3. Dharma

Your duty is to act, but not to reap the fruits of your actions. Do not be attached to the rewards for your actions, and do not be attached to inaction
— Bhagavad Gita

If all humans ceased to exist right now, Earth and its other inhabitants will have a good chance to recover and Life will most likely flourish once again. Alan Weisman wrote an entire book, “The World Without Us[1],” based on just such a premise. Therefore, it is our daily human actions that are contributing to the utter mess that we find ourselves in, drip by drip. Perform the right actions and not only can we live in harmony with Nature, but we can even help Nature recover from our past depredations. Perhaps then, Life can flourish once again on Earth, but with us as a part of it. If the insects, the birds, the fishes and the animals know how to take the right actions and live in harmony with Nature, aren't we humans smart enough to organize our systems and actions to do the same?

And that's where the ancient concept of "Dharma" comes in.

While the doctrine of Karma deals with actions and the consequences of actions, the concept of Dharma deals with the choices facing humans at every moment in life regarding what actions to take. It addresses the thorny question of how to take the “right” action in any given circumstance. How do we determine what is the right thing to do? Dharma can be loosely translated as “righteousness," but it does not carry the negative connotations of that English word. The Hindu epic, Mahabharata, deals with numerous gray areas that individuals encounter during the course of their lives and uses parables and tales to illuminate the path of Dharma under those circumstances. It implicitly acknowledges that there may not be universal recipes for choosing the right actions under every circumstance. Composed entirely in Sanskrit verse to aid in the oral tradition for transmitting the epic from generation to generation, the Mahabharata is seven times longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey put together, though less well known in the Western, industrial world.

The Mahabharata is centered on the Battle of Kurukshetra that is set in ancient India of 5100 years ago. The Bhagavad Gita is the very essence of the Mahabharata and it is better known in the Western world. The Gita is composed as a question and answer session between Lord Krishna and Arjuna regarding Dharma. As the story goes, Arjuna, the preeminent warrior in the Mahabharata, is torn between his duty to fight on behalf of his brothers to restore the kingdom of the Pandavas versus his distaste for killing his cousins and elders in the opposing army of the Kauravas and therefore, seeks counsel from his charioteer, Lord Krishna. Arjuna is experiencing what is known as “Dharma Sankata," the dilemma that occurs when there are no clear choices available before us. Though the Bhagavad Gita is written as a discourse that eventually persuades Arjuna to plunge into the battle that follows in the story, it was also the source of inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi to wage his non-violent, civil disobedience movement that eventually dislodged the British from India. For the principles of Dharma espoused in the Gita and in the Mahabharata cut both ways.

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[1] Alan Weisman, "The World Without Us," Thomas Dunne Books, July 2007. http://www.amazon.com/World-Without-Us-Alan-Weisman/dp/0312347294