What is dharma? And how can it be different for different people?

Photograph by Arti Agarwal
Photograph by Arti Agarwal

I encounter this question often. “What is dharma?”

The immediately next question people ask, is, “How can dharma change from one person to another? And from one situation to another?”

Dharma is taking a decision or an action, in alignment with the laws  of the cosmos. In simple words, dharma is taking any action or decision from a space of completion & with an intention of enriching someone.

When we say “Brahmanyam Bahuputratam”, we mean, “I am the favourite inheritor of the cosmos”. It means, “I am the source of everything.” This applies to each and every human being, whether they have realized it yet or not.

Hence, to simplify it even further, the dharma of every human being is to take responsibility for any and every situation that is bothering them or that needs reform. Any decision that comes from that sense of responsibility will be in alignment with dharma.

Why is dharma different for different people?

In the same situation, the dharma in spirit will be the same for each person – to take responsibility for the situation. But, the methods chosen to shoulder that responsibility can be different according to each person. Different people may be using different methods to achieve the same thing.

For example, the dharma of a kshatriya (warrior) and a brahmana (sage) is the same. To take responsibility for the humanity. But their methods will be different. That is called svadharma. A kshtriya will carry out his svadharma by protecting the land and its people. A brahmana will carry out his svadharma by studying scriptures, giving the right counsel to the rulers, teaching young minds, performing rites and rituals for the betterment of the land & its people. The actions and methods of both are different, the spirit is the same.

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