In Hinduism, dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with the natural order.[note 1] In Buddhism dharma means "cosmic law and order", but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomena".[note 2] In Jainism dharma refers to the teachings of the Jinas and the body of doctrine pertaining to the purification and moral transformation of human beings. For Sikhs, the word Dharm means the "path of righteousness".
The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep".[note 3] The word "dharma" was already in use in the historical Vedic religion, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta. In the modern Indo-Aryan languages, the word dharma often is used to just mean "religion".[note 4]
The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep",[note 3] and takes a meaning of "what is established or firm", and hence "law". It is derived from an older Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of "bearer, supporter", in a religious sense conceived as an aspect of Rta.
In the Rigveda, the word appears as an n-stem, dhárman-, with a range of meanings encompassing "something established or firm" (in the literal sense of prods or poles). Figuratively, it means "sustainer" and "supporter" (of deities). It is semantically similar to the Greek ethos ("fixed decree, statute, law"). In Classical Sanskrit, the noun becomes thematic: dharma-.
The word dharma derives from the Proto-Indo-Iranian root *dhar- ("to fasten, to support, to hold"), in turn reflecting Proto-Indo-European root *dʰer- ("to hold"), which in Sanskrit is reflected as class-1 root √dhṛ. Etymologically it is related to Avestan √dar- ("to hold"), Old Persian √dar- ("to hold, have"), Latin frēnum ("rein, horse tack"), Lithuanian derė́ti ("to be suited, fit"), Lithuanian dermė (agreement), darna ("harmony") and Old Church Slavonic drъžati ("to hold, possess"). Classical Sanskrit word dharmas would formally match with Latin o-stem firmus *Proto-Indo-European *dʰer-mo-s "holding", were it not for its historical development from earlier Rigvedic n-stem.
In Classical Sanskrit, and in the Vedic Sanskrit of the Atharvaveda, the stem is thematic: dhárma- (Devanāgarī: धर्म). In Pāli, it is rendered dhamma. In contemporary Indian languages and dialects it alternately occurs as dharm.
Definition and meaning
Dharma is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. It has multiple meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. 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.
The word "dharma" was already in use in the historical Vedic religion, where it was conceived as an aspect of Rta. Ethics in the Vedas are based on the concepts of Satya and Rta. Satya is the principle of integration rooted in the Absolute, whereas Ṛta is the expression of Satya, which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Conformity with Ṛta would enable progress whereas its violation would lead to punishment. The following verse from the Rigveda is an example where rta is mentioned:
O Indra, lead us on the path of Rta, on the right path over all evils—RV 10.133.6
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. Dharma may encompass ideas such as duty, vocation, religion and all behaviour considered appropriate, correct or morally upright.
In technical literature, e.g., in Sanskrit grammar, dharma also means "property" and dharmin means "property-bearer". In a Sanskrit sentence like shabdo 'nityaḥ, "sound is impermanent", "sound" is the bearer of the property "impermanence". Likewise, in the sentence iha ghataḥ, "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.
The antonym of dharma is adharma, meaning unnatural or immoral.
The notion of dharma as duty or propriety is found in India's ancient legal and religious texts, which describe a divinely instituted natural order (rta). Justice, social harmony, and happiness require people to live discerning lives in accordance with that order. The Dharmashastra is a consolidated record of these guidelines and rules. In these texts, civil law is inextricably linked to the sacred (cf. Confucianism). The Shastras include instructions on the correct way to perform religious rites and rituals, as well as the way to lead a morally pure life.
In Buddhism and Jainism, dharma refers to the teachings and doctrines of the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, the Buddha and Mahavira. In Hinduism, it means the religious and moral Law or Natural Law governing the conduct of the individual and of the group . Dharma signifies behaviours that are considered to be in accord with this natural order.[note 1]
In traditional Hindu society, dharma has historically included such phenomena as Vedic ritual (yajna), ethical conduct, behaviour and duties appropriate to one's caste, and civil and criminal law. Its most common meaning, however, pertained to two principal ideas: that social life should be structured through well-defined and well-regulated classes ((varna) castes), and that an individual's life within that class should be organized into defined stages known as (ashrama). A Hindu's dharma is therefore affected by age, caste, occupation, and gender.
In the modern Indo-Aryan languages, the word dharma often is used to just mean "religion" (i.e. "any of the world religions"). Thus, Hindustani dharm (Hindi धर्म, Urdu دھرم) takes this meaning, combining to ईसाई धर्म "Christianity", मुस्लिम धर्म "Islam", सिख धर्म "Sikhism", हिन्दू धर्म "Hinduism" etc.
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The transition of the ṛta to the modern idea of dharma occurs in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad. The Upanishads saw dharma as the universal principle of law, order, harmony, and 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 Rigveda that "Ekam Sat," (Truth Is One), and of the idea that Brahman is "sat-cit-ānanda" (Truth-Consciousness-Bliss). To believers, dharma is not just law, or harmony, it is pure reality. In the Brihadaranyaka's own words:
Verily, that which is Dharma is truth.
Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, "He speaks the Dharma,"Verily, both these things are the same.
or of a man who speaks the Dharma, "He speaks the Truth."—Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14
Through the four āśramas, or stages of life (brahmacārya, gṛhastha, vānprastha, sannyāsa), a person also seeks to fulfill the four essentials (puruṣārtha) of kāma (sensual pleasures), artha (worldly gain), dharma, and mokṣa (liberation from rebirth). Mokṣa, although the ultimate goal, is emphasized more in the last two stages of life, while artha and kāma are considered primary only during gṛhastha. Dharma appropriate to one caste was considered essential in all four stages to those under Brahmanic influence, however, it was not a universal lawfulness as it did not apply to mlecchas, foreigners and other non-aryans.
As a puruṣārtha, as a human goal, dharma can be thought of as a way for Hindus to plan and perform their interactions with the world. With dharma in mind, the individual does what is right and avoids what is wrong. With kāma in mind, one does what is pleasurable. With artha in mind, one does what is profitable. With mokṣa in mind, one seeks liberation from the world of saṃsāra.
In Indian epic and myth, Yama the lord of justice, also the god responsible for the dead, is sometimes referred to as Dharma. Mythologically, he is said to have been born from the right breast of Brahma, is married to 13 daughters of Dakṣa and fathers Śama, Kāma and Harṣa.
In the epic Mahābhārata, he is incarnate as Vidura. Also, Dharma or Yama is invoked by Kunti and she begets her eldest son Yudhisthira from him. Yudhisthira is also known as Dharmaraja, or king of dharma.
The centrality of dharma within the Indian mindset is is illustrated by the decision in 1947 to include the symbol of the dharma, the dharmacakra, as the central motif in the flag of newly independent India.
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The old Indian term dharma was retained by the Buddha to refer to phenomena or things. However, he was always careful to define this dharma as "dependently arisen phenomena" (paticca-samuppanna-dhamma) ... In order to distinguish this notion of dhamma from the Indian conception where the term dharma meant reality (atman), in an ontological sense, the Buddha utilized the conception of result or consequence or fruit (attha, Sk. artha) to bring out the pragmatic meaning of dhamma.
Nastika dharma is referred to in the Mahabharata as more attached to Buddhist practice which draws upon the principles and disciplines of yoga to encourage equality and harmony among people, which promotes altruism.
In East Asia, the translation for dharma is 法, pronounced fǎ in Mandarin, beop in Korean, hō in Japanese, and pháp 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.
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 Nāgārjuna 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):
śūnyeṣu sarvadharmeṣu kim anantaṁ kimantavat
kim anantam antavac ca nānantaṁ nāntavacca kiṁThere is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever, whenever, wherever.
kiṁ tad eva kim anyat kiṁ śāśvataṁ kim aśāśvataṁ
aśāśvataṁ śāśvataṁ ca kiṁ vā nobhayam apyataḥ 'tha
sarvopalambhpaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ
na kvacit kasyacit kaścid dharmo buddhena deśitaḥ
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;—Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, nirvṇānaparīkṣā, 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.
East Asian Buddhism
In Jainism dharma refers to the teachinhs of the Jinas 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 (c. 6th–7th centuries) discusses dharma in Dharma-Bindu. He writes (Translation by Y. Malaiya): soayam-anuṣṭhātṛ-bhedāt dvi-vidho
gṛhastha-dharmo yati-dharmaś ca |
Because of the difference in practice, dharma is of two kinds, for the householders and for the monks.
tatra gṛhastha-dharmo api dvi-vidhaḥ
sāmanyato viśeṣataś ca |
Of the householder's dharma, there are two kinds, "ordinary" and "special"
tatra sāmanayato gṛhastha-dharmaḥ kula-krama-agatam-anindyaṃ
vibhavady-apekshayā nyāto anuṣṭhānaṃ |
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 century) terms the "ordinary" and "special" dharmas laukika ("worldly") and pralaukika ("extra-worldly") respectively:
dvau hi dharmau gṛhasthāṇam, laukikaḥ, pāralaukikaḥ |
lokāśrayo bhavedādyah, parah syād-āgama-āśrayaḥ ||
A householder follows both laukika and the paralaukika dharmas at the same time.
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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. The Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs rejects the Hindu systems of Dharma and Karma. 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 Sanchar, a 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 recorded in this quote:
|“||Day and night are the two distracting but fascinating nurses, in whose lap all the world forgetting reality 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. Those who have pondered on the Name have earned Merit through hard endeavor. Nanak, their faces radiant with Divine Light, many shall be emancipated in company with them."||”|
- 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."
- The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: "In Hinduism, dharma is a fundamental concept, referring to the order and custom which make life and a universe possible, and thus to the behaviours appropriate to the maintenance of that order."
- David Kalupahana: "The old Indian term dharma was retained by the Buddha to refer to phenomena or things. However, he was always careful to define this dharma as "dependently arisen phenomena" (paticca-samuppanna-dhamma) ... In order to distinguish this notion of dhamma from the Indian conception where the term dharma meant reality (atman), in an ontological sense, the Buddha utilized the conception of result or consequence or fruit (attha, Sk. artha) to bring out the pragmatic meaning of dhamma."
- Monier Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899): "to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve, keep , possess , have , use , employ , practise , undergo"
- "any of the world religions").
- Encyclopedia Britannica, Dharma
- The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Dharma
- David Kalupahana. The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY Press, 1986, pages 15–16
- Day 1982, p. 42-45.
- Mittal 2003, p. 103.
- Monier Willams
- Brereton, Joel P. (2004). "Dhárman in the Ṛgveda". Journal of Indian Philosophy 32: 449–89. doi:10.1007/s10781-004-8631-8.
- Rix, Helmut, ed. (2001). Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben (in German) (2nd ed.). Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag. p. 145.
- Karl Brugmann, Elements of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic languages, Volume III, B. Westermann & Co., New York, 1892, p 100
- Dhand, Arti (Fall2002). "The Dharma of Ethics, the Ethics of Dharma : Quizzing the Ideals of Hinduism". Journal Of Religious Ethics 30 (3): 351.
- Krishnananda. Swami. A Short History of Religious and Philosophic Thought in India, Divine Life Society. p. 21
- Holdrege (2004:215)
- "...the order and custom which make life and a universe possible, and thus to the behaviours appropriate to the maintenance of that order." citation in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
- Carol Henderson Garcia Culture and customs of India. 2002, page 31
- Gächter, Othmar (1998,). "Anthropos". Anthropos institute.
- Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2007
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- Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.
- धर्म Bahri, Hardev (1989), Learners' Hindi-English dictionary, Delhi: Rajpal & Sons: "धर्म dharma mc (a) faith, religion [ईसाई Christian, मुस्लिम Muslim, सिख Sikh, हिन्दू Hindu] [...] (b) virtue, righteousness [...] (c) duty [...] [syn. कर्तव्य]"
- Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. Bellah, Robert N.. Harvard University Press, 2011. ISBN 0674061438
- The Mahābhārata: Book 11: The Book of the Venus Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1 By Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen, James L. Fitzgerald pg.124
- The Mahābhārata: Book 11: The Book of the Women Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1 By Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen, James L. Fitzgerald pg.124
- Baltutis, Michael (2011). "http://search.proquest.com.authenticate.library.duq.edu/religion/docview/875498797/139606AC4AC2FEA7285/7?accountid=10610". International Journal of Hindu Studies. 1 15: 55–100. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
- "Sri Guru Granth Sahib". Sri Granth. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
- Guru Granth Sahib Japji page 8, Salok.
- Guru Granth Sahib page 38
- Guru Granth Sahib page 78
- Day, Terence P. (1982), The Conception of Punishment in Early Indian Literature, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, ISBN 0-919812-15-5
- Murthy, K. Krishna. "Dharma – Its Etymology." The Tibet Journal, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring 1966, pp. 84–87.
- Olivelle, Patrick (2009). Dharma: Studies in Its Semantic, Cultural and Religious History. Delhi: MLBD. ISBN 978-8120833388.
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