Most of us are familiar with the concept of karma – the idea that our actions begin a cycle of cause and effect that eventually gets back to us. So, if you do good deeds, the positive waves of change you create will eventually come back to you as positive experiences. If you do bad deeds, eventually negative experiences will be your reward. Based on this simple explanation of the Law of Karma, it seems easy enough to have a stress-free, joyous life: just be a decent human being. But it rains on the good and bad alike, so maybe the whole idea of karma is wrong…or maybe it’s just not that simple.It’s a part of being a living, breathing human being that we will run into challenges and hard times. Nobody, no matter how “good,” escapes such times. The subtlety of karma is that it has to do with the way you respond to changing circumstances in order to maintain spiritual balance, or equanimity.
At any given moment, on any given day, there is a right course of action for you so that you maintain spiritual balance and continue to grow. That course of action is your dharma – a way of behaving that is in accord with the natural order of the universe and your place in it. There is a time for speech and a time for silence, a time to advance and a time to remain still – and it isn’t the same for anyone. Every situation is unique and every individual is one of a kind, so to an extent, what’s right for you today may change a bit tomorrow. I’m not talking about the big things; I’m talking about subtleties of decision-making and interactions with others.
So if the right course of action is always changing, how do you know what to do? The answer is dharmic awareness, and the good news is we all have it.
Dharmic awareness is that feeling you sometimes get when you know you’re about to say the wrong things, or you realize the best thing you can do for someone at that moment is listen. Dharmic awareness is knowing the right thing to do in any given moment of your life. It may also reveal to you the right thing to do with the rest of your life. So if we all have dharmic awareness, why don’t we always know what the right thing to do is? In a word – ego. Not the ego of individual identity; not the ego of self-confidence. Knowing who you are and feeling good about yourself is great. The ego I’m talking about is the one that is driven by fears, desires, anxieties, and ambitions. It’s the part of you that says “the heck with anyone else, this is what I want – or this is what I absolutely won’t stand for.” It’s the part of you that drowns out awareness with the noise of how you want things to be.
To quiet your ego and reconnect to your dharmic awareness, you must meditate. If sitting quietly just doesn’t work for you, moving meditations like tai chi and yoga can work just as well. The key is to breathe and actively open your awareness. Stay inwardly quiet and outwardly gentle and patient. Cultivate the skill of observing your own inner processes of thought and emotion. Be more conscious of what you do and say in your interactions with others and sensitize yourself to the effect your actions have. Learn to see everything as waves of cause and effect rippling out from you to others and back again. Aim to keep these ripples calm and nurturing. Be quick to compliment and express love or appreciation, and be slow to criticize or judge. Soon you’ll notice yourself begin to develop a sense for your right course of action that will guide you through each moment of every day.