According to Ayurveda, the system of medicine from India, all human beings share five primary goals of life. They are:
• Dharma: fulfilling our life purpose
• Artha: fulfilling our needs for survival
• Kama: fulfilling our need for pleasure
• Moksha: fulfilling our desire for freedom
• Prema: fulfilling our desire for unconditional love
While all the goals are important, dharma lies at the root of them all. Dharma is the predominant quality inherent in an object or person. For example, the dharma of fire is heat and light. Living according to our dharma is essential for satisfaction. Personal and spiritual growth begins with being your authentic self. Paraphrasing a verse from the Bhagavad Gita, “It is better to be yourself, imperfectly, than to try to be someone else, perfectly.” We shine our own light better than anyone else can.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we all desire to awaken to our full potential. To do so, we must live according to our true nature. This is called dharma. We all have a dharma, or purpose, that perfectly suits us. Dharma sustains us and is the foundation for fulfilling all five goals of life.
Dharma ultimately relates to our spiritual nature, or jaiva dharma, or the eternal function of the soul. Dharma has four principal dimensions. They are: Satya: truthfulness; Saucha: cleanliness; Ahimsa: nonviolence (compassion); and Tapas: discipline.
The four dimensions are like four legs of a table. When all four table legs are strong, it will be stable, fulfilling its “dharma” as a table. If one leg is weak or missing, the table will wobble or even collapse. For dharma to fully manifest, all four legs must be present:
• Satya: Truth — The Sanskrit word for truth is satya, which means both truth and ever-present existence. Truth is self-sustaining and effortlessly exists on its own. It is being our authentic selves — sincerity at its best. It takes effort to manipulate an image of ourselves. It’s effortless to simply be ourselves. Truth, in all forms, has a health-sustaining influence. Creative self-expression is based on accepting our true nature, with its gifts and limitations. Both personal growth and spiritual growth are fully dependent on this first leg of dharma.
• Saucha: Purity or Cleanliness — The Sanskrit word for purity — internal and external cleanliness — is saucha. Purity is also the power in us to discriminate between what is helpful for fulfilling our dharma and what is not. The process of digestion is a good example. When we eat, the small intestine extracts the nutrients and passes on the rest to be eliminated. Similarly, purity empowers us to accept those things that are truly beneficial and reject those that are not. Purity protects the heart (physical and spiritual) by letting go of that which is toxic to the body, mind, and soul and accepting that which serves our highest well-being.
• Ahimsa: Nonviolence/Compassion — The Sanskrit word for nonviolence is ahimsa. It is the power of wise compassion and is the foundation of dharma. Nonviolence means to restrain from taking actions that harm — emotionally, in any way, humans, other living beings, the environment, or our self. Sometimes we forget that focusing on the faults in others is also harmful to ourselves, as we ingest the very same negative qualities that we perceive. Real nonviolence leads to love and compassion — the higher purpose of nonviolence. Thus, authentic yoga traditions generally recommend a vegetarian diet, an important part of ahimsa.
• Tapas: Discipline — The Sanskrit word for discipline is tapas. It means heat or friction. Tapas indicates the fire-like, focused intensity that burns through any obstacle to fulfilling our goals. Once we pass through this fire, like trials of adversity, we emerge brighter, clearer and closer to attaining our purpose. Imbalanced discipline, ignoring the other legs of dharma — truth, purity and compassion — is not dharma. It takes discipline to eat well, work hard and become successful. It also takes discipline to take time for fun, personal growth, supporting loved ones and choosing compassion over selfishness.
Discovering our dharma is an ongoing, lifelong process — deepening as it reveals itself. To manifest our dharma, it’s necessary to continually cultivate the presence of the four legs.
Life has many teachers, which come as spiritual mentors and life experiences. Both gradually help us fulfill our dharma. Passion is an indication of our dharma. Cultivating all four legs in all we do liberates an internal source of energy and power, one beyond ordinary human functioning. When we fulfill the other four goals of life in the context of our dharma, we become more peaceful, vibrant, successful and happy.