Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Swadharma: Our Soul Duty

It’s true we all have our own duties. Some we choose for ourselves and don’t feel obligated to always abide by. Others we are born into and no matter how difficult they may be, we can’t trade them in for more appealing or attractive ones. Some we may search all our lives for the understanding of and never learn until the end, we lived by them every day. Some are simple and easily recognized; such as in a family we can be a father, a mother, a brother or sister. With each comes a sense of obligation that we must carry out to insure the safety and wellbeing of those closest to us. We may also define our duties by the career paths we have chosen. We may be students working towards their path, bakers, accountants, or artists; knowing that our job fulfills a need or want of our community; but these are only temporary duties, ones we shouldn’t base all actions of our life around. But is there a universal duty that we all share? One that can be found in each human being that transcends beyond our day to day duties?

Lately it wouldn’t seem that way. With all the distractions we have in our world it’s easy to forget what is truly important, our soul duty, our “Swadharma”, in Sanskrit. We get so wrapped up in the drive for material possessions that our true calling is confused with the illusion of duty our jobs create. We start to believe our duty in life is to work so we can make money to support our family and give them a leisurely life style. Suddenly our careers become our swadharma; and our happiness is judged by the number of digits in our bank accounts. Not that living comfortably is a sin but when we lose focus of what we are working for, what we’re making money for, that is when our soul duty is lost. We must recognize that the jobs we work, the money we make, must be used for something greater. 

Our swadharmas are all interlinked. Our duty is to simply help better the livelihood and wellbeing of the people and the community around us; to be good people, nonviolent people, loving people. We are all humans and we all have the soul force that Gandhi spoke of. It’s time for us all to realize the power that force can really have when we unite globally for a greater good. But the whole process must start with ourselves. We must “be the change we want to see” and find an inner peace and understanding. Once we do that we are able to reach out to those around us. Let our love reflect onto them. We cannot possibly expect to directly affect the entire globe, but only reach those around us and watch as the connection spreads. Because only love can bring love, only nonviolence can bring about nonviolence, and violence will only ever bring more violence.

In my search for inner peace and happiness I’ve found that in all the texts of all the major religions one theme really stands out, service. All the prophets speak about bettering yourself by bettering others; helping those who have less then you do, those who are weaker than you; and bringing about a sense of equality. But my belief is that service is more than a meal, more than donating our old clothes to the local Goodwill, because food, shelter, and clothing all allow a person to live; but it’s conversation, human contact, and empathy that allow a person to love.

For the past several years each summer I’ve attended a church camp in the Black Hills of South Dakota. As you leave, an arch stands over the road way with the phrase “Depart to Serve” painted across it. A phrase that has always stuck in my head and will forever be over the doorway of my home as a simple reminder of the swadharma we all live by and the great changes it can bring.

Logan Fleer, Guest Blogger

(Logan is presently a participant in an international program on Gandhian nonviolence at the Gujurat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad, India.)

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