Dharma means that which holds together and sustains. There is really no equivalent word in the English language. Perhaps this is significant in light of the fact that our present culture, which is very adharmic and unsustainable, is promoting selfish, short-sighted, consumerism with no consideration as to how these actions may impact upon the whole of creation. Our modern civilized culture tells us that the earth belongs to us and that we have a god-given right to use others for our own purposes. It also tells us that civilization is the highest manifestation of earthly potential, that there is no higher, or better, way to live, that there is nothing beyond civilization.
What is this civilization to which I refer? It is a way of living based on exploiting, enslaving, domesticating, and manipulating other members of the earth nations (other animals and plants) for our own gain as if we somehow existed outside of the interconnected web of life. Over the course of roughly ten thousand years humans have moved from tribalism into our present culture through the domestication of animals and intensive farming. We are now experiencing an amplified form of that way of life in our consumer-based, disposal culture. Because we are addicted to this egotistical model, we are causing the extinction of other animal nations, the planet, and ultimately our own species. Clearly we must discover a different way to live as soon as possible.
Should we go back to nature? Will new technologies save us? Technology is not the way of the future. Our human technology is an extension of our own unenlightened minds. By “unenlightened minds,” I mean minds that do not perceive the whole, that do not perceive the inter-connectedness of all of life. As a species we tend to be arrogant and feel superior to all other species with whom we share this planet. We follow the law of “might is right”. This mindset tells us that we have the means, and therefore the right, to dominate, exploit, or subjugate others who may lack our technological tools or weapons. This is absurd, as it disregards the basic law of karma which says that whatever we do will come back to us. These laws are also expressed in physics by the finding that space is curved so whatever we throw “out there” will eventually, and inevitably, find its way back to us.
So, should we go back to nature? We can’t go back to nature, because it is wherever we go! Perhaps we could learn something about dharma from the other animals with whom we share this planet. It is not because of the other animals that our environment is becoming contaminated and barren. It is not because of the other animals that we cannot even drink from our rivers, lakes or streams. The other animals may not have the technological skills and tools that we have, nor do they speak human languages, but they seem to possess, in some ways, a higher intelligence than our own species when it comes to knowing how to live. They have been able to find ways to live with this planet and each other that are sustainable and mutually enhancing, ways that don’t poison the air, soil or water or destroy entire eco-systems. We, on the other hand, are want only destroying others and ourselves in the process. Is that so intelligent? Human technology cannot be the way of the future because it does not provide for the possibility of a future!
Shri Brahmanda Sarasvati suggests, “From the point of view of science, this is the age of electronics, nuclear energy and computers. From the psychological point of view, this is the age of anxiety, neurosis and psychosis. From the national and international point of view, this is the age of pollution, and war. From the point of view of religions, this is the age of confusion, lawlessness, disunity and complete chaos. Be sure, you cannot make peace, happiness or bliss. They have to be experienced. In fact, true peace, happiness, bliss, unity and peaceful coexistence are the way of nature. You have to feel them by meditating on “I-Am” beyond the body and relative mind. For that purpose, we have to open our hearts, where we will find the natural unity of all beings, all nations, all worlds.“
As the Bhagavad Gita prophetically tells us, we need the incarnation of God within our hearts, altering our way of seeing, so that we will know how to go beyond civilization in order to live harmoniously in a way that our own life enhances the lives of others, otherwise we face extinction.
Note: suggestions for further reading: The Universal Search for Peace by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn and The Bhagavad Gita by Swami Sivananda.