Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means duty or responsibility. Your dharma refers to your duties and your responsibilities. These can be:
A huge advantage of this approach is that it gives you a lot of tolerance for suffering and failure.
In everyday life, our response is usually to protect our ego and move away from a chance of failure. However, by doing this you can end up becoming stuck. While it is understandable that we do whatever we can to move away from negative emotions and suffering, it is exactly that which gets us stuck in life.
While people want to make changes in their life, they often find themselves making excuses for why progress and growth are too hard. The paradoxical thing is that even though we want growth and progress, moving towards them does not actually feel good. It is tough, uncomfortable, and painful, and requires a lot of resilience.
If someone is unemployed and wants a career, then their desire to have a career will not make it easy to find a job. It is still going to be hard and difficult.
We imagine that once we reach our goals, we will be happy and satisfied. However, this is not true. The feeling of emptiness despite accomplishment is called Summit Syndrome.
We think that climbing to the top of the mountain is rewarding, but when we start climbing, it is painful and minimally rewarding. Therefore, by focusing on the positives of the reward, we create an expectation of the climb as positive, which conflicts with the actual negative feelings that we experience.
Due to this unrealistic expectation, we start to lose our will to move forward because all we see is suffering. As a result, we become unsure whether the climb will lead to the end result.
Our brain naturally has a decision making compass that avoids pain and seeks pleasure. We get stuck and are unable to move forward in life because we avoid the things that we need to stop avoiding.
One of the most effective ways to solve this problem is to find a way to voluntarily choose pain and suffering. Find a way to embrace the struggle of life.
Life is hard, and the difficulty holds us back from moving forward. We do not want to live a hard life. Moreover, everyone wants to live an easy life, not a hard one.
Yet, if you find a way to embrace the negativity of life, then you can be in complete control of life. If you can do that, then life cannot hold you back, and you no longer need the guarantee of a future reward to keep you moving forward. This is dharma.
Understand what you are, accept what you are, and then do not blame yourself for it. Dharma is the way to choose, tolerate, and welcome the good and the bad.
Imagine if a gun was pointed at you. This gun represents pain, death, and/or suffering. You are in a bad situation and it's completely reasonable to retreat away from it.
But if the gun is pointed at your son or daughter, you would be willing to jump in front of the gun. The meaning of the gun is as severe, if not more severe because it means the death or suffering of someone you love/care about more than yourself.
But instead of staying away from it, you would start moving towards it — between the gun and the person you love. This is dharma — the thing that allows you to face pain, adversity, and negativity and choose pain and adversity in life.
Exercise: When you have an impulse to say something and restrain yourself. Notice what happens to your body and what you feel. From this, you can learn a lot about yourself and your self-control.
We wonder how we can get motivation, willpower, discipline, intelligence, and wisdom. We tend to pick out all the positive traits that we lack and use them to justify someone else's success.
While one can work on developing these traits, dharma is the easiest way to change our direction and move forward. It allows us to pick the painful things in life without needing to rely on willpower. It allows us to accept pain.
For example, doctors do 24-hour calls and deal with insurance companies, while being separated from their families. How do they do this?
One would think that money and prestige are the motivators, but most of the time doctors actually function because there is a patient who needs them. We actually do our best when someone needs us.
But what if we are not motivated to help others?
Dharma is not necessarily about helping others. Helping others is just an example of a motivator that helps us take on the pain. If you do not have a duty or responsibility to other people, you have a duty or responsibility to yourself or a cause that you believe in.
For example, there are monks that sit in caves meditating, that do not interact with people. You could be an author that lives in the woods and feels the need to write a story about your life - and you could be living in service to your dharma.
All human beings have a particularly unique draw or gravity towards a certain direction, and people act towards this draw because it gives that pull. This gravity is special because it enables people to endure the necessary struggle and effort that brings people towards happiness, peace, and satisfaction.
People often "trip on" specific goals or milestones because they believe that reaching a certain point will bring them happiness. Focusing on completing specific goals will only bring momentary happiness and peace, and it will leave you searching for the next, which is also called the hedonistic treadmill, But as the Buddha once said "happiness comes from within" meaning that the way you view the world is the one that matters the most. So you need to use that potential energy, moving toward your gravity, and focus on the direction.
You will not immediately know the "right" direction to go toward because where you start is when you have the least information. In fact, you will likely be making a planning fallacy and find a particular point where you can find happiness because you lack of information. Instead, take one step in a direction not matter if it is right or wrong, and keep moving toward the direction.
You don't find your dharma — it either finds you, or is given to you through your Karma (circumstances).
Dharma is not always grandiose because it can be simple and it will change. Everyone’s karma is different, so everyone’s dharma is different. There is no dharma that is better and more valuable. And also you when you are a kid, your dharma is to your family. But when you grow up, it is to other things.
There is personal experience and then there is current dharma.
For example, Dr. Kanojia’s personal experience was his parents pushing him to be a doctor, almost failing out of college, meditation in India, medical school, and all the media influence he had as a kid.
This does not determine dharma, and there is still a 19-year gap between Dr. Kanojia’s personal experience and his current dharma.
He found his dharma from doing a Reddit ama (Personal Experience), and the amount of reception he got and people reaching out to him (Karma) helped him decide that there is a need to be fulfilled (Dharma). And then after the Reckful Interview (Personal Experience), he received a lot of feedback on Twitch (Karma), which lead him to stream interviews and help people specifically on Twitch (Dharma)
Dharma is not a solo endeavor because the world has to tell you what it needs, Karma. For example, if Reddit didn't respond to Dr. Kanojia’s AMA and did not reach out to him, then he would not have recognized his current dharma.
Dharma is a meeting between who you are and what the world asks of you. In another example, if you were a doctor and in the emergency room, then how do you figure out your dharma? What is your dharma at the moment? You figure out your dharma because someone comes in and needs help immediately.
It's not what society wants, it is what society needs and pushes it forward. Rosa Parks was told by society to sit at the back of the bus. But Rosa Parks’ dharma was to sit in the front and progress society forward. Karma is not admiration. Admiration gives ego and karma is the circumstance.
For example, some people have a loving family, and some people don't. Everyone has different personal experiences. But who can help those that do not have a loving family better? It’s obviously the people without a loving family, who can help others with the same personal experience.
If you are in a bad family situation, do your dharma to the family. This does not mean fixing the family. It means doing the best that you can but be willing to let go if they do not meet you halfway. Dharma is not trying to focus on an outcome; it is about doing your part.
When you encounter a new challenge, you want to improve yourself to face that challenge. It is self-improvement. If you’re not in a good position to help someone, cut yourself some slack. But it is your karma to start preparing in a particular way. It’s not your fault that you can’t help them.
You shouldn’t have to sacrifice anything or drop everything. You should be able to juggle a few things and find a middle ground.
The important thing is to train yourself so that when your dharma comes your way you will complete it as best as you can. In the hero’s archetype, there is the training arc or season before they fight their final fight. The hero does not always know what to focus and train on, but they are putting all their energy into training.
For example, when Dr. Kanojia decided to be a psychiatrist, he panicked because he saw that he would not be trained anymore in real medicine and diagnosis. He got this fear that he would be on an airplane, there would be a medical emergency, and he would have to determine whether he is willing to take the medical call (which did happen). So he spent 6 months studying and trying to learn as much as he could so he would be ready when it happens. The day will come, it will be terrifying and will you be able to do it. So whenever Dr. Kanojia learns and goes through life, he recognizes that he is preparing himself for when it comes.
Your capacity to do your dharma depends on your physical capability. And if you think you missed your chance, then you did not miss your chance. It does not mean that the chances stop coming. It is a reminder to prepare for the next one. Your dharma will keep coming and will keep calling you again and again.
You can figure out what your current dharma is by writing down your values and goals. Then you go through each goal and remove them if they are based on your Indriyas or senses. Another way is to compare a list of things that you want vs. things that you care about.
Simply write a page on what you think is wrong with the world. Doing so will unlock the writer’s creative mind. After writing, the user should look over what he/she wrote and use their analytical mind to dissect the writing. This not only unlocks the creative mind for gamers but also gives a peek into what this person’s Dharma might be.
There are other things you can think about, such as Karma which is the unique set of circumstances that we are born with. Your dharma is heavily based on your karma.
For example, when Dr. K was young, he would not have considered that a 2.5 GPA is desirable over a 4.5 GPA in any situation. Except in the situation in which he is now — talking to other people with 2.5 GPAs and helping them improve. He can relate to them and be an example of how to get out on the other side. If he can do it, you can do it.
When he looks at his life, he sees the circumstance (karma) of his GPA resulting in his duty (dharma) of realizing that gamers need help, and he is the guy that is in a position to do that. That is the connection between his karma and his dharma. There are some challenges that only you can do something about, and that is your dharma.
Write something on a piece of paper. What are your actual responsibilities — what is your duty as a human being on this earth? What is the meaning of your existence here? Who are you responsible for as a human being? Whose life depends on you doing something? You may find that there's no one in your life that depends on you, that's the case for most young people.
When you actually sit down and try to put it on a piece of paper, it is going to be hard because you will not feel like there is any meaning at all. You sit there and you play video games all day, where is the meaning in that? That's exactly the problem — you guys don't have meaning in your life. You have to figure out what your meaning is.
The point of the exercise is to figure out what is the first thing that you write down, and the second, and the third and the fourth. That allows you to figure out what you actually care about. And then you can start to figure out what you can actually do about it. If you don’t do anything about it, who is going to? All of us have to do our own part, but what matters to you? That is where you start.
When you are unable to find what you care about, you have to go the other way. You have to find meaning by engaging in experiences. You are not going to learn what your responsibilities are while sitting at home because you don't have any responsibilities. In that situation, get some experience. Human beings are designed to crave and want experiences — we learn a lot through them.
Get out of the house and just do something — it does not matter what it is. Just go somewhere and do something. Volunteer, find a job, or go to an art museum — it doesn't matter what you do. Just go somewhere, and have this particular thought in the back of your mind.
Let's say you're sitting at a table and you're meeting people for drinks. Pause and look at the people that you're with and ask yourself, “Do I have a duty here? Do I have a responsibility?” You may say yes or you may say no. When you go for a hike, do the same thing, and ask yourself, “What am I doing here? Is there any kind of duty or responsibility that arises for me here? What is it that I want to do? What is it that I need to do? What is it that I was put on this earth to do?”
The more places you go, the more you will think, “How am I supposed to know what I should do if I go for a hike? How is there any duty or responsibility there?” You are right — that's a rational explanation, an analytical answer to your question. Sure, there is no duty that you're going to find by going for a hike, but the problem with gamers is that the only thing that you use to learn is your analytical mind. There are parts of yourself, parts of your mind, and parts of your brain that are more intuitive and more emotional. You have to give them space to have thoughts that come up.
It's bizarre, yet people go for retreats out in the wilderness all the time. How does that help? How do trees, leaves, and streams help you get perspective in life? Honestly, we have an idea of how that works, but the truth is it does. That is how people find meaning in life. They go and sit under a tree for a while, breathe the fresh air, and hike for a while. Their muscles get sore, and they go to sleep at night, and when they wake up in the morning, somehow they have found meaning.
So you have to get up, go out, and do something, and question what your responsibility is. You need to create space away from your analytical mind, which comes up with logical answers using your limited set of data (which you guys get from playing video games, and is all the data that you have). You have learned to come up with logical conclusions, but while they may sound like they make sense, do not actually improve your life in any way.
You will be amazed by what your brain is capable of when you give it a diversity of experience. It is gonna take in that fresh air, listen to a stream, look at the piece of art, listen to the music, listen to your friends, and somehow, something is going to happen in your unconscious mind. You are going to come out the other end, and you will have meaning. We do not know how it works, but it does.
Buddha said that the way to live life is not to avoid suffering but to live your Dharma, which means to live your duty or your responsibility.
Buddha discovered, which actually is common sense once we talk about it, that if you are living in service to your duty, if you're trying to do something for a higher cause or if you're living up to your responsibilities that there's an immense amount of strength and tolerance that you'll have access to.
Most parents can sacrifice immense amounts of personal comfort or satisfaction for the sake of their children and they can do it in a heartbeat. If a parent could trade their life to save their child from cancer they would do it in a heartbeat.
Interestingly enough, gamers are very good at actually sacrificing for other people. Where does that strength come from? How is it that you can sacrifice so much for the sake of someone else?
When you sacrifice, you are the one that suffers — that is the nature of sacrifice. You give up something and are worse off. All of this comes back to Dharma.
If you, as a gamer, can figure out what your Dharma is, and can be rooted in and be grounded in it if you can say that this is my duty, this is my responsibility in life, and this is who I commit myself to be, then you will be amazed by how much strength you get out of that. You will be amazed by how much you can withstand, and how much of an energy reserve you'll have to move forward in the way that you want to.
When Dr. K works with his patients, he actually doesn't try to alleviate their suffering. Sometimes he will start out that way but over time, the best treatment for depression is to actually have people living in accordance with their duty. When human beings serve a cause that is greater than themselves, they are able to accomplish things that seem superhuman.
In history, all of the people who have accomplished really amazing things, (people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King) have followed their sense of duty. They took on huge burdens despite the suffering they knew it would bring.
When you tap into that as a gamer — if you can figure out what that is for yourself, then you'll have an immense amount of energy.
Are your parents mad at you because you aren’t doing your dharma? Are you in your basement without a job, playing video games? They might be partially right and partially wrong.
Start by taking care of yourself — your first dharma is to your own health. Feed yourself, clean your room, get a resume, work out, and meditate. Live a life without regrets. Understand you deserve a better life. It is your dharma to have a better life. Once you have a better life you can help people. You learn and train and build yourself up, then you can help.
The Sanskrit system describes 4 stages of life:
For example, Bill Gates made money and raised his kids, and then he started helping people.
Monks give up 1,2, and 3; they take up 4 (Renunciation).
You do not find your dharma, your dharma finds you.
Jobs as goals can inspire us to do our best:
- If your job is a means to an end, we begin to put our best.
- It becomes a part of your dharma, but it is not necessarily your dharma.
- You will be detached — it will be easier to act.
- Do not abandon everything to search for your "dharma", let your karma (your circumstances in life) guide you.
There are two parts to our brains: the analytical side and the creative side. Due to the nature of video games, gamers tend to have rather developed analytical minds. Dr. K mentions that the writing exercise proposed on this page can help strengthen the creative mind in gamers that would otherwise likely be turned off.
From a clinical standpoint, people can have a biological depression in which there is a neurochemistry reaction that causes depression, despite having a great overall experience of life. This is called Major Depressive Disorder, for which one should see a doctor.
However, there is a difference between clinical depression and unhappiness. If all is not well, you are still sad and the sadness is not episodic, it is a lack of dharma. You should still get a mental health evaluation, and see if you are diagnosed with depression. But you should also find your dharma and get happiness from it.
To translate to Sanskrit, the analytical mind is Shiva, which means intention, and the creative mind is Shakti, which means creativity. A good mixture of creativity and intention is necessary in order to accomplish things in this world. In Hindu tradition, Shiva is male and Shakti is female.
Living a life of falseness and put on a mask is fatiguing. Gamers don’t live a life that is spiritually fulfilling and that is why they feel low-energy. Energy comes from living a life of purpose — doing something that gives you strength. That is what matters.
Think about the times in your life when you have gone the extra mile, it was probably when someone needed you. When you live a life that is worth living and do something that you care about and the world needs, then it becomes invigorating and gives you tons of energy.
Gamers don’t tap into the energy of doing something that has passion and meaning.
When you’re authentic, everything around you starts to fall into place. The Sanskrit word “Satya” means truth. A lot of spiritual energy comes from being truthful. Gamers tend to struggle so much because they live a life of lies. They lie all the time — to themselves, to their parents, to their loved ones, teachers, and friends. As a result, they don’t get anywhere in life.
You get strength from truthfulness. You call problems what they are, and you bring them into the light and face them.
People think that when they start to live a life of truthfulness, their life will come crashing down around them. But the opposite happens. They start to build their lives up. They find reserves of strength that allow them to change and transform their life. When you face your demons, somehow you find the strength to fight them, overcome them, and sometimes even embrace them.
Not feeling okay with yourself can also be authentic. There are times when you should treat yourself with compassion, and there are also times when you should call yourself out for messing up. It is functional for people to feel guilt. Guilt can be a sign that one is off-track and it is important to acknowledge and be truthful with oneself when one oversteps and when one falls short.
True acceptance does not mean turning a blind eye to the “bad half” of you. It is the exact opposite.
For example, when someone’s doctor points out that they are going to have heart disease and the person thinks that their doctor is fat-shaming them, that is a problem because that person is lying to themselves.
True authenticity and real Satya means looking at the things that you are doing right AND that you are doing wrong. There is a fine line between not judging yourself for being where you are and accepting that it is okay to want to change and that you should change and grow.
In science, we call dharma a competing interest. And it has been shown that a competing interest can help someone recover from addiction.
For example, while Dr. K was in medical school, he was treating a patient who wanted to quit smoking. Dr. K told him that he should stop smoking because of all the reasons they should quit. But he could not quit.
So Dr. K prescribed medications to him and told the reasons again. The patient still could not quit. Finally, Dr. K started bringing things up that the patient values like seeing his kids and grand kids. Then Dr. K asked, “When you walk your daughter down the aisle, do you want to be wheeling an oxygen tank behind you?”
You can give yourself a million reasons and learn a bunch of information about something that you should change in your life, but it does not help motivate you to make that change. What you need is dharma, a value, or a competing interest to keep you motivated and on track. It cannot be an abstract goal like “I do not want lung cancer in the future.” A competing interest has to be something that you value and care about. Something that makes you pick the path of pain.
Dharma comes from experience, study, and reflection; not logic. Go out and do something. Go and do things in spite of your anxiety. You do not have to be with people. Do something for yourself. Take care of yourself.
One of the best ways to move forward in life is to live your dharma and find out what your dharma is because it gives you strength. There is a story of a guy named Bhishma, the son of a King. Bhishma is growing up just fine and the king is proud that his kid is a good crown prince. The king has no wife.
One day, as he was riding in a chariot he gets on a barge and sees a beautiful woman who he lets pass by because she is too young for him. The son notices his dad is distracted and asks him about it and probes him until he says it’s shameful and it’s inappropriate but I can’t get her out of my head, my responsibility is to you so don’t worry about it. Bhishma tells him to follow his heart and go for it. His dad is amped up and goes to her father to ask for her hand and the man jumps at it because of the status bump.
But he lays down conditions, "I get that you love my daughter but I can’t accept her being a second class citizen, even if it’s to a king. You have to promise to me her children will inherit the throne and pass over Bhishma, if it passes over her she doesn’t even count as a queen. I need my daughter to be first in your household." The king tells him to screw off and leaves but he’s really depressed about it.
Bhishma asks him why he’s acting so mopey but the king refuses to tell him. Bhishma eventually learns from the charioteer that his father was bummed out from a meeting with the woman's father. Bhishma goes to the woman's father, who reveals the demands he laid on the king. Bhishma tells him that he has no problem giving up the throne in response to which the woman's father lays down a new demand. He demands that if Bhishma has kids and so does his daughter, then there is the possibility that Bhishma's kids might develop a chip on their shoulder and start a civil war to take back the throne. He demanded that Bhishma swore to never get married and never have children. Bhishma accepted the terms. In Sanskrit, the word Bhishma now means “one who makes terrible vows”.
In Western thinking, we have the idea that morality is a dichotomy of good and evil, but in Eastern thinking, we examine Dharma.
Read this story and examine the three characters. Who is following their dharma and who is not? The story might make you react as hating the father of the woman but what is his Dharma? Is Bhishma a good guy? Low wisdom, low intelligence, but lawful good, and not doing his dharma. A father is supposed to mostly sacrifice for the son, not the other way around. In the story, the "villain" has done their dharma but the good guy didn't.
Blind goodness and blind evil are not dharma. Dharma acknowledges that painful decisions have to be made in life which might look evil from an absolutist stance. Sometimes you have to look out for yourself and sometimes for certain things over others, such as your kingdom over your father. Life is not black and white.
People that want to hurt other people have a sense of inequality rooted in anger and hatred, which is also rooted in hurt. Hurt is not a place of calm and clear. By recognizing your hurt, you can recover and reconcile with yourself.
For example, Hitler had a dharma, but he did not fulfill his dharma. His dharma was probably to become an artist. However, he got really mad after his rejection, and his ego got out of control. When someone’s ego is hurt and they feel disenfranchised, they often create or join a cult because cults provide a union of people that feel lost and cannot follow the normal life of society.
For example, Dr. Kanojia uses a systematic practice like meditation to reflect on the self and aligning with whether he is helping someone. It is an ongoing process and training yourself to figure out what your compass/dharma is based on.
Some good books to read to understand yourself: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, and Mahabharata by Vyasa.
When Dr. K was 21 and failing out of college, he ended up spending some time at an ashram in India. An ashram is a monastery — it is a place where people go to do yoga and meditation and where monks live. It was a really transformative experience for him and he realized that a lot of the values and ways that we look at life which are based on Western philosophy leave something to be desired.
In psychiatry, we tend to try to move people away from suffering. As a psychiatrist, it is his job to make them feel not depression and not feel anxious, if they are suffering from depression or anxiety. In the west we have this idea that we want to move away from pain and suffering and move towards pleasure.
In the East, they say something a little bit different. Buddha said that all human beings are entitled to two things. The first is suffering and the second is death. That is all that you're entitled to. It is not enough to just run away from suffering. In fact, a lot of the time when you try to run away from suffering, you actually create more suffering for yourself.