Ram Das on duty (Dharma) in the Bhagavad Gita

From: Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita, Ram Das (2005)

Gradually it begins to dawn on us that we are merely part of a process. Think about that: you and I are nothing more than process. I am a process of continuing mind moments, each one separate from the others. There is no permanent me, being incarnated and reincarnated - there's merely the law of cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, cause-and-effect, running on and on and on. it's all just the passing parade of the laws of prakriti, of the laws of nature, of the laws of an unfolding illusion of manifestation. [More on reincarnation and karma

The more you open to that kind of perspective, the more dispassionate you become in watching your own incarnation unfold. you see that every melodrama, even the wonderful melodrama of "I'm trying to get enlightened," just creates more karma - and you can't afford that anymore. Finally, there is no stance you can hold on to and still go through the door - so you let go of everything.

That's the reason Krishna says to Arjuna, let go of your models, and do your Dharma. Why should you be upset about the idea of fighting your family, Krishna asks. It's their karma and yours for this battle to take place. You can't wage war against your destiny, so let the laws of karma unfold as they're supposed to. Play out the role that's been assigned to you, because when you do that, when you've totally surrendered to your Dharma, when you're no longer trying for anything, that's your way through.

Krishna's argument undercuts all of Arjuna's objections by turning the very context of the discussion on its head. The rules have changed, Krishna says to Arjuna; your actions are going to have to start coming out of a new place now. All those social rules? They had their time and place. But Arjuna's feeling about family and social rules can no longer be the central values shaping his actions, because his central value is now going to brahman by fulfilling his Dharma . He has a new purpose behind his acts.

Again and again, the gita turns our perspective upside down, just as it does here for Arjuna. it shifts our sense of what our lives are about. so as we begin to adopt the Gita's perspective as our own, we'll notice that our focus starts to change. Instead of always preoccupying ourselves with trying to get what we thing we want or need, we'll start to quiet, we'll start to listen. We'll wait for that inner prompting. We'll try to hear, rather than decide, what it is we should do next. And as we listen, we'll hear our Dharma more and more clearly, as so we'll being tuning more and more of our acts to that place of deeper wisdom. As that happens, all our fascinatioin with our roles and our plans and our desires and our melodramas will begin to fall away. More and more, we will open ourselves to just being the instruments of the Dharma. And then we'll discover that we've lost our lives - and found them.

Notes and explanations on Hindu terminology

Dharma means duty in this context. It has the connotation of divinely sanctioned duty. Scholars insist that the Bhagavad Gita teaches people to act according to their socially sanctioned Dharma: the caste-system. Ram Das turns this argument on its head by noting that socially sanctioned Dharma would actually mean that Arjuna defend his family. Instead he is asked to act according to the Dharma of the moment: fight for the just ruler (his brother).