From Despair to Meaning

I continued to work with the ideas in Stephen Cope’s book The Great Work of Your Life.

“Here are the central pillars of the path of action — the path of karma yoga — as expounded by Krishna. …
1. Look to your dharma.
2. Do it full out!
3. Let go of the fruits.
4. Turn it over to God.”   p16

Quoting Krishna “It is better to fail at your own dharma than to succeed at the dharma of someone else.”   p16

This addresses my question.  I think that helping someone else at a cost to myself is not my dharma, but someone else’s for whom the helping would not be a loss, or would be a worthwhile loss, as Walt Whitman shortened his life by giving everything he had to wounded and dying Civil War soldiers.  Cope describes a woman he calls Ellen, whose dharma is clearly to help others.  She does it with joy, with shining eyes, because it is what she is meant to do. p49.

“The Sanskrit word “dharma,” as used in the Bhagavad Gita, is so full of meaning that it is impossible to grasp its full scope through any single English translation.  “Dharma” can be variously, but incompletely, translated as “religious and moral law,” “right conduct,” “sacred duty,” “path of righteousness,” “true nature,” and “divine order.”   p21

He quotes Réné Guénon, and paraphrases what he says as:  “The word dharma in this teaching, then, refers to the peculiar and idiosyncratic qualities of each being — those very essential and particular qualities that make it somehow itself.”    p21  This means that I have do what it’s laid upon me to do, even if it creates difficulties for someone I care about.  Despite the pain I’ve felt in trying to understand and heal what happened to me, it is still worthwhile, a task worth doing.

As best as I can understand it, there is a process and I have to let it carry me, and not worry about the outcome.  I’m feeling very uncertain about whether I will get in to Kendal because of my financial picture.  I’m going to have to leave it in God’s hands.

Reading these books, the story of Job has been used as an example.  Job loses everything, his family, his wealth, even his health.  His three “comforters” tell him things that aren’t helpful, like “It’s your own fault, you sinned,” that in our culture basically mean “I don’t want to hear about your pain.”  At the end, he is comforted by recognizing how small he is.  I have always had a hard time with that.  But now, the thought of the Ben Shahn silk screen I own, with its words from the book of Job, comes to remind me of something I love.

Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Plieades, or loose the bands of Orion?  Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season?  Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?

It always amused me to play the part of God, as I felt when I ran a planetarium, and sent the planets racing along the zodiac.  And I love to say these lines in a God voice:  “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the deep?”  But now I think of my vision of the universe, that comes from Astronomy, my major in college, and what I’ve learned since: “The universe is beautiful, interconnected, complex and creative — the universe is unbelievably beautiful, extraordinarily complex, intricately interconnected, and outrageously creative.”  The universe is way beyond our power to understand.  At the same time, how could a beautiful, interconnected, complex, and creative universe create anything that’s not beautiful, etc?  So I have to accept that there’s no way I can understand why things happen as they do, and have faith in the unfolding of the universe.

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