The word 'Dharma' is derived from the root " dhri" which means to uphold, to maintain, to support, to nourish, to sustain. It contains the moral values required for sustaining human existence in its fullness. Self-development through self-restraint is called 'Dharma'. It is physical and at the same time spiritual. We are all inter-dependent and we must see the well-being of the whole universe as a whole. Dharma is the path of righteousness and living one's life according to the codes of conduct as described by the Vedas and Upanisads. Dharma means "that which holds" - the people of this world and the whole creation.
Dharma is an ancient Sanskrit term first found in the Rig Veda, the oldest Sanskrit text, for the underlying laws of the universe, not only of matter but of life, mind and consciousness as well. It can refer to natural law, social rules and regulations, the principles of art or philosophy, and above all, the ways of truth behind religion and spirituality.
The earliest writings on dharma (from the Vedas) implied that only sages could experience it, and needed to pass it on to the laymen through mantras and other acts. Later on, the writings known as the Dharma Sutras gave a different meaning and implications about dharma: They implied that dharma was the performance of duties in accordance to Vedic law. Dharma was taking on the meaning of "one's role in Vedic society."
The dharma is touched upon at length in The Bhagavadgita (The Song of God), a section of the epic poem The Mahabharata. In it, Krishna explains the meaning of righteousness in sustaining the world order. It is implied that everyone has a path that they must follow in order to uphold righteousness and lead to their individual salvation. Krishna stated that of the three paths that lead to salvation - yoga and ascetic practices, bhakti or devotion, and Dharma or wholesome activities according to your role - it was the latter that was most effective because it contribute to both the individual and the world as a whole, while the two former practices only helped the individual.
The Atharva Veda describes dharma symbolically: Prithivim dharmana dhritam, that is, "this world is upheld by dharma". Therefore the concept of ecology is associated with basic structure of the Indian culture. To appreciate the scope and relevance of ecology, we ought to know about the subject fields that it investigates, and its relationship with other branches of science as well. Ecology is multi-discipilinary in nature and covers an enormous range of subject materials like Autecology (dealing with the study of an individual organism), Synecology (dealing with the study of matters with the communities), Ecosystem dynamics (dealing with the study of flow of energy), Geographical ecology (study of the distribution of plants and animals), Evolutionary ecology (study of the problems of species formation), Physiological ecology (dealing with the responses and adjustments of organism to their physical environment), Chemical ecology (study of the nature, mode of action and effects of the vast array of both natural and man made chemicals) and Radiation ecology.
Every human civilization has a unifying force of unity. This force is understood from the Indian context as 'Dharma' while from the Western context as `Religion'. Both Dharma and Religion assume an important role being the foundation of the wholeness of every civilization. Religion is the direct experience of reality gathered after the a posterior theory of knowledge. Dharma also aims at perfectionism i.e. the realization of the self or the infinite in man. Religion is synonym of Dharma, 'to hold that which is real'. It aims for the inner experience of the reality from within and never from outside, which is the reflection. The goal of religion is to manifest the 'Divinity' from within by controlling nature, both external and internal.
Dharma is the essential function or nature of a thing. One can say that the 'dharma' of fire is Heat, the 'dharma' of water is Liquidity, and the 'dharma' of sugar is Sweetness then what is the 'dharma' of living being? The answer is : to render service. We can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being serves another living in various capacities. By doing so, the living entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants serve their master. One friend serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the husband, the husband serves the wife and so on. If we go on searching in this spirit it will be seen that there is no exception in the society of living beings to the activity of service and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service is the eternal religion (Dharma) of the living being. Sanatana accepts the concept of reincarnation, and what determines the state of an individual in the next existence is karma, which refers to the actions undertaken by the body and the mind. In order to achieve good karma it is important to live life according to `dharma'. This involves doing what is right for the individual, the family, the class or caste and also for the universe itself.
Dharma is like a cosmic norm and if one goes against the norm it can result in bad karma. So, dharma affects the future according to the karma accumulated. Therefore one's dharmic path in the next life is the one necessary to bring to fruition all the results of past karma.
The term dharma can best be explained as the "law of being" without which things cannot exist, just as the essential factor in human being is life - the atman without which he cannot exist. Therefore the dharma of human being is atman. And hence any good atmic quality is dharmic. Dharma therefore implies duty - a course of conduct. For example, Sanatan Dharma endorses the idea that it is one's dharma to marry, raise a family and provide for that family in whatever way is necessary.
Anything that helps human being to reach god is dharma and anything that hinders human being from reaching god is adharma.
The essence of dharma lies in possessing a certain ability, power and spiritual strength. Vedic Dharma is always truthful because its basis is the unique combination of spiritual brilliance and physical prowess.
Sanatana saints have classified all human aspirations under four broad categories: dharma (religion), artha (money), kama (desire) and moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). The practice of dharma gives an experience of peace, joy, strength and tranquillity within one's self and makes life disciplined. Of these four values the majority of human beings pursue artha and kama, and the more sensitive individuals pursue dharma, while very few are conscious of moksha - the ideal spiritual aspiration.
According to the Bhagavat Purana, righteous living or life on a dharmic path has four aspects: austerity (tap), purity (shauch), compassion (daya) and truthfulness (satya); and adharmic or unrighteous life has three vices: pride (ahankar), contact (sangh), and intoxication (madya).
Manusmrity, written by the ancient sage Manu, prescribes ten essential rules for the observance of dharma: Patience (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), piety or self control (dama), non-stealing (asteya), sanctity (shauch), control of senses (indraiya-nigrah), reason (dhi), knowledge or learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absence of anger (akrodha). These ten rules of the sage Manu come under the Samanya (general or universal) Dharma. Manu further writes, "Non-violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of dharma". Therefore dharmic laws govern not only the individual but all in society.
The purpose of dharma is not only to attain a union of the soul with the supreme reality, it also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and supreme happiness. Rishi Kanda has defined dharma in Vaisesika as "that which confers worldly joys and leads to supreme happiness". Sanatan Dharma is the religion that suggests methods for the attainment of the highest ideal and eternal bliss here and now on earth and not somewhere in heaven.
That which brings well-being to man is Dharma. Dharma supports this world. The people are upheld by Dharma. That which accrues preservation of beings is Dharma. Dharma leads to eternal happiness and immortality.
That which is Dharma is verily the Truth. Therefore, whosoever speaks the truth is said to speak Dharma, and whosoever speaks Dharma is said to speak the truth. One and the same thing becomes both.
Dharma includes all external deeds, as well as thoughts and other mental practices which tend to elevate the character of a man. Dharma comes from the Divine and leads you to the Divine.
Dharma can be of various kinds: Sanatana Dharma (Eternal Law), Samanya Dharma (general duty), Visesha Dharma (special duty), Varnashrama Dharma (duties of Caste and Order), Svadharma (one's own duty), Yuga Dharma (duty of the age or period in history), Kula Dharma (duty of family), Manava Dharma (duty of man), Purusha Dharma (duty of male), Stri Dharma (duty of female), Raja Dharma (duty of king), Praja Dharma (duty of subjects), Pravritti Dharma (duty in worldly life) and Nivritti Dharma (duty in spiritual life).
Sanatana Dharma means the Eternal religion, the Ancient Law. This is based on the Vedas. This is the oldest of living religions. Hinduism is known by the name Sanatana Dharma. What the Vedas alone declare to be the means of attaining the final emancipation, is the Sanatana Dharma.
Sanatana describes dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to be contented and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one's life. Sanatana consider dharma the very foundation of life.
The foundation of Sanatana Dharma is Sruti (Vedas); Smritis are the walls; the Itihasas and the Puranas are the buttresses or supports. In ancient times, the Srutis were learnt by heart. The teacher sang them to his pupils and the pupils sang them after him. They were not written in book form. All the sects, all the philosophical systems, look upon the Sruti as the final authority. The Smriti stands next in authority to the Sruti.
Sanatan Dharma stands unrivalled in the depth and grandeur of its philosophy. Its ethical teachings are lofty, unique and sublime. It is highly flexible and adapted to every human need. It is a perfect religion by itself. It is not in need of anything from any other religion. No other religion has produced so many great saints, great patriots, great warriors and great Pativratas. The more you know of it, the more you will honour and love it. The more you study it, the more it will enlighten you and satisfy your heart.
The religious history of the world tells us that from time immemorial, India continues to be the home of great sages, seers and Rishis. India was the breeding ground of all the great religious ideals that have moulded the character of men, the loftiest tenets of ethics and morality that have raised human beings to magnanimous heights of divine splendour and all the sublime truths of spirituality that have made men divine and have moulded the spiritual ideals of nations and saviours of mankind. The spiritual horizon of India has always been illumined with the glory of the self-effulgent sun of wisdom of the Upanishads. Whenever there was any upheaval in any part of the world, the origin of this could be traced to the wave of spirituality caused by the birth of a great soul - a special manifestation of Divinity - in some part of India .
Sanatan Dharma have had a culture, civilisation and religion millennia older than those of any other country or people. God did speak to the world through India 's Rishis, Yogis, Mahatmas, Alvars, prophets, Acharyas, Sannyasins and saints. Their teachings are really inspired. God is the one Light and Truth from whom emanate the teachings of all faiths. The goal of India is Self-realisation or attainment of God-consciousness, through renunciation. The history of India is a history of religion. Its social code and regulations are founded upon religion. Minus its Yoga, religion and its regulations, and India will not be what it has been for millennia.
May you all be endowed with the knowledge of Sanatana Dharma! May you all endeavour to protect the Eternal Dharma! May the secrets of Sanatana Dharma be revealed unto you all, like a fruit in the palm of your hand, through the grace of the Lord! May the blessings of Rishis be upon you all! Glory to the Vedas and Sanatana Dharma! Glory to Brahman (Supreme Reality), the source of all Vedas and Sanatana Dharma.
The dharma of a creature refers to its purpose, nature or law of its being. The dharma of human beings should be to seek truth and to bring a higher consciousness into the world. Human society also has various goals or dharmas which are traditionally divided into four; kama or enjoyment, artha or acquisition of wealth, dharma as duty, and moksha as the liberation of the spirit. It is liberation of the spirit or Moksha Dharma that is regarded as the highest human dharma. This does not negate the other three lower dharmas but subordinates them and allows us to use them for the greater good.
Also read "The Calendar Poem" by Harish Johari on the subject of Dharma.