What Is Dharma in Hinduism? - Definition & Overview

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Dharma in Hinduism refers to anything or anyone that upholds a positive order. Study the definition of dharma, learn how it's applied, explore the opposition to dharma, and discover an overview of the history of dharma. Updated: 12/29/2021

What is Hinduism?

We can't define an integral part of something without knowing what we are talking about. So here's a quick overview of Hinduism:

  • Belief in one supreme being
  • Belief in the four Vedas, which are an ancient scripture (possibly the oldest)
  • Cycles of creation, preservation and dissolution
  • Karma is the ultimate law of cause and effect that creates each person's destiny
  • Souls are reincarnated, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved and the soul is liberated from the cycle by moksha
  • Divine beings exist in unseen worlds and temples, rituals, sacraments and devotions create communion between the individual and the beings
  • Transcendent and enlightened masters are essential
  • All life is sacred
  • All religions and teachings are facets of wisdom and light; all deserve tolerance and understanding

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  • 0:00 What Is Hinduism?
  • 1:05 What Is Dharma?
  • 1:30 Applied Dharma
  • 2:19 Opposition to Dharma
  • 2:57 History of Dharma
  • 3:35 Lesson Summary
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What is Dharma?

Dharma is a word without direct translation, but implies 'religion,' 'duty,' and 'righteousness.' It derives from a Sanskrit root word meaning 'to uphold or sustain'. The concept behind Dharma is anything that upholds or sustains a positive order. For example, an individual, a family, a community, a nation and the universe all help uphold order.

Applied Dharma

Dharma changes, depending on the social expectation and level a person is at. A child's dharma is different than their parents', who have different dharmas than, say, a nation leader. Each individual's expectations of how they are to be treated and expectations of what they should be doing are different. A child is expected to obey the parents and grow into a responsible adult. Parents are supposed to protect and look after their child. The head of a nation is to provide security and leadership to their citizens. If everyone follows their dharma, then prosperity is had. But if people fail to maintain, then the system begins to fall apart. For example, what if the leader acted like a child? What if the child refused to grow up? The entire system begins to fall apart.

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