I’ve spoken before about dharma in the 4 areas of life. Also that dharma means that which sustains. In other words, dharma is actions (karma) in life that sustain it and the world in which we’re unfolding.
I’ve also seen dharma described as 3 levels: Universal (Rishi), Vocational (Devata), and Personal (Chhandas) where rishi, devata, and chhandas are the 3 aspects of consciousness: knower, knowing, and known. This is like the 4 areas of life but leaves out time-of-life and shifts caste more into vocation.
Dharma can also be framed as that which supports the degree of consciousness being expressed. First step is a stable world so evolutionary unfoldment can take place. And we need a stable-enough platform (body-mind) for consciousness to express here as the knower, knowing, and known. This is why balance and the middle way are necessary.
Second step is the unfolding itself. That sustaining must be flexible and in motion. Life unfolds in steps from a point of balance through transformation to another point of balance. If there isn’t a stable enough platform, the transformation isn’t able to integrate and be embodied. If there isn’t pliability, it restricts transformation.
We might think of this as the balance of inertia. We need enough to form solids but too much and things get sluggish. Similarly, enough clear flow to create but not too much or everything dissolves. Enough fire to transform but not too much or it destroys. (earth, water, & fire or tamas, sattva, & rajas)
The old texts sometimes describe Dharma as being a Bull. This is because the form of the law of nature (deva) of dharma is bull-like. The deva is variously described as having multiple heads and horns, and unlike a typical bull, arms.
The bull of dharma is said to have 4 legs that support this unfolding. These 4 legs are tapas, saucha, daya, and satya.
Tapas – often translated as austerities but the word means warming. That which warms up inertia and gets things flowing and transforming. Forced austerities may be counter-productive as they’re not balanced. Right action is dharma and tapas. Action born of reactivity is not. The intent of austerity is non-attachment not denial.
Saucha – purity. While superficial cleanliness is useful, saucha points to deep inner purity. This allows consciousness and the Divine to be clearly reflected and expressed.
Daya – compassion. The texts define this as “the desire to mitigate the sorrow and difficulties of others” and “treats all living beings as one’s own self”
Satya – means truth, specifically the truth of the absolute, of reality itself.
Clearly, these are the key aspects that support dharma that in turn supports our evolutionary unfoldment.
When all 4 legs support dharma, we experience a golden age. This is about 40% of the time. When 3 legs support dharma, we have a 3/4 age called Treta Yuga, another 30%. When 2 legs support 1/2 dharma we have Dwapara, about 20%. And with only 1 leg, we have 1/4 for 10% of the time. According to some calculations, we’ve moved into Dwapara, the energy age.
Similarly, a human lifespan is reduced from 400 years by the same fractions. (Manu Smriti 1-83) This is why we’ve been seeing lifespans double over the last century or so. The numbers suggest it should increase further. We should also see further improvements in the intellect, strength, and energy.
We can also see the value of unfolding enlightenment. That process takes us toward spontaneous right action, purification of the physiology by the presence of pure awareness, seeing all beings as mySelf, and establishing the resolute intellect. All four legs of dharma are supported.
Note that these come about through inner development rather than outer performances. Going through the motions is meaningless if our inner state points away.
The nonsupporting legs of the bull of dharma are often said to be broken. However, this implies a black and white change from one state to another. It is also suggested that even in the darkest of ages, a leg of truth remains. I would suggest the support is reduced by degree overall relative to the clarity of the populace. To me reduced dharma pulls the legs up, supporting life less and less.
An interesting note. The events of the Bhagavad Gita, where Krishna instructs prince Arjuna on the battlefield, are near the end of the last Dwapara age as it was descending into Kali, the dark age. Parikshit, Arjuna’s grandson, was able to re-establish the legs of Dharma in the Kali Yuga by banishing it into a limited number of places. In the big picture, he somewhat delayed its onset.
I wonder if we’ll see something similar now. Perhaps in reverse with oases of light that spread and isolate the dark. We’ll see.