The journey of self-discovery is a journey inward. The journey begins with the body and goes deeper inward only to discover that there is nothing there except emptiness. The body is made of atoms and atoms are mostly empty spaces; the atoms themselves are made of elementary particles which have no independent existence, they exist only when an observer is there to observe them. If elementary particles are not real then the atoms are not real and the body that appears solid is just empty space. This is undeniably so, it is what modern physics tells us. We also know from neuroscience that “I”, the self, that I identify with is a figment of my mind and does not exist. The body does not exist, I do not exist. So, what exists? What is left is the mind.
What then is the mind? The mind is pure consciousness say the Vedas. Physicist Donald Hoffman has a radical theory that the most elemental unit of existence is consciousness and that each of us is a conscious agent. We are not our body, we are not our mind, we are a conscious agent. Conscious agent, though Hoffman makes no such claim, is akin to Atman in Hinduism and soul in Christianity, it seems to me. What makes each of us unique is our Truth or Dharma.
Dharma and Karma are concepts in Hinduism[i]that have found currency in the west. Dharma is an idea that I was dismissive of, at first, because I misunderstood it to mean one’s destiny. It means a lot more than one’s destiny.
Dharma, as I understand it now, means one’s essence. Our dharma is what makes us unique and special. Every living thing has its essence or dharma, which is unique to it. This is why an apple seed cannot grow into an orange tree. The concept of genes, in science, is the closest idea to dharma. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene, makes two assertions that are revolutionary: 1) our genes are immortal, that is, they carry information that makes each of us unique, and this information is never destroyed, not even at death 2) the genes are selfish, that is, they are about self-preservation and procreation.
Our dharma is our genetic code. It is what makes us “us”. Our genes are about self- preservation and procreation, which is our animal nature, but our dharma is more than our genes. Our Dharma is our essence, it is who we are, beyond our animal nature. Our dharma includes our genes but is not proscribed by them. It is often said that dharma is our destiny and that our dharma is set by our karma(acts) in past lives and how we act in this life. This too is a limited view of what dharma is.
My dharma is my Truth. It is my religion, that is, it is who I am meant to be. Dharma is also understood to mean one’s duty, but, in my view, it is much more than that. Dharma is the seed in me from which emerged my mind. Self-discovery is about getting in touch with this essence in us. Our dharma is our Truth.
Either we live our Truth or are swept up in the drama of daily life. It is either Dharma or drama. When we live our Truth, we are in harmony with nature and all of existence.