What is Dharma?
“Dharma is a Sanskrit word derived from the root dhar (Dhri) to uphold, sustain, support, and integrates. The term Dharma denotes ‘that which hold together the different aspects and qualities of an object into a whole.’ (Dharanat Dharmam Ithayahu, Dharmena Vidhritah Prajah.’” -- Swami Chinmayananda
What does Dharma mean?
Dharma is multi-faceted and has many meanings. I will touch on two aspects, on the absolute level and on the personal level.
At the highest level
Fundamentally, Dharma permeates all of creation as the natural order of things.
It is the eternal cosmic law which doesn’t change with time, place or causality, that is Satya (truth). That is different from man-made rules that do change.
Dharma is the innate nature of all animate and inanimate objects without which they cannot retain their independent existence. Dharma is the ‘Law of Being’ meaning, ‘that which makes a thing or being what it is’. So Dharm of fire is to burn, the sun to shine, tigers to kill and eat other animals.
Dharma is also the expression of Satya which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it, in Vedic terms it is called ‘Rta’. It supports the symphony in the universe. The laws of nature were created along with creation, a package deal to hold creation together and keep it moving through the cycle of time. That’s why the symbol for Dharma is a giant wheel with spokes. This giant wheel is turning, as everything in creation is rotating, changing, yet connected through the center that doesn’t change.
Dharma is loosely tied nowadays with Religion. Though religion is a part of Dharma (the whole), Dharma is not religion.
At the individual level
"Dharm is to protect, sustain, establish, and serve the eternal, Sanatan, laws of nature, which is to enhance each other towards growth, glory, and grace for universal peace and bliss by following the path of Truth, Love, Karm, and Light” -- Meena Om
At this level Dharma is dependent on time, place and context.
Man is unique in that he has a choice to follow or not follow Dharma unlike other creatures that live within the boundaries of natural law. For example an animal will eat only till the stomach is full, but man can, and often does, choose to over eat. So man needs to make wise choices and when he chooses the path of Dharma he will be happy in the long run. One of the aphorisms of Chanakya, the brilliant Guru of the King Chandra Gupta, is:
“Sukhasya moolam Dharmah”
This means, the basis of “sukha” or all true pleasantness is “dharma” or righteous conduct.
Dharma is the principles on which we should base our actions (Karma) and worship (Upasana). This is what Sri Krishna taught Arjun in the Gita. That is why in the line of the four pursuits in life: Dharma, Arth (material security), Kama (desires), Moksha (liberation); Dharma comes first and forms the basis of the other three. Ved Vyas exclaimed, "With uplifted arms I cry but no one listens to me, from dharma spring Artha and Kama. Why is Dharma then not practiced?”
There are ten manifestations of Dharma:
There are ten manifestations of Dharma:
"Dhritih kshama damo asteyam shaucham-indriya nigrahah.
Dhi vidya satyam-akrodho dashakam dharma lakshanam"
(Manu Smriti, Ch.VI-92)
Translation: Patience, Forgiveness, Self-Control, Not Stealing, Purity, Sense Control. Intellect, Knowledge, Truth, Absence of Anger.
What does Dharma mean for you and me?
Now let me tell you something interesting, a case of synchronicity. I had decided to write an article on Dharma yesterday, because my book, “Eternal Way to Bliss” talks about Dharma as in the Bhagavat Gita. Today while attending a discourse on the Ramayana by Swami Tejomayananda-ji (Chinmaya Mission) in Palo Alto, CA, the first topic Swamiji brought up was Dharma! So here’s how he explained it.
When we try to please ourselves or others we tend to compromise on our values. However; we should choose the right thing to do, and that often requires sacrifice. That’s Dharma. Here are a few meanings of Dharma:
- The absolute meaning as mentioned
above is that which integrates, upholds, sustains. Adharma,
unrighteousness, is that which divides, disintegrates, and creates
- It brings integrity within
us – the integration of mind and intellect. Even though we know what’s the
right thing to do we often do the opposite. This creates problems. That
which integrates the family is Dharma, and that which divides the family
is Adharma. That is Dharma which integrates the community, the world. That
which leads to prosperity as well as peace and happiness is in line with
Dharma. If there’s only prosperity, comfort, power without peace and
happiness, then it will lead to problems.
- When something brings faith
and devotion in the divine, know that to be in accordance with Dharma.
If you protect Dharma then Dharma will protect you. Like the law of the land protects one who abides by law.
How do you determine what is Dharma, what is right at a certain time and in a particular situation?
What is said in the ancient scriptures is Dharma. If you haven’t read them then learn them from the learned and the wise. Also, listen to your conscience it will tell you on whether something is right or wrong. While the scriptures such as the Vedas and the Bhagavat Gita instruct and teach us on Dharma, the Ramayana demonstrates the application of Dharma.
I am grateful to have received this knowledge first hand from Swami Tejomayananda-ji.
Dharma as Purpose of Life
Dharma on the individual level means ‘Purpose of Life.’ Living our personal Dharma means to act in harmony with one’s purpose in life. It is to be that which you intrinsically are, to do that which the universe calls on you to do, so you are aligned with the universal principle. Isn’t that beautiful?
“Everyone has a purpose in life . . . a unique gift or special talent to give to others. And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, we experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, which is the ultimate goal of all goals.” -- Deepak Chopra
So that’s two things. One is that everyone has a unique talent, something that comes naturally to them. We are here in this life to find out what our own special gifts are. Second is to serve the world and others using your own unique talents, strengths, and gifts. There’s one more aspect, the ultimate purpose of life is to realize your own true nature that is existence, consciousness and bliss. It is the liberation from bondage to the miseries that come from identifying with the wrong nature. You need to align with your true nature.
What is the purpose of my life?
If you had to choose what you would do in your life, regardless of money and salary, what would it be?
Those who are already doing what they love are very lucky. Of course it can also be done in addition to earning a living. For those who aren't, take that first step, move in that direction and see what fulfillment it brings you. Just do it. Make it happen. It's never too late to start.
Know your nature, your unique talents and personality. Some are natural scholars, leaders, traders, or born to be an architect, surgeon, a sport star, or join the army, be a talented singers. Some have come to teach meditation, and so on. Each one has a unique role we have come to play in this this theater. Amazingly we may have played this role over several life times, because it's the nature of our individual soul, our core competency. In addition to the role we play here, the ultimate purpose of life for all of us is Moksha (enlightenment).
It's a tragedy to end life without finding this fulfillment, without knowing and living your Dharma. It's a tragedy not to start doing what you're here to do once you gain a vision of what it is.
Pursuits not in line with your SwaDharma, your nature, your purpose for being here, will not bear fruit, will not bring fulfillment, even if they bring material success.
The moment you gain a clear vision of your purpose and align with it, the forces of nature will flow through, and support you. Dharma will do the work for you, and you will not be the doer. Life will become self-organizing, self-actualizing and finally you'll find fulfillment. Isn't that what you want? You will smile a true smile, and know true happiness. Life will become a dance, a celebration. You will sing from your heart. The sun, moon, and creation will celebrate your presence!
So ask yourself, "Why am I here?"
- Dharma fundamentally is
that which upholds, sustains, supports and integrates. Adharma is that
which does not. When we do things to please ourselves or others we
compromise on Dharma.
- We have a choice to either
compromise or sacrifice to do what’s right. Dharma is that which brings
integrity in us, keeps the family together and brings unity in the community.
It is that which brings devotion and all three: prosperity, peace and
- Our innate nature is our
personal Dharma. It is the role our individual soul has come to play in
this world. It is important to know what makes us unique, our talents. We
have come to serve others and serve nature with our special gifts. This
- The ultimate purpose of
human life is to gain liberation.
Vinita Dubey Pande has recently published a book, “Eternal Way to Bliss”, subtitle, “Kesari’s Quest for Answers, Solutions and Meaning”. It has the same core theme as the Bhagavat Gita.
Vinita was born in Kanpur, India. She has lived in and traveled to several cities around the world. Her family lived in Zambia (Africa) for many years. She went to boarding school at St. Mary's, Nainital, India and then college in the US. Although her day time job is in the IT industry, her passions are; studying religions, quantum physics, spirituality, and well-being. She has been learning these for the last 25 years. She conducts workshops on yoga, meditation, and spirituality. Vinita is also enthusiastic about volunteering and has been involved in several service projects for non-profit organizations. She lives in the Silicon Valley with her husband and two sons.