Talk:Meaning of Dharma

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Dharma is one of those Sanskrit words that defy all attempts at an exact rendering in English or any other tongue. That word has passed through several vicissitudes. In the hymns of the Rgveda the word appears to be used either as an adjective or a noun (in the form dfmrtmn, generally neuter ) and occurs at least fifty-six times therein. It is very difficult to say what the exact meaning of the word dharma was in the most ancient period of the vedic language. The word is clearly derived from root dhr ( to uphold, to support, to nourish). In a few passages, the word appears to be used in the sense of ‘ up- holder or supporter or sustainer’ as in Rg. I. 187.1' and X. 92.2*. In these two passages and in Rg. X. 21.3* the word dhunna is clearly masculine. In all other cases, the word is either '1 jviously in the neuter or presents a form which may bv either masculine or neuter. In most cases the meaning of dharman is ‘ religious ordinances or rites’ as in Rg. I. 22. 18, V. 26. 6, VIII. 43. 24, IX. 64. i &c. The refrain ‘ tani dharmani prathamanyasan ’ occurs in Rg. I. 164, 43 and 50, X. 90. 16. Similarly we have the words ‘ prathama dharma ’ ( the primeval or first ordinances) in Rg. III. 17. i. and X. 56.3 and the words ‘ sanata dharmani (ancient ordinances) occur in Rg. III. 3. i.

In some passages this sense of ‘religious rites’ would not suit the context, e. g. in IV. 53. 3% V. 63. 75, VI. 70. VII. 89. 5^ In these passages the meaning seems to be ‘ fi.xed principles or rules of conduct In the Vajasancyasaihhita the above senses of the word dharman are found and in 11 . 3 and V. 27 we have the words ‘ dhruvepa dharmaij*V. In the same Samhita the form ^dharmah (from dharma) becomes frequent, e. g, X, 29, XX. 0. The Atharvaveda contains many of tliose verses of the Rgvcda^in w hich the word dhanmtn occurs, e. g. VI. 51. 3 ( acittya diet va dharma yuyopima), VII, 5. 1 ( Yajncna yajnamayajanta ) Vll^y. 5 (tnni pada vicakramc). In XI. 9. 17 the word ‘dharmah’ se^is to be used in the sense of ‘ merit acquired by the performance ^religious rite.s'\’ In the Aitareya-hrainnana, the word Jbarma seems to be used in an abstract sense ’, viz. ‘ tlic w hole body of religious duties’. In the Chandogya-upanisad[1] there is an important passage bearing on the meaning ol the word dharma ^ there arc three branches of dharma y one is (constituted by) sacrifice, study and charity ( i. e. the stage of house-holder ) ; the second ( is constituted by ) austerities ( i. e. the stage of being a hermit ); the third is the brahmacarin dwelling in the house of his teacher and himself stay w'ith the family of his teacher till the last ; all making ' ^ to the worlds of meritorious men ; one who abides these attain .. attains immortality.'

It will be seen that in this firmly in bralw // ^ > stands for the peculiar duties of the passage the word dhat. mssion establishes how' the word airamas. The foregoing bnel dis. passed through several iransitions oi mcai..iig and h ultimately its most prominent significance came to be ‘the privileges, 5uSs and obligations of a man, his standard ol conduct as a member of the Aryan community, as a memoer oi one ol the casus, as a person in a particular stage of life.’ It is in tins sense that the word Lems to be used in the well-known exhortation to the pupil con- uined in the 'Taittiriya-upanisad C 1- 1 1 ) ‘ tl'c truth piactisc ( your own ) dhnwa. It is in the same sense that the Bhagavadgita uses the word dhartM in the oli-quoicd x erse ‘ svadhanue nidhanarii Mcyah.’ The word is employed ui tins sense m the dharmakuirn Wxmwc. Tire Manusmru ( i. 2 ) tells us diat the ~8 ^ vTO =51 I ’F “ vide also a similar passage at A. Br. VIII. 13. The form dhar man ooonra in the Upanisads and in classical Sanskrit in Bahuvrlhi compounds, e.g. in tbe

i. Meaning of Dhanm sages requested Manu to impart instruction in the dharmas of all the vanfis. The Yajhyavalkya-smriti ( I. i ) employs it in the same sense. In the Tamra-Vartika” also we are told that all the dharmasutras are concerned with imparting instruction in the dharmas^ of varijas and Ahtinias. Medhatithi commenting on Manu s:)s that the expounders ol rw/z-hj dilate upon as five-fold, e. varnadharnio, asraiiui-Jhiii via, varttdiraiua-dhanim, iiahnittihadharmn ( such as priiyascitta ) and fuiiadhartna ( the duty of a crowned king, whether Ksatriya or not, to protect )“. It is in this sense that the word dlianiui xvil! be taken in this work. Numerous topics are comprehended under the title dharmasSstra, but in this work prominence will be given to works on dedrd and vyavahdra ( law and administration of justice ). It would be interesting to recall a few other definitions of dharma. Jaimini '5 defines dharma as ‘a desirable goal or result that is indicated by injunctive (Vedic) passages.’ The word dharma would mean .such rites as are conducive to happiness and are enjoined by Vedic passages.

The Vaisesikasutra' defines dharma as that from which results happiness and final beatitude. There are several other more or less one-sided definitions of dharma such as ‘ ahiihsil paramo dharmah ’ ( AnusS-sanaparva 115. i.), ‘anrfamsyam paro dharmah’ (Vanaparva 373. 76) ‘ acarah paramo dharmah’ (Manu I. 108 ). Harita defined dharma as srutipramanaka (based on revelation). In the Buddhist sacred books the word dharma has several senses. It often means the whole teaching of Buddha (S.B.E.Vol. X. p. XXXllI). Another meaning of dharma peculiar to the Buddhist system is ‘ an clement of existence, i. e. of matter, mind and forces. The present work will deal with the sources of dharma, their contents, their chronology and other kindred matters. As the 12 on 19. 1 and on 2.25 give the same five-fold classification.

16 Vide Dr. Stcherbatsky’s monograph on the central conception of Buddh material is vast and the number of works is extremely large, only a few selected works and some important authors will be taken up for detailed treatment. More space will be devoted to comparatively early works.

AD/CR Read note 41 for note 46

After the words ‘the sutra is in close relation to one of the oldest schools of the Yajurveda, viz. Kafa the following should be added ‘ Vacaspati in his Sraddha- kalpa alias Pitrbhaktitarangini says that the sutra of Visnu is meant for students of the Kathasikha, as Visnu is a sutra- kara of that akha’ ; IT flit ttftpasnfe'R ^ of in the India Ollicc, folio 17a ( 1 . O. p. 556 No. 1750 ). The sutra referred to is 86.

Synopsis Defies exact rendering in English - In the Rgveda, used as adjective or noun - means upholder or supporter in some Rgvedic passages - in most Rgveda passages means religious ordinances or rites and in rare cases fixed principles or rules of conduct - in Aitareya-brahmana dharma means ‘whole body of religious duties- in Chandogya-Upanisad dharma means ‘peculiar duties of asramas dharma came to mean duties and privileges of a person as a member of the Aryan community, as member of one of the varas or as in a particular stage of life - the same meaning in Taittiriya Upanisad, Bhagavadgita, Manusmrti and other smrtis - according to Medhatithi, dharma five-fold viz., varnadharma, asramadharma, varnasramaditarma, naimittikadharma, gunadharma - this meaning of dharma taken in this work - definitions of dharma according to Jaimini, Vaisiesikasutra, llarita, Mahabharata and Buddhist works - subjects treated in this work, viz. sources of dharma, contents of works on dharma, their chronology.


  1. Chandogya Upanisad 2.23