Four Flavours of Dharma

Four Flavours of Dharma

Saraswati without the pot

I’ve observed that while dharma is often translated to mean purpose, it more precisely means ‘that which sustains‘ – those actions which sustain the world so we can grow and evolve through experiences. Otherwise, entropy sets in and it all dissolves.

I’ve also spoken of the 4 legs of the bull of dharma:
Tapas – warming
Saucha – purity
Daya – compassion
Satya – truth

During a low age, only the leg of truth remains as a clear path. As the age rises, dharma is supported more and more. Thus a smoother and more roundly successful life can unfold.

It turns out that each of us has flavours or qualities of expression of each of those 4 dharma’s.

For example, our dharma for truth may be writing poetry. Or it may be investigative reporting. Or simply be telling the truth.

The Yoga Sutra 2:36 tell us: “When truthfulness is established, activity and its fruit [consequence] are closely connected.”

In other words, results come quickly. They’re not hindered by a fog of untruth. Actions can complete easily and be resolved, avoiding a burden. We can move quickly to heal and complete our human journey.

On the dharma of Compassion, the Yoga Sutra 1:33 also tells us the mind is purified by compassion – also by friendliness, delight, and equanimity.

How do you express compassion? Helping your neighbour? Feeding the homeless? Caring for animals? Supporting friends?

On the dharma of Purity, “The means gather around sattva (purity).” The ability to get things done results from the support of nature. The higher laws respond to sattva.

There is also a close relationship between sattva and a clear intellect. The Yoga Sutra make several other references to the value of purity.

The dharma of Tapas is actions that warm the path, softening and smoothening it. While we may see tapas as more basic than compassion, it is key for refinement. The Yoga Sutra 2:43 tells us: “From the destruction of impurity through tapas, there is perfection of the body and senses.” This leg of dharma requires the highest age for full expression which is why you see less manifest perfection now.

Update: The perfections of the body are described as siddhis or abilities such as those listed in the second half of the Yoga Sutra. This includes mastery over the elements, being able to fly, the ability to make the body any size, the physical firmness of a diamond, and so on.

The flavours of these 4 legs are also illustrated in the iconography of Indian gods. They commonly have 4 arms, each holding symbols of their gifts.

For example, the goddess Saraswati (above) holds a mala, book (Vedas), water pot (not in this example), and vina. A mala is used to count tapas, the Vedas contain truth, water purifies, and a vina (stringed instrument) can sooth the soul, offering compassion.

It seems which hand holds which object is relevant but I’m not sure how much modern iconography recognizes this. The upper right hand has a strong association with truth. A lower left with compassion. I would suspect upper left with purity, leaving lower right for tapas. I’d have to test this over time for confirmation.

Further, I’ve been shown the legs of dharma are also a scale. As we become established in truth, we can more readily establish compassion, then purity, and warming. I would have thought warming leads to purity but it seems the deeper dharmic form of tapas requires purity and refinement to approach the Divine.

I would not get too much into figuring out what flavours you are or where on the scale you are. This process is one of openness and innocence. Consider this a broader perspective to see how everything is interconnected.

I’m sharing the observations to describe a pattern in our nature.

Last Updated on January 12, 2020 by Davidya

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.


  1. Jim

    Hi David, Really enjoyable reading – the legs of dharma – such an appropriate image – that which sustains. Thank you too for the explanation of the multi-armed deities – an aha! moment for me, since they don’t look like that in person.
    Thank you! 🙂

  2. Gina Westbrook

    I don’t quite understand tapas. I’d always thought of it as austerity: fasting, celibacy, living simply, etc. I don’t understand how practicing austerity warms or softens the path. Perhaps you could expound upon that a bit more?

    1. Good point, Gina.
      Tapas is normally translated as austerity. This comes out of the over-emphasis on renunciation and a materialist approach. A rejection of the physical body is also often in play.
      Practicing physical austerities can have certain benefits in moderation, like a moderate fast can help the body heal. But what does that have to do with spirituality?
      If you look to the meaning of the word, Tapas means warming. It’s those things that smooth and soften the hard nuts and purify the means. A regular meditation with transcending is a very effective tapas, for example.
      Brahmacharya has similar issues. The word means student of Brahman, not celibacy. It became confused when it was thought you had to be a monk to make spiritual progress. Celibacy is unsuited to most people, which is part of the reason you see so many problems around it.
      Moderation and balance are much more effective than harsh practices.
      As the perception becomes refined and more subtle arenas become conscious, we can apply new forms of tapas. Simple attention itself is the ultimate tapas as attention warms itself.
      Mantras spoken to a photo are much less effective than mantras reverberating at deep levels of being.

      1. Jean

        Sri M tells a great story about austerity and kindness. There was this young disciple of Babaji and he was in deep meditation when an old Sufi guy approached him. The young yogi got very upset that someone disturbed his meditation. The old Sufi guy says, “But I was told by my Master that you are the guide, so you have to help me out.” He said, “I can’t do anything for you – get lost!”

        The Sufi says, “If you don’t guide me, teach me now, you know what I am going to do? I’m going to commit suicide. I am going to jump down the rocks into the river.” The young man says, “You can do whatever you want, I want to meditate. Go! I don’t care.” So this man actually does what he threatens to do. He jumps down the river and he dies. His body carried below the water.

        Then, the young man’s Guru appears, and he is the only man who calls him Madhu, so he knows who has come. Babaji says, “Madhu, what have you done? Is this years of spiritual growth? Your energies have touched the Visuddha, but you have no kindness in your heart – is this the movement of spiritual development? Could you have even just found out why he came? Have you let anger overtake you? Where have you reached?” This is where Babaji said: “One little good act is equivalent to one hundred years of tapasya (austerity).”

        1. Hi Jean
          Even in less obvious examples, we have no idea how our actions are being received by others. Small gestures can have a huge impact. Big efforts can be for naught.
          But acting with some consideration is always the higher road, more likely to be beneficial.

  3. Hi David,
    It seems that the deeper dharmic forms of tapas that lead to refinement obviously involve repeating the names of god, as with a mala, meditation, and I would be curious as to what else you have found that leads to the deeper ‘warming’ in this way.
    Is kundalini pranayama, my current form, one way you found of quickening the spirit for following the dharma?
    And also, does the obvious similarity in our pronunciation of the word ‘karma’ with ‘dharma’ have a significance that you can explain with your deep understanding of Sanskrit?
    Thank you for your blog, I am getting much from it!

    1. Hi Andrew
      I touch on a few points in the prior response. Yes, a meditation that takes you to a deep level where you can introduce a suitable mantra enlivens those qualities and helps warm and resolve impurities.
      As more subtle levels become conscious, our attention and practices there enliven or warm those areas. This is deeply beneficial for ourselves but also, because more subtle is shared, it is helping clear the collective as well.
      Sufficient clarity and suitable instruction can be valuable so you know the right way of using the attention to clear hindrances that remain. I’ve got an article coming up about an ancient source of that.
      I’m not too familiar with kundalini practices. But I do recommend care with anything that tries to force or open things “manually.” Kundalini Shakti will awaken naturally when we clear the obstacles. Trying to control or force the process leads to a rougher experience and potential problems.
      Karma means action. Karma is always moving towards balance. Dharma is actions which sustain aka right action. I explore more here:
      (The article is exploring how both are nested or layered)

  4. Jeff

    I have had two major transitions in the later time of my life. Each time, I experienced a loss of joy prior to the transition. I could feel the laws of nature, which were supporting my actions, begin to shift. As I sensed that change was coming, I began to make the necessary changes to support that shift. Each time, the shift went through the transition effortlessly and I ended up much better off than where I was before.

    To me, joy is concentrated divine beauty. And divine beauty is the tool that nature uses to draw our attention inwards. After those experiences, the following phrase came to me. When joy is diminished, change is coming.

    1. Hi Jeff
      Yes, I wrote a few articles awhile back about the cycles of growth:
      balance, dissolution, growth, integration, and return to balance.
      So yes, there is a period of dissolution as we approach a shift. There is usually lots of prep prior that builds up to it but it’s shortly before where it becomes obvious.
      This is similar with major releases. Lots of minor clearing until the knot finally becomes conscious and can be resolved. But the final stroke requires the prior prep.
      When we understand the process and can support it, it makes the whole thing so much smoother.
      Nice – I have a couple of articles on joy coming up – one on fear of it, the other on the true name of it.
      And yes, that’s why effortless transcending works. Letting the mind go, it naturally turns inward due to that inner bliss.
      Yes, when equanimity on any level is disrupted, change is afoot. But if we’re cooperating with the process, that disruption is always temporary. And the change always leads to an upgrade. 🙂
      When we understand the basics, it’s much easier to trust the process.

  5. Jeff

    Thank you for your observations. In both cases, the disruption was observed. I knew what was coming and how how each would be resolved. In both cases preparation involved alerting and helping others with the transition.

    1. Hi Jeff
      In some ways, that’s a key part of right now – explain what’s going on now in the larger sense so people have a better sense of world events and go less to fear and more to letting go. Then the transition will be smoother and more complete.

  6. Guru

    Thanks for this blog. Dharma is misunderstood but at relative level. otherwise as you said in one blog, dharmakaay does it effortlessly naturally in alignment with nature. when we are rajasik or taamasik, we are ignorant not knowing that there is ignorance and there is desire to know truth etc. you are doing noble work disseminating the codes of universe. Thank you again.

  7. Tim Owens

    For the last year or so I have been experiencing a shift wherein these subtle levels have become much more consistently available in my practice. I have struggled to describe what this feels like and despite my background as a wordsmith the word I needed for this evaded me. This post finally furnished me with the very simple answer: it is warming or tapas.
    Very cool.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest