Dharma ([dʱəɾmə]; Sanskrit: धर्म dharma, Pali: धम्म dhamma) is a key concept with multiple meanings in the Indian religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.
In Hinduism, dharma is the religious and moral law governing individual conduct and is one of the four ends of life.
Hinduism describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be contented and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one’s life. Hindus consider dharma the very foundation of life. It means “that which holds” the people of this world and the whole creation. Dharma is the “law of being” without which things cannot exist.
According to the Scriptures
Dharma refers to the religious ethics as propounded by Hindu gurus in ancient Indian scriptures. Tulsidas, author of Ramcharitmanas, has defined the root of dharma as compassion. This principle was taken up by Lord Buddha in his immortal book of great wisdom, Dhammapada. The Atharva Veda describes dharma symbolically: Prithivim dharmana dhritam, that is, “this world is upheld by dharma”. In the epic poem Mahabharata, the Pandavas represent dharma in life and the Kauravas represent adharma.
Good Dharma = Good Karma
Hinduism accepts the concept of reincarnation, and what determines the state of an individual in the next existence is karma which refers to the actions undertaken by the body and the mind. In order to achieve good karma it is important to live life according to dharma, what is right. This involves doing what is right for the individual, the family, the class or caste and also for the universe itself. Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm it can result in bad karma. So, dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore one’s dharmic path in the next life is the one necessary to bring to fruition all the results of past karma.
The Purpose of Dharma
The purpose of dharma is not only to attain a union of the soul with the supreme reality, it also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and supreme happiness. Rishi Kanda has defined dharma in Vaisesika as “that confers worldly joys and leads to supreme happiness”. Hinduism is the religion that suggests methods for the attainment of the highest ideal and eternal bliss here and now on earth and not somewhere in heaven. For example, it endorses the idea that it is one’s dharma to marry, raise a family and provide for that family in whatever way is necessary. The practice of dharma gives an experience of peace, joy, strength and tranquillity within one’s self and makes life disciplined.
What Makes You Dharmic?
Anything that helps human being to reach god is dharma and anything that hinders human being from reaching god is adharma. According to the Bhagavat Purana, righteous living or life on a dharmic path has four aspects: austerity (tap), purity (shauch), compassion (daya) and truthfulness (satya); and adharmic or unrighteous life has three vices: pride (ahankar), contact (sangh), and intoxication (madya). The essence of dharma lies in possessing a certain ability, power and spiritual strength. The strength of being dharmic also lies in the unique combination of spiritual brilliance and physical prowess.
Why Hinduism is a Religion of Freedom?
Religion literally means that which leads one to God. “Dharma” is derived from the root Sanskrit word “dhri” which means “to hold together”. It has a wider meaning than the word “religion”. There is no equivalent word for Dharma either in English or in any other language. In this sense, Hinduism is not a religion; its a “Dharma”. Those who profess the Hindu Dharma and seek to follow it, are guided by spiritual, social and moral rules, actions, knowledge and duties which are responsible for holding the human race together.
Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the great philosopher, statesman and former President of India has described what is Dharma in these words: “Dharma is that which binds society together. That which divides society, breaks it up into parts and makes people fight one another is Adharma (non-religion). Dharma is nothing more than the realization of the Supreme and acting in every small act of your life with that Supreme present in your mind. If you are able to do so, you are performing Dharma. If other interests pervade you, and you try to translate your mind into other regions, even though you may think you are a believer, you will not become a true believer. The real believer in God has his heart always lifted to Dharma”.
Dharma is also known by the names “Sanatana Dharma” and “Vaidik Dharma”. “Sanatana” means eternal and all-pervading and “Vaidik Dharma” means the Dharma based on the Vedas. In simple terms, one can say that Dharma means code of conduct, i.e. doing the right thing, in thought, word and deed, having always in mind that behind all our deeds there is a Supreme Being. This is the teaching of the Vedas, which are the original source of our Dharma Vedo – Khilo Dharma Moolam.
Hence all manner of religious faiths, various forms of worship or spiritual practices, diverse rituals and customs have found their place, side by side, within Hinduism, and are cultured and developed in harmony with one another. Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation or liberation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end, and all means that ultimately lead to the final goal are approved of.
The religious hospitality of Hinduism is proverbial. Hinduism is extremely liberal and catholic. This is its fundamental feature. It pays respect to all religious and does not revile any other religion, accepting and honoring truth from wherever it may come and in whatever garb it is presented.
“Yato Dhrmah Tato Jayah” – Where Dharma exists victory is guaranteed.