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On "Dharma", Or the "Right Way to Live" -- Does it Exist?

Updated: Feb 20

A distance entrance.


Beyond Dharma's Shadow


The concept of "Dharma," while still relevant in some spheres, isn't as imposed on individuals as it once was. Before the Industrial Revolution, societal, cultural, and religious structures largely dictated the course of one's life.


It can also be regarded as Karma, in contemporary English, as one of you have stated in the comments. I would say, from my observation, that Karma is necessarily Dharma, or a "cosmic law", but not every feature of Dharma has anything to do with Karma specifically.

As a common peasant, your path was mapped out from birth. You were raised within the confines of your community, expected to marry and build a family, and inevitably inherit your father's profession or business. Women faced even stricter limitations, educated for domestic lifeand child-raising within the confines of marriage.


While this era offered a sense of certainty and belonging, it came at the cost of individual freedom. While some may romanticize the simplicity of pre-modern life, I, as an individualist, wouldn't trade the autonomy of the present for that society-imposed ways of life. For none of society necessarily knows myself beyond the external world, like I do.


Can we say that anyone is capable of self-professorship like we can, as people who are always with our own company?


However, traces of this "Father Knows Best" mentality persist in certain societies, often dictated by figures of authority – be it a religious leader, a dictator, or even the interpretations of ancient texts. These societies hinder self-ownership claiming to know what's best for their members, much like a parent controlling a child's life. One Chinese ethnic group, known as the Mosuo, is a matriarchal society where, ironically to progressive philosophies, women are compelled into either having children or adopting ones. That's because their traditional way of life compromises their own regard, as in the case in other collective, self-conserving traditions.


To take control over your life -- that begins by refusing to become whatever society wants you to become, by disagreeing with its ways, and actively opposing it, by walking your own path. Reluctantly serve it too much, and you won't be happy. You won't be happy because you won't be living the life you want. Hence the existence of a concept I call, "The Sin of Good". We may "sin" by being good to other's expectations -- but not our own, thus giving them rule, or "dharma", over our lives, and "karma", as we suffer in accordance to our submission and lack of assertiveness.


Navigating My "Dharma"


As a child, before the diagnosis of autism brought clarity to my social challenges, my clan were the well-meaning forces guiding my life, and teaching me morality through hospitality ceremonies. While they granted me freedom I was pushed towards social interactions, as I believed they had the authority to know what was best for me.


The greatest oversight in my upbringing was not making me understand that those who fit in are usually those who either have powerbases or are normal enough. Now, I engage with others like a politician, not like a genuine social animal. Although I "sin" in moral egoism, extensive social interaction can be draining for me, as in the case of many introverts. Do you see where I'm getting at?


I'm getting at the fact that you can't properly know what is better or best for you if you won't get to know yourself properly. And that is a task others might be less better at doing, when you are the one capable of much soul-searching, than them.


The concept of "Dharma," or the path to a meaningful life, is painted with diverse interpretations, in theory, finding an absolute, universal answer for all life journeys. Collectivists will see purpose in social connection, while individualists will put an emphasis on activities related to self-discovery. Hedonists would chase pleasure, etc.. Patriots dedicate their lives to the nation, while some view humans as mere vessels for procreation and species survival. This collections of perspectives begs the question: which path leads to true fulfillment? Or more specifically, which path resonates with reality the most?


Criticizing "Dharma"


The inherent problem with "Dharma" lies in its subjective nature. And subjectivity is a problem here because subjectivity implies general equality, even between opposite perspectives. That is while Dharma is all about the universality of the truth. It's when a uniform fact exists regardless of external standards. For example: The Earth is both big and small, and yet, we cannot doubt the fact that it's both big than ourselves, and smaller than the sun. Subjectivity is not subject to reality, necessarily, but necessarily to perception. It always originates from perception, but does not even have to be related to external reality.


You cannot apply the same to individualism and collectivism because they oppose themselves directly, unlike size, which is always in relation to other bodies. Individualism and collectivism, on the other hand, need to be proven in order to be correct. And they cannot be correct at the same time if individualism opposes collectivism and vice versa.


However, "big" and "small" do not, in general, contradict each other, because it always depends on specific relations, and not reality at large.


However, the question of "how to live" may not have a single, objective answer. That's because, as in the example of sizes, there is no universality of truth but subjective equality. Those who claim to have found it often fall into the very "sin" they accuse others of – holding a subjective opinion, that does not have to relate to reality whatsoever, in order for it to exist.


This is why, logically, there's no one-size-fits-all manual for living. The source of guidance is as personal as the journey itself, and is always up for our freedom of choice. We can learn from different philosophies, but the responsibility of creating a meaningful life rests with each individual, if we even desire it.

Intermission: A Hermit Philosopher's "Dharma"


I used to choose the individualist side of the issue, believing that only I could know for myself what was best for me. However, if it weren't for welfare, I would've lived thus far very poorly, even though I managed to make some money off the internet, using the things I'm good at. I recieve welfare because I have invisible disabilities. Actually, I opened this site because I wanted to turn it into a living and leave a legacy as well.




It was during the time when the Israeli internet was flooded by a certain man. He told people they could live off the internet. After being accused of being a scam, that man eventually stopped his megalomaniac funding of local internet advertisements.

It was quite horrible, actually; every couple of minutes, his annoying face would appear on our screens, until I decided that's it and I'll try to see for myself. As expected, reality has proven the situation more difficult.


Perhaps I would've had a loving wife and children and not been confined to where I currently live because I could ride a horse or something (did they have licenses for horses?). But when you are disabled life provides different paths for you... paths less taken. Introspecting deep inside me I know my purpose and as such I accepted my death as well.


But understand that my situation is quite exceptional becuase no one would understand my disabilities unless they are to get into a deeper connection with me. And it's something I let very few people do with me. Because it is very easy to misunderstand me I quarantine myself from the world on purpose, exclusively knowing what I'm capable of doing, for good and for bad.


By isolating myself, I control my own destiny from the confines of my physical hermitage. I take control of the "dharma" and make it into my own. I am too wise to consider the hands society to be equal to fate.


Finding Your Dharma


So, from all of this, I gather that the crucial question becomes: do you choose to live life on your terms, willingly fulfilling your passions, or do you sacrifice your desires for external gains?

Take the artist, for example. Their passion might lead to a small apartment and perhaps fewer children, but the joy of creation fuels their soul. On the other hand, a career against your honest desires might bring wealth and a seemingly ideal family, but at the cost of constant internal conflict, between you and your ideal self.


Controlling "Dharma", then, lies in prioritizing your life's purpose/s. Before blindly navigating its currents, define what truly matters to you. Every path has its compromises, but each offers unique rewards that won't necessarily be within other paths.



Religion, with its diverse doctrines, cannot dictate universal happiness and fulfillment for every individual. This, perhaps, is why secularism is or was on the rise. While religion provides meaning for some, it cannot be forced upon all like a uniform. Some "weeds" will rebel because religion fails tailoring its life philosophy on every single member.


Even the most populous religion, with its zealous followers, cannot guarantee universal contentment, if that is even its purpose in the first place. Some may still find themselves dissatisfied, even driven to despair, by its "cosmic laws". To claim one religion as superior based on sheer numbers is to fall prey to the ad populum fallacy.


Summary


Ultimately, the Dharma that governs each life is forged by individual choices or external forces, sometimes willingly embraced, other times thrust upon us. And within this diversity of paths, a multitude of Dharmas can coexist, shaping our lives in unique and complex ways. In many cases the choice is ours to either stay or deviate from our current paths.


The lack of a universal Dharma for each human to follow in a uniform matter, allows people to be free within this universe of void and its three expressions of space, seclusion and silence. I explained what it means in another article.


Consider the fact, also, that living is relative to the situation and even era. If I lived in the distant past, perhaps I would've been a farmer, working and raising a family against my will, but at least I would not necessarily be so inclined to believe in militarism because of my life in Israel.

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When a word that comes from one political economic and socio-cultural setting is used then one might want to begin by being very clear about the various "origina" meanings of that term. To take "dharma" and/or "karma" and use those words as if they make immeidate sense it misleading. I would prefer if ordinary words in contemporary English were used, or if words that are not traditionally part of the standard English language are used then they need to be thoroughly disambiguated. Should people have life goals? Perhaps. But does sayijng that require the use of a Sanskrit word? Not really. Go ahead and use any word. But make it clear what the precise definition may be for you i…

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Thanks for commenting. Will take that into account.

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roland leblanc
roland leblanc
Feb 23, 2022

Nice article Mr. Tomasio Rubinshtein,

I wonder though, ... if you could tell us of'' what philosophy thinks of Karma vs Dharma?''

roland

Yado Wadi

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Thanks for commenting!

Karma is quite problematic from a realistic standpoint because not all people achieve the justice they deserve. On the other hand, it would be plausible that a life that is lived rightfully is one where justice is present. Nonetheless, regardless of the chosen path in life, the attainment of justice, AKA karma, is not always possible, and even when it's possible, it is not always the right amount someone deserve to carry or receive. That is true especially when it comes to the law and in court; you might request a second trial, but you can't expect that it will always be accepted by said court.


These two concepts, therefore, represent expectation vs reality. We may live…

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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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