What is Our Dharma?

Once there was a sadhu, a renunciant living on the banks of a river, performing his sadhana with great piety and determination.

One day as the holy man went for his bath in the river, he noticed a scorpion struggling in the water. Scorpions, by nature, cannot swim and the sadhu knew that if he did not save the scorpion, it would drown. Therefore, carefully picking up the scorpion, the saint lifted it out of the waters and was just about to set it down gently on the land when the scorpion stung his finger. In pain, the sadhu instinctively flung his hand and the scorpion went flying, back into the river. As soon as the sadhu regained his composure from the sting, he again lifted the scorpion out of the water. Again, before he could set the scorpion safely on land, the creature stung him. Again, as the sadhu shook his hand in response to the pain, the scorpion fell back into the water. This exchange went on for several minutes as the holy man continued to try to save the life of the drowning scorpion and the scorpion continued to sting his savior’s hand before reaching the freedom of the river bank.

A man, who had been out hunting in the forest, noticed this interaction between the holy man and the scorpion. He watched as the saint carefully and gingerly lifted the creature out of the water, only to fling it back in as his hand convulsed in pain from each fresh sting. Finally, the hunter said to the sadhu, “Revered Swamiji, forgive me for my frankness, but it is clear that the scorpion is simply going to continue to sting you each and every time you try to carry it to safety. Why don’t you give up and just let it drown?”

The holy man replied, “My dear child, the scorpion is not stinging me out of malice or evil intent. It is simply his nature to sting. Just as it is the water’nature to make me wet, so it is the scorpion’s nature to sting in order to protect himself. He doesn’t realize that I am carrying him to safety. That is a level of conscious comprehension greater than what his brain can achieve. But, just as it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, so it is my nature to save. Just as he is not leaving his nature, why should I leave my nature? My dharma is to help any creature of any kind – human or animal. Why should I let a small scorpion rob me of the divine nature which I have cultivated through years of sadhana?”

In our lives we encounter people who harm us, who insult us, who plot against us, whose actions seem calculated simply to thwart the successful achievement of our goals. Sometimes these are obvious acts, such as a co-worker who continually steals our ideas or speaks badly of us to our boss. Sometimes these acts are more subtle – a friend, relative or colleague who unexpectedly betrays us or whom we find has been surreptitiously speaking negatively about us behind our back. We often wonder “How could he/she hurt me like that? How could they do this to me?”  Then, our hearts become filled with anger and pain, and our minds start plotting vengeance.

Slowly we find that our own actions, words and thoughts become driven by anger and pain. We find ourselves engaged in cunning thoughts of revenge.  Before we realize it, we are injuring ourselves more by allowing the negative emotions into our hearts than the other person injured us by their words or actions. They insulted us or plotted against us or interfered with a well-deserved achievement at work. But we injure ourselves more deeply and more gravely by allowing our hearts and minds to turn dark.

Our dharma is to be kind, to be pure, to be honest, to be giving, to be sharing, to be caring. Others, due to ignorance, due to lack of understanding (much like the scorpion who doesn’t understand the sadhu’s gentle intention) or due to the way in which their own karmic drama must unfold, may act with malice, deceit, selfishness and indifference. But we must not let their actions or their ignorance deprive us of fulfilling OUR dharma. We must not allow ourselves to be lowered by their ignorance, their habits or their greed. The darkness in their heart should not be allowed to penetrate into the lightness of our hearts.

Sometimes people ask, “But Swamiji, how long should we continue to tolerate, continue to forgive, continue to love in the face of other people’s aggression, jealousy, hatred and malice?” The answer is forever. It is not our job to hand out punishment to others based on their negative actions. That is God’s job and the job of the law of karma. They will get their punishment. Do not worry. They will face the same misery they are bringing to you. Do not worry. But it is not our job to give that to them. It is God’s job and – with the exacting law and science of karma – evildoers will receive punishment. But not by our hands. If we allow ourselves to injure them, insult them, plot against them, hurt them, then we are simply accruing more and more negative karma for ourselves.

If the sadhu had allowed the scorpion to suffer and drown in the river, he would have forsaken his own divine path in life. Sure, we can say that the scorpion deserved to die for what he had done to the sadhu. We can say that the sadhu had tried and tried to save the scorpion but the scorpion would not let him. We can give a list of explanations to excuse the sadhu for not rescuing the scorpion. But, to pardon bad behavior is not the goal. To excuse ourselves for failing to fulfill our duties is not the goal. The goal is to live up to our full, divine potential as conscious, holy beings.

So, let us pledge to always remember what OUR dharma is – to live lives of purity, piety, peace, selflessness, integrity and love – and let us never allow anyone to divert us from that goal.

May God bless you all.
With love and blessings.
In the service of God and humanity,
Swami Chidanand Saraswati