One of the most common questions Seekers pose to psychologists and spiritual teachers is "How do I find out my Life Purpose?" or "How do I find my Dharma?" The Enlightenment industry has given us the concept of Dharma as a kind of life purpose. We have been made to think that there is something in this life that we are born to do and called to do in society and in the world, something that will bring true inner gratification and Realization to us and benefits and blessings to others.
We have been forced to believe that only by following our Dharma will our life be full of meaning and value, as though there is something important "on the outside," in some external actions of ours. As though we need to seek out some kind of lifestyle or profession, some kind of social activity, which will unveil our Dharmic potential and be our spiritual Way.
But in this model, until that Dharma is found, until there is some understanding of what one should do in this world, one lives with the feeling of being a spiritual failure, someone who—unlike others who have found their right and beloved Dharmic vocation—is unable to find oneself and therefore lives not quite right, a little off, as life passes by. This Seeker feels deeply misfortunate, insignificant, and unfulfilled, and despairs further and further.
The idea that there exists a unique, individual Destiny is one of the greatest illusions and the most subtle spiritual traps of this New Age era.
After all, no matter how we "realize ourselves" externally or what blessing we bring to others, if we don't budge on the inside we remain spiritually empty. Any kind of servitude to others, no matter its result, will be no more than a subtle "taking," a method of spiritual self-determination through helping others, an opportunity to "get" meaning and significance for one's life through bringing "benefits" to someone else. We become vendors in the spiritual marketplace: I'll help you selflessly, and by accepting my help you give me and my life meaning and significance, temporarily eliminating my feeling of internal emptiness.
The mind is ready to help anyone else (thereby achieving more and more "spiritual dividends") just to avoid helping itself.
How long will we be able to hide the truth from ourselves that no external activity, even the most blessed, will ever bring us the gratification or self-understanding we hoped for? The more effort we've already expended seeking this Dharma, the longer it might take us to realize the truth.
Denying the dharmic illusion and admitting that one has failed to achieve inner gratification even by following one's "Dharma" is a supreme challenge for the Ego.
This is especially true for an Ego - or separated acquired self - that has already grown to incredible proportions from the knowledge that it has its own Destiny and has been following this correct, highly righteous spiritual path. As long as the Ego is clinging to the idea that it is on a higher Path, no matter what you do on the outside, what good deeds you perform, what gratification your Ego experiences, or how long you delude yourself that everything is going well and you're on the correct Way that belongs to you and you alone, inner gratification and true Realization—as well as the true growth that precedes it— will never come.
"Why?" you ask. Because everyone has the same true Destiny: to realize their true nature. And this Destiny is internal, not external.
We all have one Mission, the same Mission: to realize our Original Self. To dig that true, real, noble Self out of the ashes of illusion, social stereotypes, greed, lies, ignorance, repetitive thought patterns, desires to achieve and prove, our ambitions, and desires for pleasures and "highs" of all types. We have a Mission to recall our Original Self out of the reason from which all these issue arise: our lack of love for ourselves due to our lack of connection with ourselves or the One, which is the same thing.
This Mission is to recover our Original Self from the inside, out of barely tangible bursts of Spirit, out of the moments of enlightenment and understanding that occasionally come upon us but never remain for long. This is our task, our spiritual duty: to transform iron into gold, to perform an Inner Alchemy. This is the most important Creation, and it is internal and invisible to others, done not for someone else, not for show, not for the good of humanity, but for the sake of one's own Self within.
And once we are able to realize or recall this Self, no matter what we do on the outside—write music, paint, teach yoga asanas, feed hungry African children, or take the evening dishwashing shift at a fast-food restaurant—everything, absolutely everything, to which you apply your true Self will be a true action, a realized action, a spiritual
action, filled with deep Meaning, Power, and Love. Creating a song, a painting, or a poem is not an end in itself, and is not a Way to true creation. Similarly, working in the Red Cross is not an end in itself and is not a method to erase karma and achieve the highest levels of spiritual development. You cannot realize yourself out of a song or a painting, out of some action in your external life, out of the acts that we consider to be our destiny in this world. These activities have absolutely nothing to do with creation, the Way, or spiritual development…until there exists a Self we have created ourselves.
Neither aiding refugees, nor participating in humanitarian missions, nor enlightening people as a yoga instructor or spiritual teacher—no matter how noble and exalted this seems to our Acquired Self (Ego) or even how much real benefit it brings to others—will change anything within us or create the real us. On the contrary, it is more likely to conceal that real us.
Any external actions can only be the effect of our true self-identification. If we do not know ourselves, then everything we do springs from our false self-identity and is empty, spiritually immature, corrupted by false understandings, goals, desires, and motivations. Everything is driven by our inner imperfection and lack of a self-conscious Self within. No "good deed" will be truly good until we give birth to our own innate goodness from within. Everything must flow from the inside out, not the other way around.
However, once we know who we are, "external" creations cease to have meaning for us. They have no "destiny" and they are not "missions;" rather, they all turn out to be equal in their values.
It becomes immaterial to us what exactly we do in the world, as there is no longer a "special mission, destined specifically for us." There is no unique Dharma. Even the concept of "uniqueness" loses its old appeal, for the petty Ego, which had aspired to such uniqueness, retreats in the face of the truth and purity of the Original Self that we all share. This purity is so simple and powerful that it needs no uniqueness. For there is no individuality, duality, separation or uniqueness on this plane of united perception.
The concept of Dharma, as a worldly Destiny, feeds the Ego and the illusions it creates. The concept of Dharma feeds the feeling of failure when this supposed life Path has not been found… which is always, for how can you find something that doesn't exist? Most often, it is particularly old and wise souls that suffer from "not knowing their Dharma," as they, in their wisdom, already vaguely sense and suspect that there is really nothing they must do. Because of this, they are hounded by the fact that everything they try to label as "their Destiny" isn't! So they continue to dart from one activity to the next, from one Destiny to the next, never finding peace.
But the enlightenment industry impresses upon us that we just can't see that we haven't found our path, that we are lost and must continue to search. This idea has brought forth hordes of eternally unsatisfied "seekers" and has led many outward, away from the true internal efforts needed to create the inner Self. This emphasis on external searching only serves to make us the "eternally seeking" and the "eternally not-finding."
Because the idea of Dharma as Destiny feeds the Ego self, or false and separate self-identification, when we, ensnared by illusion, seem to have found our Destiny, we begin to cultivate it and blindly believe that we are following our Dharmic path.
If we receive the "fruits of our labor"—meaning we see in the external world confirmations of the "goodness and correctness" of our path—the Ego grows still greater from the false gratification of following its great, "proper" Mission. In case of failure, the Ego forces us to move stubbornly onward, excessively narrowing our perspective until it can see only our "true life's work." We grown certain that failures are but "obstacles" on the way that we must overcome at all costs. In this case, one's view of the World narrows to just the "Dharma" and the fear of deviating from it by a single step. The huge, wholesome world ceases to exist for us. Other acts become secondary and insignificant, opinions other than ours become incorrect or merely leave us cold and indifferent, since there is no point in expending effort on anything other than our Dharma. We become narrow-minded, narrow-sighted, fearful, attached and bound. We become hostages to our own mind's game, drowned completely in self-created maya, a Sanskrit term for illusion. Indeed, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. A false creation replaces the true one, the artificial replaces the real, the achievements of the external world—dressed in the illusions of a social Mission—replace inner achievements.
From Sanskrit, Dharma can be translated literally as that which holds or supports (from the Sanskrit root "dhar", to support). This definition of Dharma can be interpreted as that which supports the mind-created subjective reality, the Life of the Ego as such, and the great, mind-created illusion Maha Maya.
In this vein, Dharma is the law under which the Ego-mind operates and on which our visible reality is built. It is a function of the Ego to create illusionary worlds and to support them. Dharma becomes the law governing the effect of our false self-identification that we call our Life - until we are able, having awoken, to shatter the grip of Maha Maya and of our own ignorance, to throw aside all our dharmas, to stop clinging to worldly achievements and the unique "destinies" of the Ego.
In Buddhism as well, Dharmas are "images or pictures of the World."
Fyodor Ippolitovich Sherbetskoy, the famous Russian Indologist and scholar of Buddhism, member of the Russian Academy of Science, honorary member of British, German, and French scientific societies, translator and publisher of several monuments of Sanskrit and Tibetan literature, is in large part responsible for our understanding of Buddhism today. He gives a very clear definitions for Dharma in his work The Central Concept of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Term "Dharma":
Buddha discovered the elements (dharma) of existence, their causal connections, and methods to forever suppress their potency.
In exactly the same way, Vasubandhu [an Indian philosopher, encyclopedia compiler, Buddhist monk, and one of the most respected thinkers who contributed greatly to Buddhism's continued development] states that Buddha, in his compassion for humankind's torments, discovered a method of salvation which did not consist of magical or religious requests, but rather of knowing a method for transforming all dharma, i.e. forever stopping the stress caused by the activity of all forces active in the process of living.
Our understanding of the Buddhist element (dharma) would be incomplete if we do not include within this understanding this addition regarding the stress that must be suppressed.
While individual elements (dharmas) are not connected to each other with all-penetrating matter in space, nor with time duration, nonetheless there is a connection between them; their manifestation in time, as well as in space, are subject to certain laws, the laws of causation. We have seen that under the corollary meaning of the word dharma we mean elements that act in conjunction with others. These elements of existence are momentary appearances, momentary bursts in a phenomenal world.
Every element (dharma) that appears in a phenomenal life operates under the influence of four different forces (sanskara) simultaneously: the forces of emergence (utpada), disintegration (jara), existence (sthiti), and destruction (anityata).]
'Dharma,' says Vyasa, ' exists in all three times.' The manifestation (dharma) and the manifested (dharmin) are one and the same; the manifestation is merely the path upon which the manifested appears.
The nature of dharma is such that they (the elements) emerge from causes (hetu-prabhava) and are directed toward fading away (nirodha). The elements are broadly divided into the stress (duhkha), the cause of stress (duhkha-samudaya-avidya), fading away (nirodha), and the cause for fading away (marga-prajna). The final result of the worldly process is suppression, absolute tranquility. All interaction has faded away and been replaced with immobility (sanskrita-nirvana).
Therefore I, the soul, the self, individuality, living being, human being—all these concepts do not correspond to the final reality. These are but the names of certain combinations of dharma, i.e. formations of elements.
In these excerpts we see that "dharmas" are elements of existence, the forms through which the human consciousness perceives the World. These forms are incessantly appearing and disappearing bursts in a phenomenal world, stresses of the mind which originate due to various causes and which, as Buddha said, must be suppressed or fade away in order to understand tranquility.
To do this, we must learn to suppress any attempts to find meaning in external manifestations of existence, to label any actions in the world as one's Destiny, or to rationalize and find justifications for one's attachment to this Game of Maya. We must especially let go of thinking we are manifesting existence through the concept of Destiny or "serving" or helping and so on. At the same time, we must understand our true motivations and our desires for self-affirmation, success, external virtue, fame, and other stresses of the separate mind (dharmas). One's attention must be directed from the external world to the internal in order to begin the everyday, every-minute inner work that can only occur in the daily moment of the "here and now," in that which exists, instead of in the flight away from existence into games thought up by the mind, games the Ego-mind labels "Missions" and "Destinies."
Thus, the inability of a seeker to see and understand their "Destiny" is, in reality. more mature than "seeing" that Destiny in the external world and through external actions.
It is likely that "seekers of Dharma," even having read and understood the point of this article, will probably be unable to just cast aside the idea of its existence. The conviction that one's internal dissatisfaction can be changed only by having achieved or found some spiritual action on the outside, some meaning for one's Existence in the World, or—to put it simply—a Meaning of Life, stems from inner emptiness and a lack of love for oneself. This inner emptiness stems, in turn, from a lack of understanding of one's connection and oneness with the "Original Self," which has no relation to the external world, and from a betrayal of oneself and justifications such as the following:
It may be difficult to understand and accept the fact that that there is no meaning to be found, that you are Meaning. The Meaning is the way you create yourself in every moment of time and the choices you make inside yourself, not outside. You may justify this through:
• Calling it Selfishness: "You mean, I should think only about myself? That isn't spiritual!"
• Laziness: "This is all nonsense! It isn't enough to just have myself and my inner work; I must express myself spiritually with my external actions!"
• Fear of responsibility: "I'm not ready yet. I need to read a few more books and I have to practice harder, then I'll be able to connect with my Self (and take on the responsibility. But for now, I'll speculate a little bit more about that and pretend to be a seeker."
• Victimization (also a form of fear of responsibility): "If only I had a favorite job that would also benefit others/ if only I didn't have to do this non-spiritual bureaucratic work / law practice / trolley driving, then I'd immediately be happy, joyful, and everything in life would have meaning. But as long as I'm on this job, I cannot be happy. Once there are changes in my job/spouse/children/neighbor/climate/global political situation…then I'll change."
Due to our laziness and reluctance to take on responsibility for the fact that we can create ourselves and our lack of readiness to believe that everything is inside, we choose to dream that this inner dissatisfaction can be cured by something external: a pleasant and wonderful job that has meaning, yoga or other "real" practices, money, helping and benefiting other people, or a more understanding husband or wife whose interests match our own. We fail to recognize that these outside sources merely co-opt and replace our own inner source.
These justifications are just tricks of the mind to keep us from realizing what we need to realize, tricks of the mind that lead us away from the realization of our Original Self. They are merely smoke and mirrors that turn us away from our only inner need to understand our Self, and from the only tool we have to do so: our Self.
For truly understanding our Self we need nothing and no one. External factors have no significance unless you are homeless on the street, freezing or starving to death. Furthermore, external factors, when uncomfortable, show more vividly our inner limiting beliefs, pushing one to turn back toward oneself as if to say "Enough is enough. I am not a victim. I know who I am and I can choose differently."
You are your own choice.
A choice. A desire applied to the will. The courage to ask yourself: What do I lack? What inner feeling, recurring emotion, or inner fault am I trying to compensate for with external achievement, success, a sense of approval and acceptance from others? What do I subconsciously want to mask with this sense of benefitting others by fulfilling my "Destiny"? What feeling am I hiding behind the thought that in finding this Destiny, I will finally be satisfied with myself?
Most often what we lack is self-love and self-respect, a lack that results from not being who we truly are, deep down. This is a betrayal of our own Self by choosing fear over love. The betrayal that manifests in thousand different ways.
For example, look at the small lies we might tell ourselves and others, minutely, daily. We lie to the cashier that we have no change, because we don't want to look for it; we lie to our friend that traffic held us up, when actually we left too late, dallying online or at work; we lie to our parents that we're too busy to visit, when we really just want to be alone or see friends more than see them; we lie that we're listening, while our mind sits bored and wonders when the other person will finish so we can talk about us again.
We may lie constantly to make things easier, not even noticing how many times a day we do it. To overcome this in all our daily details—to tell our friend the truth, promising to try not to let it happen again; to admit to our parents how important it is to see our friends and make plans to visit our parents another day…or, having consciously reconsidered our priorities, to cancel on our friends and go visit our parents; to find change for the cashier or to say that it's far and hard to reach right now; and also to apologize when we're not listening in a conversation and direct our inner efforts to sincerely hear what is being communicated. To not to say a word that we know will hurt another, to not play an angry indifference when we do, in fact, care…and the list goes on.
We do not realize that in such minor betrayals of the self, hundreds of times a day, we lose a piece of our self-respect. Every time we betray a part of ourselves by not allowing ourselves to be our true Self and tell the truth, supposing (and justifying to ourselves) that it will hurt others and will not be beneficial to us, we love ourselves a little less.
We betray ourselves, imperceptibly, not realizing it, hundreds of times a day. This permanent self-betrayal results in dissatisfaction, lack of self-respect and self-love.
This is the classic trauma of our society. A collective illness – unknown, familiar to all, accepted by all, and therefore often all but incurable.
The truth is, it's hard, uncomfortable, and sometimes boring to overcome yourself day after day. It's hard to be true to your self. It's hard to be real, to be pure, to be raw, to be Original. It's hard, for the Ego, to be Love. It's nothing like a group yoga practice in an esoterically-decorated and incense-filled yoga studio with the relaxing sounds of singer Snatam Kaur and the instructions of a slender and always positive yoga teacher. This is a difficult task, like spending every day, without breaking for lunch, digging up potatoes under the midday sun….
And yet, these are the daily feats of the self uncovering itself, that restore our self-respect, our satisfaction with ourselves, our sense of fulfillment, and our feeling that Life and every lived day have Meaning.
As soon as we begin to notice and track when and how often we betray ourselves in weakness, ignorance, or laziness, when we do not let our Original loving self to shine through, it becomes easier to try not to do it. Once we taste the joy of being our true Self, once we feel how much strength we gain when, overcoming our fear and aggression, we tell the truth, sincerely and modestly saying what comes from the heart rather from anger or hurt, we will never again want to be a surrogate of ourselves, a surrogate that lives in fear and bondage.
Every new step in this direction, every new victory over our false comfort, false benefit, fear, pettiness, and selfishness, brings true self-respect. This is not merely egocentric pride in oneself. We begin to love ourselves and respect ourselves for who we are inside, for how we live, create, express and manifest this life. As this happens, it becomes enough for us to just Be so real. No matter what Path we choose externally, when we are true to ourselves and our Original self, we are full of strength, light, and truth.
Within such a lifestyle—which could, in fact, be called truly Dharmic—there is no more need for Missions and Destinies that merely serve to get self-affirmation and fill the void within while masking a daily infidelity to oneself. There are no more external goals and actions, no sense that they can offer us anything. There is no more desire to be special, creative, enlightened, or for others to know about it.
Set aside your Acquired Self and realize your true Original Self. It is the most beautiful painting, the most amazing song, the most perfect sculpture and the greatest architecture. It is the "good deed" of primary importance, the only worthwhile creation, and the only Destiny.