Five Different Meanings To The Word Dharma

[Krishna's lotus feet]“The stringent laws of nature, under the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot be altered by any living entity. The living entities are eternally under the subjugation of the almighty Lord. The Lord makes all the laws and orders, and these laws and orders are generally called dharma or religion. No one can create any religious formula. Bona fide religion is to abide by the orders of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.4 Purport)

Is Hinduism just another faith to put into the basket? Is it something exclusive to people from a specific region? Can you only be born into it?

In fact, the proper term is Vedic culture, as Hindu is a word produced by outsiders to explain something they barely understand. Within that culture there isn’t even a corresponding word for “religion” or “faith” in terms of an identified spiritual practice. The best matching word is dharma, and it has different meanings based on the context of use.

1. Religion

It’s not religion exactly, but in discussion dharma suffices. The less intelligent will say Hindu-dharma, but again the Hindu word is not found anywhere in the Vedas; whereas dharma is listed practically everywhere. If religion means a way of understanding the Almighty, of thinking beyond this life, then dharma certainly has a similar connotation.

2. Religiosity

It might not have been explained to us before, but religion is not just about a particular institution and doing certain things and avoiding others. Real religion should bring about four specific qualities: honesty, compassion, cleanliness and austerity.

Dharma is also translated as religiosity since as a religious system it is a way to get these qualities to manifest. If the opposite occurs, or even if a person remains static in their lack of good qualities, then the practice of religion isn’t having much of an effect. The people are no different than the supposed atheists they condemn to eternal damnation.

3. Piety

This is where dharma produces an appropriate corresponding term. As piety is tied to sin, so dharma and adharma go together in philosophical discussions. There is a reality to it, of course. Turn the screw to the right side to make it tighter. If the objective in the particular situation is to get the screw on, this method is considered pious.

To turn the screw to the left is to make it looser. Again, based on the current objective, this choice would be considered impious. Another word is “sinful.” There is sin because a negative reaction is guaranteed to occur. The ideal situation will not be reached.

[screwdriver]Dharma is basically the right way to do things. Tell the truth. Respect people and property. Be straightforward in your dealings. Give protection to those who are not as capable. Adharma is the opposite. Lie, cheat and steal to get whatever it is you want. It makes sense that genuine atheists would gravitate towards adharma as a way of life. This is because they don’t believe in future consequences. They think that this lifetime will be the only one. To them, a person is a bag of chemicals who will be no different in nature once death arrives.

4. Duty

This is where the complexities of the word dharma really come into play. It is religion, pious behavior and so forth, but dharma can also be refined based on occupation. The Sanskrit word is varna, which is a kind of coloring or classification. In terms of occupation, the varna is determined by guna and karma.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Qualities and work put a person into a specific occupation by nature. Generally, there are four divisions. Let’s say a person is a kshatriya by guna and karma. They are brave, chivalrous, and not afraid to take on any person in battle.

Within that specific occupation there are rules and regulations. There is a way to live. The identification is kshatriya-dharma, i.e. the duties of a person in the warrior class. There are similarly duties for a priest or a businessperson. Dharma extends to phases of life, as well, such as family life and the renounced order; hence another translation for religion in the Vedas being varnashrama-dharma. Indeed, there are recommendations of dharma based on the time period as well, known as a yuga.

5. Essential characteristic

This is the root definition. Dharma is what defines a particular object. A common example given is fire. The dharma of fire is heat and light. Those two properties cannot be removed from the object. If light and heat are lacking, then fire is not present.

Dharma for the individual is service. The individual here is defined not by their varna, their gunas, or their karma. The individual is spirit soul at the core, atma. The essential characteristic of the atma is service, and the only ideal match for that service is another deathless, material bodiless individual.

He is actually within already. His expansion is known as Supersoul. The knowledge of the essential nature of the soul unifies all the definitions of dharma. That is to say religion, religiosity, piety and duty all have the purpose of bringing the individual closer to their true nature, which is beyond this temporary existence.

[Krishna's lotus feet]Since the soul is eternal and so also its dharma, the real definition of spiritual life, given exclusively in the Vedas, is sanatana-dharma. Real religion is forever. It is applicable in heaven and hell. It is for men and women. It is for the tiny insect and the famous king. The Almighty, the Supreme Soul, the person with the greatest attributes that are spiritual in nature, is to be remembered while living and also while dying. Dharma and its different manifestations are meant for bringing a person closer to this consciousness, which is actually the original one.

In Closing:

Dharma with different meanings so,

Like religion others familiar to know.

Also duty for occupation found,

Pious principles to ground.

Religiosity into the mix thrown,

Best as essential characteristic known.

When connected to God meanings the same,

To find Him again to this life came.

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