One Saturday evening, years ago at the ashram in Illinois, I listened to Swami Shantamrita talk about dharma. Dharma, the root of life, embraces our responsibilities, rights, behavior and interconnectedness with the entire universe.
I remember him talk about the fig-pollinating wasps. The blind, wingless male wasps devote their whole lives to tunneling through figs so the females can emerge to pollinate other figs and start the cycle again. The fig tree and the wasp rely on each other, a sacred bond that boosts the whole ecosystem.
He also shared about Emperor penguin couples and their journey across frozen tundra to lay their egg. After the egg is laid, the female must carefully transfer it to the male for incubation while she walks the long way back to the sea to eat. After regaining her strength, she makes the journey back to bring food for her newborn chick, who will hatch at dad’s feet while mom’s away. A penguin’s dharma is to work in partnership to ensure the survival of the species.
After telling the stories of the wasps and the penguins, Swami bobbled his head and with a curious smile asked, “what do you think a human’s dharma is?”
I want you to settle into that question for a minute.
If a wasp is meant to perpetuate the wasp and fig population, and the penguins work together to ensure the survival of the species, what is humanity’s place within the whole? What are our rights & responsibilities? What universal laws and behaviors allow us to live interdependently with all?
It can be hard to see what human-kind’s dharma is when war, genocide, starvation, hoarding, exploitation and environmental destruction exist. It can also be easy to falsely think of dharma as being hyper-individualized and having to do with your work in the world (hello internalized capitalism).
Swami’s answer to the question was “to be humane.”
I had to ask myself: what does it mean to be humane in a world where we “save the animals”, and then pass out mass produced, corporate candy made with child-slave labor on Halloween?
As I humanely feel the multiple heartbreaks happening around the globe, Swami’s words have been rising into my consciousness to remind me of where we are as humans right now. This understanding helps me summon patience and compassion after I rage and grieve about the ignorance of the west and how little we collectively understand about geography, history and the generational effects of trauma. It also helps me root more deeply into my own dharma.
The longer I am in this body, the more I realize that none of us are free of ignorance and because of that it’s important to learn to see in the dark. The path forward hasn’t been written my friends, that is up to us. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. It’s time to get out there and live your dharma.
What does it mean to you to be humane?