Monthly Archives: February 2020

Action and dharma[] Our actions are what define us.  Just thoughts, however good they may be, unless proceeded by action, remain just theoretical.

my blog The philosophical study of action and its motives dates back to Ancient Greece and India.  To be clear, my reference to “action” is intentional action or things that people genuinely do.  

click As Aristotle said, in order for a man to perfect his humanity, he must be the best man he can be. To be his manly best, a man not only needed to cultivate proper intentions and an appropriate disposition, but put those intentions into real virtuous action.

kenyans in usa dating In ancient Indian philosophy, the goal of the early portion of the Vedas is action, in particular moral or dharmic.  A human being is defined by his or her actions and the actions are what defines the persons’ dharma.

Even if we aim for virtuous actions, the world has become so complicated that it is hard to know if the action is truly virtuous.  The degrees of freedom between an action and it’s consequence or consequences can be so numerous that it is impossible to know if the action was good. This problem of unintended consequences could have the effect of making almost all actions non-virtuous. So, what is one to do? The only real practical answer is to still act in good faith within one’s cognitive visibility or horizon. Otherwise if we try and analyze too many possibilities it could result in paralysis by analysis.

I personally have always tried to act in a way that is purposeful.  My actions are usually preceded by rational thought and logic, which is somewhat consequential or utilitarian in that I would try and evaluate the course of action by what it can achieve vis a vis other choices.  This has largely been my principle, my dharma and has mostly served me well and it suited my predominantly analytical mindset.

But not too long ago there has been somewhat of a change.  Recently an old colleague asked our college class group for money to help his son’s education, having fallen in difficult times in his career. This was not the first time he had asked, and we all came to know that he has asked other family and friends for money in the past. I thought about this – rationally and logically – and argued against contributing, citing that this has become a ritual and habit of his, that there are better places to put my money, why can’t he send his son to a college within their means and so on and so forth. It all made sense based on the principles that have normally governed my actions.  Then suddenly I contributed. Not out of guilt or coercion, rather it dawned on me that all my analysis was really to serve myself – the only thing that mattered at that time was there was a friend in need and that I could take a small action to help. Period,

Soon after that another incident happened in which an aging family member was raising a fund to support their special needs son so he can live in an appropriate institution.  The immediate analytic assessment was why have they not been planning for this for the last fifty years and so on.  But I stopped short in my tracks and chided myself –  who was I to question their life and their lack of setting enough aside for their son, neither do I know the complete picture and neither am I qualified to judge them.  They have a need and I can help, so I should act, and I did.

The analysis, the justification, the rationalization is sometimes how we attach ourselves to the results or fruits of the action – it seems like we do that more for ourselves, thus in a way it is for selfish means.  While action based on the analysis of the results is clearly still needed in order to achieve certain goals, needs and comforts in life, it was truly liberating to simply act without any analysis, purely on the basis of the need to act, completely without attachment.  I am sure in life there is a balance of the two, which I am yet to figure out. I am not planning on abandoning the dharma that has served me, but the new dharma, if I may call it that, has been satisfying.

Dharma truly is subtle.