What is Dharma?

A lot of people new to the teaching of mindfulness ask the question, “What is dharma?” They hear it mentioned in so many different contexts that they become confused. But, like many words in English, dharma has many meanings.

Buddhists all over the world talk about the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. The first jewel is the Buddha, himself – the one who shows us the way in this life. The second jewel is the dharma – the path of the Buddha. This is also the path of understanding and love. The third jewel is the sangha – the community of monks, nuns, lay men, and lay women who strive to live in harmony and awareness.

In this context, then, the dharma is the teachings of the Buddha applied to daily mindfulness practices and daily life. One could consider the dharma to be the laws of mindful living.

Stephen Cope, a well-known yoga teacher writes,

We Make the Path by Walking It“The Sanskrit word ‘dharma’ as used in the Bhagavad Gita, is so full of meaning that it is impossible to grasp its full scope through any single English translation. ‘Dharma’ can be variously, but incompletely, translated as ‘religious and moral law,’ ‘right conduct,’ ‘sacred duty,’ ‘path of righteousness,’ ‘true nature,’ and ‘divine order.’

René Guénon, in his classic Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines, comes as close as any author to the meaning of dharma as we will use it here. ‘Dharma,’ he says, ‘is the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance.’ The word dharma in this teaching, then, refers to the peculiar and idiosyncratic qualities of each being—those very essential and particular qualities that make it somehow itself.”

—Stephen Cope from The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling

So, when people as, “What is the dharma?” I like to tell them that it is the path to understanding and love. Each person has to walk his own path and incorporate the ideas of discernment of their path through meditation practices. Doing so with full diligence and letting go of the outcome can produce wonderful results. This can lead to a life in flow and in harmony with the way things are.

So what is your dharma and how do you practice it?

Books by Stephen Cope

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling

Stephen Cope

From the scholar in residence and ambassador for the famed Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health comes an incisive and inspiring meditation on living the life you were born to live.

In this fast-paced age, the often overwhelming realities of daily life may leave you feeling uncertain … [Read More…]

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