Dharma is an ancient Indian concept that has been integrated into various religious and spiritual doctrines. Due to its long and varied history, it is often mis-understood.
There is no single word for dharma in English. A few authors have attempted to translate this concept and have come up with over 20 different translations including“law, order, duty, custom, nature, practice, purpose, quality, statute“. However, each of these words is incomplete. Even a combination of these concepts do not convey a complete sense of dharma. Hence the word dharma has become a widely accepted loanword in English.
In common parlance – dharma is taken to mean “right way of living” or “path of righteousness”.
In ancient Indian philosophy, dharma includes two aspects –
- Yuga Dharma which refers to laws or paths that apply to a particular age.
- Sanatana Dharma refers to eternal law or the unchanging cosmic principals.
Yuga Dharma is somewhat simpler to understand – it involves adhering to the rules that govern a particular period in history. There was however an inherent understanding that these rules would be transient and may change in the future. Yuga Dharma is the legal or social rules that we currently agree.
To understand Sanatana Dharma – you need to understand three underlying concepts – Rta, Maya and Karma.
Rta is the principal which regulates and coordinates the operation everything in the universe (including humans). It is akin to the fundamental forces of nature described by modern science. Sanatana Dharma involves honouring these fundamental forces.
However, as most humans cannot even perceive these natural forces. Honouring Rta has historically come with detailed instructions and the need for a spiritual guide. This concept is that inspired many enlightened teachers – like Buddha.
It is also this concept that gave rise to the various meditation, yoga and tantric practices. These practices were used to develop body and mind so you may perceive and live in accordance with Rta. Living in Rta means living your dharma.
Maya – the illusion
However, if your perception or consciousness is unclear then you are prone to being led astray by misguided goals. These misguided goals may have short term benefits but are detrimental in the long term. Misguided goals are due to Maya. Maya means fraud, deception, illusion – it refers to anything that misleads and creates disorder.
The world as most of us perceive it, is often referred to as Maya. We know that if we looked through a giant microscope – we will see a very different picture. Yet, we decide to make the material world our reality.
Maya is contrary to Rta. And Maya conditions us to behave in a self-limiting manner. This self limiting behaviour results in karma.
The only way to overcome karma is to train your mind and body to live your Dharma. Live your truth!
Dharma is to do whatever you do practically, skilfully for the benefit of all beings. Dharma is purity of heart.
Response from a Nun to Bethany Hughes question “What is Dharma?”
Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.
Nitasha’s yoga training began in childhood and she has been trekking into the Himalayan peaks to meet her teachers and to teach for over 25 years. Her wisdom on traditional yoga and meditation practices is immense. Her personal practice is one of dedication, perseverance and humility.
She is a Senior Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals and leads Yoga training and retreats globally.