Sunday, June 08, 2008

Hindu Dharma ---- the Framework of the World

The word, "'dharma" is used in both Hinduism and Buddhism. Some meanings are similar and some are not.

Dharma within Hinduism is seen as the universal law that governs everything and everyone. The idea of dharma arose from the most ancient sacred scriptures of Hinduism or Santana Dharma. There were four Vedas, the most well known being the Rig-Veda. The four contain the bedrock of morality, religion, philosophy, ritual ... in present day Hindu life and belief. The four Vedas may have been gathered together around 1500 BCE, and, are, generally considered the oldest religious texts in continuous use. Somewhat later appeared the Upanishads and finally the Bhagavad Gita -- which ended those texts considered most authoritative and basic in the Hindu faith.

Dharma holds everything together. It is not so much a set of commandments as a word for the very nature of all existence. It is the "cosmic norm" --- which when deviated from brings unhappiness, instability, and malevolence. In Hinduism, especially in Vedanta --- Brahman, the Supreme Absolute is considered impersonal, but not in the sense Westerners might think. For example, Brahman is the essence of being, existence and bliss (satchidananda), but Brahman cannot be conceptualized. Therefore nothing we can say is what Brahman is. If we could do this --- Brahman would not be the Absolute.

Many Hindus do not believe the world was created as those of the three monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do. Reality --- the universe, the earth, sentient creatures -- are all Brahman. They all are expressions of Brahman, and, have no real self-identity. Some followers of Santana Dharma (Hinduism) consider that observable world as maya -- illusion. In reality it is Brahman. How could Brahman construct things, people, animals? All there is -- is Brahman. Brahman is All.

This universal framework, law "holds" or "sustains" the world and its beings. Dharma -- these ways of living, principles of ethics, qualities of compassion, wisdom and equanimity form a web that sustains stable, healthy, beneficent life. This dharma, IMO, is really a visible (to us) aspect of Brahman. Dharma is not Brahman's commandments or rules --- dharma is Brahman, Absolute Reality's Nature. This is why Dharma is absolute as Brahman is.

When a nation departs from Dharmic behavior and values, when man mistreats the natural world, when he shows cruelty and oppression ---- Dharma weakens and Adharma
becomes dominant. Adharma destroys harmony, creates conflict. Things begin to fall apart. Evil and misery become rampant.

To restore Dharma, Hindus believe, the Absolute "projects" or "emanates" avatars or incarnations of divinity -- at various times and places -- to lead mankind back to Dharma and restore order and harmony. Among these avatars, Hindus include Krishna and Rama, but many also regard Buddha and Jesus as avatars.

Another related meaning of Dharma is one's personal "Dharma" --- or the role that "God" wants you to play in the Divine Drama. Dharma in this sense is similar to "duty". The Bhagavad Gita says that it is better for one to fulfill his/her designated dharma imperfectly -- that that of another --- perfectly. This makes me wonder about all the persons we see from time to time on television talking about their plans for who they wany to be. If the actors in a play decided that they wanted to play someone else's part ---- it would be chaos.

Westerners are mostly centered in their egos. Hindu's believe that the ego is fundamentally an illusion. Oh, it may be relatively "real". The inner true reality of a person is the atman which can be thought of as the "soul" --- but for many Hindus it is a drop of divinity (Brahman) and upon one's death --- if one's karma permits --- the individual returns to the Ocean.