The Drama of Dharma: the Yogic Training of Duty, Action and Freedom

It’s two days after the Balinese holy day of Galungan, which celebrates the victory of dharma (virtue, right action) over adharma (evil, chaos). In astrology, Saturn best represents the concept of dharma, a principal of primary importance to the yogi.

The Bhagavad Gita, the epic tale of Arjuna the great warrior and his moral dilemma, gives one definition of yoga as ‘skill in action’. The story begins with Arjuna, prepared to lead a battle against those who have done him wrong, those who threaten the survival of his kingdom. Yet when Arjuna surveys the enemy, he sees that they are people he knows, his teacher and extended family. In a crisis of faith, he laments that he cannot do battle with them. Then, his charioteer, who happens to be Krishna, a manifestation of God, freezes time and lectures Arjuna on the nature of life and dharma.

Similarly, most of Bali comes to a standstill during these holy days, giving opportunity to reflect on values. In astrology Saturn represents what we ‘should’ do. It is discipline, effort, work and dharma. In the body it’s the skeleton. It’s not the sexiest energy on the planet, yet it’s incredibly important.

By contrast, in 2011, Uranus (literally opposite from Saturn in the sky), stands for freedom. Uranus cajoles us to shake things up. It likes to disrupt where we’ve become settled into stagnation. It’s a rebel, a questioner of authority.

In astrology an opposition indicates an apparent contradiction. It appears that two energies cannot co-exist, let alone work together. The yogi’s job then, as a conscious being, is to find our way through the apparent contradiction to see how the two energies are actually mutually supportive.

At first glance one could easily think that what one should do (Saturn) is in conflict with what one wants to do (Uranus, Mars). Certainly Arjuna does not want to do battle with the people he knows. He believes it would be better to be defeated and killed than to take arms against them. Yet the deeper we inquire into life, the more we find that what we must do, what the world is crying out for us to do, is actually exactly what we want to do.

On one of the main intersections in Ubud, Bali, a huge statue of Arjuna, bow-drawn, poised on the battlefield, reminds motorists of Arjuna’s lessons. Krishna tells Arjuna “Better one’s own duty (dharma) though deficient, than the duty of another well performed. Better is death in one’s own duty, the duty of another invites trouble.” (3:35)

The statue towers over a busy intersection where people hurry by on motorbikes and in cars. Even as Arjuna looms, times have changed. No one goes to war with a bow and arrow. In fact, it could well be argued that we’ve evolved to the point that the mere idea of war, of killing, seems archaic (the fact that wars continue notwithstanding). The modern yogi’s dharma is not to go to battle in the way Arjuna did, yet the same challenge, of doing one’s true duty, despite all obstacles, remains just as important.

“Misfortunes occur only when a person is false to his genius”
– Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

The English word disaster comes from the root that means to go against the stars. While astrology can be a freeing and empowering art and science, never limiting, and belief in one’s own free will is one of the greatest powers on the planet, the stars (astrology) do indicate something of human potential. They provide a map.

When one reads the map of their life and decodes what it is they ‘should’ do, they free themselves. The yogi, like Arjuna, gets to choose how to invest his energy. Astrology is not necessary to do this (though it could well help).

Everyone knows inside themselves what their dharma is. And if their dharma has not yet been realized, their dharma is to discover their dharma. When action accords with it, not only are they more free, they free the world. Yoga and astrology train practitioners that when they are doing what they really want, and what they must do, the world sings with freedom and joy.

“We were not sent into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our heart”
– John Ruskin (1819 – 1900)