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July 05, 2005

Svabhava and Svadharma, Thoughts and Thinking

This week�s session started with inquiring into the meaning of Dharma.

Many definitions came up:

Dharma is derived from the root Dhr - to hold. It is that which holds an entity together. That is, Dharma is that which gives integrity to an entity and holds the core identity, form and function of that entity.

Dharma is also defined as righteousness and duty. To do one�s dharma is to be righteous, to do one�s dharma is to do one�s duty.

At this point, we wondered whether Dharma, in the context of a person, is the nature of that person.

While it sounds reasonable to say so, Prasad said that in the context of a person, dharma is known as sva-dharma, that is, self-dharma. While even objects have their dharma, perhaps the sva is added because human beings have a sense of identity. And he said, we should know the difference between svadharma and svabhava.

Svabhava is the nature of a person, which is a result of his or her samskaras (impressions created in the mind due to one�s interaction with the external world). These samskaras create habits and mental models and those become our nature. While there is another kind of svabhava that is a pure internal quality, we are here focusing only on the svabhava that was created due to samskaras (because to discover the pure, internal svabhava, one should become aware of one�s samskaras and take control over them).

Svabhava due to samskaras is called nisarga-svabhava. Prasad warned that if we mistake this for our true nature, then we will be constantly subject to our old thought-patterns and habits. He said that instead of just acting out our svabhava, if we start inquiring into what might be our svadharma, we will then be acting from a space that is free from our usual, auto-pilot behavior.

It is interesting to note that even if one does not know what is one�s svadharma, merely beginning to inquire into to helps us become aware of our svabhava and hence be able to have better control over it.

Then our attention turned to the question, �How can one discover one�s svadharma?�

Prasad said that one of the ways to discover it is to ask, �What is the unique gift that I have that I can offer to the world?� Every one of us, he said, have an inner genius � a unique capacity to be good at something. Tapping into that capacity is acting on it can help us discover our svadharma.

May be there are other ways to discover one�s svadharma (philosophical thinking, meditation, experimenting with different endeavors etc). But most of these ways make us feel inadequate, make us feel needy, and if we are not disciplined enough, these ways may disempower us. But becoming aware of one�s unique gift and offering it to the world is a very joyful and rewarding journey towards discovering one�s svadharma.

Sudhi then talked about how we become prisoners of our thought patterns from a neurology context. He said that every time we are faced with a situation, our stored thought patterns rush in� and we have a very small delta of time to notice them. If we miss that gap of time, then all our actions will be decided by our stored thoughts and these actions in turn reinforces and strengthens the old thoughts.

We could call it �the awareness gap�. Every one of us has this gap available to us. Prasad said that if we are mindful and keep ourselves in that state, then the present, the �now� expands and increases the gap � giving us more room to observe our old thoughts, take control over them, and allow �thinking� to happen.

He said that most of us, most of the time, do not think. We don�t even have thoughts (as that denotes some control), rather, thoughts have us.

He shared with us an experiment conducted by Howard Gardner and John Sterman to investigate our capacity to think:

They assembled a number of people with high educational achievements (Ph.Ds) and gave them two tasks.

The first one was to look into a graph that showed the inflow and outflow of people in a mall. The group was asked four questions: 1) what is the point at which there was most number of people in the mall? 2) what is the point at which there was the least number of people in the mall? 3) what is the point at which the maximum number of people came into the mall? 4) what is the point at which the maximum number of people left the mall?

Looking at the simple graph, everyone answered the first two question correctly. And to everyone�s surprise, more than 70% answered the third and fourth questions wrong.

The second task was to solve a problem: A bathtub can hold 50 gallons of water. The tap can release 2 gallons per minute into the tub and the drain on the tub can drain water at 1.5 gallons per minute. How long will it take for the empty tub to fill?

Most Ph.Ds got the answer wrong.

What was happening? The two researchers said that most of the time, our minds do not do any real thinking. Our minds find whatever stored data that is relevant to a situation and supplies it. Without awareness, we mistake these old thoughts as thinking. But since these thoughts cannot take into account data from the specific context in the present, they cannot give correct answer.

This relates back to what Sudhi said � if we are not aware of the rushing in of old thoughts, then they take over our �thinking� and set the condition for all ensuing actions.

Prasad quoted an old saying, �A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.� And he added that, sometimes we tend to think that taking that single step will itself lead us to the destination. He said that the entire journey has to be traveled step by step. Meaning, at every step we need to as mindful as the previous step for what worked in the previous step may not work for taking the next step. For any journey to be successful, one has to go from one now to the next now. So we are not actually going from the past to the present to the future. But we are going from now to now to now � one step at a time.

While one step at a time sounds as if the journey has to be slow, it need not be the case. It could be a small step or it could be a giant step. It depends on how much original thinking that we are capable of at a given moment. Prasad said that Einstein is supposed to have said that in his entire life, he had only two original thoughts � what a huge difference they made to the world!

Let�s take a practice from this session that Prasad used to give as an exercise to his clients:

Take a paper and a pen and start writing whatever comes to your mind. The only condition is you should not pause and keep writing for, say 15 to 20 minutes. Most people who do this exercise are surprised to find that there are so many repetitions of the same words, phrases, descriptions etc. In fact, many of the repetitions come from as early a time as when one was 5 or 6 years old! This exercise will tell people to what extent thoughts have them.

After you do that exercise, for the next one month observe yourself to see whether you are really �thinking� at any given time and if you do think, notice what is enabling you to think instead of being possessed by thoughts.

Posted by Ragu at July 5, 2005 03:18 PM

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