What is Dharma?

22 Aug


     I grew up Christian and never learned anything about Hinduism other than it was a polytheistic (many gods) form of religion. This automatically meant it could not be anything like Christianity and it was to be avoided. However, now that I’ve done a little reading about it for myself, I’m finding many similarities and correlations with Christianity. I want to share some of Hinduism’s basic terminology so that you can see how it compares with Christianity.

     Understanding two terms will help you to learn the essence of Hinduism: dharma and karma. I’ll explain dharma in this post and karma in the next post.

     What is dharma? It comes from the root word dhri that means to support, hold up or bear. In general, dharma implies support from within – that which makes something what it is, as in its essence. Hinduism explains it in a story about a sage who was sitting by the riverside. He noticed a scorpion had fallen in the water so he reached down to rescue it. The scorpion stung him. Later, he saw it had fallen in the water again. He rescued it and it stung him. After it happened a third time, a bystander asked, “Why do you keep rescuing that scorpion when you know it’s only going to sting you in return?” The sage answered, “Because the dharma of a scorpion is to sting, but it is the dharma of a human being to save.”

     Clearly it is not the dharma of every human being to save, but this refers to the highest ideal of a human being. Selfless service or action. It reminds me of Jesus and his selfless action.

     According to Eknath Easwaran in his introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad Gita, “on a larger scale, dharma means the essential order of things, an integrity and harmony in the universe and the affairs of life that cannot be disturbed without courting chaos. Thus it means rightness, justice, goodness, purpose rather than chance.” Things are designed to be as they are for a reason. There is a natural order whose underlying foundation, design, or essence is goodness, justice, rightness, purpose.

     Another way to look at it is that there is a oneness in life, all things are interconnected and if they are allowed to work according to the original design, they will ultimately work together and the result will be good, just, and right.

     An ancient Sanskrit epigram states that “the highest dharma is ahimsa: nonviolence, universal love for all living creatures; for every kind of violence is a violation of dharma, the fundamental law of the unity of life.”

     This is sounding a lot like the goal Jesus was working to achieve: the fundamental law of the unity of life. Love each other. Don’t hurt anyone, even if their nature is poisonous and stinging. Do not repay evil with evil, but instead, repay evil with good.

     The teaching of Hinduism and Jesus both sound counter-intuitive. And they are. But it’s the only way we are going to achieve peace, unity, harmony, and the highest ideal of dharma in the world.

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