सर्वं प्रियाभ्युपगतं धर्मं आहुर्मनीषिणः।
पश्यैतम् लक्षणाद् देशं धर्माधर्मे युधिष्ठिर।

sarvaṁ priyābhyupagataṁ dharmaṁ āhur manīṣiṇaḥ

paśyaitam lakṣaṇād deśaṁ dharmādharme yudhiṣṭhira

‘The wise say that dharma is whatever is based on love for all beings. This is the characteristic mark that distinguishes dharma (righteousness) from adharma (unrighteousness), Yudhishthira’ – Mahābhārata 12.251.24


The word ‘dharma’ originates from the Sanskrit root ‘dhr,’ which means ‘to hold’ or ‘to sustain.’ In Sanskrit, ‘dharma’ carries various interconnected meanings, including duty, righteousness, moral and social obligations, and the inherent order or ‘law of nature’ that sustains the universe. Your ‘personal’ dharma is said to be your purpose, duty, or role in life, your ‘nature.’ For instance, a tree’s dharma could be to grow and eventually bear fruit, sharing it with the environment. Having a dharma in life is like discovering your own compass in the vast sea of existence. It provides a sense of direction, purpose, and fulfillment, guiding you through the waves with a profound connection to your true self. Embracing your dharma brings clarity, contentment, and a harmonious alignment with the natural flow of life. Modern psychology agrees that having a purpose or role in life is one of the six essentials for a general sense of contentment; the other five being shelter, food/drink, rest, safety, and social relations (I’m personally not quite sure about the social relations thing, though). Having a dharma and creating good karma is a wonderful way of living.

Our dharma evolves across different phases and roles in life. As a child, we embrace one set of responsibilities, while as an adolescent, our dharma takes on a different form. Transitioning into the workforce or parenthood introduces yet another facet of dharmic duty. This dynamic nature persists throughout our life. Yet, as we embark on the spiritual path, our ultimate dharma becomes the realization of truth or satyadharma. Central to the discourse on dharma are the questions of “what constitutes the right action?” and “what defines a virtuous outcome?” Consistency holds the key to these inquiries. Through a dedicated and uninterrupted meditation practice sustained over an extended period, the answers gradually reveal themselves.

Discovering your purpose and holding onto a strong moral guide connects you deeply to life. Imagine a lamp in your home, just hanging there without being used. Now, think of yourself as that lamp. It’s like feeling out of place or useless, something many of us experience, and unless you are a zen master about to get enlightened you’ll feel uncomfortable with this situation. But having a strong sense of what’s right and a commitment to duty can help overcome these feelings.

When you have a job and clear guidance or when you choose a specific path, life feels meaningful. It’s like weaving a purpose into your existence, where your actions and duties make everything fit together. Nature meant for our body and mind to feel down when we lose our sense of duty and purpose. We might start to wither like a flower, but in the end, we can serve a purpose, just like fertilizer in the cycle of life. Seeing ourselves as beyond nature and better as trees and animals will strengthen this sense of no-purpose. One of the most significant ego trips humans often indulge in is believing we are more divine than other animals, placing ourselves above all. This perspective distances us from the interconnected circle of life, making us feel alien to this world. Embracing the reality that we are fellow primates, just a bit more intelligent than our monkey counterparts, helps us reconnect with the natural order.

Think of a bird – you rarely see one looking sad in a corner. They’re too busy with their duties, and that keeps them from feeling down. Depression is rare in nature, but it’s more common in humans, especially when we live close to each other. Depression even increases yearly in our world.

Now, imagine a friend who feels like they have no purpose. I knew someone like that who didn’t care if they lived or died. My teacher suggested finding purpose through volunteering (karma-yoga). This person could do good in the world. Since he loved dogs, my teacher suggested working in a local animal shelter. It changed his life, bringing new friends and something to look forward to every day.

This story shows the power of having a purpose, our dharma. Many people come to yoga because they feel they’ve lost their dharma and want to rediscover it. With enough spiritual strength, you can choose or find your dharma through meditation or get guidance from an enlightened teacher.

Let me share another personal story. During all the silent meditation retreats I’ve taken, I always had great ideas about what to do afterwards. In the stillness and virtue, insight arises. I wanted to do charity work, writing and sharing books for free, helping in disaster zones – these thoughts gave my life a strong sense of purpose and usefulness in the world. Every time I came out so happy and full of dharma ready to go out there and live it. Whenever my life faced challenges in the past, I reminded myself that no matter what unfolds, I can always continue and contribute positively somewhere in the world. There’s always a task at hand, and someone out there could use a helping hand.

In life, it often seems that our most impactful lessons come from the teachers that life itself introduces to us. Whether it’s a heartbreak, a health challenge, a loss, or a mentor who stretches us mentally or physically to our boundaries, the experiences that cause the most pain can unveil the most profound teachings once we navigate through the hurt.

To finish off here is an old Indian story about dharma: A saint once saved a scorpion from drowning many times over, since the scorpion jumped into the river again and again. The saint, getting stung by the scorpion, continues the rescue. His apprentice then asked him to stop saving this ungrateful creature, but the enlightened master answered, ‘The scorpion stings, I rescue – it’s our cosmic routine’ – it’s their dharma. The saint’s nature is to help, while the scorpion’s nature is to sting.

Sometimes we feel unfulfilled in the work we do and life we live and cannot believe that this is our dharma. One of my favourite sayings of all time is: “There’s no higher purpose than being of service”.

Make it your dharma.


– Dean Galip