Virtually everyone has heard of karma in some kind of context or another. It’s used all over western culture and has been widely embraced by countless. But karma is only half of the coin. Dharma is the other. So what’s the difference between these two all-important facets of eastern philosophy?
- Karma: The actions that one does in relation to one’s dharma, and the ‘debt’ that accrues from bad actions.
- Dharma: Duty in this life. Dharma is dependent on your birth and time of life, i.e.- the circumstances of your surroundings and what you can do to impact them.
In a sense, dharma could be seen as one’s lifelong task, and karma, the steps that one has to take to complete the task.
Dharma is your purpose. It’s what you set out to do in life. It’s sort of the goal, whereas karma is what you do to get there. It’s the path of righteousness and living one’s life according to the codes of conduct as described by universal spiritual teachings. The purpose of dharma is not only to attain a union of the soul with the supreme reality, it also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and supreme happiness. Rishi Kanda has defined dharma in Vaisesika as “that confers worldly joys and leads to supreme happiness”.
So really, it’s quite simple: dharma is about finding your highest happiness.
SEE ALSO: The 10 Rules Of Karma
The 10 Laws of Dharma
So how do you find your dharma? It’s not exactly easy to do, right? The ancient sage Manu prescribed 10 essential rules for the observance of dharma:
- Patience (dhriti) – Staying secure in your own inner peace.
- Forgiveness (kshama) – Letting go of things that don’t necessarily serve you.
- Piety or self-control (dama) – Knowing that the best things come to those that wait.
- Honesty (asteya) – This is really more about non-stealing; don’t take that which does not belong to you.
- Sanctity (shauch) – Cleanliness in mind, body, and soul.
- Control of senses (indraiya-nigrah) – Meditation and life force control.
- Reason (dhi) – Guiding your life with calm reason leads to great success.
- Knowledge or learning (vidya) – Gaining skills that significantly add to your ability to offer value is a huge step towards well-rounded success.
- Truthfulness (satya) – Realizing that truthfulness brings about the highest outcome for you and others.
- Absence of anger (krodha) – Anger poisons our ability to lead our lives in a positive and powerful way.
These are guidelines that will help you find the right track, and turn your life into something truly fulfilling.
The easiest example of seeing dharma in action is through work and how people serve others. In the world of work, there is no such thing as a “bad job”, even for the most hated of professions. People serve in their job to put food on the table and keep the roof over their heads. They do not become bad people just because the job requires them to do unpopular things. Naturally, if one such person decides to do these unpopular things for their own gain (i.e. steal), this affects their karma in a negative way, which in turn affects how they reach their end goal – their dharma.
On the opposite side of the coin, if you have good motivation and good heart despite making many mistakes, you are practicing dharma, and automatically, you are engaging in virtuous activities. (Although that doesn’t mean you get a free pass for being a bad employee!)