Svadharma: getting to know one's true nature

C. Suriyaprakash


The notion of dharma-karma as propounded in the Gita fascinates me. My understanding is that even the atman that has realized pure consciousness essentially needs to engage in action for the larger good of humanity. This action or 'karma' need to be performed with no attachment to its fruits (results), totally surrendering the agency of 'doership' to the 'supreme being' or Brahman. This attitude of 'nishkamakarma' would be possible when our actions are aligned to dharma.

Raised in a traditional (but not orthodox) Hindu family, daily pujas, reciting mantras and stotras, fasting on auspicious days and stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata were common phenomenon for me. As a child two stories stood out to me and later raised deep questions in me as well. The first one was of Shravana in the Ramayana and the other was that of Ekalavya from the Mahabharata. The former lost his life while pursuing his dharma as a son while the latter lost his right thumb (the life of an archer) in delivering his dharma as a shishya. The question that arose in me was 'why would people suffer when they stand steadfast in their dharma?' It was not an easy question to answer then. This project is an attempt to get to grips at this paradox.

Personally it has been a constant struggle for me to reconcile the difference between what is expected of me and what I wanted. First half of my current life was spent on being 'good' by submitting my needs to the wishes of others, namely family and friends. However, when I took up training in transactional analysis in 1994 I found my own inner voice and started experiencing the joy of wanting something of my own and acting based on these inner needs and drives of my own rather than adapting to that of my surrounding. It was indeed a long journey and the deep psychological understanding I derived from that process helped me grow in leaps and bounds towards 'autonomy'.

Experiencing autonomy (capacity to be aware, spontaneous and intimate, as defined by Eric Berne) was a major milestone for me. When I was fully pursuing the goal of autonomy the world faced the worst economic crisis of over a century. When the world markets collapsed and the whole global economy were in a mess, it raised questions in me about personal autonomy as a life goal. Somehow deep down I realized blind and narrow pursuit of autonomy without any concern for the others seem to have been at the bottom of this collapse. That is when my interest in looking at the Gita grew and it threw open a whole new paradigm for me to look at myself and the world. I realized how decline of global dharma has led to the mega fiasco at an unprecedented scale. (Elaborated in my attached paper titled 'Time for a New Avatar? Revitalising the Debate on Ethics for a New Global Vision') I found myself too powerless to reverse this trend but it stirred in me the thought "how am I contributing to this and what do I need to change within me so that I could create a small ripple around me towards a macro transformation?" That is when I came across the notion of 'svadharma'.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advices Arjuna to abide by his 'svadharma' whenever there is a conflict between svadharma and paradharma. This raised several questions in me:

  • How to identify what one's dharma is? What factors constitute one's dharma?
  • How do I differentiate my needs, wishes and desires from my dharma?
  • Is dharma static and deterministic? or is it dynamic and changing?
  • How do I identify the conflict between svadharma and paradharma?

Above all…

  • What is MY svadharma? What role does it play in my realization of the pure consciousness?

This project is an attempt to find answers to these questions so that my actions will be guided by my personal dharma. As I dwell on these questions it becomes more and more clear to me that there are no simple answers to these and that this pursuit is for life!


'Dharma' stems from the root sound dhri, in Sanskrit which means 'to sustain; carry, hold'. At the cosmic level dharma refers to underlying order in nature and human life. At the basic human level it refers to behaviours being in accordance to that order. It also means duty, justice, law, virtue, ethics, religion, goodness and truth. We cannot find a single alternate word in English for dharma. It cannot be defined but can only be explained. It is said that dharma is only second to God in the order of the cosmos. When the divine consciousness created the purusha and prakriti it seem to have established dharma along with them to sustain them in their pure nature. So it can be said that dharma sustains everything in its true nature. In other words, dharma is the true nature itself of every being, both living and non-living. Simply said, dharma is that which contains or upholds the cosmos. It is akin to the canvas behind a painting or the cloth holding embroidery or the stone that holds a sculpture. While we admire the beauty of a painting, embroidery or the sculpture, that which holds them is often not seen, gets ignored. In due course we tend to believe the painting or the statue exists by its own selves. That's the beginning of ignorance, I suppose.

The story of a rishi and a scorpion in one of the old Indian scriptures captures the essence of what dharma is. The story goes thus…. Once upon a time there was a rishi taking bath in a river along with his disciples. He saw a scorpion struggling in the water. He lifted the scorpion from the water in order to save it. The scorpion stung him severely and he was almost fainting because of the sting. Still he struggled to swim across to the shore and released the scorpion which rushed into the grasses alive. He heaved a sigh of relief and a smile swept through his face and he fell on the river bank unconscious. Shocked by the behavior of their guru who almost got himself killed his disciples, brought him resuscitated him asked him why he would rescue a scorpion which almost killed him. The guru replied, 'stinging is the dharma of a scorpion; but saving a life is the dharma of a rishi.'

In the Mahabharata when Yudhistra asked Bhishma to teach him what dharma was, Bhishma from his bed of arrows said thus:

It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma.
SHANTHI PARVA - 109-9-11

In another place in the Mahabharata dharma is praised as

Dharma sustains the society
Dharma maintains the social order
Dharma ensures well being and progress of Humanity
Dharma is surely that which fulfils these objectives

Jaimini, the author of the celebrated Purvamimamsa and Uthara Mimamsa, explains 'Dharma' thus:

Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good.

Bhishma again says:

Whatever creates conflict is adharma
Whatever puts an end to conflict and brings about unity and harmony is dharma


Dharma embraces every type of righteous conduct covering every aspect of life essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and society and includes those rules which guide and enable those who believe in the Divine. At the pragmatic level it transforms into right action. Then the question that arises is 'what is right action?' Indian philosophical frameworks give a series of direction for the same as well.

Right action is one that is governed by one's svadharma, kuladhrama, asrama dharma, varna dharma and rashtriya dharma. Thus there is a series of dharma in hierarchical order starting from the individual level to the national level. It also goes beyond that to the global level pertaining to the cosmic period to which we belong, called the yuga dharma.

  • Svadharma is the action determined by one's nature, spiritual temperament and essential character. It is the natural instinct in all of us that stimulates us to act at a subconscious level, without thinking. One's nature is in turn determined by one's physical, pranic and mental constitutions, namely trigunas (sattwa, rajas, tamas) and body constituency (vata, pitta, kapha). More on svadharma a little later.
  • Kula dharma is political, social, and community-related activities, which are based upon unselfishness, satya (Truth), ahimsã (non-violence), and moral and ethical values.
  • Ashrama dharma is determined by the stage in life we belong to. The fours ashramas laid out in the Vedas are brahmacharya, gruhasta, vanaprasta and sannyasa. Each stage in life has its own set of norms and values to uphold in order to sustain one's own identity and the family and society at large. Widely these are considered as four stages of life, while a differing perspective is that these are four options that are open for one to choose to live through his life. Thus one can choose to live as a brahmachari all through his life while one might take the path of sannyasa quite early in life like Sankara. These choices are again guided by one's svadharma.
  • Varna dharma pertains to the personality type to which one belongs. Even though the Vanashrama has been highly distorted and grossly abused in form of the caste system, in its original form it was an efficient social system that prescribed professions to individuals based on their qualities and natural temperaments and traits. Each varna (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) has its own nature (dharma). Knowing it to suit one's career is the ancient form of 'personality-job fit'. The story of Satyakama Jabala in the Upanishads stand testimony to this, where Satyakama who was born to jabala, a woman who did not know who his father was, was initiated into brahmanhood by a rishi because he stood for truth, which was the quality of a brahmin.
  • Rashtriya dharma governs the conduct of each one of us as a responsible citizen of our nation.
  • Yuga dharma that which sustains the universe at each yuga. There is a vedic analogy of dharma as a cow with four legs, where each leg is an aspect of kala - a yuga. In the first phase, satya yuga, the cow (dharma) was hale and healthy with all its four legs intact. When time transited into the second phase, dvapara yuga, it limped with three legs, denoting slow degenerating of values (dharma). In its third phase, treya yuga, it almost became immobile with just two legs. In its current phase, kali yuga, it is crippled and close to collapse with just one leg left. Prophetically, Bhishma says in the Mahabharata that in the kali yuga 'dharma will become adharma and adharma dharma'. Subsequently Krishna says in the Gita that whenever such an erosion of dharma happens through the ages he will come again and again to reinstate the rightful place of dharma.

Following one's dharma helps us align our body, mind and self with nature and eventually the divine. By establishing a hierarchy of dharmas it is ensured that no one acts arbitrarily at their own whims but act responsibly considering various factors into account.

Sri Aurobindo on Dharma

Sri Aurobindo has written extensively on dharma all through his writings. However, it is noteworthy that it is in the Gita that it appears the most. It is interesting to note that of all the Indian scriptures, it is the Gita that extensively deals about dharma. May be because it was the dharma shastra meant for the kali yuga where dharma is declining to its lowest and hence the need to highlight the need to uphold dharma in our daily life, as part of human evolution.

According to Sri Aurobindo, "man's caste depended on his dharma, his spiritual, moral and practical duties, and his dharma depended on his swabhava, his temperament and inborn nature."He presents the eight fold path of universal dharma (samanya dharma) as: worship, study, charity, austerity, truth, forgiveness, compassion, and freedom from greed.

The Mother prescribes 12 psychic qualities that could be the basis for our svadharma. They are: sincerity, humility, gratitude, perseverance, aspiration, receptivity, progress, courage, goodness, generosity, equality and peace.

A cursory account of how many times the word dharma appeared in Sri Aurobindo's works gave the following list:

The Essays on the Gita181
The Renaissance in India145
Record of Yoga66
Essays in Philosophy and Yoga46
The Human Cycle34
The Synthesis of Yoga24
Isha Upanishads23
Letters on Himself and the Ashram21
Bande Mataram17
Essays Divine and Human15
Early Cultural Writings14
The Life Divine13
The Secret of the Veda4
The Future Poetry2
Letters on Poetry and Art2
Collected Poems1
Kena and Other Upanishads1
Collected Plays/Stories0

Dharma appears the most in 'The Essays on the Gita'. Second comes 'The Renaissance in India' where he uses dharma more in the sense of sanatana dharma advocating the need for Indian nationalism to protect and reinstate the universal dharma as the Indian/global way of life. Given the focus of this project on svadharma, my interest is in dharma as applicable to an individual that would guide the individual's conduct. No other scripture delves on dharma as does the Gita.

According to Sri Aurobindo, (Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, p. 381) 'True ethics is dharma, the right fulfilment and working of the higher nature, and right action should have right motive, should be its own justification and not go limping on the crutches of greed and fear. Right done for its own sake is truly ethical and ennobles the growing spirit; right done in the lust for a material reward or from fear of the avenging stripes of the executioner or sentence of the judge, may be eminently practical and useful for the moment, but it is not in the least degree ethical, but is rather a lowering of the soul of man; or at least the principle is a concession to his baser animal and unspiritual nature.'

In the Essays Divine and Human (p. 74) he says 'Brahmajnana, Yoga and Dharma are the three essentialities of Hinduism'. In the Essays in philosophy and Yoga (p60) he says 'Dharma or Law is action as decided by the nature of the thing in which action takes place— svabhavaniyatam karma. In the Karmayogin (p67), he gives an idea of what svadharma is when he says 'It is nature which teaches you your own dharma. This is your dharma.' He goes on to add that 'Sanatana Dharma is life itself. It is for the dharma and by the dharma that India exists' (p. 23).

Following are some of the quotes by Sri Aurobindo on sanatana dharma, which I found quite valuable and self explanatory, capturing its essence for the layman in different aspects of life:

In the Early Cultural writings (p. 400) while referring to the relevance of dharma to education Sri Aurobindo says:

'… the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. It is he himself who must be induced to expand in accordance with his own nature. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues, or be prepared for a prearranged career. To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection. It is a selfish tyranny over a human soul and a wound to the nation, which loses the benefit of the best that a man could have given it and is forced to accept instead something imperfect and artificial, second-rate, perfunctory and common. Every man has in him something divine, something his own, a chance of strength and perfection in however small a sphere, which God offers him to take or refuse. The task is to find it, develop it, and use it. The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.

In his Commentary on Dharma and Art (p. 442), Sri Aurobindo says:

'India has not understood by the nation or people an organised State or an armed and efficient community well prepared for the struggle of life and putting all at the service of the national ego,—that is only the disguise of iron armour which masks and encumbers the national Purusha,—but a great communal soul and life that has appeared in the whole and has manifested a nature of its own and a law of that nature, a Swabhava and Swadharma, and embodied it in its intellectual, aesthetic, ethical, dynamic, social and political forms and culture.'
'Foundations of Hinduism are truth and manhood, esha dharmah sanatanah. Hinduism is no sect or dogmatic creed, no bundle of formulas, no set of social rules, but a mighty, eternal and universal truth. It has learned the secret of preparing man's soul for the divine consummation of identity with the infinite existence of God; rules of life and formulas of belief are only sacred and useful when they help that great preparation. And the first rule of life is that man must live the highest life of which he is capable, overcoming selfishness, overcoming fear, overcoming the temptation to palter with truth in order to earn earthly favours. The first formula of belief is satyannasti paro dharmah, there is no higher law of conduct than truth.'
Bande Mataram (p. 952)
'It is the dharma of every man to be free in soul, bound to service not by compulsion but by love; to be equal in spirit, apportioned his place in society by his capacity to serve society, not by the interested selfishness of others; to be in harmonious relations with his brother men, linked to them by mutual love and service, not by shackles of servitude, or the relations of the exploiter and the exploited, the eater and the eaten.'
(p. 956)
'Dharma is the Indian conception in which rights and duties lose the artificial antagonism created by a view of the world which makes selfishness the root of action, and regain their deep and eternal unity. Dharma is the basis of democracy which Asia must recognise, for in this lies the distinction between the soul of Asia and the soul of Europe. Through Dharma the Asiatic evolution fulfils itself; this is her secret.'
(p. 956)
'If India becomes an intellectual province of Europe, she will never attain to her natural greatness or fulfil the possibilities within her. Paradharmo bhayavahah, to accept the dharma of another is perilous; it deprives the man or the nation of its secret of life and vitality and substitutes an unnatural and stunted growth for the free, large and organic development of Nature. Whenever a nation has given up the purpose of its existence, it has been at the cost of its growth. India must remain India if she is to fulfil her destiny.' The same is applicable to an individual. We need to be true to ourselves – we must remain ourselves to fulfil our chosen destiny.
(p. 1041)

My Personal Dharma

I had a very religious upbringing. Pujas, temple visits, rituals, fasting were all common and regular observations in our family. However, I was also lucky not to have a dogmatic outlook as my parents were quite liberal in most practices. Visits to churches and mosques were equally holy to us. That was my first experience of sanatana dharma even though I did not know it in that name then. As I grew up many of the traditional values took deep roots in me, namely respect for learning/education, respect for elders, importance of family, duties towards parents, concern for others, concerns for the environment, innate divinity in all beings – both living and non-living.

The search for knowing me began sometime in my early 20's and that led me to learning transactional analysis in 1994. Even though I began the training for my own personal growth, slowly I found its value in my life and started wondering 'why not take it to others!' Using transactional analysis transformed my outlook to life and the way I related to myself, others and life at large. It helped me make decisions that I would have never made and propelled me to make a life of my choice rather than one unconsciously I had let being thrust upon me.

The past 18 years of my personal and professional journey was guided through my interpretation and learning of the concepts and models of transactional analysis and applying them in my life. It is a long drawn, continuing process still miles to go…. Along the way I was exposed to the spiritual dimension of a psychological theory like transactional analysis. I have also witnessed many of my trainers who lived its philosophy of 'All are ok', 'All can think', and 'We make our life what it is and so it can be changed at any point of time'. I have also seen people effectively use its basic principles of 'open communication and contractual way of working and relating'.

I have worked through many of my own limitations and built on my strengths through personal and group psychotherapy and counselling. My biggest struggle in my earlier days has been the tension between 'MY needs' and 'OTHERS' expectations from me'. I was able to make major changes in that domain. It was a herculean task; but my friends, family and colleagues stood by me in that journey. I slowly realized it was actually my own making and others were much more open and flexible and generous enough than I thought they were.

I have learned a lot by teaching, since 2001, transactional analysis to multitude of people and advanced trainees who aspire to be certified transactional analysts. The frame of reference of transactional analysis was my major inspiration professionally as a teacher, trainer, counsellor and coach. In my personal life it has guided me in my roles as a son, brother, husband, friend, uncle and the myriads of other roles I adorn. I have overcome many of life's challenges and there are still some left to be encountered. But I always found confidence in effectively doing that.

It was the recession of the late 2000's that triggered my thought and study into the dharma/karma paradigm. Somehow I realized it had all along defined/shaped my personal philosophy. I believe strongly that when I do my bit, the universe does its part. I started studying Gita recently being part of a Gita Home Study Group. One of the earliest concepts that I found appealing was that of daiva. I realized how there are several factors that determine the outcome of our actions which were in turn nothing but the unconscious implications of my own choices and actions.

Personal Breakthrough: When I was preparing to the Summer School Indian Psychology I was not sure what to expect from it. I was not sure what I will get from there. But there was one gnawing feeling in me, of a personal issue unresolved in spite of all the years of work I had done on myself. It was so central to my life that it kept interfering in whatever I was doing 24X7. I had analysed it threadbare from many angles and also done several hours of therapy on it, talked about it for many hours, pondered over it for years… yet it was not resolved. Keeping aside the details, the key issue there was the 'will to let go'. I was clinging on to it so hard, that I felt as if there was no life if I let it go. The very thought of letting go of it was so scary, I would deter from even considering that option. I knew for quite some time then that whatever psychological approach I was taking was not going to be helpful for resolving this issue.

I knew I needed a spiritual intervention, something that could change the whole outlook to life once all over again. I was not sure if I was ready for that as I believed spiritual approach eventually needs surrender and I found I was way beyond any form of surrender – definitely NO NO for surrender to any other human being or even God. I can workshop, I can plead, I can analyse, I can follow, I can debate, I can question, but surrender was ruled out. I realized how hard it was for me to surrender half way through the SSIP when the sessions on bhakti were going on.

I thought bhakti was not my cup of tea. I always knew my karma and jnana approach to autonomy (goal of TA) was not sufficient for the issue I had lingering in me. But I was scared to do anything else. When I came to the SSIP, I told myself I will just meditate on this issue and will not engage in any rational analysis nor will I push myself to resolve it. I just let go of the urge to resolve this issue. I suppose that was my baby step in surrendering, as I floundered a lot during the first two weeks in that resolve as I kept thinking and analyzing it now and then wanting to find a way out. But I realized during the third and fourth weeks, I had not thought of it and it did not bother me any longer. I totally realized the import of this only days after I left the SSIP. The issue had just melted off or vaporized in thin air. It was not an issue anymore. Where there was fear and despair earlier, I now experience only calm and compassion. I'm yet to understand what brought in this transformation within me.

Whatever my years of struggle could not accomplish, I was able to accomplish all of a sudden. I just 'let go'. I wonder if it was the inputs at the SSIP or the environment or the time I had to be with myself… I'm not able to comprehend. But I could remotely connect it with the notion of svadharma. I realized it was not in my 'nature' to be distraught and distressed. My 'nature' is to be loving and letting go. Svadharma is all about living our lives as per our 'nature'. Probably this realization brought in this change in me.

During one of the sessions on bhakti the faculty was sharing his experience of what his master told him when he was grappling with a personal issue he had then. The message was 'when you realize you have the capacity to love someone this intensely, then keep the love and just let the person go their way'. Thus the capacity to love was no more confined towards one person but can be expanded to embrace many more, and at its peak the whole of humanity or universe. It struck a chord in me very intensely and deeply. May be that was the moment I decided unconsciously to let go. That is also the moment where I found surrender in bhakti was not to anything outside of us, instead it is surrendering to something supreme/divine/perfect/excellent within our own self. It was such a release for me to realize that. That is when I realized such a bhakti was also within my nature – part of my svadharma – which is manifest in all that I do – in my personal, professional and organisational realms.

Just as I decided not to analyse the issue anymore I now resolved to not to analyse what caused the change. I just let go of that urge and I trust it will reveal itself at the right time. Knowing the source of this inspiration doesn't seem to be so important anymore to me. This has given me the freedom to move ahead and realize the inner depths of my nature.

Personal Methodology: The four weeks of project helped me to get a deeper understanding of how I processed experience and how I formed my own beliefs and models. I realized that sitting in silence for hours was not my cup of tea (who knows this might also change in due course). My main mode of gathering knowledge and gaining insights was by reading, listening, contemplating on whatever is the topic of focus to me. My mode of meditation is more Zen-like where I don't have to sit in silence but 'doing' is my meditation. I realized I gain insight when I do a task just for the pleasure of it and not because it has to be done to meet any criteria or fulfill a requirement. This is akin to what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called as 'flow'.

Once I have the insight I decide to experiment with it and explore the implications of the change. Eric Berne's idea of 'Martian view' that I learnt as part of my training in transactional analysis helped me a lot in developing this. This is akin to what the Gita refers to as shakshi bhava – to be a witness to whatever is happening around and inside us. From the outcomes of the experiments and repeated reinforcement of the new desired outcomes I integrate the new learning. This follows the learning cycle as propounded by David Kolb.

An important factor in my learning process is finding a support base. In my case it is often a friend or a group of likeminded seekers and learners. Of late I found great support from within in the form of a word or affirmation (as suggested by Susan Jeffers and Louise Hay). These affirmations act as internal compasses when I feel lost.

Action Points: As a result of my project on swadharma I have made the following decisions for my personal growth:

  • Enroll myself for a distance education Sanskrit course.
  • Learn the Indian philosophical scriptures deeply, namely the Gita, Vedas, Upanishads, Saiva Siddhanta and Thirukkural to find their relevance to modern life.
  • Learn to play flute. Enrolled for a skype class from a teacher based in Bangalore.

Professional Applications

Whatever I am personally is what I bring into all my roles, either personal, professional or organisational. Developing my personal self in all round manner helps me to develop myself professionally as well. As a teacher of business administration, I have found three broad areas of applying my insights from this project on swadharma.

  • Business Ethics: As laid out in the aforementioned and attached paper on business ethics, I would like to focus on the role of Indian psychology in helping the modern world reconcile the tension between growth based development and sustainable development. I strongly believe Indian psychology has a major role to play in making the transition on the six ethical paradigms identified by Anne de Graff and Joost Levy, namely reactive vs proactive behaviour, symptoms vs structure and symptoms, short term vs long term, I vs we, parts vs whole, and knowing vs learning.
  • Leadership Dharma: In my doctoral research I found there is strong correlation between the OK personality aspects of leaders and their transformational leadership behaviours. I would like to pursue this further through a post doctoral research including a qualitative study of dharma/karma orientation of successful leaders. I would also like to develop models for value based leadership development with a focus on dharma and karma.
  • Dharma in Management Education: Inspired by a qualitative research by Gianpiero Petriglieri (INSEAD), Jack Denfeld Wood (IMD) and Jennifer Louise Petriglieri (Harvard University) I wish to offer courses on 'Indian Ethos' and 'Happiness' for MBAs at my institution. Their paper titled 'Up close and Personal: Building Foundations for Leadership Development through the Personalisation of Management Learning' emphasised the need and effectiveness of personal development elective courses and personalizing management learning for effective leadership development in B-schools.


The four weeks at Summer School Indian Psychology gave me much more than meeting experts in the field of Indian Psychology and mainstream psychology, lovely atmosphere and lot of time with myself. The programme gave me some valuable personal insights. By undertaking my personal project of swadharma I realized bhakti is not that dreadful as I had imagined before. It is very much part of my nature and it could be a path for me in future. 'Evolution' to the psychic being is what I would prefer to focus right now and not be bothered about 'involution'. I see God through my actions. And most importantly I got a huge surprise gift of a personal issue not being an issue anymore.

The project also gave me clear direction on how to take my personal explorations into my professional and organisational lives by focusing on Indianisation of business ethics and leadership development and offering courses on Indian Ethos and Happiness to my MBA students.

Study of dharma and swadharma is an ocean and a lifelong process. However, I found a quote by Kant beautifully captures the central theme of the dharma/karma paradigm.

'It is characteristic of the moral imperative that it does not determine an end, and the action is not governed by an end, but flows from the free will and has no regards to end.'

These thoughts of the renowned western philosopher resonates with the age old verses from the Gita which in effect says:

Karmanye Va Dhika Raste Ma Fhaleshu Kadhachana
Ma Karma Phalahethu Bhuurmathe Sandothsava Karmani.
"you are bound to discharge your duties with devotion. Don't expect the fruits of your deeds. Don't remain idle. Expect nothing in return (for your deeds). He alone gives the results for your deeds. The deeds should go on unmindful of their fruits as anything done for enjoyment enslaves us to desire. Whatever one does with desire binds us to the cycle of birth and death."
- Bhagavad Gita

This may be a tall order, but a goal worthy of pursuing!