Dharma – Everything that is there to know about!

If there is one word in “Sanskrit” that pervades the entire physical & material universe on one side – and also the universe of Life & Spirit on the other side – it is “Dharma”. It is used very colloquially on one side by all and sundry – as much as with extreme poignancy and significance by the very learned to explain the esoteric truths of God’s creations.

Let us look at the Indian mythological connection to this word and I quote ….

Dharma: An ancient “Hindu Sage” – a Rishi, who married thirteen of Daksha‘s daughters. According to the Mahabharata, Daksha sprang from the right thumb of Brahma, and his wife from that god’s left thumb. Their numerous progeny, transparently personifications of virtues and religious rites, were married to – “Dharma” (meaning moral duty in Sanskrit); to Kashyapa – another ancient sage and the grandfather of Manu, the progenitor of mankind;  and to Soma – the king of the Brahmins and  the guardians of sacrifices.  Dharma in Hindu religion is the doctrine of the duties and rights of each caste in the ideal society, and as such the mirror of all moral action.

Now we look at the religious interpretations and I quote ….

The Hindu understanding of the word “dharma” is difficult to translate. Roughly, it refers to the order of the world and the moral behavior of those in it. But that doesn’t really capture its all-encompassing meaning. Hinduism is very comfortable with things that really can’t be pinned down with a concise definition. After all, creation came before language, so it is only logical to think there are limitations in expression. Dharma includes all that there is, so it naturally follows that the basic concept of the word has fuzzy outer edges that can’t quite be contained by scientific categories.

In Buddhism, however, the word is easier to grasp. The Buddha used the word to refer to the doctrine he taught, beginning with the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, and the Middle Way.

Hinduism & Buddhism

  1. The principle or law that orders the universe.
  2. Individual conduct in conformity with this principle.
  3. The essential function or nature of a thing.

Hinduism. Individual obligation with respect to caste, social custom, civil law, and sacred law.


  1. The body of teachings expounded by the Buddha.
  2. Knowledge of or duty to undertake conduct set forth by the Buddha as a way to enlightenment.
  3. One of the basic, minute elements from which all things are made.

1. Duty; right behavior.
2. Law, especially the eternal law of the cosmos.
3. Religion.

Dharma is etymologically derived from the Sanskrit root dhṛ meaning to bear or support. It is a term of great significance with three main meanings. First, it refers to the natural order or universal law that underpins the operation of the universe in both the physical and moral spheres. Secondly, it denotes the totality of Buddhist teachings, since these are thought to accurately describe and explain the underlying universal law so that individuals may live in harmony with it. It is in this sense that it occurs as one of the ‘three jewels’ and the ‘three refuges’, along with the Buddha and the Sangha. Thirdly, it is used in the Abhidharma system of taxonomy to refer to the individual elements that collectively constitute the empirical world. Some of these elements (dharmas) are external to the perceiver and others are internal psychological processes and traits of character. It is in this context that the Madhyamika school denied the substantial reality of dharmas, claiming that all phenomena were ‘empty’ (śūnya) of any substantial reality. From Sanskrit dharma (law, custom, duty). Ultimately from Indo-European root Dhar (to hold firmly or support) that is also the source of firm, affirm, confirm, farm, fermata, and firmament


“The most important pedagogic dharma that should guide the teacher in such a situation is that he should not hastily jump to the conclusion that his learners are unfit, dull, stupid, lacking in motivation, can never be made to learn and so on.” — Dr. Aruna Chalam Angappan; the Teacher’s Handicap, the Learners’ Advantage; Yemen Times; Jan 9, 2006.

In Hinduism, the religious and moral law governing individual and group conduct. It is treated in the dharmasutras, the oldest collection of Hindu laws, and in the compilations of law and custom called the dharmashastras. In Buddhism, dharma is the universal truth common to all individuals at all times, and it is regarded as one of the primary sources of Buddhist doctrine and practice. In Jainism, dharma signifies moral virtue as well as the eternal life force.

Philosophically looking ….

Dharma: (Sanskrit = Carrying or Holding) In Buddhism, the factors of existence. Originally not so much an ethical concept as one of cosmological theory, dharma bears some relationship to the Greek logos, meaning the principle or law governing the universe, and in particular the cycles of rebirth. It became associated with the teachings of the Buddha and the sphere of temporal (non-religious) duty and custom and from here is extended to cover aspects of character that make up a personality. As in the ethics of Kant, it is also associated with concern for others as extensions of oneself. This ethical notion of dharma is prominent in the Buddhist contribution to Hindu thought.

Western understanding of Dharma ….

Dharma: In Hinduism, dharma is the doctrine of the religious and moral rights and duties of each individual; it generally refers to religious duty, but may also mean social order, right conduct, or simply virtue. Sacred law is the codification of dharma, and Hinduism itself is also called Sanatana Dharma [the eternal dharma]. In Buddhism, dharma has two distinct meanings: it refers to religious truth, namely Buddhist teaching as the highest truth; it is also used as a technical term to denote a constituent element of experience, or any existing thing or phenomenon. is a multivalent term of great importance in Indian philosophy and religions. In a Hindu context, it means one’s righteous duty, and a Hindu’s dharma is affected by a person’s age, class, occupation, and gender. In modern Indian languages it can be equivalent simply to religion, depending on context. The word dharma translates as that which upholds or supports, and is generally translated into English as law.

According to the various Indian religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, beings that live in accordance with Dharma proceed more quickly toward Dharma Yugam, 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 however pertains to two principal ideals: that social life should be structured through well-defined and well-regulated classes (Varnas), and that an individual’s life within a class should be organized into defined stages (Aashramas).

Dharma also refers to the teachings and doctrines of the founders of Buddhism and Jainism, the Buddha and Mahavira. In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma or dharma is also the term for Phenomenon.

To simplify all the above to bring it into the realm of understanding of common man …

Dharma = The original all encompassing and governing law to be voluntarily obeyed by all –ie- anything & everything created by God in all universes! The violation of this law is what leads to the consequences dictated by another law called “Karma” at least on planet earth!

M. S.  Raghavan Ayyangar.


About MSR

I am a Healthcare products manufacturer & exporter and also a healthcare counselor. The areas of my interest include Spirituality, Philosophy, Science, Engineering, Humanities, History and Sports.

Posted on May 29, 2010, in Ethics, Politics and Justice, Miscellaneous, Religion and Spirituality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have been asked to clarify my summary at the end of my blog on Dharma – as it sounds too complicated to understand – thus failing in its purpose. I apologize for the same and clarify as follows.

    Dharma = The way anything “IS” = The way it should “BE” = The way it should “DO”
    Karma = Consequences of “Being & Doing” now, reflecting & influencing in the future.

    MSR Ayyangar

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