This entry is part 9 of 19 in the series Understanding Buddhism

What is dharma? How is it relevant in today’s world? There is a saying that common sense is uncommon these days. This dictum is true in today’s world. Human beings do not seem to possess the added virtue of common sense. They should be ashamed to call themselves the most intelligent living beings on earth. They are animals or even worse than them.

Human beings are guilty of crimes like killing innocents mindlessly under the garb of religion, using natural resources excessively, cutting trees and clearing forests to feed their greed and so on. All this has brought human beings on the verge of extinction. If only they had looked seriously into themselves, they would have found the solution to living a healthy, happy and harmonious life.

Earth would have been like heaven. The vital essence of all of the above is Dharma. It is present in all the major religions practiced the world over. What is Dharma? The term is derived from Sanskrit. “Dhr” means to sustain, bear, carry or hold up. The term Dharma implies that which sustains or upholds the universe.

For example, human society is held and sustained by Dharma as performed by members of the society. Dhar means to “uphold”. Rules of ethics, customs and order have to be adhered to in order to maintain discipline in society. The Upanishads propagate that Dharma is the knowledge of how to attain salvation. Vedic scriptures explain Dharma as the universal law of nature. Its observance helps humans to become happy and contented. It saves them from suffering and degradation. Dharma is spiritual discipline combined with moral law. It gives guidance on how one should live one’s life. The Atharva Veda describes this concept as the world being upheld by Dharma.

Dharma is a concept that helps living beings to realize God. Anything that stops living beings from realizing God is Adharma. The Bhagvat Purana says that righteous living is living life on the path of Dharma. This has four aspects: truthfulness (satya), compassion (daya), purity (shauch) and austerity (tap).  Unrighteous or adharmic life has the vices of intoxication (madya), contact (sangh) and pride (ahankar). Manu was an ancient sage. He wrote Manusmriti.

It talks about 10 important rules that help to observe Dharma:

  • absence of anger (krodha)
  • truthfulness (satya)
  • learning or knowledge (vidya)
  • reason (dhi)
  • control of the senses (indraiya-nigrah)
  • sanctity (shauch)
  • honesty (asteya)
  • self-control or piety (dama)
  • forgiveness (kshama)
  • and patience (dhriti)

The essence of dharma is controlling the senses, pure mind and body, non-coveting, truth and nonviolence.

The laws of dharma govern individuals as well as the society. Every religion speaks the same way. Dharma tries to forge a union between supreme reality and the soul. It recommends a code of conduct intended to help individuals to gain supreme happiness as well as worldly joys. Dharma is a common term in the East. In the West it is known by the terms of purity, righteousness, virtue, ethics and morality. Unfortunately, these terms are looked upon as unfashionable nowadays.

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