A Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams defines
the word dharma as duty; morality, religious merit; good works;
justice (often used as a synonym for punishment)."
to Hindu philosophy, dharma represents order with laws to govern
creation. It is more than just a set of laws of physics; it is religious
and moral laws that bind us in harmony with that order.
Dharma as the Foundation of Life
In Hinduism, religion (dharma) influences the way people live
and view themselves. The very act of living is regarded as an
obligatory duty and an opportunity to fulfill the aims of
creation and participate in God’s eternal dharma. Tradition
holds that religious duty (dharma) is the primary aim
(Purusharthas) of human life since it is the foundation upon
which one develops the wisdom and discretion to pursue wealth
(artha) and happiness (kama) without compromising the chances
From Introduction to Hinduism by Jayaram
There are four different types of dharma:
1) Universal, cosmic law (rita) regulates the forces of Nature,
manifested by laws of physics. It controls everything from subatomic
properties to motions of galaxies. The Hindu believes himself/herself
to be part of Nature and seeks to bring the Self into harmony with
the universal path.
2) Social dharma (varna dharma) consists of the duties, occupations
and responsibilities that everyone fulfills in the family, nation,
society and communities. An important aspect is religious and moral
3) Human law (ashrama dharma) is the natural expression and evolution
of the body, mind, soul and feelings throughout the stages of life:
righteousness, wealth, pleasure and liberation.
4) Self-dharma (sva-dharma) is perhaps the dharma that
most Westerners are aware of. It is the sum of all accumulated "karmas"
in one's life, molded by one's tendencies, personality, desires,
and experiences. It represents one's path one takes.
Hinduism strongly believes that it is best to follow one's own
path rather than the path of others. Search for the natural self
is of utmost importance.
Paraphrased from "Dancing with S'iva", pp. 167, 169, 171, 173,
When does Dharma become a burden?
The duties prescribed in the scriptures of Hinduism are obligatory.
It means you cannot avoid them. It is something like a rent you
pay to live in the world of God, who is the true owner and indweller
of all creation. To stay in this world, you have two option. Either
you pay the rent in the form of karma or you offer all your actions
to Him and take no credit for them. The first approach binds you
and keeps you chained to the cycle of births and deaths. The second
option, which is prescribed in several Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita
is the best way to keep away from the burning fires of existential
What is the difference between Buddha Dharma and Hindu Dharma
In Buddhism duties or conduct both for the lay practitioners
and monks, arise from the teachings of the Buddha and more specifically
from the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. In Hinduism,
they arise from God's eternal duties as enshrined in the Vedas.
The purpose of both is same, to free oneself from karma and the
cycle of births and deaths (samsara). However, the approaches are
different. In Buddhism, the followers look to the teachings of the
Buddha to determine what constitute good conduct and dutiful life.
In Hinduism, the same is determined by the Vedas and the law books
called the Dharma Sastras.
Why is Hinduism called Sanatana Dharma?
Hinduism is called Sanatana Dharma because the religion is derived
from the duties of God which are eternal. Since as human beings
we share these duties upon earth, just as gods and other beings
in other worlds, to let the divine order of things to continue and
since the knowledge of such duties are enshrined in our religion
in the form of the Vedas, Hinduism, which is derived from the Vedas,
is known as Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Duty.
- Jayaram V
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