Dharma and trauma are deeply connected – whether we realize it or not, we are constantly governed by patterns and a higher order in the universe. Yoga and Ayurveda teach you how to be more aligned with these patterns and to connect more deeply with your true purpose in life, also known as your personal dharma or svadharma. Beyond your personal purpose or svadharma, there is also a vaster understanding of dharma relating to the cosmic order of the universe or rta and the pursuit of an alignment with these higher values.
Dharma is a vast spiritual concept in Indian philosophy, and we certainly cannot cover it entirely here. But in this article, we will begin to explore the complexity of dharma and how you can bring this awareness into your healing process of trauma recovery and the holistic healing of physical and mental health.
What is Dharma?
Dharma has many definitions, and it would be impossible to cover them all in this brief article. But some of the most common meanings of dharma are right action, purpose, right living, or that which leads to the highest common good.
The word dharma comes from the Sanskrit root word dhṛ, which often is translated as to uphold, sustain, nourish, or protect. Essentially, dharma is the Hindu doctrine of law or righteousness. Each individual is guided by these moral and spiritual duties to support the higher cosmic order of the universe.
Within dharma, we also have our own unique svadharma or individual dharma, which can be understood as our purpose in life. As a collectivistic society, Indian thought never saw one’s personal purpose or svadharma as above the universal dharma. Personal and universal dharma are deeply interconnected.
Another common definition of dharma is to simply denote religion. Another term for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma, which can be roughly translated as the eternal way or the eternal path, representing the higher purpose of Hindu spiritual practice.
Universal Dharma versus Individual Dharma
Your individual dharma or svadharma is clearly an important thing to understand, particularly for those who more seriously pursue spiritual paths. But it is crucial to see how each person’s individual dharma fits within the larger picture of universal dharma and how we all work together to support the greater good.
It is common for people to focus on their individual purpose and how dharma impacts their personal life, neglecting to see the greater picture of dharma as the tapestry woven throughout society that keeps us bonded together. Understanding dharma on this broader scale can help us see humanity’s intricate interconnectedness and how deeply reliant we are on one another.
Dharma and the 4 Aims of Life – The Purushartas
In Indian philosophy, dharma is viewed as one of life’s four primary aims, values, or goals, also called the purusharthas. The four purusharthas are:
- Dharma – duty, purpose, righteousness, or moral values
- Artha – wealth or prosperity
- Kama – pleasure or enjoyment in life
- Moksha – freedom, enlightenment, or liberation
Some spiritual scholars state that when understanding and pursuing all parts of the purusharthas, they all must be done within the framework and backdrop of dharma, as this is the most critical underlying force of life. When we engage in pleasure, the pursuit of wealth, and enlightenment within the context of dharma, we can ensure that any actions we take are both for our individual and the collective good.
Dharma Throughout the Stages of Life
It is also important to note that each person can have more than one dharma, which can change throughout life. In Indian philosophy, there is the concept of stages of life or the four ashramas. The four ashramas of life are:
- Bhramacharya – student life, typically from birth to age 25
- Grihasta – householder life, typically from age 25 to 50
- Vanaprastha – forest dweller life, typically from age 50 to 65
- Sannyasa – renunciate life, typically from age 65 until death
At each stage of life, our purpose or dharmic duty is different. For example, during the phase of student life, one’s purpose is to study, gain knowledge, and learn as much as possible for the betterment of oneself and others. But then, in the stage of householder life, one’s primary purpose is to work to support one’s family and raise children to continue the growth of our society.
Each stage is essential for the functioning of the greater society, and by understanding these stages and where one is in life, we can better understand our dharma during these times.
Dharma and Cosmic Order – Understanding Rta
Ultimately, dharma is a vast concept that extends beyond the individual person and into a deeper understanding of rta or cosmic order through duty, obligation, and righteousness. On this vast level of cosmic order, the primary organizing concept of our universe is these ethical values.
When each person performs their individual duty or svadharma in life, this supports the functioning of the broader society in an intricate, interdependent tapestry of life. We are all a unique and essential thread of this tapestry, supporting each other for the betterment of all.
The cosmic order of the universe and the vaster concept of dharma were explained in the Dharmashastra, a set of texts describing our duties and obligations as individuals to the larger society.
When we understand this greater concept of right and wrong and live within the spiritual values of non-violence, truthfulness, self-realization, cleanliness, and more, we can support the furtherment of ourselves and the entire society for spiritual benefit. We are all a part of something greater in life. By remembering this fact, we can reconnect to the vastness of each microcosmic individual within the vast macrocosm of the universe.
Dharma and Trauma Recovery
Dharma is an enormous topic, but ultimately, learning about dharma reminds us of how to live within the core moral and ethical values of human society, understand our personal purpose in life, and fit into this vast, intricate framework of the world.
A common result of trauma is the experience of dissociation and disconnection from both the individual self and the larger society. By learning about the concepts of dharma, we can remind ourselves that there is a larger cosmic order of life that we may apply to ourselves and understand how we fit within this framework.
Through the process of trauma recovery, dharma also teaches us how to systematically understand the importance of post-traumatic growth and finding meaning in suffering. Of course, this does not at all mean to excuse any harm caused to the individual or to imply that anyone “deserved” the traumatic harm caused to them. Instead, dharma offers us an invitation to find a deeper purpose and meaning in our lives and transform trauma to support our greater purpose in life. As Viktor Frankl described in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, when we can find purpose, hope, and meaning even in the darkest of situations of life, we can grasp onto a thread of beauty and light, pulling us out of the darkness and towards something greater.
In my own life, my traumatic experiences have taught me that no matter what darkness I may face, I am determined to keep moving forward and live to dedicate my life to a greater purpose. By contributing to the greater good in any way that I can, I have been able to transform my traumatic experiences into an opportunity to support and serve others, embodying the wounded healer archetype in my personal life.
Dharma also teaches us that each person has a unique and vital individual path within the greater tapestry of life. We often get caught in the cycle of comparing ourselves to others and the world around us, measuring ourselves by an arbitrary measuring stick that inherently makes us feel lesser. But dharma teaches us that each person’s position, no matter how small, is essential to the greater framework of society and that each individual’s path is beautiful and honorable in its own right.
Even though the path of a trauma survivor undoubtedly has more pain than others, that doesn’t make it any lesser. Those who have experienced trauma are, in fact, some of the strongest and most resilient individuals in our society, for they have experienced the true depths of darkness and now choose to see the light despite this awareness.
How to Bring Dharma and Trauma Recovery Into Your Life – 5 Tips to Find Your Dharma
- Engage in Self-Reflection
The beauty of dharma is that how we connect with it and understand it can be different for every person. Dharma teaches us how to break through self-judgment and any outer projections of what we “should” be doing and instead teaches us to honor the inner voice inside, guiding us towards our higher path. When we remove “should” from our vocabulary, we can break down the message of shame and highlight the unique beauty of each individual’s purpose and role in the greater society. Through deep self-reflection, you can begin to listen to this inner voice and honor the intuitive guidance that brings you closer to your svadharma.
- Study Spiritual Teachings
Dharma is also broader than just an individual’s purpose in life. By studying various spiritual teachings from any tradition that you connect to, we can discover inspiration from the wisdom of the sages and begin to take steps down the path of awakening to this higher cosmic order. We don’t need to find these things on our own and seeking the support of a teacher or community as you explore spiritual teachings can give you greater guidance and understanding on this complex path.
- Identify Your Values
Another essential component of connecting with dharma is exploring your personal values. Taking the time to reflect on what is important to you and what you value in your life can help you reflect on whether or not you are living within these values. Again, there is no judgment in this process. It is simply a process of building awareness to see where you are in life and how you can begin to take steps toward where you would like to be.
- Give Space for Exploration
As you explore the complexity of dharma on both an individual and cosmic level, it is essential to give yourself space for exploration and try on different aspects of dharma in your life. To navigate the vastness of dharma, it is vital to continue to connect with your intuition and give space for this wisdom to arise from within. Often we can get caught in the trappings of the habit patterns of the mind, but when we learn to quiet the mind and go deeper into the heart space, we can tap into a deeper internal instinct and harness a pearl of profound wisdom within.
- Practice Equanimity and Nonattachment
Finally, as you explore dharma, it is essential also to practice the principles of equanimity and nonattachment. Equanimity is the practice of remaining neutral and not getting pulled too deeply into the pursuit of pleasure or aversion to what is uncomfortable. By coming from a neutral place within, we can see reality as it is rather than how we want it to be. And combining this with nonattachment teaches us the importance of engaging in our duty and higher purpose in life with a pure heart and without an attachment to a particular result. Even if we put in our total effort, we cannot always expect to achieve the desired results, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give it our all. Learning to let go of what you cannot control can soften your outlook on life as you surrender to the greater cosmic order.
The Role of Dharma in Trauma Healing
Dharma is what sustains the world, keeping the cosmos moving forward and underlying the fabric of each beautiful individual. The journey of understanding dharma on a broad scale and in your individual life is a journey of a lifetime, and there may be no end to this transformative process.
The more that we can align ourselves with our inner truth and give ourselves permission to live in this purposeful way, the more that we can access more profound healing within and transform our lives into a higher pursuit. If you are interested in learning more about how you can utilize dharma in your trauma recovery journey, please reach out to me for more information!