The Theosophical Forum – October 1938


From the richness of the Sanskrit vocabulary we have appropriated to our own Theosophical use a word of inestimable value when rightly used. It is the word Dharma, and it is one of the paradoxes of English that the very finest translation is in French — noblesse oblige. From the days of chivalry comes the conception that rank implies obligation; and this is exactly what is meant by Dharma: that we are all of us born and reborn into the world of flesh with obligations, obligations that we are under to others and obligations which others are under to us.

Dharma can be variously translated according to the context — duty, truth, righteousness, conduct, and a dozen or so more. But the underlying sense is never absent — inherent duty, the duty to which and with which we are born. The Bhagavad-Gita is its text book, but its true, interior purport can only be grasped as one lives it in daily life. It is that duty which devolves upon us, taking into consideration our past Karman, our present circumstances, and our future evolution, so that in it as in all else are indissolubly linked past, present and future.

Rightly to appreciate our own duty and to perform it to the best of our ability is to enter into peace, because therein there can be no regrets. It is the difficulty of recognising what IS our duty that carries so many of us astray. Yet this is something that we alone are competent to do; no one else can finally decide for us, however willing they may be to assist. To do our own job, irrespective of the consequences, unmoved by the criticism or the congratulations of others or by the absence of either or both!

The Bhagavad-Gita is emphatic on the subject:

Better one's own Dharma without excellence than the Dharma of another well performed. Death in one's own Dharma is better; the Dharma of another is full of danger. — ch. iii, verse 35

The inference is clear — every duty, every piece of work that can come to us, is of importance, no matter how menial it may seem, how lacking in importance; to do it to the best of our ability is to make progress. Even to die in the lowly discharge of our own Dharma is merit gained and Karman obliterated. To try and do the work of another means that we may do the thing badly, or should I say less well, and we may be debarring the rightful worker from his work. It may breed for us consequences that will outlast many lives, it may even carry us away from the strict line of our own progress. On the other hand when once our Dharma is revealed to us, especially from within, then we must continue as long as life shall last.

Dharma implies the fulfilment of all obligations, both family and national. Of these the family obligations are nearest; most pressing and easiest to slip on. Relationships between husband and wife, between parents and children, offer the perfect imbodiment of Dharma, and no spiritual development can be gained at their expense. Sometimes the temptation to try and sidestep some family duty in order to devote more time or money to Theosophy becomes very subtle — but if reviewed in the light of Dharma it will be speedily resolved.

From another angle the Bhagavad-Gita gives us a clue:

. . . doing the Dharma imposed by one's own nature (the doer) incurs no sin. — ch. xviii, verse 47

Herein we are instructed that by doing our own Dharma righteously and well — that is, to the best of our ability — we create no further ties, produce no fresh Karman, but work out the whole of the past. Only by this is a vicious cycle avoided and the way to liberation from bondage of birth and death made possible. Impersonal, selfless effort is included in the conception of Dharma, and of the results of this the pages of the Bhagavad-Gita bear ample witness. Theosophy was once defined to the writer as "doing the right thing in the right way at the right time for the right purpose and with the right motive." On similar lines Dharma might be defined as "getting right on with the job, and above all, minding one's own business."

Theosophical University Press Online Edition