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A havan ceremony on the banks of Ganges, Muni ki Reti, Rishikesh.jpg
Rituals and rites of passage[1]
Yoga Meditation Pos-410px.png
Yoga, personal behaviors[2]
Virtues such as Ahimsa (non-violence)[3]
Balanced scales.svg
Law and justice[4]
Raja Ravi Varma - Sankaracharya.jpg
Sannyasa and stages of life[5]
Dharma Wheel.svg
Duties, such as learning from teachers[6]
Dharma has multiple meanings.[7] Above are few examples.

Dharma ([dʱəɾmə]; Sanskrit: धर्म dharma, <phonos file="Dharma.ogg">listen</phonos>; Pali: धम्म dhamma; Kannada ಧರ್ಮ; Tamil: அறம் Aram; Telugu: ధర్మం) is a key concept with multiple meanings in the Indian religions Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism.[8] There is no single word translation for dharma in western languages.[9]

In Hinduism, dharma signifies behaviors that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible,[10][note 1] and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ‘‘right way of living’’.[7] In Buddhism dharma means "cosmic law and order",[10] but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha.[10] In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomena".[11][note 2] Dharma in Jainism refers to the teachings of tirthankara (Jina)[10] and the body of doctrine pertaining to the purification and moral transformation of human beings. For Sikhs, the word dharm means the "path of righteousness".

The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep".[note 3] The word "dharma" was already in use in the historical Vedic religion, and its meaning and conceptual scope has evolved over several millennia.[12] The antonym of dharma is adharma.


The Classical Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which means "to hold, maintain, keep",[note 3] and takes a meaning of "what is established or firm", and hence "law".[14] It is derived from an older Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of "bearer, supporter", in a religious sense conceived as an aspect of Rta.[15]

In the Rigveda, the word appears as an n-stem, dhárman-, with a range of meanings encompassing "something established or firm" (in the literal sense of prods or poles). Figuratively, it means "sustainer" and "supporter" (of deities). It is semantically similar to the Greek ethos ("fixed decree, statute, law").[16] In Classical Sanskrit, the noun becomes thematic: dharma-.

The word dharma derives from Proto-Indo-European root *dʰer- ("to hold"),[17] which in Sanskrit is reflected as class-1 root √dhṛ. Etymologically it is related to Avestan √dar- ("to hold"), Latin frēnum ("rein, horse tack"), Lithuanian derė́ti ("to be suited, fit"), Lithuanian dermė ("agreement")[18] and darna ("harmony") and Old Church Slavonic drъžati ("to hold, possess"). Classical Sanskrit word dharmas would formally match with Latin o-stem firmus from Proto-Indo-European *dʰer-mo-s "holding", were it not for its historical development from earlier Rigvedic n-stem.

In Classical Sanskrit, and in the Vedic Sanskrit of the Atharvaveda, the stem is thematic: dhárma- (Devanāgarī: धर्म). In Pāli, it is rendered dhamma. In some contemporary Indian languages and dialects it alternatively occurs as dharm.


Dharma is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion.[19] It has multiple meanings in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.[8] It is difficult to provide a single concise definition for dharma, as the word has a long and varied history and straddles a complex set of meanings and interpretations.[20] There is no equivalent single word translation for dharma in western languages.[9]

There have been numerous, conflicting attempts to translate ancient Sanskrit literature with the word dharma into German, English and French. The concept, claims Paul Horsch,[21] has caused exceptional difficulties for modern commentators and translators. For example, while Grassmann[22] translation of Rig-veda identifies seven different meanings of dharma, Karl Friedrich Geldner in his translation of the Rig-veda employs 20 different translations for dharma, including meanings such as ‘law’, ‘order’, ‘duty’, ‘custom’, ‘quality’, ‘model’, among others.[21]

Dharma root is "dhri", which means ‘to support, hold, or bear’. It is the thing that regulates the course of change by not participating in change, but that principle which remains constant.[23] Monier-Williams, the widely cited resource for definitions and explanation of Sanskrit words and concepts of Hinduism, offers[24] numerous definitions of the word dharma: such as that which is established or firm, steadfast decree, statute, law, practice, custom, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, ethics, religion, religious merit, good works, nature, character, quality, property. Yet, each of these definitions is incomplete, while combination of these translations do not convey the total sense of the word. In common parlance, dharma means ‘right way of living’ and ‘path of righteousness’.[23]

The meaning of word “dharma” depends on the context, and its meaning evolved as ideas of Hinduism developed over its long history. In earliest texts and ancient myths of Hinduism, dharma meant cosmic law, the rules that created the universe from chaos, as well as rituals; In later Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and the Epics, the meaning became refined, richer, complex and the word dharma was applied to diverse contexts.[12] In certain contexts, dharma designates human behaviours considered necessary for order of things in the universe, principles that prevent chaos, behaviours and action necessary to all life in nature, society, family as well as at the individual level.[10][12][25][note 1] Dharma encompasses ideas such as duty, rights, character, vocation, religion, customs and all behaviour considered appropriate, correct or morally upright.[26]

The antonym of dharma is adharma (Sanskrit: अधर्मा),[27] meaning that which is “not dharma”. As with dharma, the word adharma includes and implies many ideas; in common parlance, adharma means that which is against nature, immoral, unethical, wrong or unlawful.[28]

In Buddhism, dharma incorporates the teachings and doctrines of the founder of Buddhism, the Buddha.


According to the authoritative book History of Dharmasastra, in the hymns of the Rigveda the word Dharma appears at least fifty-six times, as an adjective or noun. According to Paul Horsch,[21] the word Dharma has its origin in the myths of Vedic Hinduism. The Brahman (whom all the gods make up), claim the hymns of the Rig Veda, created the universe from chaos, they hold (dhar-) the earth and sun and stars apart, they support (dhar-) the sky away and distinct from earth, and they stabilize (dhar-) the quaking mountains and plains.[21][29] The gods, mainly Indra, then deliver and hold order from disorder, harmony from chaos, stability from instability - actions recited in the Veda with the root of word dharma.[12] In hymns composed after the mythological verses, the word dharma takes expanded meaning as a cosmic principle and appears in verses independent of gods. It evolves into a concept, claims Paul Horsch,[21] that has a dynamic functional sense in Atharvaveda for example, where it becomes the cosmic law that links cause and effect through a subject. Dharma, in these ancient texts, also takes a ritual meaning. The ritual is connected to the cosmic, and ‘‘dharmani’’ is equated to ceremonial devotion to the principles that gods used to create order from disorder, the world from chaos.[30] Past the ritual and cosmic sense of dharma that link the current world to mythical universe, the concept extends to ethical-social sense that links human beings to each other and to other life forms. It is here that dharma as a concept of law emerges in Hinduism.[31][32]

Dharma and related words are found in the oldest Vedic literature of Hinduism, in later Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, and the Epics; the word dharma also plays a central role in the literature of other Indian religions founded later, such as Buddhism and Jainism.[12] According to Brereton,[33] Dharman occurs 63 times in Rig-veda; in addition, words related to Dharman also appear in Rig-veda, for example once as dharmakrt, 6 times as satyadharman, and once as dharmavant, 4 times as dharman and twice as dhariman. There is no Iranian equivalent in old Persian for Dharma, suggesting the word dharman had origins in Indo-Aryan culture outside of Persia, or it is a concept that is indigenous to India.[33] However, ideas in parts overlapping to Dharma are found in other ancient cultures: such as Chinese Tao, Egyptian Maat, Sumerian Me.[23]

Eusebeia and dharma

Above rock inscription is from Indian Emperor Asoka, from 258 BC, and found in Afghanistan. The inscription renders the word Dharma in Sanskrit as Eusebeia in Greek, suggesting Dharma in ancient India meant spiritual maturity, devotion, piety, duty towards and reverence for human community.[34]

In mid 20th century, an inscription of the Indian Emperor Asoka from the year 258 BC was discovered in Afghanistan. This rock inscription contained Sanskrit, Aramaic and Greek text. According to Paul Hacker,[34] on the rock appears a Greek rendering for the Sanskrit word dharma: the word eusebeia.[34] Scholars of Hellenistic Greece explain eusebeia as a complex concept. Eusebia means not only to venerate gods, but also spiritual maturity, a reverential attitude toward life, and includes the right conduct toward one’s parents, siblings and children, the right conduct between husband and wife, and the conduct between biologically unrelated people. This rock inscription, concludes Paul Hacker,[34] suggests dharma in India, about 2300 years ago, was a central concept and meant not only religious ideas, but ideas of right, of good, of one’s duty toward the human community.[35]

Rta, Maya and Dharma

The evolving literature of Hinduism linked Dharma to two other important concepts: Ṛta and Māyā. Ṛta in Vedas is the truth and cosmic principle which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it.[36][37] Māyā in Rig-veda and later literature means illusion, fraud, deception, magic that misleads and creates disorder,[38] thus is contrary to reality, laws and rules that establish order, predictability and harmony. Paul Horsch[21] suggests Ṛta and Dharma are parallel concepts, the former being a cosmic principle, the latter being of moral social sphere; while Māyā and Dharma are also analogous concepts, the former being that which corrupts law and moral life, the later being that which strengthens law and moral life.[37][39]

Day proposes Dharma is a manifestation of Ṛta, but suggests Ṛta may have been subsumed into a more complex concept of Dharma, as the idea developed in ancient India over time in a nonlinear manner.[40] The following verse from the Rigveda is an example where rta and dharma are linked:

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O Indra, lead us on the path of Rta, on the right path over all evils

— RV 10.133.6


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Dharma in Hinduism, is an organizing principle that applies to human beings in solitude, in their interaction with human beings and nature, as well as between inanimate objects, to all of cosmos and its parts.[23] It refers to the order and customs which make life and universe possible, and includes behaviors, rituals, rules that govern society, and ethics.[10][note 1] Hindu dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviors that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.[41] Dharma, according to Van Buitenen,[42] is that which all existing beings must accept and respect to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is neither the act nor the result, but the natural laws that guide the act and create the result to prevent chaos in the world. It is innate characteristic, that makes the being what it is. It is, claims Van Buitenen, the pursuit and execution of one’s nature and true calling, thus playing one’s role in cosmic concert. In Hinduism, it is the dharma of the bee to make honey, of cow to give milk, of sun to radiate sunshine, of river to flow.[42] In terms of humanity, dharma is the need for, the effect of and essence of service and interconnectedness of all life.[23][34]

Dharma in Vedas and Upanishads

The history section of this article discusses the development of dharma concept in Vedas. This development continued in the Upanishads and later ancient scripts of Hinduism. In Upanishads, the concept of dharma continues as universal principle of law, order, harmony, and truth. It acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe. It is explained as law of righteousness and equated to satya (Sanskrit: सत्यं, truth),[43][44] in hymn 1.4.14 of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, as follows:

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धर्मः तस्माद्धर्मात् परं नास्त्य् अथो अबलीयान् बलीयाँसमाशँसते धर्मेण यथा राज्ञैवम् ।
यो वै स धर्मः सत्यं वै तत् तस्मात्सत्यं वदन्तमाहुर् धर्मं वदतीति धर्मं वा वदन्तँ सत्यं वदतीत्य् एतद्ध्येवैतदुभयं भवति ।।

Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma"; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.

Dharma in the Epics

The Hindu religion and philosophy, claims Daniel Ingall,[45] places major emphasis on individual practical morality. In the Sanskrit epics, this concern is omnipresent.

In the Second Book of Ramayana, for example, a peasant asks the King to do what dharma morally requires of him, the King agrees and does so even though his compliance with the law of dharma costs him dearly. Similarly, dharma is at the center of all major events in the life of Rama, Sita, and Lakshman in Ramayana, claims Daniel Ingall.[46] Each episode of Ramayana presents life situations and ethical questions in symbolic terms. The issue is debated by the characters, finally the right prevails over wrong, the good over evil. For this reason, in Hindu Epics, the good, morally upright, law abiding king is referred to ‘‘dharmaraja’’.[47]

In Mahabharata, the other major Indian epic, similarly, dharma is central, and it is presented with symbolism and metaphors. Near the end of the epic, the god Yama, referred to as Dharma in the text, is portrayed as taking the form of a dog to test the compassion of Yudishthira, who is told he may not enter paradise with such an animal, but refuses to abandon his companion, for which decision he is then praised by Dharma.[48] The value and appeal of the Mahabharata is not as much in its complex and rushed presentation of metaphysics in the 12th book, claims Ingall,[46] because Indian metaphysics is more eloquently presented in other Sanskrit scriptures; the appeal of Mahabharata, like Ramayana, is in its presentation of a series of moral problems and life situations, to which there are usually three answers given, according to Ingall:[46] one answer is of Bhima, which is the answer of brute force, an individual angle representing materialism, egoism, and self; the second answer is of Yudhishthira, which is always an appeal to piety and gods, of social virtue and of tradition; the third answer is of introspective Arjuna, which falls between the two extremes, and who, claims Ingall, symbolically reveals the finest moral qualities of man. The Epics of Hinduism are a symbolic treatise about life, virtues, customs, morals, ethics, law, and other aspects of Dharma.[49] There is extensive discussion of Dharma at the individual level in the Epics of Hinduism, observes Ingall; for example, on free will versus destiny, when and why human beings believe in either, ultimately concluding that the strong and prosperous naturally uphold free will, while those facing grief or frustration naturally lean towards destiny.[50] The Epics of Hinduism illustrate various aspects of Dharma, they are a means of communicating Dharma with metaphors.[51]

Dharma according to 4th century Vatsyayana

According to Klaus Klostermaier, 4th century Hindu scholar Vātsyāyana explained dharma by contrasting it with adharma.[52] Vātsyāyana suggested that Dharma is not merely in one’s actions, but also in words one speaks or writes, and in thought. According to Vātsyāyana:[52][53]

  1. Adharma of body: himsa (violence), steya (steal, theft), pratisiddha maithuna (sexual indulgence with someone other than one’s partner)
  2. Dharma of body: dana (charity), paritrana (succor of the distressed) and paricarana (rendering service to others)
  3. Adharma from words one speaks or writes: mithya (falsehood), parusa (caustic talk), sucana (calumny) and asambaddha (absurd talk)
  4. Dharma from words one speaks or writes: satya (truth and facts), hitavacana (talking with good intention), priyavacana (gentle, kind talk), svadhyaya (self study)
  5. Adharma of mind: paradroha (ill will to anyone), paradravyabhipsa (covetousness), nastikya (denial of the existence of morals and religiosity)
  6. Dharma of mind: daya (compassion), asprha (disinterestedness), and sraddha (faith in others)

Dharma according to Patanjali Yoga

Dharma is part of yoga, suggests Patanjali; the elements of Hindu Dharma are the attributes, qualities and aspects of yoga.[54] Patanjali explained dharma in two categories: yama (restraints) and niyama (observances).[52]

The five yama, according to Patanjali, are: abstain from injury to all living creatures (ahimsa), abstain from falsehood (satya), abstain from unauthorized appropriation of things-of-value from another (acastrapurvaka), abstain from coveting or sexually cheating on your partner, and abstain from expecting or accepting gifts from others.[55] The five yama apply in action, speech and mind. In explaining yama, Patanjali clarifies that certain professions and situations may require qualification in conduct. For example, a fisherman must injure a fish, but he must attempt to do this with least trauma to fish and the fisherman must try to injure no other creature as he fishes.[56]

The five niyama (observances) are cleanliness by eating pure food and removing impure thoughts (such as arrogance or jealousy or pride), contentment in one’s means, meditation and silent reflection regardless of circumstances one faces, study and pursuit of historic knowledge, and devotion of all actions to the Supreme Teacher to achieve perfection of concentration.[57]

Sources of Dharma

Dharma is an empirical and experiential inquiry for every man and woman, according to some texts of Hinduism.[34][58] For example, Apastamba Dharmasutra states:

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Dharma and Adharma do not go around saying, ‘‘That is us.’’ Neither do gods, nor gandharvas, nor ancestors declare what is Dharma and what is Adharma.

— Apastamba Dharmasutra[59]

In other texts, three sources and means to discover Dharma in Hinduism are described. These, according to Paul Hacker, are:[60] First, learning historical knowledge such as Vedas, Upanishads, the Epics and other Sanskrit literature with the help of one’s teacher. Second, observing the behavior and example of good people. The third source applies when neither one’s education nor example exemplary conduct is known. In this case, ‘‘atmatusti’’ is the source of dharma in Hinduism, that is the good person reflects and follows what satisfies his heart, his own inner feeling, what he feels driven to.[60]

Dharma, life stages and social stratification

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Some texts of Hinduism outline Dharma for society and at the individual level. Of these, the most cited one is Manusmriti, which describes the four Varnas, their rights and duties.[61] Most texts of Hinduism, however, discuss Dharma with no mention of Varna (caste).[62] Other Dharma texts and Smritis differ from Manusmriti on the nature and structure of Varnas.[61] Yet, other texts question the very existence of varna. Bhrigu, in the Epics, for example, presents the theory that dharma does not require any varnas.[63] In practice, medieval India is widely believed to be a socially stratified society, with each social strata inheriting a profession and being endogamous. Varna was not absolute in Hindu Dharma; individuals had the right to renounce and leave their Varna, as well as their asramas of life, in search of moksa.[61][64] While neither Manusmriti nor succeeding Smritis of Hinduism ever use the word varnadharma (that is, the dharma of varnas), or varnasramadharma (that is, the dharma of varnas and asramas), the scholarly commentary on Manusmriti use these words, and thus associate dharma with varna system of India.[61][65] In 6th century India, even Buddhist kings called themselves ‘protectors of varnasramadharma’ - that is, dharma of varna and asramas of life.[61][66]

At the individual level, some texts of Hinduism outline four āśramas, or stages of life as individual’s dharma. These are:[67] (1) brahmacārya, the life of preparation as a student, (2) gṛhastha, the life of the householder with family and other social roles, (3) vānprastha or aranyaka, the life of the forest-dweller, transitioning from worldly occupations to reflection and renunciation, and (4) sannyāsa, the life of giving away all property, becoming a recluse and devotion to moksa, spiritual matters.

The four stages of life complete the four human strivings in life, according to Hinduism.[68] Dharma enables the individual to satisfy the striving for stability and order, a life that is lawful and harmonious, the striving to do the right thing, be good, be virtuous, earn religious merit, be helpful to others, interact successfully with society. The other three strivings are Artha - the striving for means of life such as food, shelter, power, security, material wealth, etc.; Kama - the striving for sex, desire, pleasure, love, emotional fulfillment, etc.; and Moksa - the striving for spiritual meaning, liberation from life-rebirth cycle, self-realization in this life, etc. The four stages are neither independent nor exclusionary in Hindu Dharma.[68]

Dharma and poverty

Dharma while being necessary for individual and society, is dependent on poverty and prosperity in a society, according to Hindu Dharma scriptures. For example, according to Adam Bowles,[69] Shatapatha Brahmana links social prosperity and Dharma through water. Waters come from rains, it claims; when rains are abundant there is prosperity on the earth, and this prosperity enables people to follow Dharma - moral and lawful life. In times of distress, of drought, of poverty, everything suffers including relations between human beings and the human ability to live according to Dharma.[69]

In Rajadharmaparvan 91.34-8, the relationship between poverty and dharma reaches a full circle. A land with less moral and lawful life suffers distress, and as distress rises it causes more immoral and unlawful life, which further increases distress.[69][70] Those in power must follow the raja dharma (that is, dharma of rulers), because this enables the society and the individual to follow dharma and achieve prosperity.[71]

Dharma and law

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The notion of Dharma as duty or propriety is found in India's ancient legal and religious texts. In Hindu philosophy, justice, social harmony, and happiness requires that people live per dharma. The Dharmashastra is a record of these guidelines and rules.[72] The available evidence suggest India once had a large collection of dharma related literature (sutras, shastras); four of the sutras survive and these are now referred to as Dharmasutras.[73] Along with laws of Manu in Dharmasutras, exist parallel and different compendium of laws, such as the laws of Narada and other ancient scholars.[74][75] These different and conflicting law books are neither exclusive, nor do they supersede other sources of Dharma in Hinduism. These Dharmasutras include instructions on education of the young, their rites of passage, customs, religious rites and rituals, marital rights and obligations, death and ancestral rites, laws and administration of justice, crimes, punishments, rules and types of evidence, duties of a king, as well as morality.[73]


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In Buddhism dharma means cosmic law and order,[10] but is also applied to the teachings of the Buddha.[10] In Buddhist philosophy, dhamma/dharma is also the term for "phenomena":[11] In East Asia, the translation for dharma is , pronounced in Mandarin, choe ཆོས་ in Tibetan, beop in Korean, in Japanese, and pháp in Vietnamese. However, the term dharma can also be transliterated from its original form.

Buddha's teachings

For practicing Buddhists, references to "dharma" (dhamma in Pali) particularly as "the Dharma", generally means the teachings of the Buddha, commonly known throughout the East as Buddha-Dharma. It includes especially the discourses on the fundamental principles (such as the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path), as opposed to the parables and to the poems.

The status of Dharma is regarded variably by different Buddhist traditions. Some regard it as an ultimate truth, or as the fount of all things which lies beyond the "three realms" (Sanskrit: tridhatu) and the "wheel of becoming" (Sanskrit: bhavacakra), somewhat like the pagan Greek and Christian logos: this is known as Dharmakaya (Sanskrit). Others, who regard the Buddha as simply an enlightened human being, see the Dharma as the essence of the "84,000 different aspects of the teaching" (Tibetan: chos-sgo brgyad-khri bzhi strong) that the Buddha gave to various types of people, based upon their individual propensities and capabilities.

Dharma refers not only to the sayings of the Buddha, but also to the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and to expand upon the Buddha's teachings. For others still, they see the Dharma as referring to the "truth," or the ultimate reality of "the way that things really are" (Tib. Cho).

The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism in which practitioners of Buddhism seek refuge, or that upon which one relies for his or her lasting happiness. The Three Jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, meaning the mind's perfection of enlightenment, the Dharma, meaning the teachings and the methods of the Buddha, and the Sangha, meaning the monastic community who provide guidance and support to followers of the Buddha.

Buddhist phenomenology

Other uses include dharma, normally spelled with a small "d" (to differentiate), which refers to a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience. This was gradually expanded into a classification of constituents of the entire material and mental world. Rejecting the substantial existence of permanent entities which are qualified by possibly changing qualities, Buddhist Abhidharma philosophers enumerated lists of dharmas which varied by school. They came to propound that these "constituent factors" are the only type of entity that truly exists (and only some thinkers gave dharmas this kind of existence). This notion is of particular importance for the analysis of human experience: Rather than assuming that mental states inhere in a cognizing subject, or a soul-substance, Buddhist philosophers largely propose that mental states alone exist as "momentary elements of consciousness" and that a subjective perceiver is assumed.

One of the central tenets of Buddhism, is the denial of a separate permanent "I", and is outlined in the three marks of existence.

  1. Dukkha – Suffering or unsatisfactoriness (Pali: Dukkha)
  2. Anitya – Change/Impermanence (Pali: Anicca)
  3. Anatman – Not-Self (Pali: Anatta)

At the heart of Buddhism is the understanding of all phenomena as dependently originated. Later, Buddhist philosophers like Nāgārjuna would question whether the dharmas (momentary elements of consciousness) truly have a separate existence of their own.[76]

According to S. N. Goenka, the original meaning of dhamma is "dharayati iti dharmaH", or "one that contains, supports or upholds" and dharma in the Buddhist scriptures has a variety of meanings, including "phenomenon" and "nature" or "characteristic". Dharma also means "mental contents," and is paired with citta, which means heart-mind. The pairing is paralleled with the combining of shareera (body) and vedana (feelings or sensations which arise within the body but are experienced through the mind) in major sutras such as the Mahasatipatthana sutra.[citation needed]

East Asian Buddhism

Dharma is employed in Ch'an in a specific context in relation to transmission of authentic doctrine, understanding and bodhi; recognized in Dharma transmission.


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The word Dharma encompasses the following meanings in Jainism:

  1. Teachings of the Jinas.[10]
  2. The true nature of a thing
  3. Ten virtues like forgiveness, etc. also called ten forms of Dharma
  4. Ahimsa – non-injury
  5. Two paths – of the monks and the laity
  6. Dharma as a dravya (substance or a reality) (the principle of motion)

Acharya Samantabhadra writes, Vatthu sahavo dhammo: "the dharma is the nature of an object". It is the nature of the soul to be free, thus for the soul, the dharma is paralaukika, beyond worldly. However the nature of the body is to seek self-preservation and be engaged in pleasures. Thus there are two dharmas. In Jain tradition, because of the difference in practice, dharma (conduct) is said to be of two kinds, for the householders (sravakas) and for the Jain ascetics.

Major Jain text, Tattvartha Sutra mentions Das-dharma (ten righteous virtues):<templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

Supreme forbearance, modesty, straightforwardness, purity, truthfulness, self-restraint, austerity, renunciation, non-attachment, and celibacy constitute virtue or duty.

Acārya Amṛtacandra, author of the Jain text, Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya writes:[78]

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A right believer should constantly meditate on virtues of dharma, like supreme modesty, in order to protect the soul from all contrary dispositions. He should also cover up the shortcomings of others.

— Puruṣārthasiddhyupāya (27)



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For Sikhs, the word Dharm means the "path of righteousness" and proper religious practice.[79] Sikh Dharma is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of ten Gurus who are accepted by the followers as if they were spiritually the same. In Sikhism, God is described as both Nirgun (transcendent) and Sargun (immanent). Guru Granth Sahib in hymn 1353 connotes dharma as duty.[80] The 3HO movement in Western culture, which has incorporated certain Sikh beliefs, defines Sikh Dharma broadly as all that that constitutes religion, moral duty and way of life.[81]

Scriptures and dharma

The Guru Granth Sahib lays down the foundation of this "righteous path" and various salient points are found:[citation needed]

  • Sikh is bound by Dharma: The followers of this faith are bound by Dharma as advocated in their holy scriptures. The committed Sikh is encouraged to follow this path at all times. The first recitation of the Guru Granth Sahib called the Japji Sahib says the following: "The path of the faithful shall never be blocked. The faithful shall depart with honor and fame. The faithful do not follow empty religious rituals. The faithful people are fully bound to do whatever the Dharma wants them to do. Such is the Name of the Immaculate Lord. Only one who has faith comes to know such a state of mind." (14) (Guru Granth Sahib Japji page 3.)
  • Deeds are recorded: The persons thoughts and deeds are said to be recorded and the faithful is warned that these will be read out in the presence of the "Lord of Dharma". Two scribes called Chitr and Gupt,[82] the angels of the conscious and the subconscious mind are busy writing ones thought and deeds. On death, the soul of the person he brought before "Lord of Dharma" are these account are read out as recorded in this quote: <templatestyles src="Template:Blockquote/styles.css" />

    Day and night are the two distracting but fascinating nurses, in whose lap all the world forgetting reality is at play. Good deeds and bad deeds – the record is read out in the Presence of the Lord of Dharma. According to their own actions, some are drawn closer, and some are driven farther away. Those who have pondered on the Name have earned Merit through hard endeavor. Nanak, their faces radiant with Divine Light, many shall be emancipated in company with them.[83]

  • Dharma administered by God: The scriptures further outline how the "Judge of Dharma" administers justice depending on the way that one has conducted life on Earth. The soul is either "cleared" or "subject to God's command" depending on the review of the person history. The holy text says: "The Righteous Judge of Dharma, by the Hukam of God's Command, sits and administers True Justice".[84] and those followers who "chant the name of the Lord" are cleared as outlined thus: "Her account is cleared by the Righteous Judge of Dharma, when she chants the Name of the Lord, Har, Har."[85]

Dharma in symbols

The wheel in the center of India’s flag symbolizes Dharma.

The importance of dharma to Indian sentiments is illustrated by India’s decision in 1947 to include the Ashoka Chakra, a depiction of the dharmachakra ( the "wheel of dharma"), as the central motif on its flag.[86]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions: "In Hinduism, dharma is a fundamental concept, referring to the order and custom which make life and a universe possible, and thus to the behaviours appropriate to the maintenance of that order."[10]
  2. David Kalupahana: "The old Indian term dharma was retained by the Buddha to refer to phenomena or things. However, he was always careful to define this dharma as "dependently arisen phenomena" (paticca-samuppanna-dhamma) ... In order to distinguish this notion of dhamma from the Indian conception where the term dharma meant reality (atman), in an ontological sense, the Buddha utilized the conception of result or consequence or fruit (attha, Sk. artha) to bring out the pragmatic meaning of dhamma."[11]
  3. 3.0 3.1 Monier Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899): "to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve, keep , possess , have , use , employ , practise , undergo"[13]


  1. Gavin Flood (1994), Hinduism, in Jean Holm, John Bowker (Editors) - Rites of Passage, ISBN 1-85567-102-6, Chapter 3; Quote - "Rites of passage are dharma in action."; "Rites of passage, a category of rituals,..."
  2. see:
    • David Frawley (2009), Yoga and Ayurveda: Self-Healing and Self-Realization, ISBN 978-0-9149-5581-8; Quote: "Yoga is a dharmic approach to the spiritual life...";
    • Mark Harvey (1986), The Secular as Sacred?, Modern Asian Studies, 20(2), pp 321-331
  3. see:
    • J. A. B. van Buitenen (1957), Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, 7(1/2), pp 33-40;
    • James Fitzgerald (2004), Dharma and its Translation in the Mahābhārata, Journal of Indian philosophy, 32(5), pp 671-685; Quote - "virtues enter the general topic of dharma as 'common, or general, dharma,'..."
  4. Bernard S. Jackson (1975), From dharma to law, The American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer, 1975), pp. 490-512
  5. Harold Coward (2004), Hindu bioethics for the twenty-first century, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(22), pp 2759-2760; Quote - "Hindu stages of life approach (ashrama dharma)..."
  6. see:
    • Austin Creel (1975), The Reexamination of Dharma in Hindu Ethics, Philosophy East and West, 25(2), pp 161-173; Quote - "Dharma pointed to duty, and specified duties..";
    • Gisela Trommsdorff (2012), Development of “agentic” regulation in cultural context: the role of self and world views, Child Development Perspectives, 6(1), pp 19-26.; Quote - "Neglect of one's duties (dharma — sacred duties toward oneself, the family, the community, and humanity) is seen as an indicator of immaturity."
  7. 7.0 7.1 see:
    • Dharma, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. (2013), Columbia University Press, Gale, ISBN 978-0787650155;
    • Steven Rosen (2006), Essential Hinduism, Praeger, ISBN 0-275-99006-0, Chapter 3
  8. 8.0 8.1 Encyclopedia Britannica, Dharma
  9. 9.0 9.1 see:
    • Ludo Rocher (2003), The Dharmasastra, Chapter 4, in Gavin Flood (Editor), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, ISBN 978-0631215356
    • Alban G. Widgery, The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Jan., 1930), pp. 232-245
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 10.7 10.8 10.9 The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, Dharma
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 David Kalupahana. The Philosophy of the Middle Way. SUNY Press, 1986, pages 15–16
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 see:
    • English translated version by Jarrod Whitaker (2004): Paul Horsch - From Creation Myth to World Law: the Early History of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, December 2004, Volume 32, Issue 5-6, pp 423-448; Original peer reviewed publication in German: Paul Horsch, ‘Vom Schoepfungsmythos zum Weltgesetz’, in Asiatische Studien: Zeitschrift der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft fur Asiankunde, Volume 21 (Francke: 1967), pp 31–61;
    • English translated version by Donald R. Davis (2006): Paul Hacker - Dharma in Hinduism, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 479–496; Original peer reviewed publication in German: Paul Hacker, “Dharma im Hinduismus” in Zeitschrift fur Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft 49 (1965): pp 93–106
  13. Monier Willams
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  15. Day 1982, p. 42-45.
  16. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
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  18. Karl Brugmann, Elements of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic languages, Volume III, B. Westermann & Co., New York, 1892, p. 100
  19. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  20. J. A. B. Van Buitenen, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Volume 7, Number 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), page 36
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 21.3 21.4 21.5 Paul Horsch - From Creation Myth to World Law: the Early History of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, December 2004, Volume 32, Issue 5-6, pp 423-448
  22. Hermann Grassmann, Worterbuch zum Rig-veda (German Edition), Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120816367
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 Steven Rosen (2006), Essential Hinduism, Praeger, ISBN 0-275-99006-0, page 34-45
  24. see:
  25. see:
    • "...the order and custom which make life and a universe possible, and thus to the behaviours appropriate to the maintenance of that order." citation in The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
    • Britannica Concise Encyclopedia 2007
  26. see:
    • Albrecht Wezler, Dharma in the Veda and the Dharmaśāstras, Journal of Indian Philosophy, December 2004, Volume 32, Issue 5-6, pp 629-654
    • Johannes Heesterman (1978). ‘Veda and Dharma’, in W.D.O’ Flaherty (Ed.), The Concept of Duty in South Asia, New Delhi: Vikas, ISBN 978-0728600324, pp 80-95
    • K.L. Seshagiri Rao (1997), Practitioners of Hindu Law: Ancient and Modern, Fordham Law Review, Volume 66, pp 1185-1199
  27. see
    • अधर्मा adharma, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Germany (2011)
    • adharma Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary, University of Koeln, Germany (2009)
  28. see:
    • Gavin Flood (1998), Making moral decisions, in Paul Bowen (Editor), Themes and issues in Hinduism, ISBN 978-0304338511, Chapter 2, pp 30-54 and pp 151-152;
    • Coward, H. (2004), Hindu bioethics for the twenty-first century, JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 291(22), pp 2759-2760;
    • J. A. B. Van Buitenen, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Volume 7, Number 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), page 37
  29. RgVeda 6.70.1, 8.41.10, 10.44.8, for secondary source see Karl Friedrich Geldner, Der Rigveda in Auswahl (2 vols.), Stuttgart; and Harvard Oriental Series, 33-36, Bd.1-3: 1951
  30. Paul Horsch - From Creation Myth to World Law: the Early History of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, December 2004, Volume 32, Issue 5-6, pp 430-431
  31. P. Thieme, Gedichte aus dem Rig-Veda, Reclam Universal-Bibliothek Nr. 8930, pp. 52
  32. Paul Horsch - From Creation Myth to World Law: the Early History of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, December 2004, Volume 32, Issue 5-6, pp 430-432
  33. 33.0 33.1 Joel Brereton (2004), Dharman in the RgVeda, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 32, pp 449-489
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 34.3 34.4 34.5 Paul Hacker (1965), Dharma in Hinduism, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 479–496 (English translated version by Donald R. Davis (2006))
  35. Etienne Lamotte, Bibliotheque du Museon 43, Louvain, 1958, pp. 249
  36. Barbara Holdrege (2004), "Dharma" in: Mittal & Thursby (Editors) The Hindu World, New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-21527-7, pp. 213–248
  37. 37.0 37.1 Koller, J. M. (1972), Dharma: an expression of universal order. Philosophy East and West, 22(2), pp 136-142
  38. Māyā Monier-Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary, ISBN 978-8120603691
  39. Northrop, F. S. C. (1949), Naturalistic and cultural foundations for a more effective international law, Yale Law Journal, 59, pp 1430-1441
  40. Day 1982, p. 42-44.
  41. Dharma, The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed. (2013), Columbia University Press, Gale, ISBN 978-0787650155
  42. 42.0 42.1 J. A. B. Van Buitenen, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp 33-40
  43. 43.0 43.1 Charles Johnston, The Mukhya Upanishads: Books of Hidden Wisdom, Kshetra, ISBN 978-1495946530, page 481, for discussion: pages 478-505
  44. 44.0 44.1 Paul Horsch (Translated by Jarrod Whitaker), From Creation Myth to World Law: The early history of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol 32, pages 423–448, (2004)
  45. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp. 43
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp. 41-48
  47. The Mahābhārata: Book 11: The Book of the Women; Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1 By Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen, James L. Fitzgerald p.124
  48. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  49. There is considerable amount of literature on dharma-related discussion in Hindu Epics: of Egoism versus Altruism, Individualism versus Social Virtues and Tradition; for examples, see:
    • Johann Jakob Meyer (1989), Sexual life in ancient India, ISBN 8120806387, Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 92-93; Quote - “In Indian literature, especially in Mahabharata over and over again is heard the energetic cry - Each is alone. None belongs to anyone else, we are all but strangers to strangers; (...), none knows the other, the self belongs only to self. Man is born alone, alone he lives, alone he dies, alone he tastes the fruit of his deeds and his ways, it is only his work that bears him company. (...) Our body and spiritual organism is ever changing; what belongs, then, to us? (...) Thus, too, there is really no teacher or leader for anyone, each is his own Guru, and must go along the road to happiness alone. Only the self is the friend of man, only the self is the foe of man; from others nothing comes to him. Therefore what must be done is to honor, to assert one’s self...”; Quote - “(in parts of the epic), the most thoroughgoing egoism and individualism is stressed...”
    • Raymond F. Piper (1954), In Support of Altruism in Hinduism, Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1954), pp. 178-183
    • J Ganeri (2010), A Return to the Self: Indians and Greeks on Life as Art and Philosophical Therapy, Royal Institute of Philosophy supplement, 85(66), pp. 119-135
  50. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 7, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp. 44-45; Quote - “(...)In the Epic, free will has the upper hand. Only when a man’s effort is frustrated or when he is overcome with grief does he become a predestinarian (believer in destiny).”; quote - “This association of success with the doctrine of free will or human effort (purusakara) was felt so clearly that among the ways of bringing about a king’s downfall is given the following simple advice: “Belittle free will to him, and emphasize destiny.” (Mahabharata 12.106.20)
  51. Huston Smith, The World Religions, ISBN 978-0061660184, HarperOne (2009); For summary notes: Background to Hindu Literature
  52. 52.0 52.1 52.2 Klaus Klostermaier, A survey of Hinduism,, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-88706-807-3, Chapter 3: Hindu dharma
  53. Jha, Nyayasutras with Vatsyayana Bhasya, 2 vols, Oriental Books (1939)
  54. The yoga-system of Patanjali The ancient Hindu doctrine of concentration of mind, embracing the mnemonic rules, called Yoga-sutras, James Haughton Woods (1914), Harvard University Press
  55. The yoga-system of Patanjali Yoga-sutras, James Haughton Woods (1914), Harvard University Press, pp 178-180
  56. The yoga-system of Patanjali Yoga-sutras, James Haughton Woods (1914), Harvard University Press, pp 180-181
  57. The yoga-system of Patanjali Yoga-sutras, James Haughton Woods (1914), Harvard University Press, pp 181-191
  58. Kumarila, Tantravarttika, Anandasramasamskrtagranthavalih, Vol. 97, p.204-205; For an English Translation, see Jha (1924), Bibliotheca Indica, Vol. 161, Vol. 1
  59. Patrick Olivelle, Dharmasūtras: The Law Codes of Ancient India, (Oxford World Classics, 1999)
  60. 60.0 60.1 Paul Hacker (1965), Dharma in Hinduism, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Volume 34, Issue 5, pp 487–489 (English translated version by Donald R. Davis (2006))
  61. 61.0 61.1 61.2 61.3 61.4 Alf Hiltebeitel (2011), Dharma: Its Early History in Law, Religion, and Narrative, ISBN 978-0195394238, Oxford University Press, pp 215-227
  62. Thapar, R. (1995), The first millennium BC in northern India, Recent perspectives of early Indian history, 80-141
  63. Thomas R. Trautmann (1964), On the Translation of the Term Varna, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jul., 1964), pp. 196-201
  64. see:
    • J. A. B. Van Buitenen (1957), Dharma and Moksa, Philosophy East and West, Volume 7, Number 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1957), pp 38-39
    • Koller, J. M. (1972), Dharma: an expression of universal order. Philosophy East and West, 22(2), pp 131-144
  65. Kane, P.V. (1962), History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law in India), Volume 1, pp 2-10
  66. Olivelle, P. (1993), The Asrama System: The history and hermeneutics of a religious institution, New York: Oxford University Press
  67. Alban G. Widgery, The Principles of Hindu Ethics, International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Jan., 1930), pp. 232-245
  68. 68.0 68.1 see:
    • Koller, J. M. (1972), Dharma: an expression of universal order. Philosophy East and West, 22(2), pp 131-144;
    • Karl H. Potter (1958), Dharma and Mokṣa from a Conversational Point of View, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 8, No. 1/2 (Apr. - Jul., 1958), pp. 49-63;
    • William F. Goodwin, Ethics and Value in Indian Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Jan., 1955), pp. 321-344
  69. 69.0 69.1 69.2 Adam Bowles (2007), Dharma, Disorder, and the Political in Ancient India, Brill's Indological Library (Book 28), ISBN 978-9004158153, Chapter 3
  70. Derrett, J. D. M. (1959), Bhu-bharana, bhu-palana, bhu-bhojana: an Indian conundrum, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 22, pp 108-123
  71. Jan Gonda, Ancient Indian Kingship from the Religious Point of View, Numen, Vol. 3, Issue 1 (Jan., 1956), pp. 36-71
  72. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  73. 73.0 73.1 Patrick Olivelle (1999), The Dharmasutras: The law codes of ancient India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-283882-2
  74. Donald Davis, Jr., A Realist View of Hindu Law, Ratio Juris. Vol. 19 No. 3 September 2006, pp 287–313
  75. Lariviere, Richard W. (2003), The Naradasmrti, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass
  76. nirvṇānaparīkṣā, 25:22–24
  77. Jain 2011, p. 128.
  78. Jain 2012, p. 22.
  79. Robin Rinehart (2014), in Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech (Editors), The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies, ISBN 978-0199699308, Oxford University Press, pp. 138-139
  80. W. Owen Cole (2014), in Pashaura Singh, Louis E. Fenech (Editors), The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies, ISBN 978-0199699308, Oxford University Press, pp. 254
  81. Verne Dusenbery (2014), in Pashaura Singh and Louis E. Fenech (Editors), The Oxford Handbook of Sikh Studies, ISBN 978-0199699308, Oxford University Press, pp. 560-568
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  86. Narula, S. (2006), International Journal of Constitutional Law, 4(4), pp 741-751


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  • Murthy, K. Krishna. "Dharma – Its Etymology." The Tibet Journal, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring 1966, pp. 84–87.
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