Timeless teachings from India for consciously directing our life through the quality of our choices
A few years ago I was working on a copywriting project for an investment bank located abroad. The Vice President of Marketing at the firm was friendly but very challenging to work with. If I sent her a sensitive email, she would copy in a list of senior managers in her reply. She also kept changing her plan of action, which made it difficult to keep to schedules or meet deadlines. I could never be sure if she accepted responsibility for this or blamed me. Sometimes I would have to work late into the night to accommodate her shifting deadlines.
One day, I decided it was time to expose the situation. I would send her a carefully worded email about the consequences of her chaotic approach. I would copy in all the senior managers at the company. I drafted the email, and was about to hit the send button.
But I found myself hesitating. It didn't feel right.
There are certain choices in life that are "difficult". Often, this is not because we lack the information we need to make them. Neither is it because it's hard to gauge which option will benefit us more. Rather, it's because these choices are defining - they define who we are as human beings.
The Dharma Code: Living Intelligently
Thousands of years ago, the sages of ancient India formulated the Dharma Code, a powerful system for making enlightened choices in everyday life. It was originally intended for kings and queens, to make wise decisions in ruling kingdoms.
Expressed in its simplest form, the Dharma Code is four principles that manifest excellence through "right action" - action that leads to optimal outcomes. These are Truth, Purity, Non-violence and Discipline. Applying the Dharma Code results in the unfolding of our potential.
One reason we don't manage to invoke Dharma fully is that we don't usually apply all four Dharma principles together. We apply one of them, or at best two, which is like pushing down on the acceleration pedal of a car while simultaneously leaving three handbrakes partially on. The secret is to apply all of them, simultaneously.
Dharma also has a second, closely related meaning - that of "true nature", or the "law of a thing's being". The Dharma of an acorn is to become an oak. Our Dharma is to manifest our full potential.
Until an acorn grows to become a mighty and venerable oak, its Dharma remains an unexpressed potential. We too carry an invisible potential within our being. Each of us has a unique set of gifts, a concealed magnificence. To express it is our life's purpose. We awaken our potential by applying the Dharma Code in our life.
The Dharma Code: Applied in Real Life
Coming back to the Vice President whom I found challenging. Was it time to expose the situation? The principle of Truth seemed to require it. But why did I find myself hesitating? Why didn't it feel right? I turned to the Dharma Code.
It dawned on me that while I was privileging Truth, I was ignoring Non-violence. My email was polite and professional; but my intent was aggressive. So often we can hide our aggression behind a veneer of professionalism. How would the Vice President feel being exposed in this way before other senior managers of the company? In empathising, I began to recognise the many challenges she might be facing. She was new to the organisation, and investment banks are known for their strong male-dominated culture. The work I was involved in was probably only a small fraction of her many responsibilities. I now found myself revising what I had earlier regarded as indubitable Truth.
I decided to write to all the senior managers, but instead of criticising, I praised her for her work. I expressed my genuine appreciation for her achievements in what were sometimes fairly challenging circumstances. What a joy it was to send that email. And what a difference this made to our working relationship. It built trust. It made it easier for me to speak honestly to her. It also generated immense vitality in our working relationship.
Truth, Purity, Non-violence and Discipline are dynamic qualities that I actively cultivate in my life. These principles are potent "change agents" that help us engage with life in a way that generates vitality and brings us closer to our full potential.
Today, we have access to more options and information than ever before, and this in itself can make decision-making more difficult. The Dharma Code is a powerful tool for directing our life more consciously and for addressing life's more difficult decisions - those that define who we are as human beings.
Simon Haas is the author ofThe Book of Dharma: Making Enlightened Choices. He lived for ten years in temple monasteries in India, studying the teachings of Dharma, and apprenticed for 16 years with an elderly master practitioner in the Bhakti tradition.