In short, Dharma is ‘that which holds’
* this world
* the people of the world
* the whole creation from the microcosm to the macrocosm
It is the eternal divine
law of the Lord. The entire creation is held together and sustained by the all-powerful law of the divine. Practice of Dharma, therefore, means recognition of this law and abidance by it. And it is this law that brings well-being to man. It includes all external deeds, as well as thoughts and other mental practices which tend to elevate the character of man thereby securing preservation of beings. Therefore, it is said that people are upheld by Dharma. And that Dharma leads one to eternal happiness and immortality.<ref name=":4">Swami Sivananda (1999), [http://www.dlshq.org/download/hinduismbk.pdf All About Hinduism], Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.</ref>
==Dharma is not Religion==
It is paradoxical that the word 'dharma' is being translated as religion and vice-versa. The word religion may at most be translated as ’Mata’ (मतम्) or 'Sampradaya' or 'Pantha'. In view of the translation of the word religion as Dharma, many translate the word Secularism as 'Dharma Nirapekshata'. Dr. L.M. Singhvi says, <blockquote>''"We have been accustomed to use, though erroneously, the expression 'Dharma Nirapekshata', so far as the State and its institutions are concerned, as an equivalent of secularism in contemporary Bharata's constitutional vocabulary and political parlance. A more accurate equivalent Hindi translation of "secularism" would be "Sampradaya Nirapekshata" because "Dharma" in Bharata's tradition also stands for Law and Morality and no State can be devoid of Law and Morality."''</blockquote>This misinterpretation of Dharma as religion is the cause of it being seen a source of conflict and something injurious to the feeling of fraternity among the citizens. This is wholly erroneous. For, Dharma, as it will be seen further, indicates adherence to qualities of Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfullness), Asteya (not acquiring illegitimate wealth), Shaucha (cleanliness of mind and body i.e., purity of thought, word and deed) and Indriyanigraha (control of senses). If secularism is translated as meaning 'Dharma Nirapekshata', it means a state where all the above rules of dharma have no place. Certainly our Constitution is not intended to establish a State of Adharma. Also, a literal translation of 'Dharma Nirapekshata' in English is 'bereft of dharma' or a lawless State i.e., State without Morals. Further, the famous saying "यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः । ''yato dharmastato jayaḥ।''" which means ’where there is dharma, there is victory”, would become "''yato religion tato jayaḥ''" which means 'victory is always to religion' and not to dharma. Such are the consequences of erroneous translation of dharma as religion.<ref name=":3" />
Various Aspects of Dharma ==
Dharma as being discussed is multifaceted with various nuances and usages. It has different definitions as per the context used, it is mentioned in various sources and valid such sources of dharmik knowledge (pramanas) are to be understood. Knowledge of classification of objects of dharma (the broad divisions of usage), further refined for moral and judicial applications, is required to comprehend the vastness of Dharma.
[[Sources of Dharma (धर्मस्थानानि)]] deals with what various texts such as Vedas, Shastras, Dharmasutras, Smrti granthas, itihasa and puranas mentioned about the authority of dharma. In the modern days, questions about dharma are being posed to Acharyas, Swamijis from various Sampradayas and trained persons in their respective mutts. However, the aspects of Sanatana dharma are gradually getting diluted
and traditions of the Panth or Sampradaya are taking precedence. It is at this juncture that we need to revisit our ancient texts and shastras to reestablish Dharma over and above any Sampradaya. While various sampradayas have played an important role in keeping our traditions alive to this, the need of the hour is to focus on Sanatana Dharma as the unifying factor of all sampradayas. Sampradaya pramana is one alternative in the absence of Vedic injunctions among all [[Pramanas for Dharma (धर्मप्रमाणानि)]]. Needless to say Vedas are the primary authority for all dharmas. It explains the qualities of authoritative persons to decide dharma, based on vedic injunctions and the direct dharmas in their absence.
To understand the [[Definition of Dharma (धर्मपरिभाषा)]], its nuances in the context of its usage, one needs to understand the explanatory interpretation of dharma given in various texts. The whole concept of origin of dharma and lakshanas (qualities) of dharma are
significant to understand the contribution of dharma in building the character of a person. Thus we have thoughts (of manas), expressions (such as speech) and acts (such as robbery or a dana) which constitute dharma, the people, place and time constraints of dharma, and the prayaschittas (penances, vratas etc) to follow in case of digression from dharma; all these put together a classification of constituents of Dharma which are dealt under the heading [[Constituents of Dharmashastras (धर्मशास्त्रविभागाः)]]. Here the reference to Dharmashastras is made because of the organized system of classification of the topics presented therein.
== धर्मविस्तृतिः ॥ Scope of Dharma ==
Dharma is a Sanskrit expression of the widest import. It has a wide variety of meanings. A few of them would enable us to understand the range of that expression.<ref name=":3" /> For instance, the word 'Dharma' is used to
mean # The Principles of Justice (न्यायः | Nyaya) # What is right in a given circumstance # Virtue or Moral values of life # Pious obligations of individuals# Righteous conduct in every sphere of activity # Being helpful to other living beings # Giving charity to individuals in need of it or to a public cause or alms to the needy # Natural qualities or characteristics or properties of living beings and things # Duty towards oneself, family, community, country, and the world at large.# Law as also constitutional law.# The principle on the foundation of which a society stands.<ref name=":3" /><ref name=":1" />Hence, there are multiple facets of dharma. Knowledge of Dharma is the knowledge of what is right and wrong. It is to guide mankind through life. It is the universal code of behavior towards all living creatures and nonliving things. Therefore, Dharma sustains and supports life in general, and helps to hold the community together.
== धर्मपुरुषार्थः ॥ Dharma Purushartha ==
Of the four grand objects of human aspiration—Purusharthas—viz., Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, Dharma is given the foremost rank in
the scriptures. Dharma alone is the gateway to Moksha, to immortality, infinite bliss, supreme peace and highest knowledge. Dharma alone is the primary Purushartha. Dharma is the first and foremost Purushartha. Through the practice of Dharma alone can you ever hope to achieve the crowning glory of all human endeavours, viz., Moksha which is the best and the highest of all desirable things. Practice of Dharma leads to the perfect realisation of essential unity or the final end, the highest good, namely, Moksha. The practitioner experiences peace, joy, strength and tranquillity within himself. His life becomes thoroughly disciplined. His powers and capacities are exceedingly intensified. He realises that there is one underlying homogeneous essence, a living truth, behind these names and forms. He is transmuted into divinity. His whole nature gets transformed. He becomes one with the Eternal. He beholds Brahman above, Brahman below, Brahman to the right, Brahman to the left, Brahman in front, Brahman at the back, Brahman within, Brahman without and Brahman pervading the whole world.
The development of the divine qualities is indispensable for the attainment of Self-realisation. Brahman or the Eternal is purity. The Eternal cannot be attained without the attainment of purity. Brahman is truth. The Eternal cannot be attained without practising truth. Brahman is fearlessness. The Eternal cannot be attained unless you become absolutely fearless. Attachment to the body causes fear and Dehadhyasa. If only you become fearless, then the identification with the body will vanish.<ref name=":4" />