As spirituality goes mainstream, there is much talk about “living your dharma”. But what does that really mean?
René Guénon, in Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines, defines dharma as “the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance.”
This definition suggests that there is a ‘right way of living’ or ‘path of righteousness’ that is specific to each individual. It is through listening to and cultivating our unique characteristics that our dharma (the actual work) and our dharma path (the way it expresses) unfold.
The Challenge: A Midlife Crisis
In e Great Work of Your Life, a modern-day rendering of e Bhagavad Gita, Stephen Cope suggests that our gifts – the things that light us up as children – point to our dharma. He also suggests that dharma re nes itself over time; what started as a gift for music, may develop into a love of conducting and later
a desire to compose.
If the gift is not cultivated in early life, it becomes overlooked, maybe even dormant, in the face of the need to “make a living”. Suddenly, in midlife, we may nd that we have created a life that appears to work on the outside, but inside, we are left wondering, “Is this all there is?”