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Dharma & Swadharma: How Your Personal Path Matters in the Whole

We hear a lot about the concept of Dharma in the spiritual community — what it means, how to live a life in Dharma, how to ensure that we are on the path that will not only make our lives fulfilling but also to live our lives to their fullest potential to be of service to others and the world. Dharma comes from the root sound "dhr," which means to sustain or to support. Dharma refers to all those ideas, attitudes, beliefs, values, systems, that make us dependable, strong, conscious beings, who are trustees of this universe. Divine Dharma, then, supports and sustains our experience in this life. When we are living in accordance with Dharma, we do not abuse or take unnecessarily; we become safe ourselves and bring safety to all beings.

Dharma, in this way, refers to a larger concept — it's the divine law that governs our experience and how we show up in the world. When we speak, however, of our personal path — the imperative to live a life of meaning and personal or professional fulfillment — we are referring to our Swadharma. Swadharma represents what is the work we will take up. It's our innermost calling, in alignment with this greater Dharma.

One's Swadharma can be any number of material paths. It is possible that a person's Swadharma is to be wealthy or powerful. In this case, the actions they would take would support this kind of pursuit. If it is a person's Swadharma to live in pursuit of pleasure, or spirituality, then they would in this case practice vocations that make pleasure or spirituality a lifestyle, while being in alignment with Dharma.

We can think of the difference between Dharma and Swadharma, perhaps, as the difference between the Self (Ātman) and the ego (Ahaṁkāra), embodied existence (Prakṛti), and the mind (Citta) — the three of which make up the self. We live this life in pursuit of what leads us back to the whole. In this way, our Swadharma must be consistent with Dharma in order for it to be of value both to ourselves and others.


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