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The Aim of Dharma

What is Dharma?

Dharmō rakshati rakshitah

We often hear the saying, ‘Protect Dharma, it will protect you’.

These days, we often see this slogan on buses and on the walls. What is the meaning of the word Dharma?

The word Dharma is found in the Indian religions like Hinduism (Vaidika), Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. There is no reference to this term in other religions. However, the same idea may have been expressed in a different form.

Dhārayatīti dharmah - Dharma is defined in Indian scriptures as the one which bears and supports everything. The visible world has an order and is organized in a systematic way. It is not chaotic or haphazard. The planets, stars and the milky ways are all orbiting in the space following an unseen order.

The energy that is behind the universe and running it in a systematic way is believed to be Dharma by the Vedas. This energy is known as God or Eswara. That is why God is defined as the embodiment of Dharma.

In Kathopanishad, there is a famous sloka. The meaning of it is ‘The five elements - Fire, Wind, Earth, Air, Water, Space, and demi gods like Lord Indra, Death are managing their duties successfully, because of the fear of the supreme Lord’. This supreme Lord is believed to be Dharma. Man cannot survive if he does not follow Dharma and punishment is inevitable if Dharma is not followed.

For example, the Dharma of fire is to burn. What happens if we touch fire by disregarding its dharma? Our hand will be burnt. So Dharma knows very well how to do its work. Dharma means rule or order. If we violate this rule, then we must face its consequence.

This is the consolidated shape of Dharma. The proper definition of Dharma at the individual level is given by Manu in Manu Samhita.

Ślōka || dhṛtirdamō kṣamōstēyaṃ śauca mindriya nigraḥ

dhīrvidyā satyamakrōdhō daśakaṃ dharma lakṣaṇaṃ ||

  1. Dhruti: Energetic effort

  2. Dama: Self control

  3. Kshama: Forgiveness

  4. Asteyam: Non Stealing

  5. Soucham: Purity

  6. Indriya nigraham: Control of six senses

  7. Dhi: Awakened Intelligence

  8. Vidya: Knowledge of scriptures

  9. Satyam: Truthfulness

  10. Akrodham: No anger

Dharma means following the above ten rules as stated by Manu in Manu Samhita. Following Dharma is necessary if the life of man has to be in an orderly way. One who follows the above ten rules is said to be following Dharma. Acting as we like and believing that we are following Dharma will never protect us.

The Lord looks after the well-being of a person who follows Dharma, because He is the embodiment of Dharma. All others are responsible for their own karma.

All rights reserved. This article has been translated by Akhila J, which was originally posted in on March 6, 2009. The content or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher.

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