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Dharma as a Remedy for Karma

What’s my Karma? What’s my Dharma? These are two questions that the Vedic Astrologer is expected to answer, and indeed, the answers do lie in the birth chart. But first we have to be clear on the definition of our terms. The word ‘Karma’ is popularly understood as the Law of Cause and Effect, or: “As you sow, so shall you reap.” From that point, it gets more complicated, with many different types of karmas arising from a myriad of actions, creating an intricate web of consequences which ensnare the soul in innumerable lifetimes. Some of these karmas will have pleasant outcomes; others not so pleasant.

The Vedic Astrology birth chart presents a roadmap of all of your present karmas, i.e., what you have to deal with in this lifetime. Some of these karmas are unavoidable, known as ‘Dridha’ karmas. Due to the intensity of whatever past action caused them, these karmas manifest in this lifetime as lessons and circumstances that give no choice. They can show up in the astrology birth chart as a number of patterns all leading to the same conclusion, or as one especially powerful planet or planetary arrangement. Other karmas are ‘lighter,’ i.e., they are more negotiable; there’s more ‘wiggle room’ and therefore more choice. These are termed ‘Adridha’ karmas. In the birth chart they are indicated by ‘stand alone’ factors which are not participating in powerful combinations and thus have more freedom to act, or not. 

The word ‘Dharma’ has a bunch of meanings ascribed to it in modern times. It’s original meaning was ‘Duty’, a concept that was much prized in a traditional culture like ancient India, where “Doing what you were born to do” was considered the best way to lead your life. We can reduce this down to the concept of Life Path, i.e., your overall purpose, or if you prefer, “The Soul’s Purpose.” The basic idea is that Dharma is something more high-minded, more intentional, compared to Karma, which seems more fated. Dharma is associated with righteousness, and often gets lumped in with Religion. Since one follows one’s dharma in a deliberate way, the parts of the chart that are dharma related are areas where we have more choice. Being ‘high-minded’, dharma gets associated with the trikona houses in the chart: the 5th house and the 9th house. The 9th house, the house of Belief, Philosophy, and Religion, is most often examined for one’s dharma. But the 5th house is important too, since it is the house of Teachings and Spiritual Practice, which is central to how one pursues one’s dharma. 

In a larger sense, Dharma is The Law, or more accurately the Laws, that govern human existence. By acknowledging and willfully participating in the natural laws that underlie our lives, we can consciously fulfill our Karma, our inherited fate. And herein lies the connection between Karma and Dharma: the conscious practice of dharma becomes the remedy for karma. We don’t have any way to reach back into our past actions in order to change what we did that produced our present circumstances. The unseen past and its consequences appear to manifest in our present life as our own personal uncontrollable chaos. But with the Dharma we can, theoretically at least, purposefully align ourselves with the Universal Forces, and through Righteous Actions, start to rectify the accumulated karmas that restrict our lives. 

The ancient texts are full of references to “Upaye”, or remedies. These are techniques used to neutralize your undesirable karmas. How much such remedies can cause a change in the direction of one’s karmas, especially Dridha karmas, is an open question. But the belief is that even if such upaye can’t affect things much in this lifetime, if one consistently employs the remedy, at least there’s the promise of improvement for the next birth. There are many different upaye techniques, such as wearing gems, mantra practice, donating to the temple, etc. ‘Practice the Dharma’ is perhaps the most commonly recommended upaye. 

The degree to which an individual will be disposed towards living a righteous life is indicated by the positive or negative factors influencing the dharma houses of their astrology birth chart. This too, is another aspect of their karma. I.e., if there have been lifetimes of disregard for The Dharma, then the person will continue to live in a personal hell, until things get difficult enough that they “see the light” and turn to God. In this way, difficult karma can be a blessing, since it will (eventually) put a person on the path of righteousness. 

Different parts of the Vedic Astrology chart can be analyzed for answering ‘What is my Dharma?’ Of course, your 9th house, the house of Meritorious Deeds, is an obvious one. So too is the 5th house, the house of Intelligence and Guidance. Both of these sectors are classified as ‘houses of dharma.’ Another important idea is that your vocation is your dharma. The word ‘vocation’ is being broadly interpreted here; in today’s world it is used to describe your professional activities i.e., your 10th house of Career. But your Dharmic Vocation would be more than just that. The 10th house is simply what you do out in the world. To do what you do in the world as a manifestation of dharma means that your personal actions are in alignment with the Universal Order. An astrological clue would be if there is a natural benefic, like Jupiter or Venus, in the 10th house, an indication of ‘good conduct in society.’ The ascendant sign, the 1st house, shows your Personal Actions. Good intentions, or the lack of them, can be seen by what influences the 1st house as well as its planetary ruler. And then there’s the 6th house. Why the 6th house? Isn’t that the house of Struggle & Difficulties? It’s because the 6th is also the house of Work & Service; How you ‘serve’ is central to the idea of living a life grounded in The Dharma. And let’s not forget the 12th house. It’s the house of Loss and Expense, but that includes Conscious Loss, Deliberate Expense, i.e., Generosity and Charity, which of course, is another major expression of Righteousness, and therefore, the Dharma.