What is "Dharma"
(Pronounced ‘Dharm’, not Dharmaa),
The word “Dharma”, as I understand, is translated in two different ways.
One common translation of the word ‘Dharma’ is:
“Dhaarayatay iti Dharmah” धारयते इति धर्मः
(Whatever we adopt is called Dharma.)
Meaning whatever ideology or philosophy, including the field of action we choose to adopt, is called Dharm. That is why an ‘adopted’ son or daughter in India is called ‘Dharm-Putra or Dharm-Putri’. An adopted brother or sister by choice is known as ‘Dharm-Bhai or Dharm-Behan’.
Since the marriage partners are also chosen, accepted and ‘adopted’ through the cultural, social and religious or legal ceremonies, hence, the wife is also known as ‘Dharm-Patni.
But the word ‘Dharm’, by itself, is commonly understood to be connected with one’s spiritual ideology; adopted by birth or by choice.
By this definition, usually Dharma is translated in English as ‘Religion’, even though it may not define its real and complex meaning.
By this definition, a person’s beliefs and understanding of – what is God, and His relationship with the man and the universe, the meaning and purpose of human life, and ways and means to achieve that goal- defines his or her Dharma.
Since most common religions have different views on these basic questions, people choose to adopt different Dharmas or religions.
In Vedic context, however, ‘Dharma’ means one’s ‘Constitution’ or the ‘Basic Nature’.
For example, ‘Dharma’, the constitution or the basic nature of fire, is to burn and to provide heat and light. If fire does not burn, if it does not provide heat and light, it cannot be called fire.
There is a common phrase in Hindi: Aag ka dharm hai jalaana, aur paani ka dharm hai sheetal aur shudh karna”.
(Dharm or Constitution of fire is to burn and of water is to cool and clean)
Everything in nature has its own constitution; its own basic nature or Dharm. Earth’s Dharm or constitution is to hold everything down and provide support and stability while sky’s dharm is vastness and limitlessness. Tree’s dharm is to provide, and Air’s constitutional dharm is to sustain life.
According to Vedas, every living and non-living thing in the universe has its own constitutional nature or dharma.
Snake’s and scorpion’s dharm or nature is to bite and dog’s dharm is to protect.
What is the ‘Constitutional Dharma’ of humans?
Obviously – it’s ‘Humanity’.
Now, according to the first meaning, which is ‘to adopt’, there can be many different Dharms or religions for one to choose from, and to adopt.
But by the second definition, there can be only ‘one’ constitutional Dharma of all human beings; and that is ‘Humanity’.
What is ‘Humanity?’
The constitutional Dharma or basic nature of human beings is to ‘love and render service’.
It is true that birds and most animals also provide love, security and service to their new-born and young ones but their services are only for a limited time; until their young ones are able to find their own food and take care of themselves. Humans on the other hand, tend to love and render services to their children, parents, relatives, friends, communities and even strangers for all their lives. We even constantly try to provide services to our own senses. Whereas the animals and birds render their love and services only to provide food and security to their families, we humans render services to our own senses and of the loved ones for pleasure and entertainment purposes too.
So basically, whatever we do or create is to render services to ourselves or those around us. That is the basic nature or constitution of human beings; that is the real and only Dharma of mankind.
Just like if the fire does not burn or provide heat and light, then it’s going against its Dharma, because that is what it should do.
Similarly, if we do not render service to others, then we are going against our Dharma; the Dharma of Humanity.
According to one ancient Sanskrit saying:
‘Seva Parmo-Dharmah’ सेवा परमो धर्मः
‘Seva (service) is the supreme Dharma’
Source: Rajan Sachdeva