“धरयैतअनेना :इति धर्मां” “Dharyate anena iti dharma” That which is the
very basis on which the Natural, Social and Cosmic phenomenon sustains
is Dharma. We will look at these aspects in detail. ~(Matruvani)
There is no equivalent word for Ḍharma in English. Ḍharma is not a duty, nor responsibility, nor an obligation, nor a commandment. The entire Sanātana literature proclaims the concept of Ḍharma and the concept known as Ishwara (Iśvara). The meaning of Dharma keeps evolving as we discuss, and it should also evolve during our exploration in life. This evolving Dharma what drives all aspects of Prakriti (including us) to higher states of consciousness is called the Eternal Dharam or Sanatana Dharma.
Let us examine Ḍharma from various angles. Countless great beings in the past have constantly explored Ḍharma their entire lives under the guidance of Gurus (Rishis/rśi), through the examination of Shastra (Śāstra Parishilana), and by making efforts to implement in one’s life (Dharm:anustanam). This attempt in life to explore and understand Dharma is called Ḍharma Sādhanā.
Ḍharma can be defined as that message which explains an innate property of an entity (phenomenon); it also explains the choice of an appropriate option, and a path to that option. Ḍharma, when performed as an action (or inaction), results in a consequence called sat:karmā. This consequence (sat:karmā) not only benefits the doer (Karta) but encompasses the cumulative well-being of the environment (Prakṛti) and becomes a means of reaching a higher consciousness. In other words, Ḍharma is that action that doesn’t disturb the natural flow of creation (Ṛta); rather, it sustains the natural order and harmony within creation. Hence Rishi Jaimini, who established the Mīmāṃsā School of philosophy and was a student of Veda Vyāsa, defined Ḍharma as:
“codaṇā-lakṣaṇaḥ arthaḥ dharmaḥ” That which leads to the cumulative
wellbeing of all the surroundings.
This action/inaction (Ḍharma) performed is collective of the position (like ashram or upādhi) held by a being (karta) in a given situation in time (kālá). This action (karma), together with its consequence (phala), is called karmaphala.
Ḍharma is also a default inbuilt property of a being/entity that one must not override for the sake of personal desire. For example, the Ḍharma of fire is combustion, the Ḍharma of water is to flow and stick together, the Ḍharma of air or wind is to spread. In this way, Ḍharma is an inherent nature bestowed by Prakruti (Prakṛti) (nature/creation) that an entity follows, and exists in accordance with Prakṛti. Now, let us ask a question. If Prakṛti bestowed an inherent nature in all elements of creation, then we – as human beings – are also made up of these five elements (Pancha bhūta). Then shouldn’t we be inheriting their properties? It is only a human who, due to intellect (buddhi) clouded by desire (rāga-dveṣa) and self-defined identity (Aham), chooses a path that appeals to one’s own satisfaction, and not the cumulative well-being of everything. Because of individual identity and selfish desire, a human creates a false notion that one is independent of creation and the environment. Human beings fail to realize that we are a part of the same Prakṛti and our will (desire) is finite within the will of Prakṛti; it is only our consciousness that is boundless. So, an action in line with Ḍharma of the being in a given situation leads to sat:karmā, else leads to dush:karmā. So, the closest English equivalent phrase for Ḍharma is “a natural or universal order which, when followed, results in sat:karmā”. Hence, one of the two Itihāsas, Mahābhāratam, Karna Parva 69:58, compiled by Vyāsa says:
dhāraṇād dharma ityāhuḥ dharmo dhārayate prajāḥ | ya syād dhāraṇa
samyuktaḥ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || The word Ḍharma comes from the
word “dhāraṇā” which refers to sustenance, maintenance, and retention
of the collective (samyuktaḥ) wellbeing and balance in nature.
- Let us explore dharma from a different angle by exploring the following sloka:
“deshey desheya acharyaka paramparya kramagathaka amnayai avi:rudhasya
Meaning, based on the geography of the dweller, their conduct (achara) passed on as lineage, constitutes a family’s tradition. Abiding by that tradition becomes their Ḍharma. Now, is dharma just a family tradition? If so, each geography has its own customs, each location has its own climatic and geographic challenges causing so many diverse variations in tradition. Does this mean dharma has no standard? To address this, the second phase of this sloka states that, this so-called family tradition should not be against the Vedā. Hence, Vedā always takes precedence. Even more, a Guru’s word takes precedence, but a Guru will always abide by the Vedā, in return making Vedā the foundation. As time and civilization progress, does the message of the Vedā change? Is the knowledge given forth in the Veda applicable over time? The answer is Yes because the Vedā is nothing but the compilation of the phenomena of nature (Prakṛti) and its constraints.
In this way this reply answers all your following questions:
Also vaidic dharma is not supposed to be studied by non-vaidic people: Answered based on the 6th point
Is dharma only meant for humans? Answered
What is the definition of 'dharma', and is it different from 'sanatana dharma'? Answered
Is sanatana dharma partial towards non-vaidic people? Answered
Does nature support it? Answered