SATYAN NASTI PARO DHARMAH — There is no religion higher than Truth. That is the motto chosen for the title page of The Secret Doctrine of H. P. Blavatsky.
Dharma is one of those Sanskrit words rich in meaning and shades of meaning. One comprehensive translation is "Law." The word is difficult to define exactly but we may say that what is usually described as Dharma is really but the manifestation of Dharma. The Law itself has not any attributes that we can specify. I believe it was Pythagoras who said that the Universe is ruled by Law and Order and works with mathematical exactitude. We often have a habit of saying Karma when we mean Dharma, and in that sense Karma is what happens when, so to speak, we run our heads against the hard wall of the Law.
Dharma says if you touch fire you burn. Not as a punishment but as an automatic reaction. I may burn my hand by being careless with a hot iron; or I may burn it rescuing someone from danger. The immediate result and treatment are the same, but the Karma is different. So the widely held idea that suffering is the result of wrongdoing rather needs a broader approach.
Many a man has gone into a burning building knowing he would be hurt; knowing he was acting contrary to the Law, yet going because the Law once more — being disguised as compassion — says you must rescue your fellow creatures. But the Law itself neither acts nor reacts. It is we who do the action. If we are called upon to rescue someone, karma has put us there at that time. If one is burnt by carelessness, it is for the gaining of discernment.
The tendency of all manifestation is to restore balance. In the first place, however, the balance must have been disturbed. The Universe is said to exist for the soul's experience and in order to gain that experience we are bound to deviate from the rigid course of zero. We can only gain experience by knowing the thing through its shadow — the Buddha is reported to have said that sorrow is shadow to life. This being so, and it is in effect the first noble truth of the Buddhists, the real problem is to gain discernment and the purpose of evolution with the minimum of deviation from the norm. In other words the minimum of karmic punishment.
It may well be that this is the origin of the queer idea that we are "born in sin." We cannot learn without reacting against Dharma. Is that sinning? And is it wicked to gain soul experience? There is, however, much needless "sinning."
As for the word Dharma, it is "that which holds" — the container of the Universe. It holds the Universe together, and without it all would be chaos. That being so and remembering that love is the motive power of the Universe, how can one think of bad Karma? For it is all love — Karma, Dharma, and all the other aspects of universal being.
There is no such thing as my Dharma or your Dharma, but there is one's own relation to it.
Another equivalent of the word Dharma is "Duty." A famous verse in the Bhagavad-Gita runs:
Better one's own dharma imperfect
Than the dharma of another well done.
Better death in one's own dharma;
The dharma of another brings danger.
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