Dharma (, ; lit. that which upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe) means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. As well as referring to Law in the universal or abstract sense dharma designates those behaviours considered necessary for the maintenance of the natural order of things. Therefore dharma may encompass ideas such as duty, vocation, religion and everything that is considered correct, proper or decent behaviour. The idea of dharma as duty or propriety derives from an idea found in India's ancient legal and religious texts that there is a divinely instituted natural order of things (rta) and justice, social harmony and human happiness require that human beings discern and live in a manner appropriate to the requirements of that order. According to the various Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, beings that live in accordance with dharma proceed more quickly toward dharma yukam, moksha or nirvana (personal liberation). The antonym of dharma is adharma, meaning unnatural or immoral.
In traditional Hindu society, dharma has historically denoted a variety of ideas, such as Vedic ritual, ethical conduct, caste rules, and civil and criminal law. Its most common meaning pertains to two principal ideals; that social life should be structured through well-defined and well-regulated classes (varna), and that an individual's life within a class should be organized into defined stages (ashrama, see dharmasastra). A Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender.
In modern Indian languages it can refer simply to a person's religion, depending on the context. Dharma also refers to the teachings and doctrines of the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, the Buddha and Mahavira.
In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomenon".
In the Rigveda, the word appears as an n-stem, , with a range of meanings encompassing "something established or firm" (in the literal sense of prods or poles), figuratively "sustainer, supporter" (of deities), and semantically similar to the Greek ethos ("fixed decree, statute, law"). In Classical Sanskrit, the noun becomes thematic, .
It is a derivation from Proto-Indo-Iranian root *dhar- ("to fasten, to support, to hold"), in turn reflecting Proto-Indo-European root *d er- ("to hold"), which in Sanskrit is reflected as class-1 root dh . Etymologically it is related to Avestan dar- ("to hold"), Old Persian dar- ("to hold, have"), Latin fr num ("rein, horse tack"), Lithuanian der ti ("to be suited, fit"), Lithuanian derm (agreement), darna ("harmony") and Old Church Slavonic dr ati ("to hold, possess"). Classical Sanskrit word dharmas would formally match with Latin o-stem firmus
From the Atharvaveda and in Classical Sanskrit, the stem is thematic, (Devan gar : ), and in P li, it takes the form dhamma. It is also often rendered dharam in contemporary Indian languages and dialects. It is used in most or all philosophies and religions of Indian origin sometimes summarized under the umbrella term of Dharmic faiths including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is difficult to provide a single concise definition for dharma, as the word has a long and varied history and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism are called Hindu Dharma, Buddha-Dharma, Jain-Dharma and Sikh dharma, respectively.
In the Rig Veda, the belief (or observation) that a natural justice and harmony pervades the natural world becomes manifest in the concept of rta, which is both 'nature's way' and the order implicit in nature. Thus rta bears a resemblance to the ancient Chinese concept of tao and the Heraclitan, Stoic or Christian conceptions of the logos.
This "power" that lies behind nature and that keeps everything in balance became a natural forerunner to the idea of dharma. The idea of rta laid the cornerstone of dharma's implicit attribution to the "ultimate reality" of the surrounding universe, in classical Vedic Hinduism the following verse from the Rig-Veda is an example where rta is mentioned:
The transition of the rta to the modern idea of dharma occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The Upanishads saw dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, all in all truth, that sprang first from Brahman. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is sat (truth), a major tenet of Hinduism. This hearkens back to the conception of the Rig Veda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), of the idea that Brahman is "Sacchidananda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). Dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure Reality. In the Brihadaranyaka's own words:
In the Mahabharata, Krishna defines dharma as,
- "Dhaaranaad dharma ity aahur dharmena vidhrtaah prajaah, Yat syaad dhaarana sanyuktam sa dharma iti nishchayah,"
Through the four ashramas, or stages of life (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vaanprastha, Sanyaasa), a person also seeks to fulfill the four essentials (puru rtha) of kama (sensual pleasures), artha (worldly gain), dharma, and moksha (liberation from reincarnation or rebirth). Moksha, although the ultimate goal, is emphasized more in the last two stages of life, while artha and kama are considered primary only during Grihastha. Dharma, however is essential in all four stages. As a puru rtha (human goal), dharma can also be considered to be a lens through which humans plan and perform their interactions with the world. Through the dharmic lens, one focuses on doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong, while the kama perspective focuses on doing what is pleasurable (in many senses, not just sex) and avoiding pain, and the artha perspective focuses on doing what is profitable (in many senses, not just money) and avoiding loss.
Dharma is also the name of a deity or Deva in charge of dharma. Mythologically, he is said to have been born from the right breast of Brahma, is married to 13 daughters of Daksha and fathers Shama, Kama and Harahsa. He is also the father of the celebrated Rishis Hari, Krishna, Nara-Narayana.
In the epic Mahabharata, he is incarnate as Vidura. Also, Dharma is invoked by Kunti and she begets her eldest son Yudhisthira from him. As such, Yudhisthira is known as Dharmaputra. There is also an assimilation of the god Dharma and Yama, the god responsible for the dead.
In technical literature, e.g., in Sanskrit grammar, dharma also means "property" and dharmin means "property-bearer". In a Sanskrit sentence like , "sound is impermanent", "sound" is the bearer of the property "impermanence". Likewise, in the sentence , "here, there is a pot", "here" is the bearer of the property "pot-existence" this shows that the categories of property and property-bearer are closer to those of a logical predicate and its subject-term, and not to a grammatical predicate and subject.
For many Buddhists, the Dharma most often means the body of teachings expounded by the Buddha. The word is also used in Buddhist phenomenology as a term roughly equivalent to phenomenon, a basic unit of existence and/or experience.
In East Asia, the translation for dharma is , pronounced f in Mandarin, beop in Korean, h in Japanese, and ph p in Vietnamese. However, the term dharma can also be transliterated from its original form.
For practicing Buddhists, references to "dharma" (dhamma in Pali) particularly as "the Dharma", generally means the teachings of the Buddha, commonly known throughout the East as Buddha-Dharma.
The status of Dharma is regarded variably by different Buddhist traditions. Some regard it as an ultimate truth, or as the fount of all things which lies beyond the "three realms" (Sanskrit: tridhatu) and the "wheel of becoming" (Sanskrit: bhavacakra), somewhat like the pagan Greek and Christian logos: this is known as Dharmakaya (Sanskrit). Others, who regard the Buddha as simply an enlightened human being, see the Dharma as the essence of the "84,000 different aspects of the teaching" (Tibetan: chos-sgo brgyad-khri bzhi strong) that the Buddha gave to various types of people, based upon their individual propensities and capabilities.
Dharma refers not only to the sayings of the Buddha, but also to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and to expand upon the Buddha's teachings. For others still, they see the Dharma as referring to the "truth," or the ultimate reality of "the way that things really are" (Tib. Cho).
The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism in which practitioners of Buddhism seek refuge, or that upon which one relies for his or her lasting happiness. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, meaning the mind's perfection of enlightenment, the Dharma, meaning the teachings and the methods of the Buddha, and the Sangha, meaning those awakened beings who provide guidance and support to followers of the Buddha.
Qualities of Buddha Dharma
The Teaching of the Buddha also has six supreme qualities:
Svakkhato (Pali). The Dharma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is Excellent in the beginning (S la Moral principles), Excellent in the middle (Samadhi Concentration) and Excellent in the end, the only end that could result through fate. (Pa a Wisdom).
Sanditthiko (Pali). The Dharma can be tested by practice and therefore he who follows it will see the result by himself through his own experience.
Ak liko (Pali). The Dharma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, through no matter which means of travel, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.
Ehipassiko (Pali). The Dharma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and to experience it for themselves.
Op neyiko (Pali). The Dharma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life.
Paccattam veditabbo vi hi (Pali). The Dharma may be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples (Pali: ariyas) who have matured and who have become enlightened in supreme wisdom.
Knowing these attributes, Buddhists hold that they will attain the greatest peace and happiness through the practice of Dharma. Each person is therefore fully responsible to engage in their own practice and commitment.
Other uses include dharma, normally spelled with a small "d" (to differentiate), which refers to a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience. This was gradually expanded into a classification of constituents of the entire material and mental world. Rejecting the substantial existence of permanent entities which are qualified by possibly changing qualities, Buddhist Abhidharma philosophers enumerated lists of dharmas which varied by school. They came to propound that these "constituent factors" are the only type of entity that truly exists (and only some thinkers gave dharmas this kind of existence). This notion is of particular importance for the analysis of human experience: Rather than assuming that mental states inhere in a cognizing subject, or a soul-substance, Buddhist philosophers largely propose that mental states alone exist as "momentary elements of consciousness" and that a subjective perceiver is assumed.
One of the central tenets of Buddhism, is the denial of a separate permanent "I", and is outlined in the three marks of existence.
Dukkha Suffering or unsatisfactoriness (Pali: Dukkha)
Anitya Change/Impermanence (Pali: Anicca)
Anatman Not-Self (Pali: Annatta)
At the heart of Buddhism is the understanding of all phenomena as dependently originated.
Later, Buddhist philosophers like N g rjuna would question whether the dharmas (momentary elements of consciousness) truly have a separate existence of their own. (i.e. Do they exist apart from anything else?) Rejecting any inherent reality to the dharmas, he asked (rhetorically):
When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end?
What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end?
What is it? What is other? What is permanent? What is impermanent?
What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither?
Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending;
There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever, whenever, wherever.
--M lamadhyamakak rik , , 25:22 24
According to S. N. Goenka, a teacher of Vipassana meditation, the original meaning of dhamma is "dharayati iti dharmaH", or "one that contains, supports or upholds" and dharma in the Buddhist scriptures has a variety of meanings, including "phenomenon" and "nature" or "characteristic". Dharma also means "mental contents," and is paired with citta, which means heart-mind. The pairing is paralleled with the combining of shareera (body) and vedana (feelings or sensations which arise within the body but are experienced through the mind) in major sutras such as the Mahasatipatthana sutra.
Dharma is also used to refer to the direct teachings of the Buddha, especially the discourses on the fundamental principles (such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path), as opposed to the parables and to the poems.
Dharma is employed in Ch'an in a specific context in relation to transmission of authentic doctrine, understanding and bodhi; recognized in Dharma transmission.
In Jainism, dharma is natural. Acharya Samantabhadra writes, Vatthu sahavo dhammo: "the dharma is the nature of an object". It is the nature of the soul to be free, thus for the soul, the dharma is paralaukika, beyond worldly. However the nature of the body is to seek self-preservation and be engaged in pleasures. Thus there are two dharmas.
Acharya Haribhadra (approx. 6 7th cent.) discusses dharma in Dharma-Bindu. He writes (Translation by Y. Malaiya):
Because of the difference in practice, dharma is of two kinds, for the householders and for the monks.
Of the householder's dharma, there are two kinds, "ordinary" and "special"
The ordinary dharma of the householder should be carried out according to tradition, such that it is not objectionable, according to ones abilities such as wealth, in accordance with nyaya (everyone treated fairly and according to laws).
Somadeva suri (10th c.) terms the "ordinary" and "special" dharmas laukika ("worldly") and pralaukika ("extra-worldly") respectively:
A householder follows both laukika and the paralaukika dharmas at the same time.
For Sikhs, the word Dharm means the "path of righteousness". What is the "righteous path"? That is the question that the Sikh scriptures attempt to answer. The main holy scriptures of the Sikhs is called the Guru Granth Sahib. It is considered to be more than a holy book of the Sikhs. The Sikhs treat this Granth (holy book) as a living Guru. The holy text spans 1430 pages and contains the actual words spoken by the Sikh Gurus and various other Saints from other religions including Hinduism and Islam.
Sikh Dharma is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of ten Gurus who are accepted by the followers as if they were spiritually the same. The Gurus are considered "the divine light" and they conveyed Gurbani (the word of God) in the form of the Guru Granth Sahib to the world. In this faith, God is described as both Nirgun (transcendent) and Sargun (immanent). Further, God pervades in His creation and is omnipresent, but cannot be incarnate. The principal Sikh belief lays stress on one's actions and deeds rather than religious labels, rituals or outward appearance or signs.
The primary object of a Sikh's life is to seek union with God and hence, liberation from the cycle of births and deaths (cycle of re-incarnation) which is dictated by a person's thought, deeds and actions in this life. Liberation can be achieved through meditating on God, truthful living and sharing ones wealth in the context of a normal family life and through divine grace. Amrit Pahul Sikh baptism for both men and women was instituted in 1699 by Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru. All Sikhs, on taking Amrit, are enjoined to lead a disciplined life by following a code of ethics leading to a "Saint-Soldier" way of life. In 1708, Guru Gobind Singh vested spiritual authority in the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh scriptures) as the eternal Guru and hence Sikh Dharma acknowledges the end of human Guruship. At the same time, the temporal authority was vested in the Khalsa Panth (a community of Sikhs who have taken Amrit).
Other important aspects of a Sikh's life include Sewa (dedication to the service of God's creation) where the emphasis is often upon manual work, undertaking of goodwill towards other faiths and their followers, to defend for justice and assistance of the oppressed. In contrast to many other faiths, Sikhs believe that when all other means to achieve justice are exhausted, then it is just to wield the sword.
Congregational worship includes the following:
Paath Reading of the Holy scriptures
Kirtan Singing of Shabads (hymns).
Langar A communal vegetarian meal also call free kitchen is an important feature of the Sikh way of life, and food is served to everyone at the end of a Sikh service.
Ardas Sikhs conclude their prayers by doing the Ardas and invoking God's blessings on everyone not just on Sikhs.
Scriptures and dharma
The Guru Granth Sahib lays down the foundation of this "righteous path" and various salient points are found.
- Sikh is bound by Dharma: The followers of this faith are bound by Dharma as advocated in their holy scriptures. The committed Sikh is encouraged to follow this path at all times. The first recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib called the Japji Sahib says the following: "The path of the faithful shall never be blocked. The faithful shall depart with honor and fame. The faithful do not follow empty religious rituals. The faithful people are fully bound to do whatever the Dharma wants them to do. Such is the Name of the Immaculate Lord. Only one who has faith comes to know such a state of mind." (14) (Guru Granth Sahib Japji page 3.)
- Deeds are recorded: The persons thoughts and deeds are said to be recorded and the faithful is warned that these will be read out in the presence of the "Lord of Dharma". Two scribes called Chitr and Gupt, the angels of the conscious and the subconscious mind are busy writing ones thought and deeds. On death, the soul of the person he brought before "Lord of Dharma" are these account are read out as recoded in this quote: "Day and night are the two nurses, in whose lap all the world is at play. Good deeds and bad deeds the record is read out in the Presence of the Lord of Dharma. According to their own actions, some are drawn closer, and some are driven farther away."
- Dharma administered by God: The scriptures further outline how the "Judge of Dharma" administers justice depending on the way that one has conducted life on Earth. The soul is either "cleared" or "subject to God's command" depending on the review of the person history. The holy text says: "The Righteous Judge of Dharma, by the Hukam of God's Command, sits and administers True Justice". and those followers who "chant the name of the Lord" are cleared as outlined thus: "Her account is cleared by the Righteous Judge of Dharma, when she chants the Name of the Lord, Har, Har."
Daena (din in modern Persian) is the eternal Law, whose order was revealed to humanity through the Mathra-Spenta ("Holy Words"). Daena has been used to mean religion, faith, law, even worship as a translation for the Hindu and Buddhist term Dharma, often interpreted as "duty" or social order, right conduct, or virtue. The metaphor of the 'path' of Daena is represented in Zoroastrianism by the muslin undershirt Sudra, the 'Good/Holy Path', and the 72-thread Kushti girdle, the "Pathfinder".
Daena should not be confused with the fundamental principle asha (Vedic rta), the equitable law of the universe, which governed the life of the ancient Indo-Iranians. For these, asha was the course of everything observable, the motion of the planets and astral bodies, the progression of the seasons, the pattern of daily nomadic herdsman life, governed by regular metronomic events such as sunrise and sunset. All physical creation (geti) was thus determined to run according to a master plan inherent to Ahura Mazda and violations of the order (druj) were violations against creation, and thus violations against Ahura Mazda. This concept of asha versus the druj should not be confused with the good-versus-evil battle evident in western religions, for although both forms of opposition express moral conflict, the asha versus druj concept is more systemic and less personal, representing, for instance, chaos (that opposes order); or "uncreation", evident as natural decay (that opposes creation); or more simply "the lie" (that opposes truth, righteousness). Moreover, in his role as the one uncreated creator of all, Ahura Mazda is not the creator of druj which is "nothing", anti-creation, and thus (likewise) uncreated. Thus, in Zoroaster's revelation, Ahura Mazda was perceived to be the creator of only the good (Yasna 31.4), the "supreme benevolent providence" (Yasna 43.11), that will ultimately triumph (Yasna 48.1).
In this schema of asha versus druj, mortal beings (humans and animals both) play a critical role, for they too are created. Here, in their lives, they are active participants in the conflict and it is their duty to defend order, which would decay without counteraction. Throughout the Gathas, Zoroaster emphasizes deeds and actions, and accordingly asceticism is frowned upon in Zoroastrianism. In later Zoroastrianism this was explained as fleeing from the experiences of life, which was the very purpose that the urvan (most commonly translated as the 'soul') was sent into the mortal world to collect. The avoidance of any aspect of life, which includes the avoidance of the pleasures of life, is a shirking of the responsibility and duty to oneself, one's urvan, and one's family and social obligations.
Thus, central to Zoroastrianism is the emphasis on moral choice, to choose between the responsibility and duty for which one is in the mortal world, or to give up this duty and so facilitate the work of druj. Similarly, predestination is rejected in Zoroastrian teaching. Humans bear responsibility for all situations they are in, and in the way they act to one another. Reward, punishment, happiness and grief all depend on how individuals live their life.
In Zoroastrianism, good transpires for those who do righteous deeds. Those who do evil have themselves to blame for their ruin. Zoroastrian morality is then to be summed up in the simple phrase, "good thoughts, good words, good deeds" (Humata, Hukhta, Hvarshta in Avestan), for it is through these that asha is maintained and druj is kept in check.
Through accumulation several other beliefs were introduced to the religion that in some instances supersede those expressed in the Gathas. In the late 19th century the moral and immoral forces came to be represented by Spenta Mainyu and its Satanic antithesis Angra Mainyu, the 'good spirit' and 'evil spirit' emanations of Ahura Mazda respectively. Although the names are old, this opposition is a modern western-influenced development popularized by Martin Haug in the 1880s, and was in effect a realignment of the precepts of Zurvanism (Zurvanite Zoroastrianism), which had invented a third deity, Zurvan, in order to explain a mention of twinship (Yasna 30.3) between the moral and immoral. Although Zurvanism had died out by the 10th century the critical question of the "twin brothers" mentioned in Yasna 30.3 remained, and Haug's explanation provided a convenient defence against Christian missionaries who disparaged the Parsis (Indian Zoroastrians) for their 'dualism'. Haug's concept was subsequently disseminated as a Parsi interpretation, thus corroborating Haug's theory and the idea became so popular that it is now almost universally accepted as doctrine.
Achaemenid era (648 330 BCE) Zoroastrianism developed the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, personal and final judgement, all of which are only alluded to in the Gathas. Yasna 19 (which has only survived in a Sassanid era (226 650 CE) Zend commentary on the Ahuna Vairya invocation), prescribes a Path to Judgement known as the Chinvat Peretum or Chinvat bridge (cf: As-Sir t in Islam), which all souls had to cross, and judgement (over thoughts, words, deeds performed during a lifetime) was passed as they were doing so. However, the Zoroastrian personal judgement is not final. At the end of time, when evil is finally defeated, all souls will be ultimately reunited with their Fravashi. Thus, Zoroastrianism can be said to be a universalist religion with respect to salvation.
In addition, and strongly influenced by Babylonian and Akkadian practices, the Achaemenids popularized shrines and temples, hitherto alien forms of worship. In the wake of Achaemenid expansion shrines were constructed throughout the empire and particularly influenced the role of Mithra, Aredvi Sura Anahita, Verethregna and Tishtrya, all of which, in addition to their original (proto-)Indo-Iranian functions, now also received Perso-Babylonian functions.
Although the worship of images would eventually fall out of favour (and be replaced by the iconoclastic fire temples), the lasting legacy of the Achaemenids was a vast, complex hierarchy of Yazatas (modern Zoroastrianism's Angels) that were now not just evident in the religion, but firmly established, not least because the divinities received dedications in the Zoroastrian calendar, thus ensuring that they were frequently invoked. Additionally, the Amesha Spenta, the six originally abstract terms that were regarded as direct emanations or aspects or "divine sparks" of Ahura Mazda, came to be personified as an archangel retinue.
- Buddhist philosophy
- Dharma Maharaja
- Dharma transmission
- Fard (Islamic)
- Hindu philosophy
- Ma'at (Egyptian)
- Mitzvah (Jewish)
- Perennial philosophy
- Spontaneous order
- Tao (Chinese)
- Themis (Greek)
- Yuga Dharma
- Murthy, K. Krishna. "Dharma Its Etymology." The Tibet Journal, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring 1966, pp. 84 87.
- Radhakrishnan, S. (1923): "Indian Philosophy Vol.1" (2nd Edition). New Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks (Oxford University Press).
- Hume, R.E.: (1921): "The Thirteen Principal Upanishads" (2nd Edition, Revised). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Easwaran, E. (1987): "The Upanishads" (Seventh Printing). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.
- Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi : "Hindu Dharma: The Universal Way of Life". Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Press.
- S dhus, going beyond the dreadlocks, by Patrick Levy, published by Prakash Books, Delhi, 2010.
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