This evening’s teaching is on right livelihood. Because this can be a limited concept, I will use the word dharma, which is the spiritually highest way to earn a living. The real question, in a world that has lost its way as before the great flood, is “What exactly is dharma? And what are the standards for dharmic living?”
Noach was a tzaddik (or a spiritual teacher) in his time, but compared to other spiritual people who lived at other times, he might not even be considered to be a tzaddik. At the time that he was living in, however, he was a star. He was outstanding. Why is this? On a global scale, it is very difficult for almost everyone to maintain a dharmic lifestyle. A dharmic lifestyle is a lifestyle in which we: 1) perceive the right thing to do and 2) actually do the right thing.
The perception of what is right, in a world that is dominated by political correctness (P.C.) may not at all be right but rather a function of the media and what they would like you think in order to justify illicit and adharmic activity. So the first issue in living dharmically is to sort out what that really means. At this point, our culture has become morally relative, which means there are no anchors for most people; therefore, one of the first things that we need is an anchor. Once you have a sense of anchor (or a way of seeing it), the next question is choosing to do the right action in each circumstance. Both of these are not the easiest for people. There are a great many temptations. Yet here is a very strong and important teaching Chillul Hashem, which is about desecrating the name of God. This is considered sin (defined as moving away from God rather than towards God in one’s actions). This means that one does unholy things in the name of God. This is commonplace in our society, as exemplified by the Catholic Church or traditions that teach “If you see a Jew or a Christian behind a rock kill them.” But we must ask the question, “Where does killing in the name of God take us?” It takes us into very high levels of anti-dharma. In the Torah tradition, truly one of the worst desecrations is to take the name of God in vain. To take the name of God in vain is to wave the flag, and then act the total opposite. This is a very big deal. You can see without too much imagination how in many of the traditions people who have waved that flag while living anti-dharmically have confused and ultimately turned others away from God.
The unholy example set by the priests (or others in a role of spiritual leadership) provides people with an excuse not to follow the holy way of life. There is such a break with the energies. This is a very deep and worldwide problem. So we ask what to do about this? Clearly an answer is to surround one’s self with people who have some sense of dharma and to ultimately anchor in the Divine Teachings. The anchor cannot be relative because then it’s not an anchor. This is a very interesting problem, because it can be very convenient to say, “It’s all relative”. As we see in this week’s parshah (or Torah portion) this is exactly what it was. Nadab and Abihu acted relatively. They acted out of what they thought was the right thing while neglecting to check with their teachers and to check with the dharma of the situation, as well as to get a message from God. They just did what they thought was right, which got them killed. This is exactly what we’re talking about. So the questions for us to ask are: “Where is my anchor?” and “Does my anchor actually hold the line” (providing some way to sort this out). You can look at the Buddhist Eightfold path. You can look at the Ten Speakings within the Torah. You can look at the Seven Noahide teachings. Those are perennial, Divine anchors that are helpful for people. When we look at all the great teachings we see that they are all saying the same thing: “Do not murder.” “Do not steal.” “Do not commit adultery” (meaning sexual perversion). We see teachings of non-hoarding, of non-jealousy, of honesty, etc. These are the basic ways of being in the world. It isn’t relative. (The way of the Tao teaches this also, yet requires a bit more refinement because of its subtleties.) It is very important for dharmic clarity to choose a framework in order to hold that energy in a world of P.C./relativity. Truly it is important to be surrounded by people who support your dharma as part of this.
What’s the flipside? The flipside of that is fundamentalism, which can take you into anti-dharma also, because life is multi-dimensional. Spiritual life does require some spiritual wisdom. Holding the dharma requires some level of spiritual feedback such as spiritual teachers, a sangha (or spiritual group), and the great scriptures. These are points of reference that can help us to sort out righteous action.
What is righteous action? Righteous action elevates you spiritually. Righteous action often takes you out of your comfort zone, because it is a universal struggle particularly in our society where we are like Noach going against the anti-dharmic majority thought-form. It is quite a challenge. What’s the upside of this? That it is quite a challenge. It is through this challenge that you become more refined spiritually. In a deep way, you have to ask yourself “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing this?” and to look at the subtleties not simply the fundamentalist part. There is a fundamentalist quality, however, which is where we look at whether something is taking us closer to God or away from God. Is it elevating the people around me, or is it actually taking people the other way?
So may everybody be blessed that we are able to deeply examine our actions from that dharmic perspective. Amen.
Q: How do we help people and ourselves move out of their comfort toward Dharma?
GC: The Torah way includes concessions for people who are not quite ready to hold the Torah ideals. The key is in helping people to move in the direction of higher dharma. For example in the live food movement we see people using excessive sweets as a “transition” diet, but excessive sweets even within the context of live foods are still going to move one toward diabetes. Many people stay in “transition” the rest of their life as a comfort zone rather than continuing to move toward the ideal. This is why we offer people steps to take in a dharmic direction. Rather than saying “transition”, I prefer to say “working towards the ideal” because there isn’t a stagnation in that statement. (This goes for lifestyle including spiritual life.) We are always in an upward spiral. A teaching that I received from Swami Prakashananda (one of my spiritual teachers) was that until you leave your body, you are always on the razor’s edge. This is how even very evolved beings can fall, at that point when they think that they are above it all.