The etymological meaning of dharma is 'that
which binds together'. So it is that which is inherent as
law in the very nature of all existing phenomena, that which
supports and holds the universe together. It is not merely
a set of beliefs having no connection with living, but rather
a set of principles for a harmonious and beneficient life.
It is a practical doctrine.
Dharma is constant, but its form varies from
situation to situation. Conscious action in accord with the
reality of the moment is Dharma. Learning to act consciously
is learning to act in accord with the principles of the cosmos.
So Dharma is that action which accords with cosmic knowledge.
In the "Bhagavad Purana" [a famous holy hindu scripture]
"eating, sleeping, mating and defending are known as
being common to human beings and animals, but Dharma is human
beings' special prerogative."
There are ten significations of Dharma and all
of them are neccessary to act in accordance with the it's
law. They are : firmness, forgiveness, selfcommand, restraint
(i.e not stealing), cleanliness, control of the sense and
work organs, intellect, right knowledge, truth and absence
of anger. All these are a part of it.
Dharma is a particular code of conduct, but
there are no do's and don't as such because, whatever you
feel is genuinely good for yourself is good for others also.
There is nothing like doing good for others. There is no Adharma
or vice, worse than causing harm to another. Dharma can best
be understood when related to conduct, to morality and ethics,
but these are only attributes, reflections, but not Dharma
The Dharma of fire is to burn. That of water
is to quench, as it is it's to create taste. It is the Dharma
of fire to creat colour and form. The innate and essential
nature of a thing is its' Dharma.
Though Dharma exists always, beyond form, it
assumes a special form for each individual. For example it
is the Dharma of an individual who lives in a cold climate
to wear warm clothing, of the hungry man to have food, of
the student to study properly. Of the child to play freely,
without care for the world of the spirit. Of the elderly to
behave soberly and dwell in the realm of spirit. Similarly
of a mother to take care of her child. So Dharma is the eternal
truth which holds all existence in proper relationships. There
is no escape from it, because the moment there is an escape
from Dharma, there will definitely be a downward flow of energy
and that is Adharma.
Also read the much more detailed text "Dharma", by Kathia Baba.
A wonderful story on this subject is "The
Saint and the Scorpion".