The terms “Dharma” and “Budda-Dharma” will often appear on this website. I will therefore define what I mean when I refer to Dharma or Buddha Dharma. This post gives an overview of how I understand the historical development of the terms.
Dharma is an idea of Indian religions and philosophiesIn the Vedas, later in Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, in Sikhism, and in legislation and law in India’s history.. Due to the thousands of years of evolution, the term has many meanings and cannot be translated consistently. Roughly Dharma describes the laws and the order of the world in the Physical and Social spheres; in everything that is perceivable and in everything that is not perceivable.
As a concept “Dharma” appears in the more than 3000 years old orally transmitted traditions of the Vedas in India as the word Rta (Rita). Rta there is the physical order of the universe, the order of sacrificial ceremonies and the moral law of the world. Because of Rta, so the Vedas claim, the sun, and the moon follow their daily journeys across the sky, and the seasons are in regular motion; Rta makes the grass grow and clouds rain – and people act.
As Buddhism and Hinduism developed under the influence of the ancient Vedic religion, the concept of Rta led to the teachings of Dharma and Karma (the effect of actions and intentions).
The antonym for Dharma is Adharma and means what “is not Dharma”. As in Dharma, the word Adharma contains and implies many ideas; in common usage, Adharma means what is contrary to nature, immoral, unethical, false, or illegal.
In Hinduism, Dharma is the religious and moral law that guides individual behavior. In addition to the Dharma that applies to everyone (Sadharana Dharma) – consisting of truthfulness, non-violation and generosity – there is also a specific Dharma (Svadharma) that must be followed depending on class, status and stage of life. Dharma is the subject of the Dharma Sutras, religious manuals that are the earliest source of Hindu law. In the course of time they were extended to long compilations of laws, the Dharma-Sastra.
1. Dharma in the narrow sense: In Buddhism, Dharma is the teaching proclaimed by the Buddha – and some later patriarchs. Dharma, Buddha and Sangha (community) form the Triratna(“The Three Jewels”), to which Buddhists seek refuge.
2. Dharma in the broader sense: In Buddhist metaphysics, the term is used in the plural (Dharmas) to describe the entirety of all the elements and phenomena that make up the world. A Dharma is a basic component of the world(Dharma is everything that is the case – and everything that is not the case).
For Sikhs (Sikhism) the word “Dharma” stands for the “way of justness”.
What is the “just way”? This is the question the Sikh scriptures try to answer. The most important Sikh scriptures are called Guru Granth Sahib or SGGS. It is considered more than a holy book of the Sikhs. The Sikhs treat this Granth (holy book) as a living Guru.
The sacred text comprises 1430 pages and contains the actual words of the Sikh Gurus and various other saints from other religions, including Hinduism and Islam.
The term Dharma in Hindu law refers to the historical code of law applied in British India to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. Hindu law also refers to legal theory, jurisprudence, and philosophical reflections on the nature of law discovered in ancient and medieval Indian texts. It is one of the oldest known theories of jurisdiction in the world.
Ancient law books are the Dharmashastras of various “legislators”. Detailed rules for all stages of life, all castes as well as for men and women are laid out there.
Hindus, however, do not demand the fulfillment of the old laws. Although many Hindus still seek and quote guidelines in the scriptures today, no one would consider these writings to be general rules today.
The Dharma series will be continued.