What is Dharma?
contributed by Dr. Deen B Chandora
Dharma is the individuals natural, selfless duty, a responsibility towards self, parents, family, society, community, environment, and humanity. There is no equivalent English translation for the Ancient Sanskrit word Dharma. Dharma is pronounced as Dh-r-m.
Dharma is divine in origin and deals with universal natural principles. The connotations are spiritual and metaphysical. Mahabharata (12-31-7) described Dharma as follows:
That conduct which sustains, protects, harmonizes all human beings including family, society, nation, nature, and the cosmos.
While visiting Jakarta, Indonesia, I saw many English sign-boards stating Dharmo-Vanita. I asked a taxi driver the meaning, and the driver replied: Dharma means to help others, and Vanita means women. It is a sign-board of a government department that deals with helping women, you may call it womens welfare! Furthermore I asked him: What is your religion? He replied, Muslim. According to this Indonesian Muslim taxi driver his religion is Muslim, but, to him, Dharma means the duty to help others.
An individual who goes out of the way to help others is said to have undertaken Dharma. Kanad Rishi in Vaisesika Darsan describes Dharma as follows:
Dharma is that righteous conduct which elevates a human being to a higher level of interaction; thereby, one attains selflessness and is free from selfishness.
Dharma is derived from the Sanskrit word Dharana, the root word, Dhr. Dharana, means to uphold, or to sustain. One who upholds these destined natural duties is said to have undertaken Dharma. For example, the Dharma of the sun is to shine. The Dharma of the earth is to rotate, and a learned person should guide others in the righteous direction.
The great lawgiver sage, Manu, described ten characteristics of Dharma as follows:
The ten characteristics of a person who upholds Dharma are contentment, forgiveness, maintenance of purity, thought, action, emotional, and sensual discipline, iratelessness, truthfulness, abstinence from stealing, acquisition of knowledge, and wisdom.
The tenth Sikh Guru Sri Govind Singh in Ugradanti Chhake Chhand Vani under the description of Chandi Ki Varstated:
Sakala jagata me khalsa pantha gaje,
Jage dharam hindu sakal bhanda bhaje
Chhake Chhanda 39
Let Khalsa Pantha be victorious all over the world to awaken Hindu Dharma, so all falsehood or ignorance may be removed.
Sikh Guru Sri Govind Singh further stated in Ugradani Saveya Chhake Chhanda (40):
Sakala jaga me khalsa pantha gaje,
Jage dharam Hinduka turk dunde bhaje
Ugradanti Saveya Chhake Chhanda Chhaka 1 line 40.
The use of the word Hinduka in the above Chhand by Guru Sri Govind Singh reveals that the word Hinduka was in vogue at that time.
In essence Dharma means natural righteous, conducts, and duties that help one to rise higher to become a better person.