Dharma is the behaviour that goes in accordance with the natural order of the universe. We human beings each have our own unique duties and virtues that are part of the interconnected whole which makes up the universe.
No two people’s Dharma can ever be the same. You have a completely different role in the world to play compared to me. In Hindu society, for example, two common groups of people are the warriors and the priests. Depending on which group you belong to, your duties will be completely different compared to those of people from another group.
In order to figure out for yourself what your own Dharma is, you will have to go through a process of intense self-reflection in order to find out what your purpose in life is, as well as the values and beliefs that support this purpose and which are unique to your own personal situation.
Chin-Ning Chu, author of the book “Black Heart, Thick Face”, writes that “Dharma is a natural law that guides us to recognize at any given moment the role each of us is playing in life. Being true to the duty of that particular role at any given time and the very act of accepting and performing that action to the best of our ability – that is following Dharma”.
This implies that the duty one is playing at any given moment can change according the situation we find ourselves in.
The reason why I believe that this a very significant insight is that all our lives, especially those of expatriates, are defined by uncertainty. There are always unpredictable things in our environment that will happen to us, over which we have absolutely no influence at all.
Our dharma can give us guidance in regards to how to respond to these uncertainties of life. If we are facing a situation that was unpredictable, and for which we feel uncertain about how to respond, then we should always ask ourselves: “what is my role, and what is my duty in this particular situation?”.
Once we have defined our role in any given situation, the appropriate response to the situation should automatically become clear.
Assume that you are a western expatriate sent on an overseas mission to Dubai. There already is an expatriate who is leading the local branch office in Dubai, but there are obviously some trust issues between him and the other employees. Your role there is to act as a mediator between both sides.
When you arrive there, you quickly notice that the leader is trying to impose the same rules on the employees than the one’s that make headquarters successful. Unfortunately these systems and regulations are strongly inconsistent with the values of the other employees.
What do you do?
If you are clear on your dharma, or your unique duties of your current situation, then the answer to this should be pretty clear. You are there to mediate between both parties. Despite the fact that your western colleague is telling you very clearly that these are the rules from headquarters and that there are to be applied globally, it is your job to mediate between him, the local employees, and headquarters.
This means that although you are likely to face strong opposition from both headquarters and the local CEO, you will have to push strongly in order to create a situation in which both the values and beliefs of headquarters, as well as the values and beliefs of the other employees are taken into account.
Next time you are facing an uncertain situation, ask yourself what your dharma or your duty in this situation is. Then act in a way that turns your duty into reality.