Philosophy & Religion: Dharma

One definition of “Dharma” (similar to, but not religion) is – a. the search for truth (Satya), and b. ways of spiritual growth (Yoga). Spiritual growth is transcending – b. first from individual ego, and then b. to the universal reality. Thus Dharma is mainly internal and personal issue. However, it also does express in external social level as – c. issues of social harmony, and d. cultures.


To wonder about ultimate truth and to strive for spiritual progress are universal phenomena inherent in humanity. It is not limited by geography, history or culture. Sanatana is such universal principles and ways of spiritual growth, studied and practiced around the world.


It is a subset of the “Sanatana” practiced by an individual or a group of people. Hinduism: The collection of all the Dharmas in the Indian sub-continent including Tibetan plateau. It is a geographic definition. It includes Shaiva, Vaishnav, Buddha, Jain, Sikh, Atheism (Charvak) and any other Dharmas evolved in the region. Dharmas mostly overlap. A Dharma practiced by one group differs from another merely by emphases in different methods or by cultural backgrounds. It is like going to college where each student chooses different but overlapping sets of courses to study. Dharmas, like different courses, are not hostile against others. Rather differences are recognized and appreciated – “Sarva dharma sambhava.” However, it is not about blind acceptance of any doctrines. Each doctrine has to pass the test of – a. critical examination and b. time. Same principles apply in our perception of the non-Indic Dharmas. Dharmas are not rigid. On the way of spirituality many new ways are learned and many useless doctrines are dropped. Thus we have growth, not conversion. Most of the Hindus usually follow Dharma practiced in their family as tradition or “Parampara.” Above parameters lead to the collection of wisdoms from thinkers of all races, regions and times; and to multi-culture, tolerance & mechanism for self-corrections.

Buddha Dharma

Dharma using methods within human faculty. Thus it uses only scientific and empirical techniques. Jainism is another such Dharma. Buddhism is a major break through within the long traditions of Hinduism. That is Buddha achieved Nirvana without depending on supra-humanity. Thus all of Buddha’s teachings and analyses are within rational self-examination of the world including one’s mind.

Elements of Dharma

  1. Search for truth: The free examination and search for truth. The inquiry about the truth may be discussed within the framework of the following three paradigms.
    1. Scientific – only objective methods. Most rigorous, but lesser scope.
    2. Empirical – objective and subjective methods, within human faculty only.
    3. Theistic – methods include faith and revelations. Less rigorous, but larger scope.
  2. Ways of spiritual growth: Yoga\Tao\Zen\Discipline\Way. The way or practice of “Yoga” leads to healthy body and mind; and ultimately to the salvation or liberation. There are many ways of spiritual journey. They are broadly grouped into four.
    1. Way of love and devotion (Bhakti)
    2. Way of selfless duty (Karma)
    3. Way of self-realization (Raj)
    4. Way of knowledge (Gnan)
  3. Issues of social harmony: The insights, not social or legal rules, towards the social harmony. Justice is the first step toward harmony. The relationships are of two kinds – between individuals within a society, and between different societies. The secular issues like “democracy”, “socialism”, “human rights” are also part of it. Insights e.g. – Truth always triumphs – “Satyam eva jayate” Goodness comes out of goodness – “Om mani padme hum” World is one family – “Bashundhaiva kutumbakam” Many paths to the summit – “Sarva dharma sambhava”
  4. Cultural mosaic: The world mosaic of human dharmic\religious heritage. It’s evolution in different environmental, historical and philosophical backgrounds. The mutual appreciation between peoples of different dharmic\religious backgrounds and their colorful festivals.

Truth is one, sages call it by different names – “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti”
Non-violence is the highest virtue – “Ahimsa Paramodharma”
Peace, peace and heavenly peace – “Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi”

About the author: Dr Tilak Shrestha holds a PhD in Geography, lives in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, and be reached at

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