Project Conversion

Project Conversion

Domestic Dharma: How Unchecked Personal Goals Threaten What Really Matters

We’ve talked a lot lately about purpose, dharma, and destiny. This is what makes us who we are, what we’re designed for, and the sort of life we are meant to lead. In one post, Moses taught us how fear and self-doubt cripple our capacity to recognize our path in life. In the last post, Lord Krishna taught Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita how duty, love, and selfless service–even in the face of great adversity–are the foundations of our lives.

In time we’ll visit other great heroes of religion and philosophy who overcame great trials and sacrifices to fulfill their purpose, dharma, and destiny. But last night I learned about this month’s topic from a new angle, and it came from an unexpected place:


Movie night with my wife and kids.

The first movie, Dolphin Tale, is about an 11-year-old boy who discovers and helps care for an injured dolphin. Through dedication, selfless love and compassion, he helps save the dolphin’s life with a prosthetic tale fin. Through his efforts, he inspired thousands of amputees.

All because he loved another creature, equally, selflessly and without any thought of reward.

Those who possess this wisdom [that God or the Self is in all] have equal regard for all. They see the same Self in a spiritual aspirant and an outcast, in an elephant, a cow, and a dog. Such people have mastered life.” Lord Krishna, the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 5: 18-19


Lesson #1. We aren’t just built to show compassion, love, and selfless service to our own species, but to all life. What that boy and dolphin shared was a relationship between two sentient beings. This is why ecosystems exist, this is why symbiotic relationships thrive in nature.

The highest religion is to rise to universal brotherhood, and to consider all creatures your equal.” –Guru Nanak

It’s why you feel okay talking to your favorite pet or even a tree. Life listens to itself–feels itself–because in reality, there’s no difference. Before we can chase the “big” purpose in our lives, our hopes and dreams, we have to get the basics right.


We have to understand our domestic dharma.

Think of your domestic dharama as the factory settings on your life. This is the basic platform upon which all customizations are made.

The second film, called Courageous, had a more Christian bent. Here we have the story of five fathers who make a public pledge to become the best fathers possible–the ones they feel God has called them to be via the Bible. Even though the acting and plot was really heavy on the religious side, it really hit a key point that many of us as parents are missing.

Our domestic dharma involves raising and being a loving, nurturing part of our families. Husbands, wives, sisters, sons, the uncle who lives upon the garage and won’t move out–all are part of what it means to live and be part of the human organism.


Scripture and writings from the faiths and philosophies of the world drip with this stuff. Here’s a sampling:

He [God] established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation…” Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers

O people, We [God] created you from a male and female, and We made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another.” –al-Qur’an 49: 13

Through compassion and devotion to other people, through universal love, life is filled with peace and joy.“–the Buddha

A new command I give you: Love one another.“–Jesus, gospel of John 13:34


Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence within you, for these are the gifts I offer to all my children.“–Charge of the Goddess (Wicca)

Time and again we are called to love one another, serve one another, show compassion for one another. But I think we’ve gotten it backwards in some ways, haven’t we? We’ve forgotten that our lives aren’t manifest for goals or dreams or that big promotion, but for one another.

We are not islands, so why are we living that way?

As I look back on everything I’ve done and everything I’m working on, I realize that if I reach my deathbed even having achieved my highest goal: inter-religious peace, it will be for nothing if I’ve put aside my family in the process. For what good is a world I build if I haven’t trained my children how to occupy and care for it?


It’s all about ego. We desperately chase our vision of purpose and destiny, but we fail to remember that our core purpose is right here at home. That’s where the magic happens. That’s where dreams are launched from.

Humanity–all sentient life–is designed or machined via evolution for relationships. We exist in an economy of intimate interaction, and love, compassion, and selfless service are the currencies.

What are you placing in front of your domestic dharma? Is your career great but your marriage or partnership failing? Perhaps you’re a single parent whose dating life is eclipsing time with your kids. Are your dreams drowning your duties?

There’s nothing wrong with discovering and manifesting our personal dharma, but as with all great things, we must ensure the foundation is well-constructed.

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posted January 23, 2012 at 4:07 pm


Thanks, as always, for your wonderful addition.

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Sam Karvonen

posted January 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm

In the spirit of this week’s topic, here’s “Let all associate” sung by Talia Johnson:

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Sam Karvonen

posted January 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Andrew wrote:

“We are not islands, so why are we living that way?”

Well put, Andrew. Beautiful. As Mark Knopfler sings in the all-time classic Dire Straights song “Brothers in Arms”:

“We have just one world, but we live in different ones.”

Like you said, our souls are hard-wired to love. But also our bodies are hard-wired for self-love (which does not equal evil). Self-love is a form of love, a necessary form. But it needs to be tempered with higher and wider forms of love: Love for one’s family, love for one’s tribe and townspeople, love for one’s nation, and ultimately love for the entire mankind. The conviction you speak of — the conviction that love for the fellow man is part and parcel of our very design — is essential for us to be able to love genuinely, and to believe in its power. However, a new and higher level of conviction in the power of love is needed in our age. It is not enough to just love your brother, your neighbour, your nation, even your enemy. If we are really intent on overcoming religious, cultural and national prejudices, we need to be genuinely convinced that we are designed for unity. That we must love not only those whom we personally encounter, even if we opt to love them without any prejudice. But we must learn to love those that we never encounter. Those whose paths never cross ours. We must learn to love all mankind. We must learn to love mankind not only as the faceless individuals it comprises, but as a whole.

Mankind as a whole is also a reflection of God, a sign of God. A far greater sign than men and women individually, no matter how great or saintly. Unity of mankind is not only an over-arching goal that we need to pursue with conviction in order to eliminate war and conflict. It is, above all, the ultimate reflection of the unity of God. If man never manages to re-create its life on earth in line with the essential oneness of humanity, mankind will ever remain poor and broken in its appreciation of the divine.

“The most glorious fruit of the tree of knowledge is this exalted word: Of one tree are all ye the fruit, and of one bough the leaves. Let not man glory in this that he loveth his country, let him rather glory in this that he loveth his kind.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Ishraqat)

“Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind.” (Baha’u’llah, Lawh-i-Hikmat / Tablet of Wisdom)

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” (Baha’u’llah, Lawh-i-Maqsud)

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