Engineer’s Dharma: Ethical Karma for Professional Engineers

Author: Adarsh Gouda.

Editorial Note: The STEM disciplines ( videshi classification ) impact the real world in very deep ways. Though the media narratives and airwaves (for centuries now ..) are dominated by painful relentless rhetoric and shallow storytelling from the armies of non-STEM “intellectuals” , the actual impact of creations “originating” from STEM are the real cause of “modernity” and “progress“.

In 1959 C.P. Snow published a book titled The Two Cultures. On the one hand, there were the literary intellectuals; on the other, the scientists. He noted with incredulity that during the 1930s the literary intellectuals, while no one was looking, took to referring to themselves as “the intellectuals,” as though there were no others. This new definition by the “men of letters” excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, the cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, and the physicists Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg.


It is a SAD fact that western STEM-driven modernity has its ideological motivations , its roots, in the worldviews manufactured by non-STEM disciplines. Despite efforts of the so-called Third-Culture which are attempting to integrate (albeit a Synthetic Unity) these two world-views , the deep culture in the STEM still emanates from the anthropocentricity of Abrahamic world views.

Integral Unity vs Synthetic Unity

The Bharatiya vidya-s DO NOT adhere to these kinds of restrictive classifications . the inherent Integral Unity in the cosmos and its knowledge (vidya-s) is reflected in the classification of the vidyasthana-s. Arbitrary classification like Humanities, non-Humanities etc.. do not exist. All vidya-s are holistic systems , designed to provoke Dharma driven karma (balanced actions) without disturbing Rta. (harmony).

Though much is to be discussed and this is a topic of deep manthan , the article here makes interesting observations , inspired by the Yoga-Sutras , as to what could possibly be likened to an Engineer’s Dharma.

The world today is in dire need of socially responsible engineers. What is technically correct may not be ethically right! It is crucial that engineering as a profession produces exceptional engineers who are competent, highly disciplined, honest, just and more importantly amazing human beings who are socially responsible. Engineers, ought to practice ethical karma. Engineers can benefit from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to transform themselves and the profession to make this world a better place to live in.

1. Introduction

An engineering solution to a technical problem almost always has direct or indirect ethical consequences. Professional Engineers have special responsibilities because their decisions sometimes can cause great harm. Take for example the weapons of mass destruction engineered with the sole purpose of turning cities into graveyards or the Gas Chambers designed and built by leading engineers during World War 2 or the Volkswagen emission scandal in 2015. What is technically correct and achievable may not be ethically right!

It’s not enough that we produce highly skilled engineers, we need to develop ethical, socially responsible Professional Engineers.

With the world on the brink of another world war, increasing global warming, depleting resources and population explosion- the engineers of the 21st century have an unprecedented social and environmental responsibility that cannot be simply ignored.

Engineers should thrive not only to transform their profession through engineering advancements but also transform themselves by walking the path of dharma because practicing engineering is also about being human at the highest possible limit.

2. Dharma

The term Dharma is derived from the Sanskrit root verb “dhr”, which means to preserve or to support or to hold, maintain, keep. In Indic Philosophy, that dates back at least 3000 B.C., Dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accordance with Ṛta – the order that makes life and universe possible – and amalgamates duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and “right way of living”.

Dharma is simultaneously the eternal order that rules the universe and the duty or law that governs one’s life. We all have a duty towards ourselves, our family, and towards the society we live in. Our dharma is bigger than us. Patanjali expands the concept of dharma and ethical living with Yamas (moral imperatives) and Niyamas (virtuous observances). Dharma for professional engineers can be explored via Yamas and Niyamas discussed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Patanjali was a sage in India around 2nd century BCE and is the author of Yoga Sutras that are now widely used all over the world as a means to uplift one’s consciousness and improve one’s lifestyle. Indeed, Yoga is India’s gift to mankind.

We all often see Yoga Asanas (postures) all around us, especially on social media. There is more to Yoga than just postures. Patanjali defines Yoga as Ashtanga, having 8 limbs or components. The eight limbs of yoga are Yama (abstinences), Niyama (observances), Asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption).

It’s not enough that we have highly educated engineers. It’s equally important that we have ethical, honest and socially responsible engineers. Let’s explore how we can benefit from Yamas & Niyamas to develop ourselves into world-class professional engineers.

3. YAMAS (Moral Imperatives)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five Yamas, or moral restraints, which apply specifically to how you behave outwardly toward other beings.

  • Ahimsa Freedom from Harming, Duty of Care
  • Satya Truthfulness, Whistleblowing
  • Asteya Non-stealing, Misconduct, Fraud, Theft
  • Brahmacharya Moderation, Fairness
  • Aparigraha Non-Hoarding, Freedom from Grasping

3.1. Ahimsa (Freedom from Harming, Duty of Care)

Ahimsa Paramo DharmaStrive to reduce the amount of harm you are may cause by becoming aware of the ways in which you may bring suffering to others from your decisions. Our solutions to technical problems may cause harm to the public, to our clients and the environment. As such, we owe a Duty of Care to all the stakeholders directly or indirectly affected by our actions. We should make sure that as solution providers, we are not negligent in our work that would adversely affect the public and clients both in terms of injury and economic loss. Negligence occurs when there is a lack of rigour and integrity in the work we perform.

3.2. Satya (Truthfulness, Reporting, Whistleblowing)

Satyameva Jayate Satya includes honesty, clarity and walking the right path even in the time of adversity and discomfort. Satya is standing up for those who might get affected by your decisions. When truly practicing Satya, one’s words and deeds are all in alignment with one another no matter what circumstances prevail. Being truthful does not necessarily mean being as blunt as possible. Practice ahimsa as well, by telling the truth in the most skillful and constructive way possible. Do not misrepresent your investigation results and falsify reports to suit the desired outcome. Provide unbiased opinions to your clients, employers or to the public when your expertise is being relied on. Truthfulness also means that you actively report illegal and criminal activities including misconduct, misrepresentation and negligence when you come across and blow-the-whistle when it becomes necessary. Your silence could cause harm to others.

3.3. Asteya (Non-stealing, Misconduct, Fraud, Theft)

Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah – Asteya means there can be no pacts between Dharma and Adharma. Do not indulge in illegal activities or unethical practices. Asteya not taking that which you haven’t earned. Do not accept bribes, greasy money or kickbacks, neither will you indirectly participate in such transactions. It is not enough that we follow the path of Dharma, we also need to make sure Dharma of the profession itself is protected by not turning a blind eye when there is Adharma. Respect others’ time, energy and hard work. If you’re always showing up for appointments 10 minutes late, you are stealing another’s valuable time. If you take credit for someone else’s idea or hard work, that is not practicing asteya. Asteya also means striking a balance between giving and taking.

3.4. Brahmacharya (Moderation, Fairness)

Brahmacharya is also described as moderation – in a way, it is to comply with the hierarchy of Purusharthas. Obsession with material gains may cause you to lose touch with what is truly important in life. Don’t be too hard on yourself, do everything in moderation, including moderation. Dharma first, everything else should take a back seat. Be fair in your proceedings and conduct. Charge your clients fairly for the work you perform for them. Accept the scope of work only in the areas of your expertise and not out of greed to earn more. Always have a thirst for knowledge and grab opportunities that will improve your skills.

3.5. Aparigraha (Non-hoarding, Freedom from Grasping)

Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana Deliver your best without obsessing over the outcome. Perform your duty, scope of work as your inherent responsibility towards society and not as a means to accumulate wealth. Develop sensitivity to what you really need and how much you can offer. Don’t take so much that others don’t have enough. Don’t be possessed by your possessions. As long as you are lusting after the next great thing, you will always have a sense of lack, which leads to suffering and a feeling of separation. If there is something you want, plan and take the necessary steps to make it happen. Do not accumulate wealth by unethical means and do not let greed blind your duty of care.

4. NIYAMAS (Virtuous Observances)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra lists five Niyamas, or observances, which apply specifically to how you conduct with yourself on a more personal level.

  • Saucha Cleanliness, Purity, Clarity
  • Santosha Contentment
  • Tapas Self Discipline
  • Svadhyaya Self Study
  • Isvara-pranidhana Surrender, Humility, Humbleness

 4.1. Saucha (Cleanliness, Purity, Clarity)

Cleanliness and purity can be practiced on a number of different levels. Clarity of thoughts, a pure heart, clean body: clean diet, good hygiene, well-kept appearance. A clean mind: consider the amount and the quality of the information you are accumulating on a daily basis and be selective about the books and magazines you read, how much time you spend online and what television shows and movies you choose to consume. Clean company: spend time with people who uplift your spirit and inspire you to be your best and set clear boundaries if you have toxic people in your life. Purity: have noble intentions for yourself and towards others at all times with no exceptions.

4.2. Santosha (Contentment)

Look to yourself and your own innate goodness for happiness; that is the only place you will truly find it. Santosha also means being in the present. Rather than wishing for things to be different in your life, accept and appreciate the reality of what you already have. Do you really need things to be different, to be happy? Cultivate santosha by making gratitude a daily practice.

4.3. Tapas (Self Discipline)

Tapas is the fire within you that makes you tick. Tapas is maintaining your integrity at all times. Tapas is about pulling an all-nighter to finish an important assignment to the best of your ability to complete it before the deadline at the request of your client. Thrive to complete your projects ahead of schedule and under budget with no compromises on the quality of work. Having tapas is your determination to complete an online course or reading relevant books to upgrade your skills as an engineer rather than watching Netflix.

4.4. Svadhyaya (Self Study)

Introspect. Be aware of your actions as they are happening. Reflect on them later. Use your reflections to make positive changes to your actions in the future. Taking time to reflect quietly on your day through contemplation, is a wonderful way to practice svadhyaya.

4.5. Isvara-pranidhana (Surrender, Humility, Humbleness)

True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less. Direct your energy to something higher than yourself. This is conviction and surrender of self to the higher Self. It creates a new sense of purpose when your engineering practice is infused with noble intentions and selfless energy. Isvara-pranidhana also means letting go of self-doubt and believing in self.

Yamas and Niyamas instill values in an engineer that can only lead to the betterment of society.

It will ensure that the engineering profession produces exceptional engineers who are competent, disciplined, honest and most importantly human beings who have moral and ethical grounding, as they make the world a better place to live in.

Adarsh is a Sr. Mechanical Engineer with expertise is Product Design & Development has keen interests in innovating new-to-market products. He holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, from NTU, Singapore. (Read More)

3 thoughts on “Engineer’s Dharma: Ethical Karma for Professional Engineers”

  1. Pradip Sagdeo

    The theory is wonderful, very idealistic, magnanimous, and exudes love for humanity as well as the profession of engineering. However, what should one do if China and/or Pakistan send 100,000 soldiers across the border to occupy large areas of India? Should the engineers not use their skills to produce weapons that will help defend the motherland? Or should the Chinese and Pakistanis (muslims) be allowed to carry on the plunder that they have been doing for centuries? Ahimsa paramo dharmah is only half of a full line of the verse, and only half a story. Even Lord Krishna exhorted Arjun to fight a war because of an injustice. In fact He said He incarnates on this earth from era to era in defence of the righteous and “destruction” of the evil doers. There is nothing unethical about “Himsa” in self-defence and in the defence of one’s Rashtra, nation, if you will. Just my $0.02 worth. Thank you.

    1. I agree 100% with your views, but please avoid using the word “Himsa”. The word Himsa has a negative connotation throughout Puranas, Upanishads. This quote “धर्म हिंसा तथीव च” is 100% fake. Even if you read the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells us to “fight”, not to do “Violence”. Killing people for right reasons is not “Violence”. It is fools like Gandhi who have misinterpreted Gita and said non-violence means abstaining from picking up arms.

      The difference lies in your mind. You must be clear that you are picking up arms for a just cause. Destroying a terrorist camp is not violence, it is fighting. Arresting someone is not violence. Beating someone who is catcalling a lady is not violence. But Defiling bodies of dead soldiers is violence, needless torture is violence, preventing funeral rites for them is violence, posting pictures with dead bodies is violence. But it is also violence when you abuse a Pakistani or post morphed pictures of him, it is violence when you celebrate loss of their dead ones. It is violence when you glare at a Chinese who has come to India as a guest.

      Ultimately, Violence/Non Violence lies in our mind, not in the arms we hold or not hold. So Ahimsa is always parmo dharmah, it’s our understanding of Ahimsa that’s wrong.

  2. Thank you very much for presenting this data about engineers dharma ethical karma for professional engineers, it’s known how to get approved but what are the next steps after getting the approval… Wonderful information, thanks a lot for sharing kind of content with us… great post!

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