Dharma, What is Dharma, Facts, Meaning and History


Dharma or Dharm is a Sanskrit word (Sanskrit: धर्म, Pali: dhamma), from a root meaning "to hold up, to carry, to bear, to sustain", with a great variety of meanings in the Dharmic religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

What is Dharma?

Dharma is a concept originating in the religious theology or dogma of Hinduism. The word Dharma is a derivative of the Sanskrit root word, Dhr, which means to hold, sustain, or support. Dhr can also be used for wearing, remembering, or carrying something.

As one might expect, a word such as Dharma, which holds substantial religious significance, is dense with meaning. Within the Hindu religion, particularly Classical Hinduism, there are three main texts that are the primary sources of reference for Hindu ideas of Dharma. These are the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, which contains the widely known section or subtext known as the Bhagavad Gita, and the Manu Dharmasmrti. These texts expound the meaning and importance of Dharma through both explanation and example.

Generally speaking, Dharma is the holder of cosmic order, and can be loosely translated into English words such as duty, law, ethics, principles, religion, righteousness, justice, obligation, order, etc. For Hindus, Dharma can perhaps be understood as a conceptual system of guidelines for one to follow in life. The aforementioned texts, for example, serve to answer the question of how one relates their own position to the family, the society, the world, and the cosmos. The answer, naturally, is by following Dharma. Dharma relates the individual contextually to the greater.

Dharma in Hinduism

Dharma means Faith, Belief, Religion, and personal Law - all at the same time. Its most generic sense is that of righteousness or duty. It also refers to an ethical way of living; it is the path one should follow to live rightly in accordance with Hindu philosophical principles. The old name for Vedic Hinduism is Sanatan Dharm, meaning eternal law.

Rules for Brahmin Priests & Monks:

  • Yamas: Restraints or Dont's

    1. Ahimsa - non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness.

    2. Satya - truthfulness, honesty (non lying, non bragging, non embellishing).

    3. Asteya/Achurya - non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt, non-misappropriativeness.

    4. Brahmacharya - restraint of senses(not giving into Pleasure).

    5. Kshama - forgiveness for the past, merciful for historic sins, patience in the present.

    6. Dhriti - steadfastness, overcoming non perseverance, fear, indecision; seeing each task through completion.

    7. Daya - compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.

    8. Arjava - honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.

    9. Mitahara - moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor to little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.

    10. Shaucha - purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech, cleanliness.

    11. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.

  • Niyamas: Duties & Responsibilities or Do's

    1. Hri - remorse for misdeeds.

    2. Santosha - contentment; being satisfied with the resources at hand - therefore not desiring more; peacefulness.

    3. Dana - giving, without thought of reward.

    4. Astikya - Faith, believing firmly in the Guru, believing firmly in the path to enlightenment, believing firmly in the religious scriptures.

    5. Ishvarapujana - worship of the Lord, the cultivation of devotion through daily worship and meditation, the return to the source.

    6. Siddhanta shravana - scriptural listening, studying the teachings and listening to the wise of one's lineage.

    7. Mati - cognition, developing a spiritual will and intellect with the Guru's guidance.

    8. Vrata - sacred vows, fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully.

    9. Japa - recitation, chanting Religious scriptures daily.

    10. Tapas - austerity, spiritual discipline.

    11. Swadhyaya - introspective self-study, spiritual study.

    12. Ishwarapranidhana - self-surrender to god, offering of one's life to God.

Dharma in Buddhism

In Buddhism, followers adhere to these five principles of the dharma:

  • Faith in the triple gem, which is Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. Sangha is the community.

  • The Precepts: don't kill, don't steal, don't engage in sexual misconduct (rape or adultery), don't lie, and don't take intoxicants which cloud the mind.

  • Listening: Only through listening can we understand good and evil.

  • Giving: Engaging in charity and selflessness reminds us that the Dharma is not intended for us alone, but it is to be shared with everyone.

  • Wisdom: One has to listen, contemplate and put into practice the Dharma. Then one may gain wisdom, and realize the truth.

Faith and Morals in Christianity

The Ten Commandments as handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai were the beginning of the nation of Israel, when they were leaving Egypt as slaves, for freedom in the promised land. They were considered to be the Law of God for his chosen people. There is a difference in what the Catholic Church uses as the Ten Commandments and what the Protestant churches and Jews use:

Division of the Ten Commandments by religion/denomination





I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the land of Egypt.

I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.

You shall have no other gods but me.


You shall have no other gods but me.

You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.

You shall not make unto you any graven images.


You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.


You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.

Honor your father and your mother.

You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy.


Honor your mother and father.

You shall not kill.

Honor your mother and father.


You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not murder.


You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not commit adultery.


You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness.

You shall not steal.


You shall not bear false witness.

You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

You shall not bear false witness.


You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The reason that the Protestants, Jews and Catholics number the Ten Commandments differently is because the commandments are not numbered in the Bible and the Protestants, Jews and Catholics divide them up differently.

The Natural Law

The natural law is the law that every person knows by instinct from birth. It is planted by the Creator in our heart, and everyone – even pagans who have never heard about God or his true religion – receive this gift from God. Examples of sins that break the natural law and that are easy to recognize are: murder, rape, theft, pedophilia, slander, lying, and so on. The conscience always convicts a person who does these things and thus there can never be an excuse for people who commit such sins, for all men know that certain things are against God's law and that certain things are in accordance with the natural law of charity, etc.

As the Haydock Bible and Commentary correctly explains about Romans 2:14-16,

"these men are a law to themselves, and have it written in their hearts, as to the existence of a God, and their reason tells them, that many sins are unlawful: they may also do some actions that are morally good, as by giving alms to relieve the poor, honoring their parents, etc. not that these actions, morally good, will suffice for their justification of themselves, or make them deserve a supernatural reward in the kingdom of heaven; but God, out of His infinite mercy, will give them some supernatural graces, by which if they continue to cooperate with they will get more graces and eventually be exposed to the Catholic Faith, which they must have to be saved."

For instance, if a person holds that man does not have free will, this person would break the natural law (sin mortally) because he is rejecting a truth which all know to be true from the natural law, namely, that man has a free will. Thus, he is denying a truth all know about man from the natural law and he is a heretic.

Another example would be if a person refuses to believe that God is a rewarder and a punisher. This person would be a mortal sinner, because he rejects a truth he knows to be true from the natural law, that God is a rewarder and a punisher of our actions (see Heb. 11:6).

A large majority of Protestants today believe in the doctrines of "faith alone" and "eternal security." These doctrines contradict both the natural law and reason which says that every man shall be rewarded or punished for his deeds. It also contradicts, word for word, the teaching of James 2 in scripture, which teach that faith without works is dead, and that man is not saved by faith alone. A person who believes in faith alone or eternal security is a heretic, because he rejects a truth he knows to be true from the natural law, that God is a rewarder and a punisher of our actions, and that faith alone does not justify a man only, but our deeds also.

Other common heresies against the natural law is to hold that birth control or natural family planning, also called NFP, which many "Catholics" practice to avoid conception, (which makes them guilty of the mortal sin of contraception) is acceptable; or if a person is to hold that abortion is acceptable; or if a person is to hold that the consuming of mind altering drugs to the point where the conscience is impeded is acceptable. These examples would all fall under the category of mortal sin because the person who do these things or believe it's right to do these things is rejecting a truth which all know to be true from the natural law, namely, 1) that abortion is murder, 2) that contraception or NFP deliberately frustrates the natural power to generate life, 3) and that mind altering drugs such as smoking marijuana is a mortal sin, just like getting drunk is.

Everyone Knows by Natural Instinct that One God Exists

Buddhism, Hinduism, and Atheism, like all false religions, know not God.

2 Corinthians 4:3: "And if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world [Satan] hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them."

All the people who die in cultures which have never been penetrated by the Gospel go to Hell for sins against the natural law and the other grave sins which they commit – which bad will and failure to cooperate with God's grace is the reason He does not reveal the Gospel to them.

God defined infallibly, based on Romans 1, that the one true God can be known with certitude by the things which have been made, and by the natural light of human reason.

Romans 1:18-20: "For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it to them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable."

Everyone can know with certainty that there is a supreme spiritual being, Who is the One True God and the Creator of the world and all that it contains. There is no one who cannot understand and believe that God exists, if he considers how the earth bears fruit and how the heavens give rain, how the trees bloom, how each and every animal exists in its own kind, how the stars serve man, and how troubles and sorrows come and often happen against the will of man. From all these things, man can see that he is mortal and that it is God who arranges and directs all these things. For if God did not exist, everything would be disorganized. Thus, all things are of God, and everything is rationally arranged for the use and knowledge of mankind. And there is not the least little thing that is created or exists in the world without reasonable cause. (cf. St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 1, chapter 15)

Everyone knows that God is not something that they have carved out of wood or jade or stone. They know that God is not the tree that they worship or the river they worship or the rock or the snake or the sacred tree frog or nature spirits. They know that these things aren't the Creator of the universe. Every such person knows that he is worshipping a creature rather than the Creator.

If a man cannot understand or comprehend God's virtues and powers as they are because of his weakness, he can still see them with faith and believe. But if people in the world do not want to use their reason to consider God's power, they can still use their hands to touch and sense the deeds that Jesus Christ and His saints have done. They are namely so obvious that no one can doubt them to be the deeds of God. Who raised the dead and gave sight to the blind if not God? Who cast out the evil devils from men if not God? What have God taught if not things beneficial for the prosperity of soul and body and easy to bear? (cf. St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 1, chapter 15)

Although most Hinduists appear to live upright lives and believe in the concept of god or gods, they are, as St. Paul says in Romans 20, without excuse. If there were truly people of sincere and of good will amongst them who had not yet attained the faith, and provided they cooperate with the natural law, then God would send a preacher (even miraculously, if necessary) to bring the Faith and baptism to him.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Sent. III, 25, Q. 2, A. 2, solute. 2: "If a man should have no one to instruct him, God will show him, unless he culpably wishes to remain where he is."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Sent. II, 28, Q. 1, A. 4, ad 4: "If a man born among barbarian nations, does what he can, God Himself will show him what is necessary for salvation, either by inspiration or sending a teacher to him."

St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, 14, A. 11, ad 1: Objection: "It is possible that someone may be brought up in the forest, or among wolves; such a man cannot explicitly know anything about the faith. St. Thomas replies: It is the characteristic of Divine Providence to provide every man with what is necessary for salvation… provided on his part there is no hindrance. In the case of a man who seeks good and shuns evil, by the leading of natural reason, God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him…"

2 Corinthians 4:3: "And if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world [Satan] hath blinded the minds of unbelievers, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not shine unto them."

St. Augustine explains this well in reference to persons who died ignorant of the Faith and without baptism.

St. Augustine (+428): "… God foreknew that if they had lived and the gospel had been preached to them, they would have heard it without belief."

"It is in accord with God's justice that entry into heaven must be gained through steadfast faith, rational hope, and fervent love. A person ponders more frequently and adores more lovingly that which the heart loves more and loves with greater fervor. So it is with the gods that are placed in temples - though they are not gods nor creators, since there is but one sole creator, I myself, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the owners of temples and people in general love the gods more than they love me, seeking to achieve worldly success rather than to live with me.

"If I were to destroy the things that people love more than me, and make the people adore me against their will, then I would certainly do them an injustice by taking away their free will and desire from them. Since they have no faith in me, and there is in their hearts something more delightful than me, I reasonably permit them to produce externally what they love and long for in their minds. Because they love creation more than me, the Creator, whom they can know by probable signs and deeds, if only they would make use of their reason, and because they are blind, accursed is their creation and accursed are their idols. They themselves shall stand in shame and be sentenced for their folly, because they refuse to understand how sweet I am, their God, who created and redeemed humankind out of fervent love." (St. Bridget's Revelations, Book 5 or The Book of Questions, Interrogation 8)

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