind. This is the whole dynamic within
guru-yoga of the Buddhists and the Hindus, and it is also the active
dynamic in the attainments of many Christian and Moslem saints. By
focusing on the guru devotionally they attained stillness of mind, and
the direct experience of God in the state known as samadhi. (Element
number eight.) The point here is that the guru can serve as an anchor
for the mind in inner spiritual discipline designed to still the mind.
Because he is human there is the possibility that the mind can become
strongly attracted to him or her.
We become like what we focus on
There is a
spiritual law that we become like whatever we focus on. Therefore if we
focus on a spiritual man or woman, we will become more spiritual. If
there be such a being as a man who actually knows God, then focusing on
that being will cause us to become knowers of God also. We draw on the
nature of things that we focus on, no matter how distant. If you think
of criminals a lot you will become more criminal. If you think of gurus
and saints a lot you will become more saintly and finally a guru.
Metaphysically, there is an actual astral connection that is set up
when you think of any other person, especially with intense
concentration and devotion. Then we draw on the qualities of that
person, whether good or bad. By thinking of a highly realized guru with
an attitude of devotion, this sympathetic link is set up and we draw on
his good qualities. If the devotion is strong we actually come into his
same meditation and inner attainments.
for cultivation of devotion
the outer guru gives us a vehicle for the cultivation of devotion. And
devotion is its own reward and its own spiritual power. It is difficult
or impossible to cultivate much devotion for inert objects or abstract
principles. To attempt it goes against human nature. Thus the guru
the doorway to the next great spiritual element which is devotion
A few more
important words about the guru principle:.
The guru exists within but
outwardly for an outward mind
guru is within, but appears externally because of our externally turned
minds. As long as we think we are the body, the guru appears in a body
to help us. As long as we have externally turned minds, the guru
manifests externally to give focus to our minds. It is said in yoga
that Shiva is the original guru. Sometimes Isvara is described this
way, and sometimes Krsna is called the original guru. So it is
understood that the particular outer guru who we may choose is actually
only a symbol or emissary of the one true guru, who actually exists
inside of us. A clever God-seeker understands all this and sees no
conflict between worship of an outer guru and understanding that the
guru is within. He uses the outer guru as a handy remedy to focus his
outward mind. Those who eschew an outer guru in favor of the "more
enlightened" view that "the guru is within" are usually just naive and
lacking cleverness. While purporting to represent a more
enlightened view, their mind chases after other human objects. They
give their mind nothing worthy to attract and let their mind chase
after movie stars and other worthless things.
Gurus and saints appear to a
If you have
many impurities in you, your world will be full of ugly things and
unvirtuous people. If you have many impurities your world will
not contain many saintly figures or true gurus. There are actually many
people who live in a world that contains no saints or true gurus. Any
"gurus" or saints they hear about are either in the past, or they turn
out to be fakes and charlatans. Then one comes to expect this and has
little faith. This lack of holy men and women in their world is
entirely the result of their own personal impurity. The world is our
own personal dream, and when we are impure the teachers in our world,
if any, will all be impure. It will be one more feature of your
personal nightmare -- no saints, no true guru. So if your "world"
contains no true gurus or saints, but only fakes, this is only a
function of our own inner impurities. As one purifies himself through
spiritual practices, one's world begins to fill with a higher order of
people in general. These will include some beings who are saintly or
holy. So the outer guru is actually just one of the fruits of our own
"As long as
you think that you are an individual or that you are the body, so long
the master also is necessary and he will appear with a body. When this
wrong identification ceases the master will be found to be the Self.
worthy and capable of God-knowledge by purification. The most
formidable techniques for purification include meditation, prayer (a
kind of meditation), sexual continence, fasting, silence, solitude,
pranayama, asana (holding a posture), and various other forms of
renunciation. Purification in India is called tapasya, or burning.
Impurities and obscuring karmas are burned away by tapasya. Most
Christian saints performed some of these purifying activities on the
way to their state. Buddha performed all of them. Christ also performed
austerities including a 40-day fast, solitude and prayer. Christ was
also a celibate. The cultivation of bhakti itself (devotion) is
purifying. If it is cultivated enough it is the only purification