Samanya Dharma (सामान्यधर्मः)

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Purusharthas are very vital for people to lead their lives to the fullest. An individual will only find self-fulfillment and contentment, when he is able to understand his inner potential and work towards realizing them on the ground, all the while also fulfilling his other basic needs, on the one hand and slowly moving towards spiritual emancipation, on the other. Thus, performance of svadharma or righteous duties constitute the key to attaining overall wellbeing by an individual.

Dharma traditions enunciate these righteous duties as having two aspects. The first is the

  1. सामान्यधर्मः ॥ Samanyadharma : This deals with the ethical principles like truth, non-injury, non-stealing, etc., which are common duties of all beings. Manusmṛti (10.63) gives a list of five tenets; Arthaśāstra (1.3.13) mentions six tenets; Yajnavalkya Smṛti (1.122) mentions nine tenets; Mahābhāratam (12.60.7-8) also mentions nine tenets; Vāmana Purāṇa(11.23-24) mentions fourteen tenets and Bhāgavatapurāṇa (7.11.8-12) mentions thirty tenets as sāmānyadharma that are applicable to every person.  Sāmānya dharma are universal principles applicable to all irrespective of their class, gender, or nationality. The five tenets mentioned in Manu are ahiṃsā (non-injury), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), indriya-nigraha (Sense-restraint) and śauca (Cleanliness). For a detailed discussion on sāmānya dharma, See Sridhar, N (2015). Samanya Dharma and Spirituality. Prabuddha Bharata. 120 (9)
  2. विशेषधर्मः ॥ Vishesha dharma : These are special duties, which are unique to every individual depending on the kala (time), desha (place), varṇa and ashrama. Among these different elements of vishesha dharma, it is the varṇa dharma along with ashrama dharma that caters to different stages in a person’s life, which can be considered as the most defining principles of svadharma or righteous duties with respect to an individual, since they alone cater to the unique temperaments, potential competencies, and inner calling of an individual.[1]

Every religion has a generic form or Samanya-Rupa and a specific form or Visesha-Rupa. The general form remains eternally the same. It is never changed by any circumstance whatsoever. It is not affected at all by changes of time, place, surroundings and individual differences. This aspect of religion is called Sanatana or eternal. That which changes according to the change of time, place and surrounding circumstances is the external aspect or ritual, of Dharma. Samanya Dharma is the general Dharma or law for all men. Varnasrama Dharmas are special Dharmas which are to be practised by particular castes and by men in particular stages of life. The Samanya Dharmas must be practised by all, irrespective of distinctions of Varna and Asrama, creed or colour. Goodness is not the property of any one class, creed, sect or community. Every man should possess this virtue.

THE VISHNU SAMHITA enumerates forgiveness, truthfulness, control of the mind, purity, practice of charity, control of the senses, non-violence, service of the Guru, visiting places of pilgrimage, compassion, simplicity, absence of greed, worship of the gods and the Brahmanas, and absence of malice as the ingredients of Samanya Dharma, the general law for all men. [2]

SAMANYA DHARMA The meaning of Sanskrit word 'Dharma' as earlier indicated is very wide. It is not religion as understood nay misunderstood by many as a result of using that word for 'Dharma' in the absence of an equivalent word. In fact there is no word "corresponding to Dharma in any of the languages of the world. All the rules of righteous conduct of human beings in every sphere of human activity evolved from times immemorial in this country, fall within the meaning of the word 'Dharma' .It is Universal. Religion means the mode of worship of God by all believers calling Him by different names. Religions are many such as Shaivism, Smartha, Vaishnavite, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity and Parsi. It is personal and left to the choice of individuals. One can join or change one's religion according to one's urge and desire. Respect for all religions is Dharma. Dharma applies to all, whether they belong to any religion or not. It is code of conduct for all human beings for all time to come. It is eternal as indicated in Manu Chapter X-63 :

अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं शौचम् इन्द्रियनिग्रहः । एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्येऽब्रवीन्मनुः ॥

Meaning : Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not coveting the property of others), Shoucham (purity), and Indriyanigraha ( control of senses) are, in brief, the common Dhaima for all.[3]

The principles of Samanya Dharma applicable to all and which should be the controlling factor were put under five heads in Manusmnriti:

अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं शौचम् इन्द्रियनिग्रहः । एतं सामासिकं धर्मं चातुर्वर्ण्येऽब्रवीन्मनुः ॥


Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (not acquiring illegitimate wealth), Shoucham (purity), and Indriyanigraha (control of senses) are, in brief, the common Dharma for all the varnas.

Mahabharata had put it under nine heads :-

अक्रोधः सत्यवचनं संविभागः क्षमा तथा । प्रजनः स्वेषु दारेषु शौचमद्रोह एव च ॥ आर्जवं भृत्यभरणं नवैते सार्ववर्णिकाः ।

Truthfulness, to be free from anger, sharing wealth with others, (samvibhaga) forgiveness, procreation of children from one’s wife alone, purity, absence of enmity, straightforwardness and maintaining persons dependent on oneself are the nine rules of the Dharma for persons belonging to all the yarnas. (Mahabharata Shantiparva — 6-7-8).[4]

Samanya Dharma in Bhagavata Purana

Narada enumerates the ideal duties prescribed for human beings to Yudhisthira in the 11th Chapter of the 7th Skandha in the Bhagavata Purana. He says, सत्यं दया तपः शौचं तितिक्षेक्षा शमो दमः । अहिंसा ब्रह्मचर्यं च त्यागः स्वाध्याय आर्जवम् ॥ ८॥ सन्तोषः समदृक्सेवा ग्राम्येहोपरमः शनैः । नृणां विपर्ययेहेक्षा मौनमात्मविमर्शनम् ॥ ९॥ अन्नाद्यादेः संविभागो भूतेभ्यश्च यथार्हतः । तेष्वात्मदेवताबुद्धिः सुतरां नृषु पाण्डव ॥ १०॥ श्रवणं कीर्तनं चास्य स्मरणं महतां गतेः । सेवेज्यावनतिर्दास्यं सख्यमात्मसमर्पणम् ॥ ११॥ नृणामयं परो धर्मः सर्वेषां समुदाहृतः । त्रिंशल्लक्षणवान् राजन् सर्वात्मा येन तुष्यति ॥ १२॥ Meaning: Truthfulness, compassion, austerity, purity, endurance, power of discrimination between right and wrong, control of the mind and senses, non-violence, celibacy, sacrifice, the study of Vedas or repetition internally of prayers to the Supreme, straightforwardness, contentment, service to those who regard all beings as equal, gradual withdrawal from worldly activities, observation of the fruitlessness of human actions, refraining from useless talk, investigation of the nature of atman (and its distinctness from the body), equitable distribution of food, eatables etc, among creatures according to their worth (and needs), to look upon them, especially human beings as one's own self and as the deity, Oh son of Pandu. Hearing (the divine name or the stories of the Supreme), chanting of his name, contemplation on, service of, worship of, bowing to, rendering service to the Supreme, behaving as his friend and dedication of oneself to Hari who is the goal of noble beings - these thirty characteristics are said to constitute the highest dharma of all human beings whereby the atman of the universe is propitiated and pleased, Oh raja. (AITM, Vol.9, P.964)


  1. Nithin Sridhar, Varṇa vyavastha as a conceptual social order that facilitates self-actualization,
  2. Swami Sivananda (1999), All About Hinduism, Uttar Pradesh: The Divine Life Society.
  3. Justice M.Rama Jois, Dharma The Global Ethic.
  4. M.Rama Jois (2004), Trivarga, Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.