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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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by Julian Lee.

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 . . . existed in Hinduism prior to the development of Buddhism.

In Hinduism

In yoga and vedic thought dharma refers to the eternal teachings of religion
that point the way to spiritual life. Dharma refers to those teachings, in the form of scriptures and advice of sages, by which we attain liberation.


The word dharma is similar in meaning to the word religion. Both words signify a body of teachings bearing on both spiritual and worldly life. Religion serves the purpose of enshrining and preserving
 dharma for the sake of future generations.

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.

In Buddhism

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.)

In Christianity

This term 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.

Moslems 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).


Religion 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 major 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.

Great 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.

Almost all 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 essential 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.

Human logic infers that principles held in common by several religions might be of greater interest or hold more validity. When one feels religiously confused, 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.

But the religions themselves nevertheless continue to present themselves somewhat diversely, whether at their founding or through the mutations of time 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 fruitful simplification.)

Because 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:

1) Knowledge
2) Faith
3) Guru
4) Devotion
5) Purification
6) Technique
7) Initiation
8) Samadhi

I have 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.

Become 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 forget, 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 the 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.

Christianity 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.

Most of 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.)

The 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:

Ten people 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 it does.

In the same way certain vital elements exist commonly in several religions, but there 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 automobiles.

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 Buddhism. Meanwhile, Buddhists can better grapple with their own "guru yoga" by hearing about bhakti from the Hindus.

This survey of various religions then becomes a way to make a better "etching" of an elemental concept. Instead of taking the etching once one takes several 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."

Imagine 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.

We can 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.

Whenever a human being goes to "teach" a religion or explain it to others he is always making this sort of selection.  The teacher reaches into 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.

Organizations 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 is 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.

Now let's talk a bit about each of the "Kali Eight" principles of living religion.


1) Knowledge

This 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.

2) Faith
Faith is given here early on because it is best cultivated in the young. Faith is also an important aspect of bhakti (devotion) which we will hear about later. Faith is a simple principle which stabilizes the mind and gives peace, and so it supports principle six or technique. Faith is in itself a kind of "technique," and is a helpful element in many powerful spiritual techniques. The Hindu word for faith is shraddha. Faith is highly valued in Hinduism, in Christianity, in Islam, and certainly in Buddhism, especially in Buddhist "guru yoga."

Faith has 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.

Second, faith gives greater calm and peace to the mind in general, which supports some of the spiritual techniques of calming the mind.

Third, 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.

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 Eight.

Finally, 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.

3) Guru

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

To connect 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 beings, we 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 mind

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.

The vehicle for cultivation of devotion

Finally, 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 figure is the doorway to the next great spiritual element which is devotion itself.

A few more important words about the guru principle:.

The guru exists within but appears outwardly for an outward mind

The true 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 purified mind

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 personal purification.

Ramana Maharshi:
"The master appears to dispel that ignorance. As Thayumanavar puts it, he appears as a man to dispel the ignorance of a man, just as a deepr is used as a decoy to capture the wild deer .He has to appear with a body in order to eradicate our ignorant "I-am-the-body" idea.
Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi
page 386

"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.
page 344

4) Devotion

5) Purification

We become 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 needed.

6) Technique
We have already been talking about technique all along. Faith is really part of technique. Devotion can also be viewed as technique. Focus on the guru is technique. There is even a way to do "good works" and turn it into a spiritual technique. (Being a do-gooder is not much of a spiritual technique in itself, though many people think it is a spiritual thing.) Then above in purification a number of other techniques were given. But this berry has been pulled forward anyway because we want to bring in the "technique technique," or the thing most people think of when they think of technique, and that means special meditation techniques. These are what the typical seeker puts foremost in his mind to acquire, though that focus can be misguided. Still, technique is of inestimable value when combined with the foregoing items. Many of the religious groups mentioned earlier are very weak in understanding and utilizing technique. This is where Yoga, Hinduism, and Buddhism really shine. In earlier centuries there was more awareness of technique in monastic Christianity which produced many saints.

7) Initiation
8) Samadhi


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