What does Dharma Mean As Per The Vedas?

Coming to the Vedic word “Dharma”, does not convey what is understood by “religion”

“Dharma” has been defined by many learned men of ancient India. We would like to mention what they understood and meant of Dharma and defined it:-

Manusmŗti one of the oldest and greatest legal authority, states:-

“Dhŗtih Kşamaa damo asteyam showcham indriya nigrahah

Dheer vidyā satyam akrodho dashakam dharma lakşaņam

(Manu Smŗti VI-92)

Dharma according to Manu means, these 10 commandments:-

1. Dhŗti – steadfastness, firmness, bold and courageous character.

2. Kşamaa – to pardon, when one is in a powerful and strong position or circumstances.

3. Damo – Control of all passions and emotions.

4. Asteyam – Not to commit any type of theft. There are various kinds of thefts, like material, theft of speech, like back biting or abetting others by speech to theft and a mental theft, to think of theft is like its commitment.

5. Showcha – Physical, Verbal, and spiritual cleanliness and purity.

6. Indriya Nigrah – Strong and firm hold on one’s all sensual agencies and temptations.

7. Dheeh – To develop the faculty of intelligence and intuition.

8. Satyam – Truth in all aspects and circumstances. Never even to think of falsehood.

9. Vidyaa – Acquiring of knowledge and wisdom by studying hard and also by its propogation.

10. Akrodha – Control of anger, which if not controlled, leads to loss of judgement, causing illusions and violence.

Lord Manu ordered every person to be a Dharmaatamaa, that is, to observe and practice all these qualities without fail.

1. Sage Kaņaada in his work “Vaisheşika Darshana” described dharma thus:-

“Yato abhyudaya nih shreyasa sa siddhih sa dharmah”.

That is – All those deeds which promote all round progress and prosperity (nishreyasa) and constant spiritual and righteous attainments, means, dharma.

2. It is also defined as:-

“Dharme Vishvasya jagatah pratişţhaa”

“Those laws and acts that (pratişţhaa) are the cause of sustainance of (vishvasya jagatah) all activities and progress of the world in all aspects, means dharma. The physical laws of universal sustainance like gravitation etc. also come under this term. So also, all acts which hold the society, nations, together are the laws of dharma.

3. “Chodanaa lakşaņo dharmah” (poorva meemaansaa I-1-2)

Dharma means, all acts that inspire and prod to do good deeds, leading to happiness.

4. Bheeşma Pitaamaha (Mahaabhaarata) when asked to kindly define dharma he said:-

“Aatma pratikoolaani pareşaam na samaachareta”

“Acts, that one would not like to be applied to himself, one should not apply to others, is the act of dharma.”

5. “Dhaaraņaat dharma iti aahuh”

“It means, the specific, cardinal properties or characteristics of a person, object or

a system is called its dharma.” For example, the specific character of fire is to provide heat, water is to cool, and air is to cause motion or impulse. On a very hot day, when air does not have an impulse, people say ‘it is so hot that there is no air. It is because the air has lost its impulse or motion. So its existence is denied. Similarly, various professions and duties of persons are called their dharmas.

We would like our reader to view that in all the above mentioned definitions and descriptions of Dharma, in no way they give the sense of “faith” or “belief” or “religion”. All these descriptions about dharma mean strict observance of all beneficial, social ethics and moral obligations, towards the society. Dharma is not man’s relations or his behaviour towards his Creator, a diety or God. Dharma is just social codes, and in ancient India great stress was laid on their observance. Failure in practicing their (dharmic) social laws was unpardonable.

Manu warns:-

“Dharmo eva hato hanti dharmo rakşati rakşatah tasmaat

dharmo na hantavyo maa no dharmo hatah avadheet”

(Manu Smŗti VIII-15)

It states:-

If (dharma), the social laws are (hato) not observed, (hanti) they shall (hi hanti) decidedly destroy or bring sufferings, but (rakştah) if they are well protected or practiced (rakşati) they shall protect you in return (tasmaat), for this reason (dharma) the laws should (na) never be (hantavyah) neglected or destroyed, (maa no) because if we never (hatah) neglect (dharm) the laws (avadheet) they will never harm us too.


“Dharmo viddhastvadharmeņa sabhaam yatropaţişthate

shalyam chaasya na kŗntanti viddhaastatra sabhaasadah

(Manu Smŗti VIII-12)

“If, in any (sabhaam) society or cabinet (dharma) laws are (viddha) pierced or damaged by (adharmeņa) un-social laws or persons, (shalyam) and if they are not well mended, (tatra sabhaasadah) then all its members (viddhaast) should regard themselves dead or crippled. Similar warning is again mentioned in ‘the next shloka’ (Manu VIII-14) which states that if at any time, or place (dharma) the righteous laws are overpowered by evil deeds and truth is suppressed by falsehood, then, it must be taken that all those who deal that way are no better than dead.

All these verses stress on observing strict social laws and never to yield to falsehood and temptations, never to bend before falsehood and always to uphold all social and moral doctrines. Practice of social laws is called “Aachaara” – proper and perfect conduct. Manu states:-

“Aachaarah parmo dharmah shruti ukteh smŗti eva cha”

It states, practice of righteous conduct is the highest dharma, mentioned in Veda and in all (smaarta) social codes.

Therefore, he says:-

“Evam aacharato dŗştvaa dharmasya munayokatum,sarvasya tapaso moolam aachaarah jagŗhuh param”

(Manu Smŗti I-III)

(dŗştvaa) Realising that (dharma) all social and ethical laws (aacharto) can only be fruitful, if faithfully practiced; so (munayaah) all wisemen advocated (sarvasya) that every person, (tapsaa) even in austere circumstance, must (jagrhuh) observe these doctrines, because they are (moolam) the basis and fundamentals of (param aachaaram) highest moral conduct itself. For this very reason their children were weaned off from their parental homes and sent to monastries like (Gurukulas) where they were to live a life of penance, austerity and mutual cooperation. The (aacharya) preceptor in (kula) his home preached them:-

“satyam vada dharmam chara”

“Always speak nothing but truth. Execute, nothing but in accordance to the social, moral and spiritual laws.”

“Satyaat na pramaditavyam”

“Dharmaat na pramaditavyam”

Never neglect or deviate from truth and social doctrines.

“Maatŗ devo bhava pitŗdevo bhava

Aachaarya devo bhave” Atithi devo bhava”

(Taittireya Up. 11-2)

Always offer reverence and serve your mother, father, preceptor and your guests, as if they are godly people. Parents also advised them thus:-

When following us, accept only what is good in us, nothing owerwise, and in future life also when you have a problem, you should consult only those persons who are wise, honest, balanced, kind hearted and who observe all social and moral laws themselves.”

Putting it in simple words, Dharma, in no way conveys the sense what is understood by the word ‘Religion’. Dharma collectively means laws, physical, moral and social laws. Dharma does not indicate in any way one’s faith or his relation with his Creator, Prophet, saviour or God or a Diety. So to translate Dharma as Religion is wrong.

Thus, if Veda has a ‘religion’ (?) it is knowledge and wisdom, and nothing like a blind “faith”. Vedic ‘Dharma’ brings and develops cohesion, love and mutual regard and dedication, and all kind of knowledge.

In real sense the word Dharma is applicable to the inanimates also, where it means mutual affinity pull and synthesis of particles. We do use this word Dharma when we say the dharma of fire is to generate heat and compounding and that of water is to cool and to disintegrate by softening & decading.

The Vedic Dharma has a very wide application and stands on laws and reasoning and not on blind ‘faith’.

Dharma sabha was to inculcate this teaching of Dharma-the social laws, in public, and make them lead a pious and happy life.

Vedic dharm is not restricted to some people, race, language or country. It is therefore divine.

“Veda, if ever can be called to have a religion, it is ETERNAL KNOWLEDGE, TRUTH & is therefore DIVINE”.

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