Dharma: can anyone define it for me?


Can anyone define dharma for me? It seems like a concept that transcends simple definitions


There are multiple definitions in multiple religions. A good place to start would be the Wikipedia article. That would help you narrow down which use in which religion you want to know about:



I’m thinking about Buddhism and/or Hinduism.


From my iMac’s “all-knowing” dictionary:

dharma |ˈdärmə|
1 Hinduism the principle of cosmic order.
• virtue, righteousness, and duty, esp. social and caste duty in accord with the cosmic order.
2 Buddhism the teaching or religion of the Buddha.
• one of the fundamental elements of which the world is composed.
ORIGIN late 18th cent.: Sanskrit, literally ‘decree or custom.’

It strikes me as man’s attempt to explain the universe, but also requires several moral precepts, which are either:

  1. Revealed to man, or
  2. Formulated by man.

Could be wrong - often am - but I do not think that either religion claims revelation outside of its founder.


You say so. As is often seen here at Contrary Answers Forums, I note that you are not the OP.


I’m not in any rush. And I will read the Wikipedia article as you suggested. There’s probably a specialized reference ‘book’ on religions that would have an even better article, written by an expert. Something equivalent to the Grove Dictionary of Music.


There are tons of reference books. A good one that gives a general overview of the main schools of Buddhism is “Buddhism for Dummies”. It’s by no means in depth, but it does a good job of introducing you to the main concepts and terminology.

Good luck!


Thank you. I hope not to get too lost in this dharma initiative.



Great with helping us understand Buddhism


This is the non catholic forum and we have several active , well versed members of Buddhism here.


My bad. I thought it was Catholic Living.


The definitions are different in the two religions. Just looking at Buddhism, there are about a dozen possible translations of the word. It has a technical meaning in philosophical discussion: “an element of reality”. It can mean “the teaching of the Buddha”, as in Buddhadharma. It can mean “morality”.

There are so many possible meanings, that the word has to be approached in whatever context it is found.

Do you have a particular context you are interested in?



No specific context, no - it just suddenly occurred to me that even though this word is everywhere, I didn’t know explicitly what it meant. I bought a book called ‘Buddha’ by Karen Armstrong yesterday and in its glossary it defines dharma (or ‘dhamma’ in Pali) as religious truth, among other things.


Karen Armstrong is not Buddhist, but she is very good at explaining Buddhism to non-Buddhists, she mostly ‘gets it’.

In the context you are talking about, dharma (Sanskrit) or dhamma (Pali) means religious truth or religious teaching.



When I was at school, the standard reference was the four-volume study of world religions by Mircea Eliade. I do not recall at the moment what Mr Eliade had to say about dharma.


Eliade’s book “Yoga, Immortality and Freedom” is superb. It has a section on Buddhism, though it does not cover the full range of Buddhism.



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