The word, ‘Dharma’ originates from the Sanskrit word ‘Dhri’ that stands for ‘to hold,’ ‘to preserve,’ and ‘to maintain.’ Basically, dharma is defined as duty, good works, religious merit, morality, and justice by Monier-Williams in a Sanskrit-English dictionary. All religions, whether it’s Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism provide a primary position to dharma in their religion.
Dharma in Hinduism
According to Hinduism, dharma is an ideology of this universe and a code of living that demonstrates the basic principles of traditions, laws, duties, virtues, rights, and conduct. In the ancient Hinduism or early Vedas, dharma was referred to the cosmicism (cosmic law), which introduced the ordered universe from chaos.
Later, it was implemented in several other contexts such as ways of living and human behaviors that prevent nature, society, and families from descending into chaos. This comprised the concepts of customs, rights, duties, and appropriate behavior.
Dharma as the Foundation of Life
In Hinduism, dharma influences the perspective of people towards viewing and living their lives. The very act of living is considered as an opportunity or an obligatory duty to accomplish the purpose of creation by participating in eternal religious duties (dharma) of God. Indian tradition specifies that dharma is the major goal of human life (Purusharthas). It is the base upon which an individual develops the discretion and wisdom to pursue happiness (Kama) and wealth (Artha) without sacrificing liberation (Moksha).
Four Types of Dharma
- Varna Dharma (Social Dharma): Involves occupations, responsibilities, and duties that people fulfill in the nation, communities, and families.
- Rita Dharma (Universal, cosmic law): Controls everything from motions of galaxies to subatomic properties.
- Sva-dharma (Self-dharma): It represents the sum of all karmas of a person’s life, molded by his personality, tendencies, experiences, and desires. It means one’s path one follows.
- Ashrama Dharma (Human Law): It’s a natural expression and progression of human body, feelings, soul, and mind throughout varying life’s stages including righteousness, pleasure, wealth, and liberation.
In Indian culture, dharma has several meanings and connotations but at the most basic level, it defines the propensity and natural activities of an individual. Hence, every human being needs to practice dharma to qualify for further advancements and attain moksha (liberation) in life.
Summary: According to Hinduism, Dharma means religion, morality, virtue, duty, and power that upholds and sustain the universe and society. It is a basic principle that every person needs to practice to attain self-realization and liberation.