The journey of self-discovery is a journey inward. The journey starts at the outer layer- the body- and goes deeper inward and deeper still (Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate-Heart Sutra) 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 remains 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. The concept of conscious agent can be likened to Atman in Hinduism and soul in Christianity. The conscious agent gives rise to our mind which creates our reality. What makes each of us different and special according to the Vedas is our 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 closest thing in science to the idea of dharma is one’s genes. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene, makes an assertion that is revolutionary-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. This idea aligns with the concept in Buddhism that “we are never born and we never die.”
Our dharma is our essence. 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, in my opinion.
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. When we are living our dharma, we know it. It is a feeling.