WHAT IS DHARMA?h1> ਕਬੀਰਾ ਜਹਾ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਤਹ ਧਰਮੁ ਹੈ ਜਹਾ ਝੂਠੁ ਤਹ ਪਾਪੁ ॥:
Kabeeraa jahaa giaanu tah dharamu hai jahaa jhoothu tah paapu
(sggs 1372).
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The word Dharma comes from the Sanskrit root dhri, which means "to hold". Therefore, Dharma refers to that innate characteristic or Eternal Nature which constantly exists with a particular object. To put it otherwise, Dharma refers to that activity or natural law which cannot be changed. Accordingly, the term Dharma is the Eternal function or True Nature of all beings in relationship with the Supreme Factor.

For example, heat is the natural Dharma of fire, liquidity is the natural Dharma of water, light is the natural Dharma of sun, to produce plants is the natural Dharma of a seed, energy is the natural Dharma of electricity, and so on. Hence the word Dharma refers to the Eternal occupation of all beings. It expresses the vital or Essential Nature of men, animals, all other creatures, metals, and so on. Dharma, therefore, is a comprehensive term that refers to the immutable Cosmic Law that pervades every particle of the Cosmos, and runs the entire Universe and all beings. Thus, in the broader sense, Dharma is what upholds the Universe.

Anything which has beginning and end is limited by boundaries. Something that has neither beginning nor end cannot be limited by boundaries. As God does not have beginning, middle or end, the Eternal Dharma also does not have any beginning or end. Thereby, it's Eternal.

Clearly, the Dharma is eternally integral with all living entities, things and places. In other words, Dharma is that natural function of Eternal Being which can not be taken away from it. Just as the heat cannot be taken away from fire, liquidity cannot be taken away from the water, energy cannot be taken away from the electricity, and so on.

  • ਇਹੁ ਸਰੀਰੁ ਸਭੁ ਧਰਮੁ ਹੈ ਜਿਸੁ ਅੰਦਰਿ ਸਚੇ ਕੀ ਵਿਚਿ ਜੋਤਿ ॥ ਗੁਹਜ ਰਤਨ ਵਿਚਿ ਲੁਕਿ ਰਹੇ ਕੋਈ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਸੇਵਕੁ ਕਢੈ ਖੋਤਿ ॥ ਸਭੁ ਆਤਮ ਰਾਮੁ ਪਛਾਣਿਆ ਤਾਂ ਇਕੁ ਰਵਿਆ ਇਕੋ ਓਤਿ ਪੋਤਿ ॥ ਇਕੁ ਦੇਖਿਆ ਇਕੁ ਮੰਨਿਆ ਇਕੋ ਸੁਣਿਆ ਸ੍ਰਵਣ ਸਰੋਤਿ ॥: Ih sareer sabh dharma hai jis andar sache kee vich joti. Guhaj ratan ...: This body is the Home of Dharma; the Divine Light of the True Lord is within it. Hidden within it are the jewels of mystery; how rare is that Gurmukh (God-immersed soul), that selfless servant, who digs them out. When someone realizes the All-pervading Soul, then he sees the One and Only Lord permeating, through and through. He sees the One, he believes in the One, and with his ears, he listens only to the One (sggs 309).
The Truth is one, however, paths to return to this Truth are many. Eternal Dharma of living entities is the Eternal Path that is inherent in the Soul itself. This Eternal Dharma or Eternal Path is seen reflected in all true religions. As such, this Eternal Dharma which takes the Soul back to its Real Source (Mool) is eternally existent in all Jeeva (individual beings), and is at work whether he is aware of the process or not. This means that the search for the Original Source (Mool) is not this man's search or that man's search, rather, every Jeeva is pursuing it, knowingly or unknowingly!

An important concept in Eastern spirituality is that of Dharma. With this background, one may perhaps appreciate the difference between the English word "religion" and the word "Dharma" mentioned in the Gurbani and other Eastern scriptures. In fact there is really no equivalent word to Dharma in the English language. The word Dharma has a deep and broad meaning.

Man-made religions have beginning and end in the human history and, thereby, sectarian due to limited boundaries. Without Intuitive Understanding (Aatam-Giaan...), these limited boundaries turn into a veil to one's own oneness with the Universal Consciousness, thus a block to one's own Spiritual Enlightenment. However, as there is no beginning and end to Eternal Dharma of any object, it is not sectarian, for it does not refer to any sectarian or limited process. Thus, the Dharma of a living entity is Eternal as it remains eternally with it. To put it otherwise, the eternal Dharma refers to that eternal nature of all beings which constantly holds on to them. Simply put: the word "religion" is exclusivist and Dharma is non-exclusivist.

The Divine Name (Shabad or Naam) is beyond any limiting boundaries, thus nonsectarian. It is the Essence of the Primal Substance. It is the Eternal Divine Light (Giaan), showing the way out from material darkness to our True Nature or Eternal Dharma. Like the One All-pervading Spirit, it is unconditioned by the time, space, causation, name and form.

  • ਸਬਦੁ ਦੀਪਕੁ ਵਰਤੈ ਤਿਹੁ ਲੋਇ ॥: Shabad deepak vartai tih loyi: The Shabad is a lamp (Giaan...), illuminating the three worlds (sggs 664).

The Divine Factor (Naam, Shabad, Satguru, God, Truth, Unconditioned Consciousness, etc.) has no beginning, middle or end. So does the Spirit Soul. As the Spirit Soul is True Image of God (Joti-Svaroopa), it has neither birth nor death. It is Eternal — it continues to live even after the destruction of one's physical body. It is immortal, unborn, ever-existing, primeval, non-destructible, unbreakable, insoluble, changeless, immovable, invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and imperishable. It can neither be cut nor slain by any weapon, nor burnt by fire, nor moistened by water, and nor withered by wind. It is the Essence or Ansh (part-and-parcel) of God.

The Nature of Divinity is Eternal Existence, Divine Knowledge and Pure Bliss. Being the Essence of the same Pure Being, the Spirit Soul also has the same Eternal Nature or Dharma. Because without liquidity, there will be no meaning to the word water;  without energy, there will be no meaning to word electricity, and so on. Accordingly, the Gurbani urges us to discover the True Nature of our Mool within, that which constantly stays or holds on to the Spirit Soul. That constant companion with its Eternal Quality is the Eternal Dharma of all beings. To adhere to Dharma in our life requires a thorough understanding of our True Nature (Joti-Svaroopa...), and the nature of this world (Maya).

  • ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਹੈ ਸੋਇ ॥ ਤਿਸ ਕੈ ਚਾਨਣਿ ਸਭ ਮਹਿ ਚਾਨਣੁ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਗੁਰ ਸਾਖੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਪਰਗਟੁ ਹੋਇ ॥: Sabh mahi joti joti hai soi. Tis kai chaanan sabh mahi chaanan hoi. Gur saakhee joti pargat hoi: You are that One Divine Light which pervades within everyone. Yours is that Light which shines within everyone (as consciousness). (But) by the Guru's Teachings, this Divine Light is revealed. (sggs 663).
Broadly speaking, one's Dharma demands one to adhere to Divine Virtues such as Truthfulness, commitment to Higher Purpose in life, Daya or compassion, SatSantokh or true contentment, Shabad-Vichaar (Giaan...), and so on. These Divine Attributes will save one from all types of suffering and ultimately lead one to Realize his Mool(Source...) within, which he has forgotten. However, man's intelligence engrossed and galvanized with materialistic (Maya) knowledge is incapable to comprehend and Realize it. But, without the Dharma there is no meaning to life. On the other hand, living a life of Dharma and, forms a strong foundation for a rich and rewarding life.
  • ਪਸੂ ਮਿਲਹਿ ਚੰਗਿਆਈਆ ਖੜੁ ਖਾਵਹਿ ਅੰਮ੍ਰਿਤੁ ਦੇਹਿ ॥ ਨਾਮ ਵਿਹੂਣੇ ਆਦਮੀ ਧ੍ਰਿਗੁ ਜੀਵਣ ਕਰਮ ਕਰੇਹਿ ॥੩॥: Pasoo milahi changiaaeeaa khar khaavahi amrit dehi. Naam vihoone aadmee dhrig jeevan karam krehi ||3||: Even beasts have value, as they eat grass and give milk. Without the Naam (Giaan...), the mortal’s life is cursed, as are the actions he performs ||3|| (sggs 489).
  • ਕਰਮ ਪੇਡੁ ਸਾਖਾ ਹਰੀ ਧਰਮੁ ਫੁਲੁ ਫਲੁ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥: Karma is the tree, the Lord's Name the branches, Dharmic faith the flowers, and spiritual wisdom the fruit. (sggs 1168).
Therefore, the highest Dharma or duty of all of us is to find out through Realization that each one of us is held, supported, or sustained by the Divine Hukam, Naam, Shabad. Therefore, in essence, the Eternal Nature or Dharma of the Spirit Soul is Naam or Shabad-Surti, a bridge that links us to our Mool within. And the Essence of the Eternal Naam or Shabad is to abide by Dharma in life.
  • ਬਲਿਓ ਚਰਾਗੁ ਅੰਧ੍ਯ੍ਯਾਰ ਮਹਿ ਸਭ ਕਲਿ ਉਧਰੀ ਇਕ ਨਾਮ ਧਰਮ ॥ Balio charaag andhaar mahi sabh kal udharee ik naam dharam: The Lamp (Giaan...) is lit in the darkness (of ignorance of the world); (by engaging in) the Dharma of the One Naam saved all in Kali (sggs 1387).
  • ਸਚਹੁ ਓਰੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋ ਉਪਰਿ ਸਚੁ ਆਚਾਰ ॥੫॥: Sachahu orai sabh kayu upari sach aachaar ||5||: Everything is underneath (lower than, ਉਰ੍ਹੇ, …) Truth; the truthful living (living with Truth) is the highest (i.e., the superior form of living, ਸਭ ਤੇ ਉੱਪਰ …) ||5|| (sggs 62).
Why does every human strive for happiness, Giaan...? It is because happiness, Giaan, Joy, or Pure Bliss is the True Dharma or Nature of our Eternal Soul. That's why the human Spirit has natural tendency to seek unlimited freedom and fulfillment. Like waves rise towards moon, the human mind contains subtle waves urging our thoughts towards a Higher Reality. This is our Dharma.

The mind of those of us who do not try to Realize their True Dharma are likened to stagnated water. As long as water is constantly connected to it's source and keeps moving, it remains fresh, clean and pure. On the other hand, upon becoming stagnated or disconnected from the source, it becomes filthy, full of odor and germs. Similarly, so long a living entity is connected to or aware of its True Dharma, he is in the state of Eternal, Blissful, Conscious Existence.

  • ਸਦਾ ਸੱਚਿਦਾਨੰਦ ਸਰਬੰ ਪ੍ਰਣਾਸੀ ॥ Sadaa sachchdaanand sarabang pranaasee ||: Thou art ever Lord Truth, Consciousness and Bliss (Guru Gobind Singh Jee, Jaap Sahib).
  • ਹੁਕਮੁ ਨ ਜਾਣੈ ਬਹੁਤਾ ਰੋਵੈ ॥: Hukam na jaanai bahutaa rovai: One who does not know Hukam (Divine Command...) cries out in terrible pain and suffering (sggs 85).

How can one find or Realize this Dharma? Through Shabad-Vichaar. The Gurbani asserts that the Shabad-Vichaar is the panacea, the remedy to cure all ills. However, as the Gurbani declares, Dharma cannot be perceived by any religious rituals, reading books, listening to sermons, attending meetings or seminars, rolling beads, attaining college degrees, titles, heredity, family of birth, caste, debates, and then turning around giving lectures to others or repeating what we have heard or read. 

In mental delusion, we fall victim to worldly entanglements and useless religious rituals, which further bind us to Maya (cosmic illusion) and Sansar (prounced Sansaar). Bewildered by the ignorance of our True Nature, we look for Dharma in those who themselves have not perceived It! As stressed in the Gurbani, Eternal Dharma is not a set of religious teachings. Also, it is not a matter of outer rituals or dogmatism. It is a man's inner surrender (Sharnaagati) to the Shabad, Naam, or Eternal Teacher that can be awakened, discovered and used, "here" and "now". If it is followed with steady faith, there is no bound to Peace, Love, and Joy.

  • ਕਲਿਜੁਗ ਕਾ ਧਰਮੁ ਕਹਹੁ ਤੁਮ ਭਾਈ ਕਿਵ ਛੂਟਹ ਹਮ ਛੁਟਕਾਕੀ ॥ ਹਰਿ ਹਰਿ ਜਪੁ ਬੇੜੀ ਹਰਿ ਤੁਲਹਾ ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿਓ ਤਰੈ ਤਰਾਕੀ ॥੧॥: Kaliyuga kaa Dharam kahahu tum bhaaee kiv shootah ham shutkaakee. Hari Hari jap beree Hari tulhaa Hari Japio tarai traakee ||1|| : Tell me, O brother, the Dharma for this Kali. I seek emancipation — how can I be emancipated? Naam Japa (Understanding the Giaan of the Gurbani...) is the Boat and the raft; meditating on God (Divine Knowledge....), the swimmer (the seeker...) swims across ||1|| (sggs 668).
  • ਬੈਸਨੋ ਸੋ ਜਿਸੁ ਊਪਰਿ ਸੁਪ੍ਰਸੰਨ ॥ ਬਿਸਨ ਕੀ ਮਾਇਆ ਤੇ ਹੋਇ ਭਿੰਨ ॥ ਕਰਮ ਕਰਤ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਿਹਕਰਮ ॥ ਤਿਸੁ ਬੈਸਨੋ ਕਾ ਨਿਰਮਲ ਧਰਮ ॥ ਕਾਹੂ ਫਲ ਕੀ ਇਛਾ ਨਹੀ ਬਾਛੈ ॥ ਕੇਵਲ ਭਗਤਿ ਕੀਰਤਨ ਸੰਗਿ ਰਾਚੈ ॥ ਮਨ ਤਨ ਅੰਤਰਿ ਸਿਮਰਨ ਗੋਪਾਲ ॥ ਸਭ ਊਪਰਿ ਹੋਵਤ ਕਿਰਪਾਲ ॥ ਆਪਿ ਦ੍ਰਿੜੈ ਅਵਰਹ ਨਾਮੁ ਜਪਾਵੈ ॥ ਨਾਨਕ ਓਹੁ ਬੈਸਨੋ ਪਰਮ ਗਤਿ ਪਾਵੈ ॥੨॥: Baisno so jis oopar suparsann ...: The true Vaishnav (the word "Vaishnav" literally means the one who worships Vishnu - the Supreme, All-pervading God - out of pure love, expecting nothing from Him in return) is the one with whom God is thoroughly pleased. He dwells apart from Maya. He who beholds inaction in action, spotlessly pure is the Dharma of such a Vaishnav. He has no desire for the fruits of his action. He is absorbed in the Bhagti (devotion) and Kirtan. Within his mind and body, he meditates on God (Naam). He is kind to all. He holds fast to the Lord's Name (Naam) himself, and inspires others for Naam Jap. Says Nanak: such a Vaishnav obtains the Supreme Status (sggs 274).
The True Dharma is another name for the Divine Love or Intuitive Wisdom (Aatam-Giaan...).  It can be awakened from its dormant condition within by becoming a Gurmukh (Spiritual Being...). This Love Divine makes man not only to speak Truth but live by the Truth. Dharma is the fearlessness that makes us able to Love others; for to Love others is to Love the God. The Dharma is the very Essence of our practical life: if we do not practice it, we would not understand it!
  • ਤਜਿ ਸਭਿ ਭਰਮ ਭਜਿਓ ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮੁ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਅਟਲ ਇਹੁ ਧਰਮ ॥: Taji Sabhi bharam bhajio paarbrahm. Kahu Nanak attal ih dharma: Renounce all your doubts, and vibrate upon the Supreme Lord. Says Nanak, this path of Dharma is eternal and unchanging (sggs 196).
  • ਕਾਹੂ ਜੁਗਤਿ ਕਿਤੈ ਨ ਪਾਈਐ ਧਰਮਿ ॥: Kaahoo jugat kitai n paaeeai dharam ||: Dharma cannot be obtained by any rituals (sggs 274).

So, the Gurbani urges us to abide by Dharma at all costs. Through the Gur-Giaan (Divine Knowledge, Spiritual Wisdom, Aatam-Giaan, Gurmat, Shabad-Vichaar ...), the Gurbani urges us to build the fence of Dharma around. In fact, the Gurbani calls this earth "ਧਰਮ ਸਾਲ" (Dharam Saal - the place for Jeeva to practice Dharma, ਜੀਵਾਂ ਲਈ ਧਰਮ ਕਮਾਉਣ ਦਾ ਅਸਥਾਨ...).

  • ਸਾਚ ਧਰਮ ਕੀ ਕਰਿ ਦੀਨੀ ਵਾਰਿ ॥ ਫਰਹੇ ਮੁਹਕਮ ਗੁਰ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਿ ॥੨॥: Saach Dharam kee kari deenee vaari. Farahe muhkam gur giaanu beechaari. ||2|| (sggs 430).
  • ਤਿਸੁ ਵਿਚਿ ਧਰਤੀ ਥਾਪਿ ਰਖੀ ਧਰਮ ਸਾਲ ॥: Tisu vichi dharatee thaapi rakhee dharam saal (sggs 12).

Dharma makes one Bhagat (Gurmukh ...), not Sansaaree (worldly or Mayaic person). The Gurbani assures us once inside the fence (ਕਾਰ, ਵਾੜ ...) of Dharma, we will not be plundered.

  • ਤੈ ਸਹਿ ਦਿਤੀ ਵਾੜਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਖੇਤੁ ਨ ਛਿਜਈ ॥੨॥: Tai sahi ditee vaarri Nanak khetu n chhijaee (sggs 521).

— T. Singh
www.gurbani.org


Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2013 3:00 PM (PST)

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