Dharma (Jainism)

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Jain texts assign a wide range of meaning to the Sanskrit dharma or Prakrit dhamma. It is often translated as “religion” and as such, Jainism is called Jain Dharma by its adherents.

The word Dharma encompasses the following meanings in Jainism:

  1. The true nature of a thing
  2. Rationality of perception, knowledge and conduct
  3. Ten virtues like forgiveness, etc. also called ten forms of Dharma
  4. Ahimsa – protection to all living beings
  5. Two paths – of the monks and the laity
  6. Dharma as a dravya (substance or a reality) (the principle of motion)

The nature of a substance[edit]

According to Jainism, Universe and its constituents are uncreated and everlasting. These constituents behave according to the natural laws and their nature without interference from external entities. Dharma or true religion according to Jainism is vatthu sahāvo dhammo translated as "the intrinsic nature of a substance is its true dharma." Kārtikeyānupreksā (478) explains it as : “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.”[1]

Samyaktva - Rationality of perception, knowledge and conduct[edit]

Main article: Ratnatraya

According to Jainism, Samyak darsana (Rational Perception), Samyak jnana (Rational Knowledge) and Samyak caritra (Rational Conduct) collectively also known as Ratnatraya or the "Three Jewels of Jainism" constitute true Dharma. According to Umasvati, Samyak Darsana, Jnana Caritra together constitutes moksamarga or the path to liberation.[2]

Samyak Darsana or rational perception is the rational faith in the true nature of every substances of the universe.[3] Samyak Jnana or rational knowledge is the right knowledge of true and relevant knowledge of the reality, the tattvas. It incorporates the two principles of Anekantvada or non-absolutism and Syadvada or relativity of truth. Right knowledge must be free from three main defects: doubt, delusion, and indefiniteness. Samyak Caritra or rational conduct is the natural conduct of a (soul) living being. It consists in following austerities, engaging in right activities and observance of vows, carefulness and controls.[4]

Ten Virtues as Dharma[edit]

The following ten virtues constitute true Dharma [5]-

  1. Supreme forgiveness
  2. Supreme humility
  3. Supreme straightforwardness
  4. Supreme truthfulness
  5. Supreme purity
  6. Supreme self-restraint
  7. Supreme penance
  8. Supreme renunciation
  9. Supreme non-possessiveness
  10. Supreme celibacy

Ahimsa as Dharma[edit]

Main article: Ahimsa in Jainism

According to Jain texts, Ahimsa is the greatest Dharma (अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः [ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥ]: "non-violence is the supreme religion") and there is no religion equal to the religion of non-violence.

Two fold path of Ascetics and Laypersons[edit]

Dharma is the twofold path of Sravakadharma i.e. the path for laypersons and Sramanadharma i.e. the path of the ascetics or mendicants.[6][7] Sravakadharma is the religious path for the virtuous householders, where charity and worship are the primary duties. The dharma of a householders consists of observance of twelve vows i.e. five minor vows and seven disciplinary vows. Sramanadharma is the religious path of the virtuous ascetics, where mediatation and study of scriptures is their primary duty. The religion of monks consists of five Mahavratas or great vows. They are endowed with right faith, right knowledge and right conduct and engaged in complete self-restraint and penances.

Dharma-tattva and Dharmastikaya[edit]

Dharma is one of the six substances constituting the universe.[8] These substances are – Dharma (medium of motion), Adharma (medium of rest), Akasa (space), kala (time), Pudgala (matter) and Jiva (soul). Since Dharma as a substance extends and pervades entire universe, it is also known as Dharmastikaya. It helps the matter and souls in movement. It itself is not motion, but is a medium of motion. Adharma is opposite of Dharma i.e. it assists the substances like soul and matter to rest.


  1. ^ Kārtikeyānupreksā
  2. ^ Kuhn, Hermann (2001). Karma, The Mechanism : Create Your Own Fate. Wunstorf, Germany: Crosswind Publishing. ISBN 3-9806211-4-6. 
  3. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh (1998). The Jaina Path of Purification. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1578-5. 
  4. ^ *Varni, Jinendra; Sagarmal Jain (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. T.K. Tukol; K.K. Dixit (trans.). New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti.  Verse 262 - 4
  5. ^ Varni, Jinendra; Sagarmal Jain (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. T.K. Tukol; K.K. Dixit (trans.). New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti.  verse 84
  6. ^ Varni, Jinendra; Sagarmal Jain (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. T.K. Tukol; K.K. Dixit (trans.). New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti.  verse 296
  7. ^ Acarya Haribhadra, Dharmabindu
  8. ^ Varni, Jinendra; Sagarmal Jain (1993). Samaṇ Suttaṁ. T.K. Tukol; K.K. Dixit (trans.). New Delhi: Bhagwan Mahavir memorial Samiti.  Verse 624