No – This is not the final word on Dharma. I wish it was that easy to define and explain it, especially in English. ‘Dharma’ is one of the many words of ancient Indian Literature in Sanskrit whose meaning is elusive and difficult to define. Whenever anyone attempts to define ‘Dharma’, they often fail to go beyond a limit. To believe they have been able to understand it fully – they describe a finite meaning to this term. But the difficult part of the job is not simply understanding it – which actually comes much later.
Our learned and wise fore-fathers allowed themselves to be seers of revealed knowledge. God or Consciousness is said to have revealed the truth about life and living to these wise masters (or should i call them able students). They discovered the truths for themselves and passed it on to their progeny. They also created enough suggestive practices for the interested student to realize and discover these truths for themselves. The principles are nothing but the truths about life. Since truth itself has variations – they segregated the changeless portion (srutis) and the changeable portions (smritis). The sad part is that as people degenerated in discipline and principles, they could not follow the smritis and they almost lost access to the srutis. It is when situations like these arise that the all pervading God incarnates and re-invigorates the knowledge and its understanding. Such is the sanctity and purity of our knowledge.
These principles form the basis of our life – called ‘Sanatana Dharma’. The word ‘Sanatana’ means eternal while the word ‘Dharma’ means principles and truths about life and living. Hence our fundamental literature can be broadly called as ‘the eternal principles and truths about life and living’.
We also need to understand ‘Dharma’ a little more closely. ‘Dharma’ can be understood at a macro level where it may mean the above. It can also be understood at the individual or micro level closely as ‘Nature’. An individual’s nature is something when understood clearly helps one lead a peaceful and fulfilled life without any stress or strain. It is never difficult for a rose to spread fragrance, the sun to give light, a Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to protect, a scorpion to sting – because for all of them, it is their nature. They live their nature. It is when we don’t take effort to discover our individual ‘Dharma’ that we live something that is alien to us – hence we undergo stress and strain because of the inherent friction between our nature and our action.
‘Dharma’ that is equated loosely to righteousness is related at best to the smritis – or suggested code of conduct. These will change over time. Hence they are changing visions of truth based on the societal conditions at any time. Again this is not a concept that can be explained in a short blog post – but for those interested it has been elaborated upon number of times and this attempt will continue, because discovery for oneself is essential.
Whether it is ‘Dharma’ at the individual or at the macro level – it needs to be discovered by us first, understood fully, imbibed totally and lived trustfully. For this we need to discover it for ourselves – rather than attempt to learn it from others. In this process of discovering and understanding these eternal principles, we may end up realizing ourselves too.