Teaching DharmaWhen the soul descends into a body, it has a reason for doing so. It is this purpose--this mission of the spirit--that is our individual and unique dharma, be it grandiose or humble.
Our personal dharma can be uncovered by answering the questions, "Why am I here? What is my life purpose?" One of the greatest saints who ever lived in India, Ramakrishna, was known for encouraging his supplicants to answer those questions. Whenever anyone visited him, he would ask, "Who are you?" By asking that question, he was able to learn whether his visitors had identified their dharma.
Discovering our dharma is the most important step in our life. If we do not take this step, then our efforts are not directed toward our soul's end. Even if we work tremendously hard in life, we end up unfulfilled, climbing the ladder of success only to find that it was leaning against the wrong wall. We curtail our freedom if we do not have a clear purpose. How can we wholeheartedly put effort into life if we don't have a direction in which to go?
It is important to keep in mind that each phase of life may have a different dharma. The dharma of the baby may be to suckle, the dharma of the teenager to study, and the adult's dharma may be to reach her spiritual destiny. What's more, a given phase may hold not one dharma but many. You may simultaneously be a yoga teacher, a parent, and an activist for a sane government.
As teachers, we can benefit our students most by helping each one discover and realize her individual dharma. In this article, I suggest various ways to encourage students to reveal and live their life mission.
Perhaps the most direct approach is to encourage your students to ask themselves regularly, "Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the reason for my existence? Why did my spirit choose this body, and what does it want to experience?"
During the first few months of asking such questions, your students may be inundated by a torrent of answers. The truest answers emerge slowly as time passes, just as they do in almost any decision-making process. In searching for a house, you may see one, then another, and think, "No, I don’t want this one or that one"--but you have to see them to realize you don't want them. Similarly, in the process of discovering their dharma, your students may have to explore many options until, at last, they have the strong, unshakable feeling: "This is my path. This is something that I must do."
During class, there are other questions you can raise to aid your student's inquiry. Ask, "If you had all the time, money, and energy you wanted, what would you do?" Another approach is, "If you were dying, what would you wish you had done that you are not doing now? Why aren't you doing it? Are you waiting for something catastrophic to happen before you start listening to your heart?"
There are other ways to assist your students in this important process of self-discovery. Start each class with quiet time, allowing their bodies and minds to become still. This gives them a rare chance to become introspective and receptive to deeper sources. At the beginning of class, I often ask my students to move their mental energy into their heart center so they can look inside themselves, search for the true purpose for their practice, and strive to rediscover the intention behind each action they take. This helps them slowly but surely come into contact with the spirit within.
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