Q.499 Svadharma

Q: On your website ‘Advaita vision’” in the article ‘Consciousness, Ego and Self-knowledge’ is the axiom mentioned that the subject (observer) is different from the object (observed):  the Seer-Seen discrimination (dŗg dŗśya viveka). Are there other such fundamental axioms within Advaita Vedanta and if so, can you give an overview of the main ones?

A: I would say there are not really ‘axioms’ in Advaita. What there are is ‘prakriyā-s’. These are teaching ‘techniques’ to help you to an understanding. The end-point of the teaching – that there is only Brahman, the world is mithyā and you are Brahman – is not provable. It is ‘realized’ to be true when you have listened to the teaching and cleared any doubts. Hence ‘Self-realization’. Seer-seen discrimination is a practical exercise to bring you to the understanding that anything that you are aware of cannot be ‘you’; that you are the ‘ultimate subject’. Read any good book on the essentials of Advaita and other prakriyā-s will be given.

Q: Thank you for your almost instant reply and clear explanation. 

First I would like to complement you with your website, which carries a valuable treasure of information. I am exploring every part. Secondly I would like to ask your reflections on a question I have.

In our daily western life I see many people unhappily following the path they are on, not having the strength to make a change. In my view this is mainly the result from the way they are (more fundamentally) conditioned: materialistic, externally and scientifically oriented, as well as having a strict dualistic paradigm. At the same time I see how difficult it is for most of the Westerners to switch to a (more spiritual oriented) approach of introspection, in finding a more profound meaning in life and happiness. As I am convinced the ‘internal way’ is ‘the only way out’ in finding real happiness, I have adopted a personal mission: the endorsing of the spiritual regeneration of people around me. The challenge I faced was finding an approach to make this successful, instead of annoying people with my convictions. 

The approach which worked for myself some time ago was my search for my personal dharma: sva-dharma. After understanding the concept of sva-dharma I realized I could only find it via introspection. And after figuring out what my sva-dharma was, all my actions became more focused and meaningful, leading to a more meaningful life. So finding my sva-dharma was for me the footboard to finding what was meaningful in my life and so to more happiness. So as far as one’s current actions can influence one’s current wellbeing, the action to find one’s sva-dharma is in my view a relevant and practical approach for Westerners to initiate personal change, especially for looking inside. And when you intrinsically know your sva-dharma, your actions will automatically be (more) directed towards this and as so towards a more spiritual life. So in my case: I feel it is my sva-dharma to help and educate others on their path of personal (spiritual) development. The approach I think of is one of helping others to find their sva-dharma and subsequently to inspire them on their path of (spiritual) introspection. In this way I want to contribute in ‘the endorsing of the spiritual regeneration of humanity’. 

Given the background I described, my practical question to you is: 

Is there any specific Vedantic knowledge you can suggest to unfold and formulate ones sva-dharma, like a method/technique and/or conceptual models/classifications?

I really appreciate your supportive thoughts. 

A: I noticed that you say that you appreciate my ‘supportive’ thoughts. Would you also appreciate it if I have to disabuse you of some of your ideas?

The idea of svadharma is related to the concept of karma and the idea that one has to work through the consequences of actions in previous lives. This is certainly part of the initial teaching of Advaita but it is not directly related to the path of ‘enlightenment’ (mokṣa or liberation). Action of any kind can never bring enlightenment – only knowledge can do that. Not sure either what you mean by ‘spiritual regeneration’. We are already Brahman (there is ONLY Brahman) so, again, the only thing that can be done that will ‘achieve’ anything is to gain this knowledge.

Traditionally, one is not supposed to try to change the views of others. The wish to change, to learn, has to come from the persons themselves. Having gained the overriding desire to discover the truth about oneself (mumukṣutva), one then looks for a teacher who is able to provide that knowledge. It is certainly true that many think that they are on a ‘valid’ spiritual path (whatever they might think that this means) but all you can really do is give them a ‘nudge’ in the right direction if the opportunity arises. Proselytizing is not something that Advaita advocates!

Finding one’s svadharma is certainly something that may be relevant to a person. People end up in the wrong job, with the wrong person, etc. and advice and guidance may well be valuable. But this is in the realm of career guidance or counselling. If this is what is really of concern to a person, they are not yet ready for a spiritual path.

Q: First. Thank you for your quick response. I appreciate.

Second. Of course you may disabuse me of ideas. This is called progressive insight 😉  You’re welcome!

Thirdly. I mean by ‘spiritual regeneration’ the renewal of attention to the spiritual aspects of life in current time. 

Then regarding your comments below:

I understand the Advaitic concept of ignorance (avidyā) which can only be removed by knowledge (jñāna). This is especially relevant when you have the ultimate perspective of reaching enlightenment in mind. My point however is that for most ‘regular’ people this idea of enlightenment is too far away from their ‘day-to-day life’ to inspire them on their path of life. At the same time I see that certain teachings (e.g. knowing your sva-dharma) can be useful to help people in their journey to a more meaningful life, which at the same time can be a footboard on their spiritual path and finally a step to enlightenment. So I believe in a step-by-step approach instead of going for Olympic gold in the first place. My aim to help people in this way is comparable with your aim of presenting information (knowledge) to others by supporting your website. 

Sva-dharma for me is one’s personal vocation, which is broader, or better formulated more fundamental, then one’s profession. It is more related to the personal lessons one has to learn in this life. So helping people to find their personal vocation (sva-dharma) by introspection, can be a first step to focus internally and as such a first/further step on their spiritual path and in the end enlightenment. 

I hope I was able to give you a better idea about the background of my original question:

Is there any specific Vedantic knowledge you can suggest to unfold and formulate ones sva-dharma, like a method/technique and/or conceptual models/classifications?

So maybe you have some additional thoughts on it?

A: Yes, that is now clearer and of course it is a laudable aim. The karmakāṇḍa part of the Vedas may well contain material that would help – it is concerned with the ways in which people should act in order to gain puṇya  rather than pāpa, so that they may merit a better life next time or even go to heaven. (Don’t have much knowledge about this area!) But this is dvaita, not advaita, so I cannot really advise.

Karma yoga is a valuable preliminary ‘path’ to jñāna yoga or Self-enquiry. But the whole thrust of this is that you do ‘whatever is in front of you that needs to be done’. You act without any desire for a particular result, offering up the ‘fruit of action’ to the Lord. You do not search out things to do (e.g. because you like doing those things). And, once a task has been completed, you ‘let the whole thing go’. If it was successful, fine; if not, you do not dwell on what went wrong. And so on. So for Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, for example, he was born a kṣatriya so his svadharma was to go into the battle and fight, regardless of what he would have preferred to be doing.

The topic of svadharma is not one that you typically find in the index of Advaita books. I have a massive library and just looked in a few likely ones without success. There have been a couple of questions touching on it in the past. The one most likely to be of interest is this one – https://www.advaita-vision.org/samskara-s-svadharma-and-karma-q-320/.