Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dharma and Yajna


On Tuesday, (in passing), we touched upon the idea of dharma: Doing what must be done (not meaning acting like an automaton, which would be an example of "inaction"). One can think of dharma the way Epictetus defines as arete "doing the best I can at all times."

Some confuse dharma with anomie or passivity (expecting whatever comes). That's wrong. Dharma means pursuing our duty diligently, intensely. Which duty? The milieu we've inherited (family, commitments, our genes, etc). 

One can see "doing" as sacrifice (yajna), that is, turning upside-down all received notions of economic exchange. We touched upon this idea in our Tuesday class when we discussed ascetism as a possible manifestation of self-control.

Yajna is a form of sovereignty. The old existentialist metaphor of devenir.

Why? In a way, we’re born again every time we choose ourselves. Self-rule is a sign of inner development. The idea of detaching oneself from the fruits of one’s action may seem a bit counterintuitive, particularly in the West.

Could I run a race and “win” it for its own sake? The received notion of victory is defined as he or she who gets to finish line first. Yet, Krishna admits that one can win no matter the outcome. This -according to the Gita- is true action. Surely it’s difficult. It takes discipline (techne). In our post-Capitalist epoch we’re often caught up in a means-to-ends cycle. Yet, with discipline, this idea of detachment is achievable.