On "Dharma", Or the "Right Way to Live"
Updated: Jun 15
The concept of "Dharma" isn't as problematic today as it was in the distant past. Before the Industrial Revolution, society, culture, and religion largely determined people's lives.
It can also be regarded as Karma, in contemporary English, as one of you have stated in the comments.
As the common peasant, you would be raised and taught the ways of your society, be forced to marry and have a family of your own, and finally, inherit the profession or business of your father. For women, life was even more strict than that of men.
They would be taught how to be a housewife, take care of the household, be forced to marry as well, and maintain the household and her children.
In these times, you might not have that much freedom, but at least your life would be more certain in terms of its events. Many people might say that life was not as good as it is in modern times, but at least it was simpler.
As an individualist myself, I would not want to be born in these times, but at least there was a sense of certainty embedded in them, a certainty determined by others since your birth. That is probably the only good thing I can give to the pre-modern world.
Certain societies, however, still work in that similar fashion; a "fashion" that is dictated by a figure of authority such as a dictator, a religious figure, or even something silent such as a holy scripture. Such societies could be titled "Father Knows Best" societies, where someone else pretends or genuinely believes that they can know what is good for you more than yourself.
As a child, before I was diagnosed with autism, these figures were my parents. While they gave me plenty of freedom, which I am grateful for, they tried forcing me, at times, to be more social, even though I didn't want to. They told me that they knew better than I did when it came to the importance of social interactions.
In the end, if there was something they failed to do in my education, it was make me see the importance of socializing with others. The only reason I do so is because too much solitude exhausts me. Egotistical, I know, but days of largely being together can take a toll on your mentality. But I digress.
When approaching the concept of "Dharma", or what is the right way to live, different streams of thought have their own narrative of interpretation. Collectivists would say that you need to interact with others in order to realize your purpose in life, while individualists would claim that only you know what's best for you.
Hedonists would put emphasis on the importance of having fun, as correlating to having a meaningful life, while patriots would claim that your life is to be sacrificed to your country, whether by work, volunteering, or even in war. Furthermore, those who see humans as mere animals would argue that our mission in life is to simply reproduce and ensure the survival of the species.
With so many interpretations of this subject, it is difficult to determine which one is the truest. I think we can learn from this subject because the problematic existence of philosophy is something that is purely objective. Of course, the concept of "Dharma" is philosophical, purely because it is an existential thing to think about.
However, it's possible that no objective answer can be given to the "simple" question of "how should I live my life". Even those who have their own reasoning on this subject, commit the "sin" of having a so-called "subjective opinion", as I was accused of myself in the past.
In the end, there isn't really a way to fully determine for everyone how to live, along with what source one can use in order to reach that answer.
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. Actually, I opened this site because I wanted to turn it into a living, but it wasn't as practical as I once thought.
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 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. The results weren't as good as I anticipated. In the end, I had to come to the realization that some people (not him) know better than me.
Nowadays, when approaching the concept of living, my take on it is simple -- it 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 wouldn't necessarily have had to rely on welfare to maintain my living.
Perhaps I would've had a loving wife and faithful children and not been confined to where I currently live because I could ride a horse or something (did they have licenses for horses?). Some people want to live life according to their own will, but if you were, for example, an engineer, you would at least have a high income even if you detested your job.
So, from all of this, I guess that it is important to consider whether or not you wish to live life willingly or to gain something by doing something you don't want to do.
You might enjoy living as an artist, for example, but you may have to live in a smaller apartment and maybe not bring a lot of kids if you want to be a parent.
On the other hand, if you live by doing something that goes against your will, you might suffer, but at least you'll be wealthier and perhaps even have a happier family.
I conclude that the concept of "Dharma" must include having a priority in life. Before living life, one should best choose what they actually want to achieve as long as they're alive. Each choice might not be ideal, but at least each of them offers something that the other choice does not have.
Regardless, what should be clear is that there isn't one, universal way to live life. Not even religion can tell each human being how to live and keep all of humanity happy, satisfied, or sustained. I guess that, especially because of that, much of humanity became secular as a result, because religion may bring meaning to some people's lives but not to all lives.
Even if that religion became the most important religion in the world, people may still be dissatisfied, if not suicidal, with the scriptures of that religion dictating their lives. To say that a religion is more correct than others, because of its following is an example of the ad-populum fallacy.
Thus, the "Dharma" that exists in humanity is the one that is decided by either others or oneself. Because of that, several of these may apply, either forcibly or voluntarily.