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Sources of Dharma refer to the Dharmasthanas (Samskrit: धर्मस्थानानि) as exemplified in the vast literary tradition of Bharata, especially Vedas and Vaidika vangmaya. None of the abrahmic faiths, which are now widely prevalent in the world, have such an extensive literary tradition nor the depth of concepts as antique as those advocated in Sanatana Dharma. Bharatavarsha has been the ancient motherland of all dharmas and karmas and we have irrefutable testimonies supporting the same.
 
Sources of Dharma refer to the Dharmasthanas (Samskrit: धर्मस्थानानि) as exemplified in the vast literary tradition of Bharata, especially Vedas and Vaidika vangmaya. None of the abrahmic faiths, which are now widely prevalent in the world, have such an extensive literary tradition nor the depth of concepts as antique as those advocated in Sanatana Dharma. Bharatavarsha has been the ancient motherland of all dharmas and karmas and we have irrefutable testimonies supporting the same.
  

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Sources of Dharma refer to the Dharmasthanas (Samskrit: धर्मस्थानानि) as exemplified in the vast literary tradition of Bharata, especially Vedas and Vaidika vangmaya. None of the abrahmic faiths, which are now widely prevalent in the world, have such an extensive literary tradition nor the depth of concepts as antique as those advocated in Sanatana Dharma. Bharatavarsha has been the ancient motherland of all dharmas and karmas and we have irrefutable testimonies supporting the same.

Yajnavalkya in his smrtigrantha summarizes all the sources of Dharma comprehensively,

पुराणन्यायमीमांसाधर्मशास्त्राङ्गमिश्रिताः । वेदाः स्थानानि विद्यानां धर्मस्य च चतुर्दश ।। ३ ।। (Yajn. Smrt. 1.3)[1]

purāṇanyāyamīmāṁsādharmaśāstrāṅgamiśritāḥ । vēdāḥ sthānāni vidyānāṁ dharmasya ca caturdaśa ।। 3 ।। (Yajn. Smrt. 1.3)

Puranas including the Brahma purana and others, Nyaya including Tarkashastra, Mimamsa which involves discussion about the content of Vedas, Dharmashastras including the Manu and other Smrtis, Angas including the Shad Vedangas, and Vedas (four of them) - these are the fourteen vidyasthanas and dharma-sthanas.

Thus we see that all dharmas have their roots going down to the Vedas. They are also the revered sources of Vidya and thus the ancient education system greatly stressed on imparting them to children at a young age in the Gurukula.

वेदः ॥ Vedas

That the Vedas are the root material for Dharma, Karma (Yajnas) and Upasana has well been advocated by many seers of olden and modern days. The Vedas do not contain positive precepts (vidhis) on matters of dharma in an interconnected manner, rather they give incidental references to various topics pertaining to moral and social order. Vedas have in different passages shed light on marriage and different kinds of marriage, varna-ashrama dharmas, different kinds of sons, adoption, partition, inheritance, dana, shraddha, prayashcitta and stridharma. Such vedic references constitute the basis of the rules of the dharmasutras and subsequently dharmashastras. While shrutis have been looked up as a source of dharma, they are not formal treatises on dharma owing to disconnected statements and few pointed explanatory anecdotes. It is the smrtis that contain a formal, systematic and connected treatment of the topics of the dharmashastras.[2]

ऋग्वेदः ॥ Rigveda

A word whose exact meaning cannot be given in English or any other language, Dharma appears to be used in Rigveda as an adjective or noun in the form of dharman (धर्मन्) in neuter gender.

The word is clearly derived from dhatu धृञ् (in the meaning धारणे) meaning - "to uphold, to support, to nourish". Dharma is used in the sense of - 'upholder or supporter or sustainer' as in Rigveda (1.187.1 and 10.92.2 and 10.21.3)[2]

पितुं नु स्तोषं महो धर्माणं तविषीम् । यस्य त्रितो व्योजसा वृत्रं विपर्वमर्दयत् ॥१ (Rig. Veda. 1.187.1)

It is used in sense of religious ordinances or rites (Rig Veda. 1.22.18, 5.26.6, 8.43.24 and 9.64.1).

  • It is also used as notation for fixed principles or rules of conduct

Aitareya Brahmana mentions a whole body of religious duties associated with Dharma.

Dharmasutras

Dharmasutras based on Vedas have a more formal treatment on the topics of Dharma. They have explicitly mentioned the authority of Vedas as the source of dharma.[2]

Gautama Dharmasutra (1.1.1-2) says

वेदो धर्ममूलम्। तद्विदां च स्मृतिशीले।[3]

Veda is the source of dharma and the tradition and practice of those that know it (the Veda).

Vasishtadharma-sutras (1.4-6) says

श्रुतिस्मृतिविहितो धर्मः। तदलाभे शिष्टाचारः प्रमाऩम्। शिष्टः पुनरकामात्मा।

स्मृतिः॥ Smrtis

Smrtis are the Dharmashastra granthas, given by seers as the 'remembered texts'. They are also texts which among many things mostly discuss the dharmas to be followed by people. Dharmasutras laid the foundation for the later day nibandha compilations, namely, Dharmashastras.

मनुस्मृतिः ॥ Manusmriti

Manusmriti has attached great importance to the Vedas and primarily advocates their authority.

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनां आत्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च । । २.६ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.6)[4][5]

vedo'khilo dharmamūlaṃ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām । ācāraścaiva sādhūnāṃ ātmanastuṣṭireva ca । । 2.6 । ।(Manu. Smri. 2.6)

Meaning: Indeed ! Vedas are the source of all Dharma. Secondly it’s source is attributed to tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who follow the Veda, thirdly, to the customs of holy men and finally Atma-tushti (आत्मनस्तुष्टिः । satisfaction of the inner self).[6][7]

धर्मजिज्ञासानां प्रमाणं परमं श्रुतिः ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.3)[4]

dharmajijñāsānāṃ pramāṇaṃ paramaṃ śrutiḥ ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.3)

Meaning : For those greatly interested seekers of Dharma, the Vedas (Shrutis) are the highest authorities.[7] That the Vedas are the very treasure house of all Dharma, i.e. religion, morality, righteousness, and good conduct, was unequivocally and unquestionably proclaimed by Manu, the first Law-giver after the Vedas as follows:

बिभर्ति सर्वभूतानि वेदशास्त्रं सनातनम् । तस्मादेतत्परं मन्ये यज्जन्तोरस्य साधनम् । । १२.९९ । । (Manu. Smrt. 12.99)[8]

bibharti sarvabhūtāni vedaśāstraṃ sanātanam । tasmādetatparaṃ manye yajjantorasya sādhanam । । 12.99 । ।

Meaning: The eternal Veda shastra upholds or protects all beings (by being their flawless guideline). Those endeavoring for the welfare of all beings, regard Vedas as their supreme authoritative instrument in achieving it. The necessity of scrupulous practice of Dharma is forcefully expressed in Manusmriti thus:

धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः | तस्माध्दर्मो न हन्तव्यो मा नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत्  || (Manu 6-11-15)[5]

dharma eva hato hanti dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ | tasmādhdarmo na hantavyo mā no dharmo hato'vadhīt || (Manu 6-11-15)

Meaning : Dharma protects those who protect it. Those who destroy Dharma, get destroyed. Therefore, Dharma should not be destroyed so that we may not be destroyed as a consequence thereof.

याज्ञवल्क्य-स्मृतिः ॥ Yajnavalkya Smrti

The Yajnavalkya Smrti, which is one of the important texts that is consulted for the present day Hindu Law, further lays its claim on being founded on Vedas. According to Brhadyogi-Yajnavalkya-Smrti (Page No. 11 of Ved aur Vedarth)[7][9][10]

न वेदशास्त्रादन्यत्तु किंचिच्छास्त्रं हि विद्यते । निःसृतं सर्वशास्त्रं तु वेदशास्त्रात् सनातनम् ॥ (Brha. Smrt. 12.1)

na vedaśāstrādanyattu kiṃcicchāstraṃ hi vidyate । niḥsṛtaṃ sarvaśāstraṃ tu vedaśāstrāt sanātanam ॥ (Brha. Smri . 12.1)

Meaning : There are no greater shastras other than the Vedas, as all shastras arose from the eternal Veda shastras only.

अत्रि-स्मृतिः ॥ Atri Smrti

Atri Smrti attributes the highest position of a Guru (गुरुः । teacher) to Vedas[7]

नास्ति वेदात् परं शास्त्रं, नास्ति मातु:समो गुरु: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

nāsti vedāt paraṃ śāstraṃ, nāsti mātu:samo guru: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

Meaning: There is no other shastra greater than Vedas, just as there is no greater Guru than the mother (to the child).

उपनिषदः ॥ Upanishads

Chandogya Upanishad - peculiar duties of asramas and dharma came to mean 'duties and privileges of a person as a member of the Aryan community, as a member of the one of the varnas or as in a particular stage of life.

Same meaning is seen in Taittriya Upanishad (1.2) Bhagavadgita.

महानारायणोपनिषद् ॥ Mahanarayanopanishad

धर्मो विश्वस्य जगतः प्रतिष्ठा लोके धर्मिष्ठ प्रजा उपसर्पन्ति धर्मेण पापमपनुदति धर्मे सर्वं प्रतिष्ठितं तस्माद्धर्मं परमं वदन्ति ॥ ७॥ (Mahanarayana. Upan. 79.7)[11]

Meaning : Dharma is the

षड्-दर्शनानि ॥ Shad Darshanas

Shad Darshanas, include Sankhya (साङ्ख्यः), Yoga (योगः), Vaisheshika (वैशेषिकः), Nyaya (न्यायः), Purva Mimamsa (पूर्वमीमांसा), Uttara Mimamsa (उत्तरमीमांसा or वेदान्तः Vedanta). As they are deeply rooted in vedic principles, they are called Astika darshanas (आस्तिक-दर्शनानि) according to many scholars, although some believe that Sankhya is not an Astika Darshana. The dharmas mentioned in sramanic and nastika darsanas are beyond the scope of the present article.

न्याय-दर्शनम् ॥ Nyaya Darshana

गौतम-महर्षिः ॥ Gautama maharshi gave the न्याय-शास्त्रम् ॥ Nyaya shastra to the world. It is also classified as one of the उपाङ्ग-s || Upangas which, as part of the Vaidika vangmaya, is important to understand Vedas.

मन्त्रायुर्वेदप्रामाण्यवच्च तत्प्रामाण्यमाप्तप्रामाण्यात् || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)[12]

mantrāyurvedaprāmāṇyavacca tatprāmāṇyamāptaprāmāṇyāt || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)

Meaning: Just like the mantras (spells) counteract the poisons and Ayurveda (medical science) prescribes reliable remedies (for diseases and prevention of disease) with authority (as they are given by the maharshis and sages who are authoritative about the subjects), so also Vedas are standard (unequivocal guidelines), as the मन्त्रद्रष्ट-s || mantra drastas or ऋषि-s || rushis to whom they were revealed are the righteous sages.[7]

वैशेषिक-दर्शनम् ॥ Vaisheshika Darshana

कणाद-महर्षिः ॥ Kanada maharshi who authored the वैशेषिक-शास्त्रम् ॥ Vaisheshika shastra also considers that the Vedas were revealed by Supreme Being

तद्वचनादाम्नायस्य प्रामाण्यम् । वैशेषिक-१,१.३ । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)[13]

tadvacanādāmnāyasya prāmāṇyam । vaiśeṣika-1,1.3 । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)

In expounding पदार्थानां धर्म ॥ padārthānāṃ dharmaḥ (nature of matter), Kanada took for प्रमाणम् ॥ pramana (source of valid knowledge), the Vedas (आम्नायः ॥ Amnaya)

मीमांसा ॥ Mimamsa

पूर्वमीमांसा ॥ Purva mimamsa deals extensively with कर्मकाण्डः ॥ Karmakanda while उत्तरमीमांसा ॥ Uttara mimamsa (वेदान्तः ॥ Vedanta) deals with मोक्षकाण्डः ॥ Mokshakanda of vedas. Mimamsa attained significance as many vedic interpretations are based and debated on the basis of the logic and rules set forth by this shastra.

नित्यस्तु स्याद् दर्शनस्य परार्थत्वात् || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

nityastu syād darśanasya parārthatvāt || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata

Maharshi Vedavyasa in Mahabharata extols that Vedas are the path of life for all beings. Abundant instances about the Dharmas to be followed and the social and moral implications are emphasized in Mahabharata, many being an instruction to Yudhisthira by Bhishma and other Maharshis such as Vaisampayana, Suta.

अनादिनिधनानित्या, वागुत्सृष्टा स्वयम्भुवा | आदौ वेदमयी दिव्या, यत: सर्वा: प्रवृत्तय: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)[14]

anādinidhanānityā, vāgutsṛṣṭā svayambhuvā | ādau vedamayī divyā, yata: sarvā: pravṛttaya: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)

Meaning : In the beginning of सृष्टिः ॥ Srishti, the self existent Creator, revealed the Eternal and Divine Vedas, as they show the path for all activities of every being.[7] Mahabharata which is acclaimed as the मानव-कर्तव्य-शास्त्रम् || Manava kartavya shastra, has a discussion on this topic in the form of conversation between Yudhishthira and Bhishma thus. (Pt. Ramnarayan's Mahabharata: Volume 4[15] and Vol 5 Shanti Parva Page 323)[16]

तादृशोऽयमनुप्रश्नो यत्र धर्मः सुदुर्लभः । दुष्करः प्रतिसंख्यातुं तत्केनात्र व्यवस्यति ॥(Maha. Shan. Parv. 109.9)

प्रभावार्थाय भूतानां धर्मप्रवचनं कृतम् । यः स्यात्प्रभवसंयुक्तः स धर्म इति निश्चयः ॥ (Maha. Shan. Parv. 109.11)

tādṛśo'yamanupraśno yatra dharmaḥ sudurlabhaḥ | duṣkaraḥ pratisaṃkhyātuṃ tatkenātra vyavasyati || (Maha. Shanti. 109.9)

prabhāvārthāya bhūtānāṃ dharmapravacanaṃ kṛtam | yaḥ syātprabhavasaṃyuktaḥ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Shanti. 109.11)

Meaning : It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which helps ensure the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma.

धारणाद् धर्म इत्याहुर्धर्मो धारयते प्रजाः | यत् स्याद् धारणसंयुक्तं स धर्म इति निश्चयः || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

dhāraṇād dharma ityāhurdharmo dhārayate prajāḥ | yat syād dhāraṇasaṃyuktaṃ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

Meaning : The above verse eulogizes Dharma as follows: Dharma sustains the society, Dharma maintains the social order, Dharma ensures the well being and progress of humanity, Dharma is surely that which fulfills these objectives

Therefore, Dharma embraces every type of righteous conduct, covering every aspect of life essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and society and includes those rules which guide and enable those who believe in a supreme force and higher worlds to attain Moksha (मोक्षः । eternal bliss).   

References

  1. Yajnavalkya Smrti (Achara-adhyaya Upodghata-prakarana)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1930) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law), Volume 1. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (Pages 1-7)
  3. Gautama Dharmasutras (Full Text)
  4. 4.0 4.1 Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kumar, S. (1996). The Vishuddha Manusmriti. Delhi:Arsh Sahitya Prachar Trust.
  6. Patel, Gautam. (1999). Traditional Vedic Interpretations. New Delhi : Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Acharya Dharma Deva Vidya Martanda. (2002). The Rigveda, with Maharishi Dayanand Saraswati's commentary, English translation, Vol I. New Delhi:Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha.
  8. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 12)
  9. Shastri, Jwalanth Kumar. (2009) Ved aur vedarth Rajasthan: Sri Ghudhmal Prahladkumar Arya Dharmarth Nyasa
  10. Gharote. M. L. (1982) Brhadyogi-yagnavalkya-smriti, English Translation Lonavla : Kaivalyadhama S. M. Y. M. Samiti
  11. Mahanarayanopanishad (All Anuvakas)
  12. Nyaya Shastra of Goutama
  13. Vaisheshika Sutras
  14. Shri Mahabharatam (Shanti Parva)
  15. Shastri. Pt Ramnarayan. (1955). Mahabharata Vol.4. Gorakhpur:Gita Press.
  16. Shastri. Pt Ramnarayan. (1955). Mahabharata Vol.5. Gorakhpur:Gita Press.