11 Characteristics of Dharma – Discussed!

Some of the most important characteristics of dharma are as follows:

(1) Social Principle:

As the highest purusartha, ‘dharma’ represented the cosmic law operating in the natural, moral and religious phenomena. Dharma was defined in terms of certain duties and obligations which were codified in the great sastras within the social order.

(2) Principle of Good:

Dharma is closely connected with the principle of good or ‘punya’. Good is the principle closely associated with ‘dharma’. Nothing is considered greater or higher than ‘dharma’ in this world. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad considered dharma as the ‘sreya’ or good. Therefore ‘adharma’ means the opposite of good or evil. It has been prescribed that one must follow ‘dharma’ in order to attain ‘moksha’ or salvation.

(3) Principle of law and order:

Dharma Sastras consider that dharma represents the principle of law and order. The ancient Indian legislation and the theory of punishment solely depended upon the principle of ‘dharma’. ‘Dharmarajya’ was the name given to the country which observed law and order. Manusmriti enjoined the king as the repository of all ‘dharma’ and responsible for maintaining the order of law and for ensuring that all his subjects live by the law of dharma. Thus the rules according to ‘dharma’ not only included legal justice but also social justice.

(4) Humanism:

The philosophy of humanism is among the most significant characteristics of ‘dharma’. Dharma is basically a moral principle which is essentially human. Man has to acquire some sort of specific ‘dharma’ in a particular place and time and the sole aim of his life is to realize it. In real terms, humanism itself too has a ‘dharma’. Humanism propounds unity in diversity, in individual, national and international affairs. In the like manner there are specific ‘dharma’s’ and also ‘sadharana’ or common ‘dharma’s’ having universal forms.

(5) Practical Principles:

The, concept of ‘dharma’ is not devoid of practical principles. Although the sastrakaras attached the highest importance to moral qualities, nevertheless their major aim was a practical one i.e., to guide people to right acts in everyday life. They dealt more elaborately with the acts, rites and ceremonies that each person had to perform, keeping in view his own place and position in society.

(6) Criteria of duty:

Another significant characteristic of dharma is the sense of duty. Whatever is enjoined by Vedic injections is dharma or duty, provided it is not intended to produce any injury to other persons. The sacrifices performed according to the principles contrary to that of Vedic injunctions, cannot be regarded as ‘dharma’. Dharma may be known only by the way of Vedic sacrifice i.e. only such prescribed sacrifices of the Vedas as have not been associated with any harmful effects. Therefore, ‘dharma’ may be interpreted as those principles which are either enjoined by the Vedas or directed towards beneficial ends.

(7) Integral approach:

Dharma may be viewed from the integral standpoint. ‘Swadharma’ is the basis of unity in diversity in society. Indian culture has always been self-sufficiently characterised by an integral approach. The contemporary Indian thinkers have adopted the integral approach in philosophy. Dharmasastras are also univocal regarding a multisided integral progress. They consider it as ideal. This has also been reflected in the Indian ideal of four purusarthas such as, ‘Dharma’, ‘Artha’, ‘Kama’ and ‘Moksha’ which present an integral view of life.

(8) Principle of statecraft:

In ancient Hindu polity the king was made responsible for upholding dharma. It was his duty to ensure that all his subjects followed the principle of law and order. So dharma is the principle of statecraft and the basis of law and order of the state.

(9) Characteristic of Indian Culture:

The term culture has a very close association with the concept of dharma. So, all the characteristics of Indian culture coincide with that of ‘dharma’ in Hinduism. Indian culture is characterised by religious orientation, spirituality, religious tolerance, freedom of thought, integral approach and unity in diversity. Dharma also possesses all such characteristics. Dharma is, in fact, a cultural organization and spirituality. Spirituality enables one to realize dharma and to understand Indian mind.

(10) Combination of continuity and Dynamic diversity:

Dharma has never been static in nature, rather dharma has the characteristics of dynamic principle. Dharma brings about happiness, means of happiness and final deliverance. Dharma is super sensuous and as such it is produced by the contact of the man with the internal organ, S.C. Crawford said “Hindus call their religion ‘Sanatan dharma’ which literally means “Eternal law”.

This literal meaning, however, does not suggest that the ethical ideals connected with Hinduism are eternal in the sense of being fixed, static unchanging substances. All of Hinduism’s fundamental presupposition — ‘karman’, ‘samsara’, ‘dharma’ have evolved from various streams of thought from the earliest times. The elements still persist in the present day, not in-spite of change, but because of change. Thus, the concept of eternal universal law, never implies static nature of Hindu ideals, rather the Hindu ethic combines continuity with dynamic diversity.

(11) Differential of Man:

It is dharma which distinguishes man from the animal. As a regulative principle it represents the moral law in human society. All the social values are derived from the dharma. In this regard K.N. Upadhyaya says, “The persistence and intensity with which the inquiry into dharma has been pursued in India is mainly on account of the firm conviction of the Indian people that dharma constitutes the differential of man. So the most vital to the man’s life is not mental, but his moral and spiritual nature.”

Submitted by : Dr. Callie, Category : Hindu