Following the Law of One’s Own Being

Dharma – Lit., that which holds together. As such, it means the inmost constitution of a thing, the law of its inner being, which hastens its growth and without which it ceases to exist… In order to be true to himself he must act according to his dharma… To mould one’s actions according to the law of one’s own being is therefore the dharma, the religion or way to liberation, of every individual.”

~ Swami Nikhilananda (1895-1973),
Hindu Swami,
commenting on The Bhagavad Gita


Often we hear the phrase, “be true to yourself.” Persons interested in living authentically naturally favor the idea. Yet rather than be content with parroting the phrase, let’s take a closer look at what it might mean and how we might be so true.

Let’s begin by imagining a cat and a dog. The qualities of cats differs significantly from those of dogs. These qualities are innate; they express differences in the very nature of these two species. There’s just something about the nature of cats and dogs which make it hard to mistake one for the other.

So it is with persons. Imagine now several different friends of yours. Each friend expresses a different, innate “characteristic quality”. Were that quality to be expressed in sound, it might be a unique tone. Were it expressed in color, it might be a distinct hue. It seems as if Being plays at exploring its infinite variety by endowing each with a unique characteristic quality.

If given freedom to express, that unique, characteristic quality expresses an inner nature whose different endowments, inclinations, and idiosyncrasies will seek realization through a path which also is unique. But life can get in the way. While the uniqueness of your inborn nature is a given at birth, its realization is not.

Friends and family members who are unsettled by our differences may pressure you to conform. “You can’t make a living doing that! Why not just settle for a 9-5 job like everyone else?”

Persons of presumed power may try to coerce you to comply with their wishes. “Let me just suggest that if you don’t do X, there may be some unpleasant consequences for you.”

Sometimes the way forward through decision-making simply is unclear. At other times you may face distasteful decisions or decisions whose outcome might result in your being in conflict with others.

How do you thread your way through these and other possible impediments to the realization of your own nature? Shakespeare reminds us, “To thine own self be true.” Of course, if there is truth to Shakespeare’s dictum, then certainly others also have apprehended that truth, and spoken of it in ways which may shed a different and possibly deeper light. And so, I recall the plight of Arjuna and the importance of “following the law of your own Being”.

Arjuna is known to the 900 million Hindus as one of the two main personages of The Bhagavad Gita, which could be thought of as the bible of Hinduism. The other main personage is Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer and avatar or god incarnate. The Bhagavad Gita is a dialogue between between Arjuna and Krishna which takes place in the middle of a battlefield between two great armies just prior to the start of a great war. Both armies consist of Arjuna’s kinsmen.

Recognizing the great carnage which is to ensue to his own loved ones, Arjuna lays down his weapons, and refuses to fight for fear of sinning. But Krishna replies, “He who does the duty ordained by his own nature incurs no sin,” and given it is Arjuna’s nature to be a warrior, Krishna advises Arjuna to fight.

To “do the duty of one’s own nature”, to “follow the dharma or law of one’s nature”, is to “be true to oneSelf”. Each phrase expresses a basic relation of the ego to the Self wherein the personality serves the Self, irrespective of pressures to conform, comply, avoid conflict, etc. That relationship of personality to the Self is one of fealty whereby the promise of the unique expression of Being which is your innate nature may be realized (see “Love of Truth: A Skill of Authenticity” for extraordinary examples of this relationship).

Naturally we might wonder how can we apprehend the will of the Self? Quite often we will turn to the mind and to thought, looking there for insight. Yes, sometimes we can find direction by thinking. Yet more often we can ascertain direction by listening to and giving verbal definition to the inarticulate tones or essential qualities given off by the Heart (see “Looking for Direction in All the Wrong Places”).

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