There is no correct English translation of the word Dharma.
The closest meaning is a virtuous way of conduct and living but this is not even a 20% completely accurate nor comprehensive translation.
The Uttharkanda section of the Ram Charitra Manas has described Dharma in the most succinct manner that can be understood by all.
Brother, there is no greater Dharma than benevolence(परहित), no greater sin than oppressing others.
I have declared to you, dear brother, the verdict of all the Vedas and the Puranas, and the learned also know it.
Benevolence means altruism or selflessness and being always concerned about and working for the welfare of others.
परहित is a very complicated word.
A simpler meaning is निस्वार्थ सेवा or simply सेवा (SEVA).
सेवा (SEVA) means Selfless Service.
So the highest Dharma is सेवा (SEVA) or Selfless Service not just to humanity, but to the whole world.
Because the highest ideal of the Sanathan Dharma is:
वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam)
The whole world is One Family.
My description below may seem too long and lengthy and cumbersome.
What is Dharma?
If you understand hurting another man is adharma (violation of Dharma), pleasing another man is Dharma, you have performed Dharma.
S Radhakrishnan, 2nd President of India.
You do not need to learn any scripture or memorize any shlokas or perform any prayers and rituals, just practice the above words of S Radhakrishnan and you are an embodiment of Dharma.
Rule of Dharma is not only the right and responsibility of the “Hindu” religion.
It applies to every person of any religion.
Dharma is beyond religion.
It was created by Brahman.
And Brahman creates for all of creation, not just a particular religious group or for man alone.
The core essence of Dharma is:
धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः ।
तस्माद्धर्मो न हन्तव्यः मानो धर्मो हतोवाधीत् ।।
Dharma defends those who defend it.
Dharma destroys those who destroy it.
Dharma can neither be created nor be destroyed.
You will reap what you sow.
Adharma (Iniquity), committed in this world, produces not fruit immediately, but, like the earth, in due season, and advancing by little and little, it eradicates the man who committed it.
…Dharma, being destroyed, will destroy; being preserved, will preserve; it must never therefore be violated.
Dharma is part of the Rtam.
The Rtam is the only supreme and divine law in this world.
And as we know Brahman is supremely patient, trusting and compassionate.
But as we also know the Rtam is dispensed dispassionately according to your Karma.
The whole verse from the Mahabharat is:
अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
“Ahimsa Parmo Dharma
Dharma Himsa Tathaiva Cha”
Ahimsa (Non-violence) is the supreme Dharma,
So too is violence in service of Dharma.
Many volumes and books are written in all religions about the concept of Dharma.
According to these books, people follow Dharma by rituals, pilgrimages, prayers, sacrifices and appearances.
This confuses people.
Lord Ram also said:
Tolerance is a great virtue.
What is Truth?
Truth is that which is infinite and is eternal and it was never created but it always existed.
This is what Jiddu said about Truth:
There is no path to truth and there are no two truths.
Truth is not of the past or of the present – it is timeless – and the man who quotes the truth of the Buddha, of Shankara, of the Christ, or who merely repeats what I am saying, will not find truth because repetition is not truth: repetition is a lie.
Truth is a state of being which arises when the mind – which seeks to divide, to be exclusive, which can only think in terms of results, of achievement – has come to an end.
Only then will there be truth.
The mind that is making effort, disciplining itself in order to achieve an end, cannot know truth because the end is its own projection and the pursuit of the projection, however noble, is a form of self-worship.
He alone shall know truth who is not seeking, who is not striving, who is not trying to achieve a result.
Jiddu also said the following about truth:
Truth is truth, one, alone; it has no sides, no paths; all paths do not lead to truth.
There is no path to truth, it must come to you.
Truth can come to you only when your mind and heart are simple, clear, and there is love in your heart; not if your heart is filled with the things of the mind.
When there is love in your heart, you do not talk about organizing for brotherhood; you do not talk about belief, you do not talk about division or the powers that create division, you need not seek reconciliation.
Then you are a simple human being without a label, without a country.
This means that you must strip yourself of all those things and allow truth to come into being; and it can only come when the mind is empty, when the mind ceases to create.
Then it will come without your invitation.
Then it will come as swiftly as the wind and unbeknown.
It comes obscurely, not when you are watching, wanting.
It is there as sudden as sunlight, as pure as the night; but to receive it, the heart must be full and the mind empty.
Now you have the mind full and your heart empty.
Krishnamurti, J. Krishnamurti The Collected Works Vol. V Benares, India 1949
What constitutes Purity?
Purity is constituted of heart, mind, body and spirit.
That means there must be purity of thought, word and action.
What constitutes Charity and Compassion?
Charity and Compassion are constituted by thought, word and deed.
Just throwing a few lakhs or even crores of rupees and putting your name on the donation board in front of the building does not really mean one is truly charitable and compassionate.
The conduct of the saint and the sinner is analogous to that of the sandal tree and the axe;
for – mark it, brother – the axe cuts down the tree, but the fragrant sandal imparts its perfume to the very axe that fells it.
For this reason sandal finds its way to the heads of the gods, while the axe, for its punishment, has its steel edge heated in the fire and beaten with a hammer.
Moderation and self-restraint
Renunciation and humility
Abstention from injury.
Injury does not mean just physical harm, but also the injury caused by feeling of hatred toward another person.
In addition to the above, the Gita also the mentions the following divine qualities:
Valour and Fearlessness
Wise apportionment of knowledge and Concentration
Sacrifice, Study of the scriptures
Austerity and Uprightness
Non-violence, Forgiveness, Fortitude
Tranquility, Freedom from anger
Aversion to fault finding, Freedom from malice and excessive pride
Freedom from covetousness
Gentleness, modesty and steadiness (absence of fickleness).
Consistently and constantly practicing the 3’Rs according to the Dalai Lama is also a part of Dharma:
Respect for Oneself
Respect for Others
Responsibility for Ones Actions
Another important component is:
Learning the Dharma starts first at home, then in school and then in the village or town that you live in especially your immediate neighbourhood and among your family and friends.
Everybody wants to “conquer” the world.
We have great histories of world “conquerors” who only actually spread death and destruction.
It is more important to conquer yourself.
If you follow the above principles of Dharma you will conquer yourself.
As Paulo Coelho said:
“If you conquer yourself, then you will conquer the world.”
There is no single person in this world, even the Gods themselves, who can always and faithfully follow all the principles of Dharma I have mentioned.
Sometimes people are forced into circumstances beyond their control and they violate some principles of Dharma.
But they still uphold Dharma if they follow at least 75% of the rest of its principles and make every effort in the future to correct and abide by the principles of Dharma that they have violated.
Dharma according to Lord Krishna
If you have to break your vow to uphold Dharma, you should break it.
If you have to cheat to uphold Dharma, you should cheat.
If you have to kill your own wicked family to uphold Dharma, you should kill them.
This is because Lord Krishna upheld Dharma and did what was right, regardless of what others thought of him.
But it only bought him condemnation and a bad reputation because of the deceit involved in the way it was done, which was not befitting of the conduct expected by a Kshatriya.
There was nobody more pure-hearted and virtuous than her.
But to avoid the stigma of what other ignorant idiots thought of their queen, he banished her even though he knew in his heart that she was the most virtuous and pure-hearted of women.
Dharma according to Lord Ram
Vali was most disappointed and complained to Ram:
You are the Maryadda Purshotham, how can you shoot me in the back, you should have come in front of me and shot me.
Then Lord Ram replied:
I am the Marayadda Purshotam only to people who are decent and follow Dharma.
But also remember this below about Lord Ram:
Ravana had ten heads.
Rama had to cut off all the ten heads to finally kill Ravana.
With the battle won, Rama said, “I want to go to the Himalayas and do penance, because I have committed a great sin.
I have killed someone who was a great devotee of Shiva, a phenomenal scholar, a great king, a generous man.”
The others were shocked.
But Rama said, “Out of the ten heads of his, there was one that had great wisdom, piety, and devotion. I regret cutting off that head.”
Just follow this fundamental principle – if you see something wrong in someone, condemn that, not the person.
If you bring this wisdom into your life, you will be free of baggage. When you do this to others, the same will happen to you.
Rama was a man of great wisdom, which is why he is worshipped. He failed in many aspects of his life, but his failures never altered his wisdom and quality.
No matter what life did to him, he stayed above that.
I want you to remember Rama’s example throughout the year.
If you are sensible enough to identify the quality rather than condemn the person, before Guru Purnima comes and we shift to Dakshinayana, or the southern run of the sun,you should have reaped a rich harvest.
A rose plant has more thorns than roses, but we still call it a rose plant because we recognize its beauty.
A mango tree has more leaves than mangoes, but we still call it a mango tree because we recognize the sweetness of its fruits.
Every human being has at least one drop of sweetness in them.
Why don’t we see this?
Please do this with everyone around you – try to recognize that one drop of sweetness in even those people who you otherwise consider to be horrible.
Only if you recognize it in others, it will reflect in you.
On the other hand, if you see terrible things in other people, that is what will reflect in you.
This does not mean you should become blind to everything.
You see the leaves in the tree; you see the thorns in the rose bush – but you acknowledge the flower and the fruit.