Dharm Vs Religion
One major problem, as always, is the confusion between the understanding of Dharm and Religion. These terms have been used interchangeably which creates a chasm in their understanding as the terms do not express or mean each other. Unfortunately, the word Religion and Dharm were both incorrectly translated and are incorrectly perceived by the general public. The correct pronunciation and term is ‘Dharm’ without the extra ‘A’ which is a common transliteration mistake. While Westerners often make the mistake of terming the Indian spirituality of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism as Religion; Indians on the other hand confuse Judaism, Christianity and Islam for Dharm. Both are completely erroneous. In all truth, the word Dharma has no equivalent term in English and other European languages and hence must be used and understood as it is, while in the Indian Languages of Sanskrit, Hindi, Tamil, Telegu, Punjabi, Kannada, Oriya, Bengali to name a few, there is no equivalent of the term Religion. To some extent perhaps the terms ‘Panth’ and ‘Sampraday’ may give some resemblance to the term religion but I fear that too would be inaccurate as the term ‘Panth’ more correctly would mean ‘Section’ (in terms of whom one follows) and ‘Sampraday’ more accurately means community or society.
Since these two terms (Dharm and Religion) are misused, one can and often will find an Indian saying “All dharmas are the same”, which is a gross error. Firstly, because there is no plural for ‘Dharm’ just like in the English language there is no plural for ‘Courage’ or ‘Bravery’ or ‘Grief’. Secondly, the broad content and understanding of the term Dharm in its entirety is a constant and it does not change with the individual or community, therefore Dharma is a singular understanding and there cannot be another Dharm. Hence the sentence should be “Dharm is the same everywhere” which would be accurate. One could well say “Dharm is Dharm, just like water is water”. The correct understanding of the term ‘Dharm’ is explained further.
In Western society droves of people are rejecting religion especially Christianity, numerous are turning atheist. A big reason for this to happen is that there is an incompatibility between science and religion. When these westerners reject religion, they unfortunately along with it reject moral values, spiritual systems, spiritual teachers, spiritual values and the effort towards spiritual development too. However, if they had followed the Dharmic systems chances are that such a reaction may not have taken place. The eastern concept of Dharm and Adhyatm are very compatible with modern science. Also many westerners make the mistake of equating a Prophet and the Guru which are very different concepts. It is not as though in the East no one rejects Dharm and Adhyatm, but this is usually due to several complex reasons often not pertaining to the system itself though blamed on it; but actually due to numerous factors that can be termed as human error or sometimes even due to choice. On the whole in my understanding such rejections are often because of an inadequate and improper understanding of the Dharmic and Adhyatmic philosophy. In some cases, it may also be due to some negative personal experiences as well.
The word Religion is considered to originate from atleast two different sources. From the Anglo-French word ‘Religion’ meaning piety, devotion, religious community and from Latin ‘Religionem’ (nominative ‘Religio’) meaning respect for the sacred, reverence for the Gods, moral obligation, faith, fear of the Gods, etc. Cicero defines it as the proper performance of rites in veneration of the gods. The desert Abrahamic religions have a strict set of laws or beliefs that should be followed by the followers without any questions. They also each have a Prophet and a single holy book that is the guide for their faith, beliefs, customs, traditions, practices, prayers, philosophy and understanding of God. Each of these belief systems is rigid and closed to any outside change being considered as perfect by the followers, as they consider their holy scripture as the word of God. It is not open to being questioned and has to be accepted as it is. Also Religion changes with reference to the Individual or Community.
The term Dharma arose from the word ‘Rta’ of Vedic times indicating the natural qualities or laws of nature, such as the quality of fire to burn, or of ice to cool and so on. Therefore, Dharma broadly meant upholding the natural laws and developed from this. The term Dharm originates from the Sanskrit root ‘Dhri’ meaning to uphold or to uplift. Dharm means any act which upholds the individual and society. Dharm encompasses Justice, Moral values, Noble values, Correct Behaviour & actions, Duties and Responsibilities of an individual and society, etc. Dharm propagates all noble qualities such as Non-Violence, Truth, Sincerity, Uprightness, Honesty, Lack of Sensuality, Control on Sexuality, Patience, Perseverance, Forgiveness, Simplicity, Humility, Sacrifice (Tyag), Non-attachment (Vairagya), Courage, Respect, Kindness, Love, Mudita (empathetic joy), Generosity, Benevolence, Charity (Daan), Compassion, Tolerance, Faith, Tranquillity, regular spiritual practice, devotion to the Guru, Study of the scriptures and many more. For the sake of convenience: Spiritual values, Spiritual techniques and Spiritual philosophies are also considered a part of Dharm however this is not accurate as the word for these in Sanskrit/Hindi is ‘Adhyatm’. Adhyatm can be considered as an advancement of Dharm or reversely Dharm can be understood as a base for Adhyatm.
We have already seen that the term Dharm encompasses all actions that uphold an individual and society while adhering to moral & noble values along with correct behaviour, one’s duty, responsibility, etc,. Now if one were to take an overall view of the term Dharma and then translate this into plain words, one can logically conclude that Dharma is being Humane, upholding Human and Humanitarian values and actions or one could even conclude that Dharm results in being Humane and upholding Human and Humanitarian values. Dharma is an open ended system that gives importance to values; one can question everything to achieve a deeper understanding of all aspects of Dharm. All these traditions of Dharma that is, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism have no one originator or prophet. Buddhism though considered to originate from Gautam Buddha too, follows the Guru-Shishya tradition and has had many off shoots very early on, thereby creating numerous sections within it and it is basically a propagation of the Dharmic values of Sanatan Dharm or Hinduism which was the basis of all Dharmic communities. Most Dharmic systems have numerous sacred scriptures which sometimes may even appear to be at conflict with each other however these mostly come under the purview of ‘Adhyatm’ and not of Dharm. In short, the understanding of Dharm is the same in all four communities however there may be some differences in actual practice.
While Religion binds one to God, to the holy book that contains the word of God, all the rigid beliefs, behaviour, customs, traditions & prayers mentioned in it, Dharma binds one to Humaneness. One can be Dharmic without believing in God. And one can be Religious without observing correct human values. This is the crux of the division between Religion and Dharm. Hence they are not at all one.
From the point of view of the Indian Dharm based spiritual systems, the term ‘Religion’ will be seen as a partial system of a confused or an imperfect mixed bag of human values and some kind of a spiritual system that comes along with its many illogical, sometimes even controversial beliefs and is restricted by a dogmatic and closed approach.
The beauty of Indian Philosophy can be understood by a deeper understanding of Dharm and its application in Indian Society. Dharma ties all different people together by its very approach because it focuses on Humaneness, Human and Humanitarian values and not on God or any scripture, Philosophy, Practice, Custom or Tradition. This is the how Hindus/ Sanatan Dharmis despite their very diversified cultures, beliefs, prayer groups (sampraday), gods, scriptures, saints, spiritual philosophies, spiritual practices and spiritual values have lived peacefully together for centuries unlike the Desert Abrahamic traditions who have been at other’s throats for all these centuries and continue to do so. Whether it is the financial manipulations for self gain and to control others; or the act of Proselytisation; or the holy war Jihad; each is an abomination, each act is despicable, each act is an act of disrespect, disregard for the choices, values and freedom of other individuals and societies.
Therefore, the only way forward for mankind as a whole is to adopt the ancient understanding of Dharm and to go forward into time as a unified people based on these Humane, Human and Humanitarian values.