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The Concept of Dharma in Hinduism

  • The concept of dharma means "righteousness" is one of the most challenging in Indian philosophical thought.

  • This is a Sanskrit term, which means law and can be understood in various ways.

  • Dharma is one of the values of an individual.

  • As per the ancient Indian thought, it is dharma that sustains the universe and both the king as well as the people must adhere to it. Only the sages had the power to interpret this dharma or the Sacred Law.

  • The word Dharma could be interpreted into two aspects

  1. One is religious convictions and

  2. Second is a set of duties or a code of conduct.

  • Conduct of virtuous man who know Vedas, Shruti (Veda), traditions/customs, and satisfaction of one's conscience are other sources of dharma mentioned in texts.

  • Sruti (what was heard) and smriti (what was remembered) were regarded as Sanatana-dharma (eternal law)

  • There are multiple sources available to recall the concept of dharma across various religious texts in Hinduism.

  • The early Vedic period dates from around 1500 B.C. when the Aryans invaded India from the north-west and settled in the plains of Punjab.

  • The Rig- Veda, consisting of hymns in praise of the gods, might have been composed around 1200-1000 B.C. This is the period when the concept of Rta (cosmic order) was born.

  • Rta is both the law of righteousness and of cosmic equilibrium and combines in itself the notion of an integrated whole in which gods, men and nature participate.

  • Dharma is a social concept. Dharma functions along with Kama (Desire) and Artha (wealth) all together known as Trivarga (three-fold principles).

  • Later speculative thinkers came to hold in favour of moksha (liberation) or apavarga (a principle beyond the Trivarga) it was the threefold values of artha, kama, and dharma which governed the lives of the majority.

  • Hinduism, it believed that this meaning of life is four-fold:

  1. Dharma : Righteousness or one’s duty

  2. Artha : Wealth

  3. Kaama : Desire

  4. Moksha : Liberation

It is believed that the purpose of human life upon earth is to follow the law (Dharma) of God and achieve salvation (Moksha) or freedom from his false self or ignorance (ahamkara) by leading a balanced life in which both material comforts and human passions (Kama) have their own place.

These four aspects are collectively known as Purusharthas in Hinduism. Different Purusharthas play major role in different phases of a man’s life. One cannot ignore one of these aspects and its objectives, and further progress in life.

Dharma is one of the type of Purushartha. The various dharmas are classified into-

  1. Sadharana dharmas

  2. Varna dharmas (those varying with one's station in life) and

  3. Asrama-dharmas (those varying with stages in life).

The third type of dharma, that which varies with stages in life. Ashram means “a place of spiritual shelter.” Each stage of life is not only a natural part of the journey from cradle to grave, but a time at which spirituality can be developed.

Each of the four ashrams has its specific duties. The main ones are listed below.

  1. Brahmachari (Student Life) The brahmachari-ashram, often away from the home (somewhat like a boarding school), was primarily intended for fostering spiritual values. Memorisation and skill development were subsidiary to character formation and self-realisation. Even sons of the royal family were expected to undergo this austere and rigorous training. The first (student life) is typified in the life of preparation and self-discipline.

  1. Grihasta (Household Life)

The second or householder stage is where the facticity of the pursuit of artha and kama comes into full play. Traditionally some men remained lifelong celibates, either remaining as brahmacharis or immediately becoming sannyasis. Others were required to marry, extending their responsibilities to include wife, children, relatives, and society in general. This ashram is the only one permitting sexual gratification.

  • To make money and to enjoy sensual pleasure according to ethical principles.

  • To perform sacrifice and observe religious rituals.

  • To protect and nourish family members (wife, children, and elders).

  • To teach children spiritual values.

  • To give in charity, and especially to feed holy people, the poor, and animals.

  1. Vanaprashta (Retired Life)

The third stage, vanaprastha. retreat to the forest. is analogous to what we mean today by retirement, and significantly. in industrialized societies it often takes the form of a shift from the city to the country. After the children have left home and settled, a man may gradually retire from family responsibilities and, with his wife, begin to focus his mind on spiritual matters. Often he goes on pilgrimage. His wife may accompany him, but all sexual relationships are forbidden. Vanaprashta literally means “forest-dweller.”

  • To generally devote more time to spiritual matters.

  • To engage in austerity and penance.

  • To go on pilgrimage.

  1. Sannyasa (Renounced Life)

This position is traditionally available only to men who exhibit the qualities of a brahmana. The man would leave home and family and was prohibited from seeing his wife again. Considered civilly dead, he was free to wander, living a life dependent on God alone. The sannyasis are conspicuous in their saffron dress. They are often called sadhus (holy people) although today not all are genuine!

  • To fully control the mind and senses, and to fix the mind on the Supreme.

  • To become detached and fearless, fully dependent on God as the only protector.

  • To teach and preach the importance of self-realization and God-consciousness, especially to the householders, who often become distracted from their spiritual duties.

The discipline of the four stages is a discipline of growth. of progressive non-attachment. To phrase it like this is to see how the four asramas are connected with the fourth moksha.


  • This is the highest pursuit of life and leads to liberation from samsara or the cycle of birth and death.

  • The concept of moksha or liberation came from these people.

  • A distinct class of people called sadhus in India, started moving away from the cities and villages and dwelling in the forests, meditating and seeking answers to questions.

  • Buddha and Mahavira founded Buddhism and Jainism respectively by following the paths of these sadhus or rishis in the forests.

  • Both these religions promoted the aspect of liberation by meditation and by giving up everything one owns.

  • Desire became a key word. As I mentioned earlier Kama and Artha were considered as two desires that one should avoid and seek the pursuit of Moksha or Nirvana (the Buddhist and Jain term for liberation).

Rta conception and its meaning

The idea of pataka in the Rigveda is related with the conception of rta. Rta had a threefold aspect it refers to

  1. The nature's course of things or the regular and general order in the cosmos.

  2. The correct and ordered way of the devatas (with respect to yajnas).

  3. The moral conduct of man.

In Rigveda and Atharvaveda, it is said that the law behind existence is ṛta and to tamper with it will prove deadly. The whole of creation is called sat, which has an inbuilt cosmic law, ṛta. If sat (existence) is a fact, then the value which we realize out of it is ṛta (cosmic law). When we realize ṛta, the value of the whole of creation, we are humbled and naturally become more caring towards the universe. The entire universe supports our sustenance and the whole of creation toils for our existence. This awareness infuses immense gratitude in our hearts.

Plato's Theory of the Metaphor of the Divided Line

It might be useful at this point to compare the four purusharthas with Plato's distinction between eikasis, pistis, dianoia and noesis in his theory of the metaphor of divided line.

In the process of discovering true knowledge, according to Plato, the human mind moves through four stages of development. At each stage, there is a parallel between the kind of object presented to the mind and the kind of thought these objects make possible. These objects and their parallel modes of understanding can be diagrammed as followed:

  1. Imagining (eikasis)

  2. Belief (Pistis)

  3. Thinking (Dianoia)

  4. Perfect Intelligence (Noesis)

The first two deal with the sensible world and the latter two with the intelligible world.Plato is very clear on the point that there is no route to noesis other than through dianoia.

Comparison with the purusharthas is suggestive. The bottom two are worldly. There is no route to the fourth other than via the third. But the progression is not a cognitive one.

  • Platonic and the Vedantic viewpoints show considerable similarity of insight in their quest for the transcendent and their conceiving of this as an ethico-metaphysical endeavor.

  • Whereas the shift from dianoia to noesis is a shift within the overarching framework of the intelligible, the transition from dharma to moksha seems more radical and this now has to be elucidated.

How Dhamma and Dharma are similar concept?

  • Dharma and Dhamma is same in meaning.

  • Dharma is a Sanskrit word and Dhamma is a pali word .

  • Raja dhamma and Raja dharma denote duties and moral obligation of King.

  • We say Moksha in Hinduism and Nibbana in Buddhism. Dharma and Dhamma both mention the importance of salvation.

  • Thus both advocated the concept to guide their king to rule better in state.

How Dhamma and Dharma are different concept?

  • Dharma is the natural order of the universe; natural law, cosmic order. Whereas Dhamma is the teachings of Buddha.

  • Dharma is one's obligation in respect to one's position in society, one's duty. And dhamma is the teachings of the Buddha as one's personal path to enlightenment.

  • Dharma is the basic principles of the cosmos; also: an ancient sage in Hindu mythology worshipped as a god by some lower castes;. and dhamma is the teachings of the Buddha as a practice to be promulgated and taught.

  • Thus, Hindu Dharma is more religious- like God’s command than the Buddhist Dhamma which is more like natural laws understood by human through sense of reason.

Origin of Danda

  • The term Dandniti was first adopted by Usanasa and the "Book 'Dandniti' " ascribed to Prajapati is mentioned in Mahabharata.

  • Prajapati is regarded as the creator of Danda.

  • Danda was created by God Shiva after long concentration and even the Science of Politics was made out of Danda.

  • Danda is also known as soul of Dharma.

  • It is derived from the term Dama - "to restrain" means by which a person is restrained from misconduct.

  • One particular reason behind the religious color of Danda is that religion gives Danda the authority or sanction.

  • Danda was the guarantee of universal happiness and righteousness.

Concept of Danda

  • In Ancient India law was based on the twin conception, 1) Theology and 2) agreement and as such it is clear that even in matters of punishment and justice, the theology had its sway.

  • The term Danda is derived from the words Dam and Danda, which refer to tame, subdue, to conquer or to restrain and the like.

  • General conception about punishment was that it should help the man or the criminal to reform himself according to the prescribed codes of Dharma.

  • According to Manu, it is only the king who can protect the entire mankind and for this protection, the king uses Danda as a means or as an instrument.

  • Administration of justice pre-supposes the existence of an authority. Every organization, Social or Political, must have some authority without which the human society can't function.

  • Manu holds the same view about Danda. Danda saves Dharma, Artha, and Kāra.

  • Only a King who is honest could wield Dand.

  • According to Manu Danda was vested in the Amatya.

  • If we identify the term Danda with administration we will have to accept that« there was an officer to execute Danda into practice. T

  • That Officer known as Daad- Nayak, or the Minister-in-Charge of the administration

  • Ancient Indian thinkers were of the opinion that Danda should not be used as per the whims and fancies of the rulers, but only when there is presence of any anti-social elements in the society.

  • As per Kautilya, Danda as an instrument for bringing people under control.

  • Danda was simply a part of the four-fold policy of the state, i.e. "Sama, Dāma, Danda and Bhedä", (re- conciliation, gift, punishment and division.

  • Gautam Buddha treats Danda as reforming or correction.


  • Ancient political thinkers suggested that for the sanctity of the concept, Danda should be used carefully.

  • Through Dandaneethi, it becomes easier to bring about proper progress and balanced system of social and economic needs.

Danda and RajDharma

  • The ruler in ancient Indian polity is called Dand-Dhar. It is considered as an essential attribute of royalty.

  • The King regulates the state by wielding this weapon of Danda.

  • Danda is supreme in Royal Dharma.

  • As per Manu, that man is essentially low, vile and selfish and can be kept on straight path only with difficulty and harshness so the concept of Dharma is important.

  • Vedic conception was that it was a retribution from heaven.

  • Expiation and Danda are spoken of as twin modes of purification.

  • The principle of purification is also advocated by the Puranas

  • Retribution in its practical character was present in the Vedas. In Mahabharat also punishment as retribution is visible in the following words : - " To take revenge on him who takes revenge, to retaliate, when struck and to do harm in return, for harm".

  • The system of ordeal is as old as Rigveda. According to Narad and Yagnavalkya ordeal shall be resorted n default of worldly proofs.

  • King was only empowered to inflict Artha and Vadha Danda (fine and corporal punishment).

  • In the republican constitution the Raja or the President alone had the right to convict the accused but in doing so he was to be guided by the "Pareni Pustaka" or the Book of Precedents. Thus we find that the King honored the law of the land.

Advocators of Danda

  • Gautama has opined that the creation of punishment was for checking the miscreant and wrong-doers.

  • Gautam treats Danda as reforming or correcting influence.

  • Kautilya and Sukra suggested the practical means of purifying the criminal soul.

  • Kautilya said crime is contaminating disease.

  • Kamandaka justifies punishment for the purposes of justice.

  • According to YagSavalķya punishment should place the subject in right path. Before awarding punishment the following points were taken into consideration :

(1) Motive ,

(2) Circumstances

(3) Capacity of the criminal, and

(4) the crime.

Types of Danda

Various types of Punishment have been devised over a period of time.

  1. Vadhdanda or Capital Punishment,

  2. Arthadanda or Fines,

  3. Vagdanda or Verbal Punishment, and

  4. Moral Disapprobation

Pali texts inform us that a Brahmin was not given a privileged position in the eyes of law and if a Brahmin was criminal he was sure to be executed.


The sphere of fire, the sun, was as potent a symbol for the ancient Hindus as it was for the Greeks. What beckons is a light which is blinding in its intensity. It is tapamya (the austerity which sears) which leads us in this direction. In the meantime we are tried in the refiner's fire - the daily round and common task - the realm of dharma.


Dharma - righteousness, virtues, duty

Dhamma - Dhamma is like natural laws, cosmic force which maintain the order in the nature, nothing divine in it.

Danda - constraint and coercion

Rta - It is the eternal path of divine righteousness for all beings, including humans and gods, which must be followed in thought and action to discover and maintain oneself in the truth.

Purushartha- It refers to the four principal categories of pursuits in human life namely dharma,artha,kama and moksha

Ashrams- Ashrama (also spelled asrama) is a term used to describe any of the four different life stages that a devout Hindu should pass through.

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Nov 07, 2023

Very helpful notes for me


Nov 05, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Brilliant notes..thank you didi


Jun 27, 2023
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Good works thanks for your efforts


Apr 29, 2023
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