I'm currently working on a spiritual book. I want to know the exact replacement for the word 'dharma'. I know dharma refers to righteous Order. But I just can't find the exact feel of dharma in any English words.

  • Dharma is instructions of the the Supreme Lord Krishna, in simple elaboratory words. – Religious Believers Jan 15 at 12:57
  • Duty, Virtue, Custom etc., – hanugm Jan 15 at 13:50

Dharma has various shades of meaning which developed over time and in different spheres. Prof. PV Kane has discussed this term in his 'History of Dharmaśāstra'. In the Rig Veda, the term 'dharma' refers to either a concept of a foundation or the ethical concept of a foundation of divine or supernatural authority for the moral, social and ritual order of society. It concerns our obligations before the gods, whether to engage in ritual or to engage in moral behaviour with respect to each other.

Similarly, Dr. Rachana Bhangaokar explains -

"drawing from the root word "rta", Dharma in the Rigveda meant both religious rituals and something that nourished and sustained everything else. Rta represented the natural order of the cosmos, where everything in the universe follows a specific course. It also meant a moral order which includes the results of following the path of truth. Thus rta as a concept included both physical and moral harmony. … Gradually, the term rta was replaced by the exclusive use of the word Dharma, which then encompassed what rta represented. Finally, Dharma became ideal conduct that had to be followed for human beings to become spiritually perfect."

Dharma also continued to be a key term during the period of the philosophical systems. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra begins with the words -

"So now, dharma will be explained. That due to which true knowledge and liberation are obtained is dharma. The sacred tradition is authoritative because it expresses that."

The Mīmāṃsā Sūtra defines dharma as -

"Dharma has the defining characteristic of guiding actions"

For the Mīmāṃsā philosophers, the injunctions of the Veda provide a paradigm of statements that prompt actions that are aligned with dharma.

Ultimately, it is difficult to capture the idea in a single term. In the Mahābhārata, Bhiṣma was asked directly ‘what is sanātana dharma?’ (‘kiṃ svid dharmyaṃ sanātanam?’) and answered as follows -

“This type of question is very difficult to answer. It is difficult to explicate by logic [tarka]. It is discerned as follows. Dharma was propounded for the dignity of living beings. What is certain is that dharma is anything connected with non-violence Dharma was propounded for non-violence among living beings. It is called dharma because it supports; all creatures are maintained by dharma. What is certain is that dharma is anything connected with giving support”

  • I'm not sure how this answers the question: What is the right English word that can explain "Dharma"? You seem to be giving the definition/meaning of 'dharma'...but that's not what OP wanted. – Say No To Censorship Jan 16 at 21:14
  • Yes, fair point. I was trying to say that there is no one exact relacement for the word Dharma in English, so the OP would do better to contextualise the term within the various contexts discussed above, rather than seek a single replacement - but maybe I didn't express myself clearly enough. – Kalpya Jan 17 at 13:08

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