“It is better to do a third rate job taking care of yourself than a first rate job of caring for another.” Bhagavad Gita
The above quote from the Gita, one of the foundational texts of hinduism and yoga philosophy, is not offered as an argument for selfishness but rather speaks to the importance of understanding jiva (self), dharma (laws of creation) and karma yoga (right action). How can we truly help another before we dissolve our ignorance and realize who we are?
There is a misconception in the spiritual world that doing is bad and being is good. Vedanta, the ancient science of consciousness, shares that awareness of the relationship between the two (doing and being, physical and spiritual, separateness and wholeness) reins supreme.
Svadharma, is a sanskrit word that means self-dharma, our duty within the cosmic order. We create positive karma and purify negative karma when we come to know and share our gifts. We suffer when we ignore our nature and instead live under the influence of others – family, friends or the larger culture.
For the prodigy violinist, taking action is clear, playing the violin is their svadharma (duty) and karma (action). For many though, the choice is less apparent. Some have multiple talents and opportunities, while others are deeply influenced by cultural norms or have limited choice due to socio-economic circumstances.
If we fall into the later category and don’t know what action to take, karma yoga has a solution: do what needs to be done in the moment and relinquish attachment to outcome. If the dog needs to go the bathroom, take him outside. If the children are sick, care for them. If dirty dishes are piled high, by all means wash them. The secret: when taking action, be present with emotions as they arise, while relinquishing the story of mind. In this way we transform our vasanas (tendencies) and assimilate our karma.
It does not matter if we are a fortune 500 CEO or the manager at Waffle House. No human or job is more important than another. We each have our singular part to play in the matrix of all that is.
One trap that many fall into is trying to be like someone else. This is a recipe for suffering. Vedanta teaches us that moksha (liberation) involves removing the veil of ignorance that covers our true nature. Trying to become like someone else or placing another on a pedestal, takes us further away from who we are. Everyone has access to infinite peace, love and wisdom; it’s who we are.
In my life, I have often done things to gain recognition because I felt limited and separate. In searching for love outside myself, I now know that love will always evade me, much like the mirage of water in the desert.
With age and experience we hopefully learn the first teaching of Vendanta: that love cannot be found in objects or experience because who we are is neither an object nor an experience but rather Brahman (that from which all phenomena arise and return to).
Sometimes our svadharma is so close to us that we fail to see it. Like the fish that does not know about water. When trying to determine our svadharma, we can ask ourselves, what do we feel passionate about, what do we do that requires little to no effort yet brings peace and joy? If we spend precious time taking actions not related to our svadharma, it is important to explore our motivations for doing so.
Sometimes our svadharma appears to be in conflict with the greater whole but who are we to judge? It is not our place to caretake the whole or control another’s karma. Each of us must be responsible for our own karma and leave the rest to Isvara (the creator). Of course, there are those who need to care for others and live in service as it is their personal karma and svadharma.
What keeps us from discovering and living our svadharma? Is it the expectations of others? Do we sidestep our duty so that we can serve another’s? Are we enmeshed in the karma of our husband, wife or children? Maybe we have learned to reject, abandon and sabotage ourselves? Are we seeking love or recognition for our actions?
When there is an emergency on the plane and the oxygen masks drop, we are instructed to put our mask on first before helping another. If we truly want to serve the whole, we must begin by serving ourselves. By serving, I mean removing our ignorance of who we truly are and taking action from this place of understanding. How can we take right action if our vision is distorted?
Vedanta teaches us that the world does not need saving. There is a perfect balance of light and dark within this realm of phenomenon, with just the right friction and heat for our awakening if we so choose. There are saints and sages, murderers and rapists. Who are we to judge, change or control another’s karma and svadharma?
There is no greater service to the whole than playing our part. The piano has keys both white and black, high and low. The white are no better than the black, the high no better than the low. All the keys are needed to share the full expression of music, both resonant and dissonant; the notes, the chords, and the silence in between.
Eaden Shantay owns True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale, CO with his wife and partner, Deva Shantay. Eaden leads weekly meditation, Tuesdays 10:30am and Thursday 7pm. True Nature offers yoga, meditation, high-prana, living foods, a spa, a boutique and a peace garden. Stay tuned for an Introduction to Vedanta with Eaden on April 26th; learn more at http://www.truenaturehealingarts.com
Thanks to James Swartz for sharing Vedanta with such clarity.