Full Moon vol 41: Dharma

Living Sanskrit Newsletters

Happy Full Moon! In the Buddhist tradition, this full moon day in the month of Vaiśākha is a very important celebration. It is the day they honor Lord Buddha’s birth, death, and day of enlightenment. Lord Buddha was a powerful teacher of dharma, and to this day, Buddhists refer to the body of teachings and the truths they contain as “the dharma”.

During the month of Vaiśākha, in our tradition, we do practices for Bhagavān Viṣṇu, the power of dharma. We understand dharma to be a universal and sacred principle, although it also includes the wisdom and sacred practices.

Dharma is the power that sustains life, that protects and nurtures this universe. It is the unseen, intangible principle that directs each being and moment in time so that its purpose can be fulfilled. Here are three ways to begin to understand what it means to be dharmic.

1) At the most basic level, to be dharmic means being exactly what we are. For example, the dharma of a chipmunk is to squeak and collect nuts. The dharma of a mother is to guard and nurture her young. The dharma of a teacher is to share knowledge. The dharma of an elder is to age, and eventually, to pass away. The dharma of the ocean is to be full of water and to flow continuously. What we are naturally is an expression of dharma.

2) To be dharmic also means to act from a place of integrity, from a place of virtue. Virtue holds a very high place in our tradition. Instead of acting from our personal fears and selfishness, to behave virtuously is to act from a place that considers what is best for all beings. Remember, this includes you: neglecting the self is not virtuous because it is no longer universally inclusive. Examples of virtues are honesty, compassion, generosity, courage, fairness, perseverance, patience, equanimity, trust, and forgiveness.

One act of kindness can impact countless other beings. One moment of truth can transform a whole community. When we behave virtuously, we automatically align ourselves with a much greater and more universal power. Over time, cultivating virtue expands our vision and sense of self to include a much greater field of view.

3) That said, dharmic behavior includes more than expressing our natural instincts or even just being virtuous. It’s not just a set of rules that we follow, nor does it mean being “good” all the time. Dharma in its deepest sense means being in perfect alignment with divine will. And remember, in this tradition, divine will is the will of the Supreme Presence of which we are a part. Dharma is being in the right place at the right time, doing exactly what is needed for each moment.

This understanding of dharma enters the realm of mystical truth, the one that starts to boggle the mind. How on earth are we supposed to know what the right thing to do is, and what does the “right thing” even mean? If everything is part of one unbroken wholeness, how can there even be such a thing as “the right thing?” These questions – while deeply worthy of contemplation – will never be fully resolved through our minds alone.

In fact, the entire Bhāgavad Gītā explores these questions in beautiful detail, and will be the subject of upcoming Living Sanskrit courses. For now, we will turn to a commentary on the Bhāgavad Gītā, where the great sage Abhinavagupta wrote that dharma is deeply encoded in the heart, and can never be abandoned.

Within our own heart, in a space beyond our mental ideas of right and wrong, there is wisdom, a deep truth. Within our own heart, there is a profound love, an experience of unity, that exceeds any other power in this universe. It knows, in each moment, what will serve the whole, because it is always one with the great Oneness. When we act in alignment with this space, we are acting from a place of dharma. To learn to do this is the primary task of all of our practice…!

So as you can imagine, even if we studied dharma for lifetimes, we might still have more left to learn! In fact, the entire tradition, with all of its teachings and practices, is about following our dharma. That said, even if there is no endpoint, each day, we can still deepen our experience and understanding of dharma.

To follow our dharma, we can be true to our individual nature and purpose. We can act from a place of virtue, from a place that benefits all. Most importantly, we can continue to let the vision and power of our heart flow through each choice we take.

As you look at the moon tonight, remember dharma. Offer your gratitude for the unseen power that sustains and protects all creation – and resolve to express it fully within your own life.

Practice: Remember Dharma

Suggested practices for this time are:

-Invoke and honor the sustainer of dharma, Bhagavān Viṣṇu. You can perform pūjā to him, have his darshan at a temple, and chant hymns of praise. A very well-known one is the Viṣṇu Sahasranāma, which describes a thousand of his attributes. You can also do practices for Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who are his incarnations.

-Read and study the Bhagavad Gītā, the essential text on dharma and yoga. In this text, Śrī Kṛṣṇa explains the principles of dharma and what it means to live in alignment with dharma. Each verse is full of profound wisdom!

-Reflect on your understanding and experience of dharma. What are you designed to do naturally? How can you cultivate more virtue in your life? Where do you feel connected to your true nature, and where do you feel out of alignment? How can you serve the flow of life and the upliftment of all beings? What does the space of the heart feel like, and what does it inspire you to do?

-In honor of Lord Buddha, we invite you to also spend some time today in meditation. You can also make it a point to dedicate your practices to the upliftment of all beings.