Dharma

Like all the other major world religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Taoism, Hinduism is a religion that is associated with a core text. This core text is known as the ‘Vedas.’ Originally transmitted orally for centuries, the Hindus decided to put down the Vedas into written form at around 1000 B.C., and this written form of the Vedas which still remains intact is known as the Rig Veda. The Rig Veda was then followed by the “Upanishads,” the Bhagavad Gita, and the “Epics” – namely, the Mahabharata and Ramayana – all of which comprise the core texts of Hinduism. These core texts are joined by complementary or supplementary texts such as the “Tantric” texts and so forth. In any case, Hinduism is in turn a complete religion and it is systematic and thorough in its approach towards emphasizing its core tenets and principles, given that the Vedas have been put into written form “syllable for syllable.”

And in a sense, all the core texts of Hinduism revolve around the concept of Dharma. As one scholar argued, the concept of Dharma is “the nearest semantic equivalent in Sanskrit to the English term ‘religion,’ but has a wider connotation than this, incorporating the ideas of ‘truth,’ ‘duty,’ ‘ethics,’ ‘law,’ and even ‘natural law.” Essentially, Dharma is “that power which upholds or supports society and the cosmos; that power which constrains phenomena into their particularity, which makes things what they are.” 

It has been argued that the key feature of Hinduism is that “practice takes precedence over beliefs.” It follows that: “Adherence to dharma is therefore not an acceptance of certain beliefs, but the practice or performance of certain duties, which are defined in accordance with dharmic social stratification.” Everyone is defined by their “endogamous social group” and in turn, the social group to which the individual belongs – or their ‘caste’ – defines the individual’s duties. 

And as René Guénon wrote, Dharma “signifies conformity with the essential nature of beings, which is realized in the ordered hierarchy where all beings have their place, and it is also, in consequence, the fundamental equilibrium or integral harmony resulting from this hierarchical disposition, which is moreover precisely what the idea of ‘justice’ amounts to when stripped of its specifically moral character.” In turn, it is “eventual liberation” rather than “worldly prosperity” which is the “legitimate goal” for those who carry out their dharmic duties, with one’s dharmic duties having been defined and shaped by their place in the “endogamous” or innate social hierarchy of international society.

The ‘Kama Sutra’ – which is a Hindu text that is complementary or supplementary to the core texts – states that an individual should acquire three things in conjunction with one another during their lifetime, namely, Dharma, Artha, and Kama. The first is the completion of one’s duties as defined by their place in the social hierarchy. The second concerns adequate material wealth in order to carry out one’s duties. And the third deals with pleasure. But even in the ‘Kama Sutra,’ it is Dharma which reigns supreme over the other two acquisitions. In essence, one should not be carried out at the expense of the other two, but most importantly, the latter two should not be carried out at the expense of the first. Balance and moderation between the three acquisitions are key. But it is the combination of the three acquisitions which renders a person as complete and as someone who has accomplished a ‘fulfilling life’ in the fullest sense of the idea.

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