What Is Dharma

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We will try to understand the meaning of the word 'dharma'. Originally, this is a Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from the stem or root.

The word 'dharma' is derived from the root dhri, which means to hold, to keep, or to maintain. So, what which holds, keeps or maintains is dharma. Dharma maintains, keeps, or holds the very basis of this universe, the cosmic order. In that sense, dharma means the proper functioning of the various cyclical activities of this universe that maintain its balance.

Dharma also means righteousness since it enables one to be closer to the truth, which maintains the cosmic order, also called rta. So, for an individual, sva-dharma, one's own dharma, would mean that which one has to do because of one's committing to it or because of one's station in life.

Dharma can also mean the faith and tradition of people because these traditions have been conceived and strengthened by the meditations and realizations of rishis. These traditions are eternal and that is why the name Sanatana Dharma. Dharma should not be confused with the English 'word' religion. Religion generally means a group bound by its belief systems.

The word 'dharma' cannot be translated into any single word in English, and has multiple meanings. Another meaning is property, attribute, or nature. Another meaning is property, attribute, or nature. So, if one says that fluidity is the dharma of water, it means that fluidity is the property of water. Dharma could also the intrinsic nature of a thing or person. For instance, it is the dharma of fire to burn.

Another meaning of dharma is social code or law. Since these laws are considered to be the basis of social fabric, they are called dharma. Several such social codes exist like the Manu Smriti and Yajnavalkya Smriti. Dharma can also mean any rule, decree, ordinance, or statue. The decree of the government or the king could be called raja-dharma.

In Buddhism, dharma has the additional meaning of the teachings of Gautama Buddha. Some traditions also use the word to mean the commentaries or interpretations of Buddha's teachings. The word 'dharma' also means virtue as found in many texts. The word 'dharma' also means virtue as found in many texts. Jainism uses the word 'dharma' to represent the teachings of the Jain prophets. In Jain philosophy, the word 'dharma' has a special meaning of the principle of motion, which is a sub-category of the non-soul, ajiva.

The concept of dharma in the sense of a cosmic harmony has been denoted in various symbols like the Dharma Chakra or the wheel of dharma, which finds place in the Ashoka Chakra depicted in the Indian national flag and also in the Indian national emblem.

In essence, dharma is something that has to be practiced according to the Indian tradition. The Upanishads exhort one to practice dharma and speak the truth. And in this sense, which has to be considered as the main meaning of the word, dharna meaning harmony through the practice of righteousness and many other similar virtues.

Also read
1. Towards a Dharma a based economy
2. Gandhi, Ahimsa and Christianity

This article was first published in the March 2017 issue of the Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata (www.advaitaashrama.org). I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. You can subscribe online at www.advaitaashrama.org. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To know more http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription