What is Dharma?
There are many pages to this section but to begin with I will introduce a broad picture of the word Dharma. . .
Dharma is our second to second experience in the mundane world, while it is also the ultimate step by step journey to our becoming an enlightened universal, awakened being, as we overcome our Karmic life history.
Dharma is all of the layers of your reality; the mini and major circumstances and events. Dharma is the depth of your awareness, thinking and behavior that make you human, animal, demon or angel. It is the foundation and evolution of the magic that gives birth. It is how you protect what is precious and survive challenges. It is also what drives all living beings to their death. It dominates the laws of living and is what devours our life when we are ready to give in to entropy. It may be seen and grasped or not seen in the least. It is always there and is or isn’t influenced by your religion. It brings about change and takes part in it while it is happening.
Dharma has no beginning and has no end. If you see it, cultivate it, call on it and put it to work for you, it becomes you and you become it. Thus, it can determine your highest sense of freedom and happiness. Or, without any sense or acknowledgement of dharma, it can become ones’ lowest levels of depression, loneliness, escapism and karmic demise.
Dharma is your choice of destiny on earth or heaven. Dharma is, as Reginald A. Ray PhD confirms. . .
“All that occurs, when seen in its own light and from its own side; dharma, proclaims the unreality of our fixed notions of ourselves and our world. The dharma as phenomena is thus finally not distinct from the eternal dharma. The nakedness and starkness of phenomena, as they are, represent the breakthrough of the eternal dharma into our lives.” https://www.lionsroar.com/in-a-word-dharma/
First Significant Ancient Meanings
The root for the word dharma is “dhri”, which means ‘to support, hold firm, keep constant’. Dharma directs all that changes in the material and cosmic worlds, and still takes part in the change. It is irrespective of any person’s religious association—dharma is ultimate suchness (tatata).
Thus there is the dharma of salt; the dharma of an oak tree, an ant colony, a rhinoceros and a human being. There is the dharma of the Sun, the Moon, the liver and the stomach. It is the pure, natural consciousness of that organ, entity, system, atom or electron, at that prolonged moment in time. It is how that bio-cosmic consciousness manifests and expresses its inherent universal, dharma-laws, dharma-duties and the effects that come forth from consciously engaging with those laws or not engaging with the various indigenous expressions and actions.
In the ancient Vedic, Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist scriptures dharma has many meanings, all of which refer to nature, the laws of nature; cosmic justice, cosmic good and our divine purpose, or our truth as a unique living being. When our dharma is strong, cosmically-coherent, consciously directed and lovingly connected, we are protected with a divine force in which we attract appropriate, synchronistic forces into every aspect of our lives and the lives of others. Additional meanings abound, in brief:
Dharma, or “little d” dharma, from the Vedic tradition, broadly encompasses inherent, cosmic, universal laws of nature, in its rawest, indiscriminant, cosmically conceived, impossible-to-completely-translate-decipher or put under human influence, analysis, scrutiny or debate. Dharma, “little d”, is:
Nature, decrees, divine laws, practice, custom, divine duties, virtue, morality, ethics, merit, good words, character, behavior, profession, a moment in time, qualities, objects, and finally cosmic justice.
In looking at dharma related to a human being and one’s path. Gandhi said, “My life is my message.” Which means sva-dharma “my dharma”, or one’s practice of truth. Translated into Sanskrit, (truth) satya, is never separate from a person and is always expressed as their way of life and dharma practice.
As human beings our ability to live a happy, peaceful, healthy and fulfilled life is our truth, and is greatly assisted when our dharma message is naturally and confidently expressed through being conscious of attracting this truth at any cost; being conscious of our society and its traps and resources; engaging in the rituals and the power of our daily practice; mindfully observing continual thoughts, actions, and our moment to moment awareness; designing our professional agenda, our attitudes and behavior toward money, technology, materialism, success, and each sentient encounter we have as we love, tolerate, cooperate, coordinate and serve others throughout our life.to nature, the laws of nature, cosmic justice, cosmic good and our divine purpose, or our truth as a unique living being. When our dharma is strong, we are protected with a cosmic force, a divine coherence in which we attract good into every aspect of our lives and the lives of others.
Be that as it may with all of these inter-related meanings, there is the dilemma that few scholars have been able to agree on how to appropriately translate the word dharma. From my study it is very evident that the word dharma goes beyond our Western mind and conception and there is no definitive translation. Actually there is no one word in any of the Western languages that can be a perfect fit. One scholar of the Rig-Veda incorporates 20 meanings of the word dharma. In any Thai dictionary there are over 300 words with the word dharma in them, many refer to “laws”.
With all of these different interpretations and variations of the word dharma, and especially those terms regarding law, in his book Dharma as Law, Dr. Horacio Francisco Arganis Juarez stesses:
“Although some scholars invariably translate the Sanskrit word dharma with the English word “law”, in fact dharma, even in its sense of a binding rule, goes beyond the Western notion of law. For example. . . We can easily speak of an unjust law, but we can hardly speak of unjust dharma. That is because dharma is the sacred law, invested with divine authority, for dharma is based on the Vedas, sacred scriptures revealed by the Divine to highly qualified sages.”
In the Ideal Dharma and Culture in Indian Culture, Dr. R. N. Sharma asserts:
“. . . In ancient India the concept of Dharma was the synthesis of law, religion and morality. It represented the reality itself and the whole of ‘Right and Truth of human life. It was the spirit of Justice and the Victory of good over evil.”
The sacred laws of all religion or cosmic truths are dharma. These laws are deeply ingrained into our DNA, our human consciousness, our moment to moment frame of reference of our micro and macro universe, influencing our inner resources and deeply rooted priorities.
This meaning of dharma laws is discussed in Irina Kuznetsova’s book Dharma in Ancient India Thought:
“The term dharma has the widest scope of application covering all areas of human life. It is the concept the Hindus have used for centuries to articulate what is right, both true and proper, in every sphere to which they turned their minds – religious, philosophical, social and legal – the list is as endless as the propensity of the human mind to conceptualization. Through the particular meaning it has in any given context dharma highlights the uniqueness of every moment of life, whereas through its operation across contexts it emphasizes the interconnectedness of life’s particulars. The context sensitivity of dharma makes it necessary to contextualize any study of it.”
The Origin—the Eternal Tradition
The word Hinduism came from “Sanatana Dharma” which was referred to as the “eternal tradition”, or eternal way—beyond human history. To many scholars Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma, is considered the oldest religion in the world. (Although Judaism is also considered the oldest religion in the world)
The Vedic Knowledge Online website translates Sanatana and Dharma according to the following: http://veda.wikido
“Sanatana is all that is Eternal, Perennial, Never Beginning nor Never Ending, Abiding, Universal, Ever-present, Unceasing, Natural, and Enduring.
Dharma is Harmony, The Way, Righteousness, Compassion, Natural Law, Truth, Teachings, Tradition, Philosophy, Order, Universal, Flow, Religion, Wisdom, Divine Conformity, Cosmic Norm, Blueprint, Inherent Nature, Law of Being, and Du
Sanatana Dharma was central to the Hindu religion, philosophy, way of life, and intellectual, as well as superstitious beliefs.
Furthermore, I find it important to make clear that:
“Sanatana Dharma does not denote to a creed like Christianity or Islam, but represents a code of conduct and a value system that has spiritual freedom as its core. Any pathway or spiritual vision that accepts the spiritual freedom of others may be considered part of Sanatana Dharma.”
Sanatana Dharma in Hinduism is the higher aspect of Dharma
Do We Need to Suffer?
We can’t ignore the fact that we live in a material, physical world, where just being a human being requires us to suffer at expected times—birth, sickness, old age, loss and death. The absolute definition of Sanatana Dharma elaborates a way of life where one chooses to suffer the least. Therefore, these essential, underlying conditions of human suffering can be somewhat subdued, or palliated, if we approach them as “portals” of opportunity to go deeper into our Dharma while taking responsibility for our life.
Unfortunately, most people resign themselves to make it to the grave without a care or concern for their behavior; without any realization or acknowledgement that their thoughts or actions might alleviate their suffering a little bit or altogether. It is likely that these same people attach to and associate with these conditions of human suffering because everywhere throughout the commercial world there are reminders to make sure you have your health insurance, social security, sick leave and retirement package, and so forth—be ready for those times of suffering. Yes, these options are important for making you more secure during those times of human suffering, but will these options make them go away? Having enough income to help retirement is helpful. Having the proper insurance policy might be worth having. Being given enough income from social security is valuable. However, absolutely, we can’t forget that we live in a material, physical world where none of these material aids to our suffering will alleviate any of them in a way that frees us from it completely.
Although, for those of us who want to free ourselves from the expected brutal aspects of our destiny, exalting our lives with the Dharma, saturated with wise teachings to subdue and transcend these essential conditions of human suffering into portals of opportunity is beyond the imagination.
Pain and Suffering . . . An Attitude of Gratitude
Freeing the mind from adverse reactions at those times of human suffering, is considered to be “akarma”—we do away with our Karma (ignorance, attachments to self, and possessions, loved ones, etc.) through an attitude of gratitude in a state of equanimity
We who wish to free ourselves from the pain of any of these above human conditions of life as much as we humanly can, are invited to contemplate the Vedic and Buddhist scriptures about the “para-dharma”—superior dharma—or Sanatana Dharma—eternal dharma within us ( see below essay and scripture).
With your dynamic intention to integrate your Dharma throughout your everyday life and during critical times, a demised outcome is hardly likely. Furthermore, through your intimate participation, the effects of these human conditions of life will be more peaceful and divinely guided.
We do that through thoroughly immersing ourselves in the meaning and practice of what is called the Three Marks of Existence, or The trilakksana which proclaim three factors:
Everything that is of the material world, of matter made of atoms, electrons and quanta is in a constant state of change. This also includes mental and physical events, birth, sickness, old age and death. Everything born fresh and new will become old, wrinkled and die—nothing lasts, nobody can stay. And this is in total contrast to the Dharma experience, and what it means to be enlightened, which is unchanging and constant. In Sanskrit the word is anitya or pronounced: anitja means impermanence.
The next factor is that all living beings will have some form of physical or mental suffering, dissatisfaction with not getting what we wish for; and this comes from being born, getting ill, being stricken with mental anguish, being old, being disabled and dying. This is called dukkha, suffering.
And finally, there is the very controversial idea that there is no such thing as a permanent self, or ego; there is no such thing as an unchanging permanent You or soul. In other words, when a person dies, it isn’t the soul that is carried forth life after life. This is called anatta, no-self.
Is There A Soul in Buddhism?
Many, many people ask me this question. To explain it is one thing but a good majority of people have a very hard time understanding my explanation. Some people are disappointed, others are quite confused, and there are those people who are even angry. It occurs to me that if one hasn’t ever experienced a state of meditation or emptiness, they may not grasp it.
Never the less, in Buddhism there is no soul. What could be viewed as a soul is simply a composite of aggregates of energy attracted together toward gravity, for the common purpose to exist on earth, where these aggregates insistently find the most appropriate forms to continue to be born, die and be reborn again and again.
When we go into an enlightened state, there is no self, no me, no I, only pure cosmic energy which dissipates into the universe once again at death and has no reason to come together once again for another life.
As I stated this idea is complicated, to some unacceptable, determinant and un-Christian—which it is. Thus the next essay and Buddhist scripture should put further light and peace into your mind:
What Buddhists Believe
Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
Is there an Eternal Soul?
Belief in an eternal soul is a misconception of the human consciousness.
The Soul Theory
With regard to the soul theory, there are three kinds of teachers in the world:
– The first teacher teaches the existence of an eternal ego-entity that outlasts death: He is the eternalist.
– The second teacher teaches a temporary ego-entity which becomes annihilated at death: He is the materialist.
– The third teacher teaches neither an eternal nor a temporary ego-entity: He is the Buddha.
The Buddha teaches that what we call ego, self, soul, personality, etc., are merely conventional terms that do not refer to any real, independent entity. According to Buddhism there is no reason to believe that there is an eternal soul that comes from heaven or that is created by itself and that will transmigrate or proceed straight away either to heaven or hell after death. Buddhists cannot accept that there is anything either in this world or any other world that is eternal or unchangeable. We only cling to ourselves and hope to find something immortal. We are like children who wish to clasp a rainbow. To children, a rainbow is something vivid and real; but the grown-ups know that it is merely an illusion caused by certain rays of light and drops of water. The light is only a series of waves or undulations that have no more reality than the rainbow itself.
Man has done well without discovering the soul. He shows no signs of fatigue or degeneration for not having encountered any soul. No man has produced anything to promote mankind by postulating a soul and its imaginary working. Searching for a soul in man is like searching for something in a dark empty room. But the poor man will never realize that what he is searching for is not in the room. It is very difficult to make such a person understand the futility of his search.
Those who believe in the existence of a soul are not in a position to explain what and where it is. The Buddha’s advice is not to waste our time over this unnecessary speculation and devote our time to strive for our salvation. When we have attained perfection then we will be able to realize whether there is a soul or not. A wandering ascetic named Vacchagotta asked the Buddha whether there was an Atman (self) or not. The story is as follows:
Vacchagotta comes to the Buddha and asks:
‘Venerable Gotama, is there an Atman?
The Buddha is silent.
‘Then Venerable Gotama, is there no Atman?
Again the Buddha is silent.
Vacchagotta gets up and goes away.
After the ascetic has left, Ananda asks the Buddha why He did not answer Vacchagotta’s question. The Buddha explains His position:
‘Ananda, when asked by Vacchagotta, the Wanderer: ‘Is there a Self?, if I had answered: ‘There is a Self’. Then, Ananda, that would be siding with those recluses and brahmanas who hold the eternalist theory (sassata-vada).’
‘And Ananda, when asked by the Wanderer: ‘Is there no Self?, if I had answered: ‘There is no Self’, then that would be siding with those recluses and brahmanas who hold the annihilationist theory (uccedavada)‘.
‘Again, Ananda, when asked by Vacchagotta: ‘Is there a Self? If I had answered: ‘There is a Self’, would that be in accordance with my knowledge that all dhammas are without Self?
‘Surely not, Sir.’
‘And again, Ananda, when asked by the Wanderer: ‘Is there no Self?’, if I had answered: ‘There is no Self’, then that would have created a greater confusion in the already confused Vacchagotta. For he would have thought: Formerly indeed I had an Atman (Self), but now I haven’t got one.’ (Samyutta Nikaya).
The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory. He once said, ‘Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream that their souls are separate and self-existing entities. Their heart still clings to Self. They are anxious about heaven and they seek the pleasure of Self in heaven. Thus they cannot see the bliss of righteousness and the immortality of truth.’ Selfish ideas appear in man’s mind due to his conception of Self and craving for existence.
Anatta: The Teaching of No-Soul
The Buddha countered all soul-theory and soul-speculation with His Anatta doctrine. Anatta is translated under various labels: No-soul, No-self, egolessness, and soullessness.
To understand the Anatta doctrine, one must understand that the eternal soul theory _ ‘I have a soul’ _ and the material theory _ ‘I have no soul’ _are both obstacles to self-realization or salvation. They arise from the misconception ‘I AM‘. Hence, to understand the Anatta doctrine, one must not cling to any opinion or views on soul-theory; rather, one must try to see things objectively as they are and without any mental projections. One must learn to see the so-called ‘I’ or Sour or Self for what it really is : merely a combination of changing forces. This requires some analytical explanation.
The Buddha taught that what we conceive as something eternal within us, is merely a combination of physical and mental aggregates or forces (pancakkhandha), made up of body or matter (rupakkhandha), sensation (vedanakkhandha), perception (sannakkhandha), mental formations (samkharakkhandha) and consciousness (vinnanakkhandha). These forces are working together in a flux of momentary change; they are never the same for two consecutive moments. They are the component forces of the psycho-physical life. When the Buddha analyzed the psycho-physical life, He found only these five aggregates or forces. He did not find any eternal soul. However, many people still have the misconception that the soul is the consciousness. The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations and that is cannot exist independently of them.
The Buddha said, ‘The body, O monks, is not the Self. Sensation is not the Self. Perception is not the Self. The mental constructions are not the Self. And neither is consciousness the Self. Perceiving this, O monks, the disciple sets no value on the body, or on sensation, or on perception, or on mental constructions, or on consciousness. Setting no value of them, he becomes free of passions and he is liberated. The knowledge of liberation arises there within him. And then he knows that he has done what has to be done, that he has lived the holy life, that he is no longer becoming this or that, that his rebirth is destroyed.’ (Anatta-Lakkhana Sutta).
The Anatta doctrine of the Buddha is over 2500 years old. Today the thought current of the modern scientific world is flowing towards the Buddha’s Teaching of Anatta or No-Soul. In the eyes of the modern scientists, man is merely a bundle of ever-changing sensations. Modern physicists say that the apparently solid universe is not, in reality, composed of solid substance at all, but actually a flux of energy. The modern physicist sees the whole universe as a process of transformation of various forces of which man is a mere part. The Buddha was the first to realize this.
A prominent author, W.S. Wily, once said, ‘The existence of the immortal in man is becoming increasingly discredited under the influence of the dominant schools of modern thought.’ The belief in the immortality of the soul is a dogma that is contradicted by the most solid, empirical truth.
The mere belief in an immortal soul, or the conviction that something in us survives death, does not make us immortal unless we know what it is that survives and that we are capable of identifying ourselves with it. Most human beings choose death instead of immortality by identifying themselves with that which is perishable and impermanent by clinging stubbornly to the body or the momentary elements of the present personality, which they mistake for the soul or the essential form of life.
About those researches of modern scientists who are now more inclined to assert that the so-called ‘Soul’ is no more than a bundle of sensations, emotions, sentiments, all relating to the physical experiences, Prof. James says that the term ‘Soul’ is a mere figure of speech to which no reality corresponds.
It is the same Anatta doctrine of the Buddha that was introduced in the Mahayana school of Buddhism as Sunyata or voidness. Although this concept was elaborated by a great Mahayana scholar, Nagarjuna, by giving various interpretations, there is no extraordinary concept in Sunyata far different from the Buddha’s original doctrine of Anatta.
The belief in soul or Self and the Creator God, is so strongly rooted in the minds of many people that they cannot imagine why the Buddha did not accept these two issues which are indispensable to many religions. In fact some people got a shock or became nervous and tried to show their emotion when they heard that the Buddha rejected these two concepts. That is the main reason why to many unbiased scholars and psychologists Buddhism stands unique when compared to all the other religions. At the same time, some other scholars who appreciate the various other aspects of Buddhism thought that Buddhism would be enriched by deliberately re-interpreting the Buddha word ‘Atta’ in order to introduce the concept of Soul and Self into Buddhism. The Buddha was aware of this unsatisfactoriness of man and the conceptual upheaval regarding this belief.
All conditioned things are impermanent,
There is a parable in our Buddhist texts with regard to the belief in an eternal soul. A man, who mistook a moving rope for a snake, became terrified by that fear in his mind. Upon discovery that it was only a piece of rope, his fear subsided and his mind became peaceful. The belief in an eternal soul is equated to the rope of that man’s imagination.
This is where seeking your Dharma within, being truly and deeply connected to the micro and macro cosmic universe brings awakening and the greatest joy toward progressing on your path of Dharma Healing.