Sanatan Dharma - the path to Wellness, Personal Growth, Spirituality, and Evolution.
"To align oneself to Dharma or try to know the true nature of it, is one of the ways of describing the Higher Goal in life."
"When God created the universe, He endowed it with order, with the laws to govern creation. Dharma is God’s divine law prevailing on every level of existence, from the sustaining cosmic order to religious and moral laws which bind us in harmony with that order. In relation to the soul, dharma is the mode of conduct most conducive to spiritual advancement, the right and righteous path. It is piety and ethical practice, duty and obligation. When we follow dharma, we are in conformity with the Truth that inheres and instructs the universe, and we naturally abide in closeness to God. Adharma is opposition to divine law. Dharma is to the individual what its normal development is to a seed—the orderly fulfillment of an inherent nature and destiny. The Tirukural (verses 31–32) reminds us, “Dharma yields Heaven’s honor and Earth’s wealth. What is there then that is more fruitful for a man? There is nothing more rewarding than dharma, nor anything more ruinous than its neglect.”
- From the preface of the book, “What is Hinduism?”
- By Deepak Chopra
Action that support evolution
Dharma is that which upholds the evolutionary flow of the universe.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word with no direct literal translation into English. Etymologically it means that which sustains, upholds and supports. It should be understood as the most evolutionary impulse in Nature as she expresses herself in her infinite creativity diversity abundance and continued emergence into new forms and phenomenon. In its highest expression, dharma is therefore the harmonious interaction of all the elements and forces in the universe as it continues to evolve. When we apply dharma to an individual human expression of the universe it can mean several things. It is our duty to do the highest good, but it is also the expression of our unique skills and talents and our impulse to join the forces of nature and participate consciously in the evolution of the universe. When we are expressing our dharma we are also expressing our uniqueness as well as serving the needs of the ecosystem of which we are a part.
The great myths and stories of Vedanta all speak eloquently about dharma. The avatars of divinity such as Rama and Krishna and numerous other heroes of the Mahabharata and Ramayana are archetypal expressions of dharma. Dharma aligns itself with the ecstatic evolutionary flow and counters the forces of entropy and inertia. It is the triumph of good over evil.
Insofar as dharma has found its way into modern thought, it is typically used to convey one’s spiritual purpose. In this way, dharma has become a way of identifying the career that best expresses one’s creativity and service to others. It is that activity that allows you to harmoniously support the whole of which you are a part, as well as the activity by which your individual action and intention is upheld by that universal intelligence. Finding one’s dharma becomes the way to find one’s purpose. What is often overlooked in this view however is that one’s true dharma springs naturally from knowing your essence and Being—which is beyond action and analysis. By fully realizing your true Being, your actions will automatically be supported and aligned with the force that upholds all of creation.
A practice that gives you the experience of your core self is the most important factor in living your dharma. In conjunction with a meditation program, it can also be helpful to ask yourself what are those characteristics that you possess that allow you to express the specialness of your being, your creativity, and value to those around you. As a mental exercise, imagine if you had all the money and time in the world, how would you express your unique gifts and talents and how would it serve the world? The answers to those questions will give you the clues to your dharma.
Various Dharmic Quotes
"Dharma is the matrix of norms that all human beings know by common sense and it is the basis for human interaction with the world. It is a manifestation, not a mandate of Isvara. The more we assimilate Dharma, the more we are in harmony with the world, with Isvara."
- H.H.Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.
"Dharma is that through which abhyudayaa (welfare & prosperity) and Nihsreyasa (Spiritual Greatness) are attained."
"Taji sabh bharam bhajio paarbrahm. Kahu Nanak attal ih Dharma"
Renounce all your doubts, and ponder upon the Supreme Lord. Says Nanak, this is the eternal Dharma.
- Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism
“Dhamma means (a) the state of nature as it is, (b) the laws of nature, (c) the duties that must be performed in accordance with the laws of nature, and (d) the results that are derived from the fulfilment of such duties.”
“Vatthu Sahavo Dhammo”
Dharma is nothing but the real nature of an object. Just as the nature of fire is to burn and the nature of water is to produce a cooling effect, in the same manner, the essential nature of the soul is to seek self-realization and spiritual elevation.
- Mahavir Swami, Jain Tirthankar
“Dharmo hi paramo loke Dharme satyam pratisthitam”
Dharma is supreme in the world, and truth is based on Dharma
- The Ramayana
Dharma is universal, it transcends race, religion, gender and even species. Human beings have the unique ability to follow Dharma or negate it. Negation of Dharma inflicts misery on the planet while following Dharma brings fulfilment to life.
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
"The man of human-heartedness is one who desiring to sustain himself, sustains others, and desiring to develop himself, develops others; that may be called the way to practise human heartedness."
“Tao is an emblem, meaning order, the whole, responsibility, efficiency. It is the Responsible, Efficient, Total Order, creations as a whole, the whole of what is, multiplicity...”
“...Principles that govern human growth and happiness - natural laws…”
- Stephen Covey, Author
"Among the great concepts and doctrines, the basic principles and directives of Hinduism, Dharma stands our pre-eminent, with a vast deep and pervasive significance of its own. Having its rudimentary beginnings in the Vedas, it has, over the centuries grown like a mighty tree, with its numerous branches and secondary roots. In it there may be a lot of tangled growth and dead wood as well, but yet it is majestic tree, living and life-giving, sheltering and sustaining numberless souls under its protection and shade. From simple beginnings, the term has now assumed various shades of meanings and significance, including righteous duty and code of conduct, virtues, justice, morality and the moral principle or force integrating and sustaining man and the universe; the intrinsic, inalienable nature and essence of a thing as also the attributes; and finally religion, the deity of righteousness and God himself."
-Swami Sastrananda, Ramkrishna Mission
“In olden days, Dharma meant much more than what we now understand from the term 'religion'. It stood for power to hold things together in perfect harmony”.
- Swami Nihsreyasananda
"Hinduism ... gave itself no name, because it set itself no sectarian limits; it claimed no universal adhesion, asserted no sole infallible dogma, set up no single narrow path or gate of salvation; it was less a creed or cult than a continuously enlarging tradition of the God ward endeavor of the human spirit. An immense many-sided and many staged provision for a spiritual self-building and self-finding, it had some right to speak of itself by the only name it knew, the eternal way, Sanatana Dharma..."
- Sri Aurobindo
"There was no religion in this land, nor was any religion necessary for the Indians. The ancient Indians had a code of law for man to follow. This was framed in accordance with various truths working in nature. The law of the existence of nature and its creation was observed in all its detail and the law for man to follow was copied in accordance with it. This was called Dharma. The term means that which bears and protects. It is that which bears and protects when we follow [it]. Man is honoured when he honours it. He receives protection when he protects it. It was made into a constitution called Bharata Dharma. It was the path of life commonly accepted throughout the land. Any attempt for religion is naturally limited and narrowed when compared with this."
- Ekkirala Krishnamacharya
Dharma, the Need of the Hour and of all Time
- By Vamadeva Shastri
Dharma is an ancient Sanskrit term first found in the Rig Veda, the oldest Sanskrit text, for the underlying laws of the universe, not only of matter but of life, mind and consciousness as well. It can refer to natural law, social rules and regulations, the principles of art or philosophy, and above all, the ways of truth behind religion and spirituality.
The dharma of a creature refers to its purpose, nature or law of its being. The dharma of human beings should be to seek truth and to bring a higher consciousness into the world. Human society also has various goals or dharmas which are traditionally divided into four; kama or enjoyment, artha or acquisition of wealth, dharma as duty, and moksha as the liberation of the spirit. It is liberation of the spirit or Moksha Dharma that is regarded s the highest human dharma. This does not negate the other three lower dharmas but subordinates them and allows us to use them for the greater good.
The Hindu religion itself is called Sanatana Dharma or the Eternal Dharma. Buddhism is called Buddha Dharma or the Dharma of the Buddha. Jainism is called Jain Dharma. Sikhism is called Sikh Dharma. All dharmic traditions recognize certain fundamental laws or dharmas. These include the law of karma, the process of rebirth, and the need to gain release from the ego that keeps us bound to it. They also recognize certain methods of yoga, mantra and meditation to reach this end, which can be called dharma practices.
The dharmic traditions of India share the core values of Dharma. These involve ethical principles like ahimsa, truthfulness, compassion and renunciation. They require a respect for all life as sacred and a recognition of a single consciousness as pervading the entire universe.
The dharmic traditions of India emphasize dharma first and on that basis allow for a diversity of religious beliefs and philosophies to develop. Dharma, therefore, is not an exclusive belief principle, but an inclusive attitude based upon honoring the unity and interdependence of all existence. For example, Buddhists, Jains and Hindus may disagree philosophically on the description of ultimate reality, not only with each other but among themselves, but that does not require abandoning dharma. In fact for them, the supreme Dharma is beyond words and beliefs anyway. Philosophical views and religious beliefs are only tools to develop dharma and if they take us away from dharma, they should be either modified or discarded.
Today we need a new dharmic consciousness in the world, a recognition of the universal dharmas of being, consciousness and bliss that unite all creatures. All beings have the rights to exist without interference, to develop their own awareness, and find their own happiness. Much of the global crisis today has come about because we human beings have abandoned Dharma and sought to impose our beliefs and desires not only upon other human beings, but on all of life and nature, subordinating the entire planet to our selfish ends. Unless we return to Dharma, it is unlikely that we can flourish, or perhaps even survive as a species. Restoring and reviving Dharma, therefore, is probably the most important issue today.
Towards a New Dharmic Vision of Humanity
Note article on Tathaastu Magazine Jan.-Feb. 2011 by Pandit Vamadeva (David Frawley)
The Meaning of Dharma
Dharma is perhaps the key term for the great spiritual traditions of India and East Asia, Hindu and Buddhist, whether relative to their understanding of the outer world of nature or the inner realm of consciousness. It is the basis of India’s vast and diverse culture and its deep commitment to Yoga and meditation as tools of self-realization for all. A respect for Dharma is said to be more important even than a belief in God, because it implies certain values and a way of life that promotes truth, unity and respect for all life above ideas or emotions.
Dharma in Sanskrit comes from the root ‘dhri’ meaning ‘to uphold’ and is symbolized by a pillar. It refers to the spiritual, ethical and natural principles that uphold the entire universe. Dharma has always been linked to Veda or vidya, which refers to an inner capacity to perceive the nature of things. It reflects a higher awareness pervades and underlies all existence.
Dharma is a very difficult term to define and eventually must be understood in its own right. To provide a basis for this, we could say that Dharma indicates both the nature of reality at a universal level as well as the proper place for each thing in the universe according to its particular qualities and capacities. There is a specific dharma relative to each creature and every aspect of nature, as well as to the whole of existence. Dharma indicates the harmony both of the totality and the individual, which are complementary and interdependent. According to a dharmic view, the entire universe is present in each object and in every creature, which in some way embody or express the totality.
There is a dharma or natural way of working behind the great forces of nature, the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, the seasons, the three worlds as earth, atmosphere and the heavens, and the different aspects of the cosmos as matter, energy, and light, which follow interrelated laws and patterns. There is a dharma or unique quality and energy in every plant and animal which serves to make it what it is. Everything has its place in the Dharma, which reflects its role in the cosmic order. And there is a special dharma or role on Earth for the human being, which is to seek to embody a higher truth and work to promote a higher consciousness in the world. The universe is an organically connected vibratory field in which all things are linked together into a greater network of harmony, beauty and vitality. This is the universal ‘web of dharma’.
There is dharma or way of right action relative to all aspects of human life and culture: a dharma of art, a dharma of business, a dharma of communication, a dharma of relationship, a dharma of science, a dharma of religion, and so on – each of which requires its own examination. What is done according to dharma is performed with grace, intelligence and respect for the natural order. Each different domain of our lives has certain principles and practices necessary to unfold its full potential, which constitute its dharma. If we follow the dharma in what we do, we will not only be successful, but will act so in a way that promotes the well-being of all.
We have our own individual or ‘svadharma’ that reflects our capacities and aspirations in life. Yet this is not something that divides us from others. Each person has similar potentials that we must honor.
The Social Dharma
Relltive to society, the term Dharma is used in a special way as indicating the right way for society and its members to operate in harmony with their natures, with the environment and with the universe as a whole. This is what we could call the ‘social Dharma’. For social well being, there must be a proper understanding and implementation of Dharma on all levels.
In Vedic thought, human society is looked upon like the human body as a single organism with different limbs, organs and functions, which all serve the benefit of the whole. The social organism is one in essence, but the role of different individuals, communities or professions must vary in order to fulfill the diverse and specialized needs of the whole. Such social differences should not become a matter of high and low or good and bad, but an organic necessity in which each particular role is vital, just as each organ of the human body has an important and irreplaceable role in the well-being of the entire body. We cannot forget society’s connection with the Earth and nature, if we want society to be healthy, harmonious and without violence.
There are special principles of Dharma or right living for society, nations and communities, including special guidelines for men and women, the young and the old, for different professions and for different stages of life. There is an organic order to life, even at a social level, as there is in how our body functions.
However, Dharma also requires that our outer actions and life-styles change along with changing times and cultures. Dharma does not consist of rigid rules that can be blindly applied to all circumstances, but of guiding principles that require adaptation according to the differing needs of time, place and culture. The social Dharma cannot become rigid or the social organism will decline. This means that the vision of Dharma is more important than any specific formulation of dharma in a particular book or by a single person, though we should not discountenance the value of the dharmic wisdom from the past.
Today we need a new social dharma that can integrate what is best in science and technology while restoring our deeper connection with both Nature and the Spirit, such as the great seers of India maintained.
Dharma and Human Rights
Western political thought and modern democracies in general are based upon the idea of “human rights”, which are primarily defined on an individual basis, according to political ideals of freedom, equal opportunity, and justice for each person. These democratic principles have helped protect the individual, reducing oppression and discrimination on various levels within the society relative to race, ethnicity, gender, class, occupation, or other social affiliations.
Yet, on the negative side, an over fixation on “individual rights” encourages a mere outer freedom to do what one wants that can make people more aggressive and acquisitive, lacking an inner dimension of spiritual search. Outer freedom without a corresponding inner aspiration can become a license for the ego to do what it wishes, even if it causes eventual harm to others or to the environment. It often becomes a hectic pursuit of the material world, a running after the external allures of Maya.
The American Declaration of Independence is a very interesting document in this regard. It is based upon the three principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as the inalienable rights of man. Life and liberty are our inalienable rights to be sure, but the “pursuit of happiness” taken only at an outer level easily promotes an external seeking of enjoyment, pleasure and power. What you pursue or run after usually runs away from you! This pursuit of happiness or desire has given rise to the current commercial society that in many ways is becoming increasingly vulgar and destructive. Each individual tends to seek his or her rights, which easily lends itself to self-promotion over the greater good of all.
Dharma, on the other hand, teaches us that life, liberty and happiness are our inherent nature and can be found within ourselves, without the need for external seeking or accumulation of possessions. Dharma promotes freedom from any sort of outer dependency. This includes freedom from commercial exploitation and an inner orientation to life, which implies a spiritual search. Our role in life is not simply to gain what is due to us, as if the universe owed us a favor, but to help in the well-being of the world as a whole, which is part of our own greater nature. Our place in life is not simply to take, as if we existed in isolation, but to give, reflecting our relationship with the whole and the wholeness of who we really are.
Dharma and Duty
Dharma indicates duty, obligation, and responsibility as well as rights and freedom. Rights can never exist without corresponding duties and obligations. Unless rights and duties are balanced, the society itself will become imbalanced and disturbed. Each one of us no doubt has our individual place in the universe that must be honored and a destiny of our own to be fulfilled, but we must also respect the universe upon which we depend and realize that our well being can never be secured at the cost of that of others.
In this regard, Dharma is connected to the idea of giving, offering and sacrifice –what Vedic teachings call yajna. Yajna is symbolized by a fire sacrifice. Fire can only burn if given an offering of the proper fuel. Our place in life is to make the proper offering so that the universal fire of Dharma can illuminate both ourselves and the world around us. Ultimately, we must ourselves become an offering for all, rather than holding to our personal existence or private property as final.
Yajna says that our lives should consist of worship and honoring, including relative the Divine, our ancestors, other living creatures, all human beings, and the spiritual heritage of the entire human race. If each one of us acts for the good of all, we will all certainly flourish. If we act only for the good of ourselves, our family or our particular community, we will breed long term division, inequality and violence.
Broader Human and Universal Rights
According to the principles of Dharma, it is not only individuals that have rights but all aspects of the social organism and the world of nature as a whole. Families have rights, as do communities, including the right not to be interfered with or to be broken up. Cultures have rights not to be denigrated or exploited, even in the name of progress. Today in the name of individual human rights many traditional communities and cultures are being devalued and denigrated, if not eliminated, often paving the way for commercial exploitation.
The non-human world also has its rights. Animals have the right to live without human interference or exploitation and to have their natural space to move freely. Plants do so as well, as the plant also has consciousness and feeling. The world of nature does not exist solely for our own personal advantage as human beings. Each creature has its own existence that we must honor. Ecosystems also have a right to remain as they are and evolve according to their own energies, without being turned merely into human habitations or recreation sites.
When human rights do not respect the rights of other creatures, they invariably lead to conflict and problems in human society as well in the world of nature. The greater life organism of the biosphere gets damaged, which means that human beings will also not have a harmonious natural environment that can provide for health and well-being. This is what we are seeing today in which our environment has been damaged by making human needs, desires and profits predominate over the natural rights of other creatures and the sanctity of the Earth itself – in which we are failing in our duty to the universe in the blind pursuit of personal enjoyment.
Dharma reflects a pluralistic view of life which honors unity in multiplicity. It recognizes that there is a diversity of human beings, with each individual being unique in one way or another. There cannot be one job all for all, one medicine for all, or even one religion or spiritual path for all.
Therefore, there should be a corresponding diversity in society in terms of culture, philosophy, art and spirituality so that each person or group has something that their particular Dharma can relate to and find fulfillment in. According to Dharma, unity lies not in uniformity of name, form or action but in the inner freedom that allows the individual to move through and beyond all outer forms to the inner essence that is one with all.
Dharma and Relativism
Dharma holds that we must look at each individual and circumstance according the particular situations, energies and capacities involved. For this reason, a Dharmic approach remains flexible and does not seek to impose any absolutes or rigid rules upon humanity. For example, if you are driving down a road you cannot follow a rigid set of rules or formulas; you have to actually see the movement of traffic moment by moment. Similarly, Dharma rests upon perception more so than any doctrine.
Yet Dharma is far removed from an ‘anything goes’ attitude or a mere moral relativism. Dharma says that there is a right and appropriate way to do each thing, whether it is right way to eat, a right way to breathe, or a right and respectful way to organize our societies, reflecting individual circumstances as well as the broader principles existence. This way of right action cannot be reduced to a fixed pattern but is not without enduring principles either. Dharma requires consciousness in its application and cannot be turned into a standardized creed or mechanical set of rules.
Dharma and Secularism
Dharma does not imply a rule of religion over life or society. Dharma and secularism, the idea that church and state should be separate, share certain attitudes, values and concerns. Dharma holds that a government should not be used to promote one religious belief or another. It holds to freedom of religion and says that the individual should have the freedom to pursue their own Dharma in life, free of control by the state or by any external institution.
Yet Dharma is different from secularism in certain ways as well. Dharma regards all life as sacred and so cannot accept a merely commercial view of life, which is the tendency of so-called modern secular cultures. Dharma says that we must respect the sacred aspect of human life and try to make our social actions into something respectful of the greater universe. Dharma can project a spiritual vision without violating the principle of individual freedom. This is because it sees the spiritual path as a matter of individual practice, an expression of freedom, not something enforced from the outside.
Dharma and Religion
Religion is often translated as Dharma in Indian thought today. This reflects another side of its meaning. Dharma like religion states that we should recognize the universal and the eternal and base our human culture on a spiritual goal or higher consciousness. However, Dharma cannot be reduced to one particular religion, book, teacher, revelation or another. Dharma is not based upon belief and does not seek to spread, much less impose, a single belief upon all humanity. Dharma accepts freedom of religion as well as a freedom of the individual not to follow any religion at all. Above all, it places individual spiritual practice over any overt religious institutionalism.
Dharma places the need to act for the good of all above any religious labels or differences. Dharma says it is what we do that matters, not what we call ourselves, and that truth ultimately transcends all names and boundaries. Dharma says that the supreme truth is impersonal, apaurusheya, and cannot be reduced to a human formulation or representative that all must follow, however helpful these may be for certain groups or individuals.
Yet a dharmic approach does recognize that different individuals, groups and communities may want to follow different spiritual and religious paths – which need not all be the same – and which may have their own respective practices, formulations and values. Dharma accepts pluralism in religion as in all of life, including the freedom of individuals to differ and disagree on matters of religion, as long as they do not turn these differences into a pretext for conflict and violence.
At a higher level, Dharma embraces Yoga as its Moksha Dharma or teaching about the liberation of the soul, which is a matter of sadhana or inner spiritual practice through the science and art of meditation.
Dharmic Values and Ethics
Dharma rests upon certain clearly defined universal values and ethics. These are not simply dictates, laws or commandments but a recognition of how life works and how we can attune ourselves to the consciousness of the greater universe. Such dharmic values are perhaps most simply defined in the basic principles behind Yoga practice of non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), self-control (Brahmacharya), non-stealing (asteya) and non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha).
There is no living being that wants to be hurt. We ourselves do not want to be hurt, so honoring the universal dharma, the universal culture as it were, we do not seek to harm anyone. Similarly, we do not want to be deceived. There is no creature that wants to be deceived, so honoring the universal dharma we tell the truth. Dharmic ethics therefore are a matter of universal courtesy, as it were, not only towards others but also towards ourselves. Without such dharmic ethics we cannot have access to the cosmic mind or the greater civilization of the universe, which is one of consciousness, not merely of science and technology.
Towards a New Dharmic Movement
Today humanity is suffering from a global crisis, which is not simply a lack of resources but a crisis of values. Today we must learn to coexist and pluralism, not only at a political level but also at cultural and religious levels, is essential. We cannot survive as a planet by promoting national, cultural or religious boundaries as final, as that is to deny the greater unity and value of humanity as a whole. A new vision of Dharma can help us in this direction because Dharma does not divide human beings up into opposing camps. It says we are all of one family and must all eventually come to the same truth and self-realization, albeit according to our own path and in our own time and manner.
Great modern teachers from India like Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Dayananda (of the Arya Samaj) and Swami Vivekananda, and many others from all over the world have looked into and provided their insights about creating a new social order or Dharma. Many Buddhist teachers, like the Dalai Lama are also promoting a greater dharma for humanity.
Ultimately, there needs to be a new renaissance in dharmic thinking. This implies a great deal of questioning, deep thought and profound meditation – an endeavor that may take decades to come to real fruition. It must rest upon an uncompromising pursuit of truth, not simply an attempt at social accommodation, appeasement or pleasing everyone. A new dharmic order is not a simple matter of a new political party but an infusion of higher values into our social interactions, which means a new approach to politics that considers not only the outer human being but the inner essence of the soul.
Unfortunately, the political world today tends to rely upon slogans, vote banks and appeals to mass fears and desires, looking forward only to the next election. The personality of the political leader is made more important than any deeper vision for humanity. Political parties today are lacking in any real idealism and vision and quickly compromise in order to gain power or influence. Even modern education is imed at training a person more in a particular technical profession, rather than providing a well rounded education that includes an examination as to what is the ultimate meaning of life. Clearly Dharma must be brought back into education and into social service for it to affect society as a whole.
A new world order defined by Dharma – not simply by religion, politics, or commercial concerns – is crucial for our way forward as a species and can help promote and preserve the good in all. It is important that a regard for the universal Dharma is brought into both our personal lives and into our societies. Otherwise our civilization may continue to flounder and is unlikely to find peace or harmony with life. This is a matter first of all of upholding Dharmic principles and practices in how we live and think. The work begins with each one of us.
Dharma: The Eternal or Universal Truth
by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
Sanatana means eternal, never beginning nor ending.
Dharma is from dhri, meaning to hold together, to sustain.
Sanatana Dharma eternally holds All together.
Sanatana Dharma means:
Never Beginning nor Ending Way
Never Beginning nor Ending
Law of Being
By its nature, Sanatana Dharma is:
Experience based rather than belief based.
Without any ideological divisions.
Beyond any historical date of founding.
The process of growth, which comes from the seed.
Inherent in, and inclusive of all.
Applicable to all people of all places and times.
In the world, while above the world.
God-centered rather than prophet-centered.
Devoid of sectarianism or denominationalism.
Both immanent and transcendent.
The whole and the parts.
Loving of all and excluding of none.
The universal flow of Dharma,
regardless of what name you call it,
whether Dharma or some other name,
has eternally existed.
It has been before any of
the great teachers were born.
It is not better than, or alternative to,
but is inclusive of all.
Dharma is that out of which
our earth and humanity itself emerged.
Dharma not only is,
but always was, and always will be.
To live in alignment with,
and to know the true nature
of that Sanatana Dharma
is one of the ways of describing
the higher goal of life.
More on Dharma.....
From Hindupedia (www.hindupedia.com)
By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli and Krishna Maheshwari
The Sanskrit word Dharma has no direct translation into English. Among other things, it can be thought of as righteousness in thought, word, and action. It comes from the root Dhr, which means to uphold, sustain, or uplift. Thus another interpretation of the word in English would be 'the collection of natural and universal laws that uphold, sustain, or uplift.' Ie. law of being; law of nature; individual nature; prescribed duty; social and personal duties; moral code; civil law; code of conduct; morality; way of life; practice; observance; justice; righteousness; religion; religiosity; harmony.
The definition of Dharma as that which upholds, sustains and uplifts does not define the object that is being upheld, sustained, or uplifted. It does not imply any specific object (living or inanimate) and thus applys to all possible objects. It represents a ‘Principle’ or a ‘Quality of being’ that can be widely used in a variety of contexts to mean a variety of different ideas.
In the Mahabharata, Yudhistira asks Bhishma to explain the meaning and scope of Dharma. Bhishma replies:
It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which ensures the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that that which sustains is Dharma.
Tadrisho ayam anuprashno yatra dharmaha sudurlabaha
Dushkamha pralisankhyatum tatkenatra vysvasyathi
Prabhavarthaya bhutanam dharmapravachanam kritam
Yasyat prabhavasamyuktaha sa dharma iti nischayaha.
In the Karna Parva, Lord Krishna explains Dharma to Arjuna in the following words:
Dharma sustains the society. Dharma maintains the social order. Dharma ensures well being and progress of humanity. Dharma is surely that which fulfills these objectives.
Dharanat dharma mityahu dharmo dhara-yate prajaha
Yat syad dharanasamyuktam sa dharma iti nischayaha
Rishi Jaimini, the author of Purva Mimamsa and Uthara Mimamsa, explains Dharma as:
Dharma is that which is indicated by the Vedas as conducive to the highest good.
Sa hi nisreyasena pumshamsamyunaktiti pra-tijaneemahe
tadabhidhiyate chodanalakshno ariho dharmaha
Madhavacharya, in his commentary on Parashara Smriti, explains the meaning of dharma as
Dharma is that which sustains and ensures progress and welfare of all in this world and eternal Bliss in the other world. Dharma is promulgated in the form of commands. (positive and negative vidhi and nishedha).
Dharma embraces every type of righteous conduct, covering every aspect of life essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and society. Further, it includes those rules which guide and enable those who believe in God and heaven to attainmoksha.
Dharma as Cosmic Order
The earliest import of the word Dharma, arises from the ancient Vedic idea of Ritam (or Cosmic Order). The entire universe is sustained by a cosmic order, which are physical laws that govern the motion of stars, suns, planets, satellites, asteroids and other physical bodies. For example, the law of gravity sustains life on the earth – since without it everything would fly away, never to come back. Similarly there are other natural laws that are responsible for sustaining and upholding various natural phenomenon. For example, why electrons keep revolving around the nucleus of an atom, why atoms combine in ways to form molecules, why the earth goes around the sun, and why human beings breathe out carbon-dioxide while plants breathe out oxygen. There are thus physical laws, chemical laws, biological laws, even psychological laws that both underlie the behavior and also sustain and maintain various natural phenomena.
There are geophysical laws that govern the occurrence of mountains, forests, climates, seas and rivers, and the numerous phenomena we see on this planet. There are climatic laws that govern the seasons: summer follows spring, spring follows winter, and winter follows autumn and so on. The winds blow as though by an internal law – gently in normal times, and as hurricanes and gales, in abnormal times. And even the hurricanes and gales come only during their appointed season. The snows melt in the high mountains during summer, and the rivers flow in full spate, and thus the whole cycle of life is sustained.
There are biological laws that govern the birth, growth, sustenance and death of all things living, from the single-celled amoeba to the complex human being. There is a digestive system that digests food, and a respiratory system that transforms oxygen into energy, a nervous system that carries impulses, a brain that initiates thought and co-ordinates movement, and so on. The Laws of Evolution have governed the progressive differentiation of species, and Laws of Destruction have destroyed numerous species in their time. There are laws that govern how the heart works, how the breath works, how hunger works and how food works, how speech works, how the mind works, how emotions work and how imagination works.
It could be said that it is the Dharma of the Wind to blow, the Dharma of the Sun to heat up the world, the Dharma of the Ice to freeze and melt, the Dharma of Fire to burn. It is the Dharma of the Plants to give out oxygen, and the Dharma of the Animals to give out carbon dioxide. And behind the delicate workings and inter-relations between the various cosmic phenomena, there is an order, an intelligently engineered and organized system, a set of laws that seem to be at work governing the great forces and powers (Shakti) at play behind these laws.
This is Dharma as the cosmic order, that includes many dynamic sub-orders, each represented by powers and forces of great intensity and magnitude, each governed by their own dharma or internal law of being and working – each interacting upon one another, within the boundaries of that law, sustaining, maintaining and upholding all things material and phenomenal in this Universe.
Dharma as a Social Order
While recognizing that in its inherent definition, Dharma must include all these natural cosmic laws that pertain to the physical universe, it is when the word is applied to Human life, that it gains additional significance. In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna states that Dharma sustains society, maintains social order, and ensures wellbeing and progress of humanity.
Every society is prone to internal and external conflict. Individuals are fallible and prone to fall to the passions of greed, desire, jealousy and anger that may lay hold of the mind and give rise to all forms of social disturbance. In order to curb this likelihood, proper education and training must be provided and a sense of orderly living imparted. To live in peace in accordance to Dharma, individuals must learn to gain a free range of expression and experience while at the same time, know not to transgress the freedom and liberty of others.
Dharma, in this situation, is the collection of laws that uphold, sustain, and uplift society, social order, and the well-being and progress of humanity. It is the prescriptions and proscriptions that give rise to harmony, workability and stability in any society.
Every society has recognized the need for these as seen in religions that have created commandments and injunctions, backed by threats of extraordinary punishments for transgression in the present life and afterlife.
Dharma has indeed been given an elevated place in the consciousness, enshrined through numerous stories and puranas, epics and tales in order to make it accessible to all, ranging from the uneducated villager to the powerful king, from the rishi to the merchant, irrespective of their station and role in society. This ensures that Dharma, the law of right living and conduct, is enshrined and passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter - from generation to generation.
Dharma as Ethical behavior
Dharma includes the Golden rule “Do unto others as others would do unto you”, and therefore the set of all possible values such as speaking the truth, being kind, speaking pleasant words, being respectful, demonstrating reverence towards the earth and the natural resources etc. Dharma includes all possible values, and not any one specific set of values, defined by any one individual or religious tradition, at a historical point of time. Dharma extends itself into the specific ways of life, our value systems, and attitudes.
When an individual conforms to a certain universal matrix of behavioral norms, (s)he contributes in the sustenance, maintenance, and the upliftment of societal order and thus the society itself. On the other hand, if the universal norms are transgressed, then a chain of actions and reactions takes place, which creates disorder. For example, the abused child becomes an abuser himself, or the hurt individual hurts another.
Dharma as Duty or Responsibility
Dharma can be said to be expressed in the duties and responsibilities of an individual or a community that ensures the harmony and balance in society as a whole, in terms of its inter-relations and its dependencies. So Dharma upholds, sustains and uplifts all the various constituents of this universe, who are woven together in a common interdependent existence.
When the parents perform their duties or discharge their responsibilities towards their children, that naturally sustains and uplifts their children. And when children perform their duties towards their parents, their actions sustains and uplifts the parents. When there is a break in the discharge of the responsibilities of a parent towards a child, there is set in motion, a great cycle of disharmony, and society itself becomes unbalanced in some way.
Similarly when the citizens perform their duties or discharge their responsibilities (i.e. pay their taxes, don't break laws), this sustains the well-being of the society (and the State), and when the State discharges its responsibilities towards its citizens, that upholds, sustains and uplifts its citizens.
When the society discharges its duties and responsibilities towards the Earth and all its inhabitants i.e. plants and animals, then the Earth itself is upheld, sustained and uplifted. When humanity consumes the resources of the Earth indiscriminately, then that can unsettle the balance and harmony in this world and result in disaster.
Dharma as Service to the Community
Ordinary human endeavors involve the pursuit of Artha and Kama – which can be loosely translated as security and pleasure, respectively. People's lives are predominantly given to the commitment of their professional lives, and the various pleasures that the physical world has to offer for experience. They hold on to their jobs for financial security, build and buy houses for security, invest in retirement funds for a secure future, and pursue various pastimes for pleasure. In fact, for most people, life is confined to the pursuit of Artha and Kama.
It is when they awaken to a wider possibility – that of subordinating personal interests in favor of ensuring the wellbeing of others – whether those others are within the family, neighborhood, village, city or state, or a specific community or even the country or the world – their lives take on a wider dimension. A commitment to pursue the greater good, clearly sustains, maintains, upholds and uplifts the prevailing social order, especially the community that is the beneficiary. Dharma is therefore inherent to any community service – whether it is the building of a school or running a hospital or an orphanage, or creating a philanthropic foundation or running a shelter for the homeless.
Dharmic life, is a life of self-less service, of sacrifice and contribution. It is the lifestyle that has been held in India from time immemorial as an ideal life, a life worth emulating, a life that one aspires towards. Making a difference in society at large, somehow honors and fulfills the human spirit, and brings to life the true possibility and potential of human existence. EveryPurana thus extols Dharma. In the Ramayana this idea is personified in Lord Rama – who is widely called Vigrahavaan Dharma – the embodiment of Dharma.
Dharma as Self-Expression
Each human being is endowed with specific qualities and gifts. Some are born with a a talent for music or sports, while others have developed a talent for management. Some have a deep well developed intellectual disposition while others are blessed with great energy and entrepreneurship for social activity. Ultimately a human being uplifts himself, sustains and upholds his spirit, when he or she truly fully develops and expresses his or her unique gifts in the service of humanity.
Man must grow to his full potential, in conformity with his own inner law of being - his Svadharma. Such self-actualization is consistent with the complete unfoldment of the specific gifts, talents and qualities that one is blessed with and results in the true fulfillment of one’s life’s potential as well as bestows these special gifts and talents to those surrounding such a person. This flowering of a human being is also Dharma - this developing of an inner potential and possibility to its full height and range of expression, this unfolding of human genius consistent with the individual’s own inner law of being and action, and this manifestation in physical reality, the power of the human mind, thought, feeling and action.
When society has created the conditions of harmony and stability, the pre-conditions of progress are created. Such a society flowers naturally and easily, and there is an outburst of human creativity – and all manner of creative expression is found to arise. In short periods of time, such societies have brought forth great advances in art, architecture, science and technology, philosophy and thought, literature and drama, and all other fields of human development.
Dharma as a means for Moksha
Progress of humanity can be conceived in many different terms – scientific, social, industrial, technological, arts, economic, political and so on. India’s civilization has always conceived of humanity’s progress in spiritual terms, and given it a pre-eminent significance. It is in the context of spiritual progress, that the notion of Dharma attains its fullest import. The Rig Veda was realized and composed on the banks of the Saraswati River many millennia ago. It describes the purpose of human life succinctly in the phrase "Atmano mokshartham jagat hitayacha" which means 'the pursuit of moksha while keeping in view the welfare of the world.' From a spiritual context, the ultimate fulfillment of a human life arises in the pursuit and attainment of moksha.
A life of Dharma then is a life that keeps in full view the spiritual end of human life and harmonizes one’s everyday life with the progression towards that end. Dharma becomes the means to attain a spiritual end of life. Thus Dharma is that which sustains, upholds, and uplifts the spiritual progress of humanity, both individually and as a collective. Without a complete understanding of the essentially spiritual journey that human beings are on, without a recognition of the nature of the inner reality of the individual, and the relationship with the universe, and without establishing a notion of Bhagwan as the all-pervasive reality of this universe, the word Dharma cannot be fully understood.
Dharma is outlined in both Sruti and Smriti. For example, the Rig Veda refers to it as Ritam later on, the Atharva Veda also refers to it. The Kalpa Sutras, a Vedanga, contain the Dharma Sutras, Srauta Sutras, Grihya Sutras and Sulba Sutras. Of these, Dharma Sutras outline dharma. Because of the critical importance of grhastha ashrama to the society, Grihya sutras (to be followed by Grhastha) are separately mentioned. These Sutras are specific to the adherents of each Veda Shakha. There are many other metrical codes written, for instance by Manu, Parashara and Vasistha, that serve the same purpose. Apart from these, the Itihasaand Puranas detail the nature of Dharma and illustrate through stories what is Dharma in various life situations.
Sutras are guidelines and not impositions. They provide a guide to persons desiring to go by a particular path regarding what benefits and what retards them in their path. The prayaschitta for deviation also applies only to someone wanting to go by a specific path.
Among the Smritis for instance, the Manusmriti has more of a record of what is/was, rather than a prescription. It is a statement of what kind of social setup existed and what were the norms followed. Parashara smriti, being more recent, is said to be applicable to kaliyuga.
So the following are the texts needed to understanding Dharma:
- Sutras (Dharma, Grihya)
- Metrical codes like Manusmriti
- Itihasa Puranas
There are three sources of knowledge of Dharma:
- Through scriptures
- Through elders
- By observing the behavior of noble men in different situations
The concepts involved in understanding Dharma:
- Varna Dharma
- Ashrama Dharma
- Concept of Karma
These are overlapping and not exclusive concepts.
Types of Dharma
Dharma can be classified into many subsets depending on application area and to whom or what is being discussed. For people, the following are examples of dharma that typically apply for day-to-day life:
- Vyakti dharma (swadharma) - the dharma of an individual
- Parivarika dharma - family dharma (also called kutumba dharma)
- Samaja dharma - societal dharma
- Rashtra dharma - national dharma
- Manava dharma - the dharma of mankind
- Varna dharma - professional dharma
- apad dharma - exceptional/abnormal situational dharma
- Yuga dharma - dharma applicable for an age
- Ashrama dharma - dharma for stage of life
Dharma in Common Usage
Mahatma Gandhi brought the phrase "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma" into common usage stating (in contradiction to scripture) that non-violence was the topmost Dharma for all and he is often quoted by many people and leaders.
Dharma as a Civilizational Principle
Ancient Rishis saw rights and responsibilities as two sides of the same coin and decided to emphasize responsibilities and duty over rights whereas other civilizations emphasized rights. They knew that when responsibilities and duties are fulfilled, people receive their rights. For example, when parents fulfill their duties and responsibilities for their children--their children receive their rights. The same principle applies for a nation and its citizens. Where people live in conformity with their dharma, the individual rights of all others are naturally granted. A culture that emphasizes rights over duties only results in a competitive clamoring where each group and sub-group organizes itself to lobby and fight for its rights. Whereas in Sanatana Dharma, one is taught to live consistently with one's dharma (swadharma), and leave the rest to Ishwara or Bhagwan