Ṛta in Design

A model for approaching design, rooted to Dharma

“We are approaching the power of gods, without the wisdom of gods.”
Daniel Schmachtenberger
“How are we collectively creating a world that none of us wants, individually?”
Daniel Christian Wahl
Never before in the history of humanity has there been such an urgent need of 'awareness of intent.’ No longer can we let our world be created by what The Conscilience Project calls values-agnostic nihilistic design. This is made urgent by the fact that we now exist, near constantly, within the design of someone else. From the social media platforms where we gather with friends, the black mirrors of silicon and lithium on our person at all times, to the policies, laws and mandates that determine not only our present but our futures as well- everything is the design, or intent, of another affecting salience upon us. The problem statement we thus face is two-fold.
  • 1. How do we collectively create a world that each of us wants, individually? That is, how do we design ṛta - our shared and manifest reality.
  • 2. How do I create the journey that I want for myself, as a designer and creator? That is, how do I shape the journey from smṛta to kṛta - intent to creation.
  • Ṛta in Design is a model for design thinking and execution that roots itself in Dharma. We believe the case to reorient design by Dharma is strong.

    1 - Prologue

    All human beings are creative.

    Every single one of us. We are creative when we lie, and creative when we entertain. With that new plan at the workplace, or that deft jaywalking across the road. For the mothers among us, for countless generations, creativity has emerged atop cooking stoves, amid spice mixes, and in strategies to make a truant child eat his brocolli.

    In fact, creativity isn't even exclusive to our species. From apes, our closest cousins, to distant ones such as mice, creativity is characteristic to much of life itself.

    But some things about human creativity are unique.

    We are able to consciously pass on our creativity. Many animals learn behaviour and acquire intelligence from their parents. But the lioness cannot deliberate with her cub on which among the herd to target, nor the gorilla instruct a young one how to identify the sweetest fruits. In humans, we are able to compound this such that our young ones learn even at the lap of grandparents.

    In other words, creativity among human beings can iterate.

    Iterative creativity is a process with evolutionary force. It creates many branches that at discrete ends can be remarkably different. And like natural selection, when done with *conscious deliberation* it adapts for what works, against what doesn't.In a species that acquires the ability to iterate creativity across the generations, as ours did, through the long haul of deliberate selection emerges a plan, a purpose, a design.

    To design is to convert intent to manifestation, to bring to fruit the result of planned deliberation. When this result is what has emerged among us, through the collective churn of iterative creativity over manifold generations, we call it our design. The world of design has known this, which is why Fred Brooks- writer of The Design of Design advised:

    "Study your predecessors' works intently, to see how they solved problems. Try to figure out why they made the design choices they did; this is the most illuminating question to ask yourself."

    Robert Peters, the CEO of Circle Design, put its more plainly- "Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future." Design is what gives agency to the natural and continuous phenomenon of creativity. It is how we can give an order to things. And the best design to emerge is one filtered through our collective iteration, over deep time. Of course, modern design isn't the first to comprehend the emergent mesh of iteration, creativity, intelligence and adaptation.

    It was well-known in ancient Bhārata as well. Which is why its very word for our design, for culture, was saṃskṛti - our well-put-together creation. How do we know their saṃskṛti was the output of iterative creativity? That it was what adapted and what worked over the long haul of time? We know through their other name for their culture. They literally referred to it as *that which has been practiced, what's worked, what bears ahead. They called it Dharma.

    Ṛta in Design is a system for modern design thinking and creatorship, informed by the design principles of Dharma.

    2 - Dharma is Design


    To design is to create with intent, deliberation, plan and purpose; Design is the implementation of a process with reflection-in-action. Design involves creating, constructing, conceptualising, planning, framing of intent and navigation of constraining boundaries.


    To establish, to practice a method or custom, to organize life and society in consonance with the natural flow is to establish dharma. That which is created with intent, deliberation, plan, purpose and reflection-in-action is dharma. Dharma is the dynamic cultural process of bearing and supporting a tradition of deliberate and planned consonance with the harmonics of reality.

    “Science converts information into knowledge. Engineering converts knowledge into utility. Design converts utility into cultural behavior in context. Art takes that cultural behavior and questions our perception of the world.” - Neri Oxman, MIT Media Lab and in the distant past... The sound instruments of mental scientists converted information to knowledge,
    And engineers of praxis and ritual converted knowledge to utility.
    Dharma is the conversion and manifestation of utility in the cultural context, ie.

    Dharma is Design

    For what is dharma, if not the endeavor to conduct life and society in consonance with ṛta, the natural order? To bring dharma in design is to bring a ṛta-consciousness to the processes and methods of design. Dharma in design is effectively, Ṛta in Design.

    Ṛta in Design is our input at seed and root- at the very intent, reflection, planning and implementing of those that craft our world. It synthesizes key aspects of the dhārmika worldview and links it to general steps in the contemporary design process. This makes it possible for designers to use the fundamentals coded in the cultural identity of our grand civilization.

    3 - What Do We Call Design?

    ...to be continued