Dharma & Living in a Capitalistic Society
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July 31st, 2022

Very few tensions perplex me more than trying to pursue my dharmic work on this planet while also living in a consumption-based, patriarchal capitalistic system run by kleptocrats and corporatists. Roll in our current economic state, with rapidly rising inflation at 8.7% and counting, 46% increase in gas prices and food prices inflating 15% and well, the dharmic tension is legit.

In my twenties, work and living was much simpler. I was part of a quasi-nomadic community who worked in the leisure industries and we followed the seasons for work. We paddled and bartended in the summer months at the beach and skied and tuned skis during the winter months in the Rockies. We found a place to live through word of mouth or just rolling into a town, checking the local bulletin boards at the grocery store and that was it. We followed the beautiful weather and played hard. Very hard. This was long before the AirBnBs came along with web2 and removed affordable housing from beautiful tourist towns.

In my thirties, I stepped into the world of journalism and after returning to JSchool, I accidentally started a business. I became an an accidental entrepreneur because the jobs being offered at the local newspaper didn’t cover my cost of living. Then the housing collapse happened and its been a free for all ever since.

I straddled the worlds of trying to make a living doing what made my soul happy and also surviving in an unstable and wildly chaotic economic climate. I’ve always held the duality of doing work that is fulfilling while also keeping food on the table. I’m lucky in that I am only responsible for myself and my hound dog, so I have more flexibility in how I work.

But now I’ve traveled deep into my spiritual journey and holding space for both dharmic work and generating a sustainable income is a downright daily struggle. Just last week I decided to finally surrender and just do my dharmic work and know that the rest will work itself out. It always does.

Two nights ago I was listening to Ram Dass lectures before bed, which has become my go-to ritual for ending my day in a place of mindful presence. The following episode from the Be Here Now podcast hit home hard. I finally had a framework and a clear understanding of the tension between dharmic work and the spiritual path and why this past year has been such a struggle in this arena.

I’ve traveled deep into my tantric yoga path and in doing so, there’s a level of “spiritual cleansing” that occurs and is an ongoing process. According to yogic philosophy, articulated in this lecture by Dass, if one is undergoing such a spiritual journey, it is almost impossible to do work that is not in one’s dharma. To not be conscious of how one makes their money is in direct conflict with their spiritual journey at that moment.

The ah-ha moment in listening to this was deep– like Grand Canyon deep. I now have a clear understanding of my tension and I also realize I’m not alone. I’m not simply rolling with a whole “law of attraction” bullshit narrative, I’m actually feeling the tension inherent in the yogic path when one travels deep into the practice and philosophy of tantra.

But don’t take my word for it. I’ll leave you with the transcript from the Q&A lecture, done at Naropa University in 1974. And fyi…Naropa is my current home as I pursue my degree in Yoga Studies. Dass was the first to teach yoga at Naropa, so it’s only fitting that this lecture resonates so deeply.


From Be Here Now podcast, episode 194, Pitfalls & Providence starting around minute 18.

I think at the stage that I am at, I must be very cautious that all of the acts that I am invovled in are very dharmic in a limiting sense of dharma, not in the total expansive sense of dharma. At this moment I have to tell a truth, I can’t lie. Maybe later I can lie, now I must tell the truth.

….

In certain advertising, you are advertising, like for example, when I talk to you about joining Naropa’s spring program next year, that’s advertising. I am doing it because in my heart, the Naropa spring program next year is dharmic. I couldn’t advertise for something, the prison project is dharmaic, etc. If it didn’t [feel dharmic], I couldn’t do it, later, maybe I can.

While there is no form to the spirit, at certain stages of your sadna you are primarily involved with purification and you must be careful that everything you’re involved with is dharmic. Like my whole way of right-livelihood must be dharmic. My relations to human beings must be dharmic. In the narrowest sense of what I consciously understand with my limited light to be that which liberates people. So that limits the types of games I can play. I can’t do rip-off games at this point. And just saying “well I’m earning a living this way but I’m using it for God” and I can earn it by screwing other people, I can’t do that. At this stage I can’t do it.

….

One does the best one can with where one’s at. You don’t say, “I won’t touch it cause it’s dirty money.” You have to consciously know what you’re doing…if you’re gonna work with money, work with it consciously and bring to it all of your consciousness. If you’re going to take a job that doesn’t feel truly dharmic, bring to it as much consciousness as you can. Some of you may feel I can only do a job that’s dharmic, I’d rather starve to death than make money impurely. Other’s say, look, I’ll do the best I can under the conditions.

And there’s no blame in either case, each of us has to hear what each of us has to do. If you’re a sadu– if you’re a single renunciate, woman or man, then you can afford to be quite a purist. As I can, I have nobody dependent on me. On the other hand, if you have family, you are a householder. And you have certain responsibilities and you have to do the best you can. Because if you are such a purist that you don’t get enough money to feed your baby in the long run you’ve done more adharma than dharma.


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