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The term “dharma” can be confusing. The Miriam-Webster dictionary has three definitions for Dharma – (1) “an individual’s duty fulfilled by observance of custom or law,” (2) “basic principles of cosmic or individual existence: divine law,” and (3) “conformity to one’s duty and nature.” However, according to Swami Chinmayananda, dharma is the essential property of a substance.

“Sugar can be brown, white, crystalline, sandy, powder, or rocky. But the essential property is that it [sugar] must be sweet. …. Cold fire is not fire. Heat is the essential property of fire. It may look like fire, but it is not fire because it is not hot.”


Goals of dharma

In Talk 1 of a recent talk series by Swami Tejomayananda, he defined dharma as the “divine, universal constitution related to life of all human beings, to be happy in this world and beyond”. He also reminded us that Dharma means (hetu sādhanabhūtaḥ) by which all human beings can reach the goal of abhyudaya (all-around prosperity) and niśreyasa (absolute good).

Dharma is meant for all human beings and only human beings. Since buddhi (intellect) is given only to humans, they can choose. Where there is choice (vicāra), there are rules to consider. Nobody says, ‘What are you doing!’ when a baby does something. That is because the baby has not yet grown, even though it is human. Only when that baby grows and develops the sense of ‘I’, an identity, and becomes capable of thinking, wanting, choosing, and doing is when the rules apply.

Dharma and desire

In Talk 2, Pujya Tejomayananda explores how dharma and desires are connected. He says that if you follow dharma, namely teṣu samyak vartamānah, (teṣu means kāmeṣu), then desires are there. This leads to questions like how we fulfil desires, which desire should be fulfilled, how should it be fulfilled and which desire should not be allowed to grow.

All this is in dharma, and if you know how to live with those desires (acchatyamaralokatām), you will become free from their hold and can attain great results and immortality. 

Dharma and buddhi

We, as human beings, are blessed with buddhi but we must learn how to use it. We will learn from our teachers, elders, śāstra, etc. but it is also part of our dharma.

With buddhi, we must gain vidyā (knowledge). There are many forms of vidyās – sāhitya, saṁgīta, kalā, vijñāna, darśanaṁ (philosophy) to name a few. The best vidya is the knowledge of Dharma that leads us to Moksha which is liberation from bondage (sa vidya ya vimuktaye)

When we gather vidyā, along with learning, we must also acquire humility and modesty. You should also speak the truth, which is also priyam (pleasing). Do not speak the truth, which is not pleasing (na brūyātsatyamapriyam). 

But that does not mean you speak untruth. Speak satyam, but also see that satyam should be such that it should be pleasing and not hurting. Do not say things in a blunt way that shocks, is gossip or half-truths.

Dharma and values

Daśakaṁ dharmalakṣaṇam are the ten characteristics/values of dharma which we all should imbibe in ourselves and make our great virtues: dhrti (patience), kśama (forgiveness), dhamah (self control), asteya (non stealing), shaoca (cleanliness), indriyanigraha (control of organs), dhii (benevolent intellect), vidyá (spiritual knowledge), satyaḿ (love of truth) and akrodha (non-anger).

All these values, which purify our mind, should be understood and followed in our individual lives, family lives, organizations, and nation.

Dharma and Moksha

Dharma, Jnana and Moksha are three successive steps. Working backwards, we attain Moksha through Jnana (knowledge about our true self; only knowledge can remove our ignorance about our true self).

We find, however, that even if we have read and intellectually understood about our true self, we cannot live by it. For Jnana to become our second nature, the mind has to be pure to absorb and abide in that knowledge. To make the mind pure, we need to do Karma Yoga, and the only way to do Karma Yoga is to lead a Dharmic life as guided by the scriptures, gurus and wise people.

Tatittariya Upanishad, in the 1st chapter, gives certain instructions to the student (speak the truth, do your duty, learn and share knowledge, give respect to mother / father / guru / elders, consult elders when you have a doubt in taking action, etc.). Thus one cannot avoid but follow one’s Dharma to reach the ultimate goal of life which is self-realization or Moksha.

Among the 4 purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, Dharma (moral living) is the essential 1st step, whether you want to have material gains (Artha) or want to fulfill your desires (Kama) or want liberation from bondage (Moksha).


Learn more about Dharma Shastra with Swami Tejomayananda.

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