Dharma – To Follow The Right Of Life

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S 4 pursuits of life – Purushartha Chatushtaya is a famous philosophy of life

The purusharthas are –

  • Dharma – righteousness
  • Artha – ethical earning
  • Kama – meaningful desires
  • Moksha – spiritual liberation


Ayurveda, the oldest school and science of health too has mentioned about this concept though not elaborating it. We find a reference quoting ‘people who are desirous of longevity of life which are the pathways of obtaining dharma etc pursuits should learn, propagate and follow the principles and teachings of Ayurveda in a religious way’. Read – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana Chapter 1 – Quest For Longevity

Dharma Many people understand the term dharma as equivalent to religion. That is partially true and the comparison has evolved through practice. Actually the term Dharma has many meanings. They need to be understood as per context. Read – Pravritti – Attachment, Meaning, Causes, Effects of Attachment

As per Ashtanga Hrudaya, Sutrasthana 2nd chapter,
सुखार्थाः सर्वभूतानां मताः सर्वाः प्रवृत्तयः ।
सुखं च न विना धर्मात्तस्माद्धर्मपरो भवेत् ॥ २० ॥
भक्त्या कल्याणमित्राणि सेवेतेतरदूरगः ।

sukhārthāḥ sarvabhūtānāṃ matāḥ sarvāḥ pravṛttayaḥ |
sukhaṃ ca na vinā dharmāttasmāddharmaparo bhavet || 20 ||
bhaktyā kalyāṇamitrāṇi sevetetaradūragaḥ |

Sukhartha sarvabhutanam – All the creatures in the universe aim towards comfort.
Mataha sarva pravrittaya – All their activities are also aimed at happiness and comforts.
Sukham ca na vina dharmat – There is no happiness, without Dharma (righteousness).
Tasmat dharmaparo bhavet – Hence all should follow the path of Dharma (righteousness).

Different meanings of Dharma

Righteousness – Whatever we do should be in a right way. Righteousness defines all our actions and reactions done in a right way, in an ethical way, in a given lifetime. It is not what we do once. It is a matter of habit. It is a call from within. It should be followed and updated regularly. One should be on high alert about self and keep away from diversions, perversions and temptations to make righteousness a healthy habit. It should not only look and feel good for the doer, but should mean the same for the observer. Right and meaningful actions, deeds and words which are foundations for an ethical and moral way of living life are included in this term. Read – Happiness Through Wise Discrimination, Detachment – Viveka Chudamani


Below mentioned are some of the duties which everyone should perform at various stages of life.

  • Taking care of one’s family
  • Respecting the elders and shading them in their senility without abandoning them
  • Being a good friend for those in need and providing all help he could within the range of his possibilities, without taking untoward ways
  • Being an ideal parent for kids and teaching them the ethics and etiquette of leading a good and meaningful life. Since home is the first school, the foundation for leading a good life in a moral and religious way should begin therein.
  • Earning livelihood and basic essentials in a righteous way for his family etc are included in the duties. Read – Sufferings And Health Of Spiritual People – Ayurvedic Analysis


All of us have rights which give us freedom of expression and for being what we are at various state of life. We all have some birth rights. Our family gives us some rights pertaining to how we live and mingle with the family. Few rights are given by the society and many more by administrative governments and judiciary of a nation. Our constitution gives us certain common rights, within the frame work we all need to live. Over all, we have rights to live a better life. Respecting the rights which come into our territory and guarding the respect of the rights of other people in brotherhood is dharma. When we do it and follow the rights properly at all levels, we participate in balancing the global peace and harmony. Read – If Disease Is Due To Bad Karma, Should We Fight It Or Not?

Laws and Justice

Law has always been the guardian of righteousness. Being social beings, living and leading life within the boundaries and framework of law is nothing short of doing dharma. We need to abide to the laws drafted by a nation and its constitution and be lawful. Breaking laws is adharma (non-righteousness); it was, in all eras, in all civilisations, in all clans. Violating laws of nation, state, nature or creation would put us in danger of being punished. We would be disturbing the balance and harmony of the system in which we live. We also would be a problem for our family and loved ones. Set of laws define dharma, dharma is law. Read – 5 Ayurvedic Tips For A Healthy Lifestyle


We conduct ourselves by behaving and reacting to a given situation, our behaviour and demeanour in a given condition and place. This behaviour of ours while having total control on our wits and senses will always be rewarding. When we respond to things, people, conditions and situations while being out of our senses, we give scope to lot of imbalances. Conducting ourselves within the territory and limitations of what we can do and react to is dharma; in fact it defines our dharma. Read – Sadvritta In Ayurveda – Code Of Conduct For Healthy Life


Goodness, dignity and righteousness at the top of degree of comparison, showing high moral standards of an individual are the virtues that the person is made up of. He who is made up of good virtues would be a golden standard for others to mimic, follow and surpass. We have a concept called Achara Rasayana explained in ancient Ayurvedic treatises, including Charaka Samhita. This explains the good virtues of a person which define his personality and bestows him with longevity of life. A person who is made up of good and noble virtues will eventually be one who follows and abides to the dharma at every step of his life. Read – Achara Rasayana – Behavioral Therapy For Calm Mind And Long Life

Right way of living

What is the right way of life is hard to define!! But any way of living which doesn’t harm the reputation of self and doesn’t disturb the others way of living is considered right. Thus, living within the bracket of limitations of one’s life, not trespassing and violating the principles and conduct of living, respecting the laws of nature and society, enjoying ones space while respecting others space and way of life is dharma.

Leading the life in a disciplined way while following all the above said and satisfying all the definition of righteousness is considered dharma. Read – Parenting Tips: Great Hobbies For children For A Great Future

Is religion Dharma?

As already said, religion is often used as synonymous with dharma. Religion is a part of dharma, but religion alone does not constitute dharma. Likewise dharma doesn’t just define religion.

But since we are what we follow throughout our life and it constitutes our religion and principles of our religion, religion is dharma from a particular angle and this is not universal. Religion as dharma is moreover personal. It differs from person to person, religion to religion, clan to clan and family to family because the beliefs and practices of each are different from one another.

When we love our religion, it is equally important that we also love the religious beliefs of others. If we get obsessed with our religion we may hate and get intolerant towards others. This way we would be disturbing the balance and harmony of life and universe. This gives way to non-righteousness (adharma). Being tolerant to ones and also other’s religious beliefs is part of dharma (righteousness).
Read – Do You Need To Be Spiritual To Enjoy Ayurveda Benefits?

Dharma and other pursuits

Relationship between Dharma and other pursuits

Dharma forms the foundation and basis for achieving other goals of life i.e. wealth, desires and salvation. Once we are on the path of righteousness, we obviously follow right path towards achieving everything in our life. Thus, we earn in an ethical way, we will have meaningful desires and try to fulfill them in an ethical and moral way. Read – 3 Basic Desires Of Life – Charaka Sanhita Sutrasthan 11

When one follows righteousness, ethical learning and meaningful desires, one creates his own pathway leading to the fourth goal i.e. spiritual liberation (moksha). This means to tell that religiously following the first three pursuits or seeking them in an ethical and moral way is the pathway for salvation. One would not be liberated and be trapped in the vicious cycle of life and death as long as he is indulged in non-righteousness, unethical way of earning and longing for wrong desires of life. Read – Treatment For Excess Desires – Naishtiki Chikitsa

Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitah

A reference from Manu Smriti treatise tells ‘When the dharma is destroyed, it further destroys the one who destroys it. But when the Dharma is protected it protects and guards the one who has protected it. Therefore one should not go against dharma, not destroy or damage it.’

A reference from Mahabharata, Karna Parva section tells – ‘The word Dharma is derived from dharana i.e. to support. Dharma sustains society. That which has the capacity to sustain and support is called dharma’. Read – Money, Ayurveda, Spirituality – How To Strike Perfect Balance?

In the holy religious scripture of Hindus, Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna quotes Arjuna and tells – ‘Hey Arjuna, whenever there is a decline of righteousness and an abnormal rise of un-righteousness, I manifest and incarnate myself, in order to protect the innocent and to destroy the bad and evil. To establish righteousness I would incarnate in every epoch, again and again.’ Read – Aham Brahmasmi – The Most Premiere State Of Mind

This shows that the battle between righteousness and non-righteousness was always present in all eras, in all epochs, in all civilisations, at all times of evolution. There were people who were right and also those who were wrong. Some people, be a leader or a king took responsibility of curbing the non-righteousness and establishing the righteousness whenever the wrong things dominated the society. Establishing and established righteousness were considered as yardsticks and fundamental rules which balanced the goodness of the society and was responsible for soft governance and lawful administration. Even now the concept of righteousness is the same. It was not wrong in ancient times to destroy non-righteousness in order to establish righteousness. Therefore there were wars and punishments.
Read – Inculcate 9 Qualities Of Leadership In Your Child

Even in modern day time we see that states, countries and governments have made stringent rules and regulations to curb crime, offences and misdeeds in order to establish peace and sustain balance in the society. War against terrorism and punishment of criminals, the penal codes, the courts of justice etc are means of establishing dharma in modern days and have been improvised versions of the ancient principles of dharma.

Protect the dharma. It shall protect you. Just like Newton’s law – ‘Every action has equal and opposite reaction’.

More about Dharma (excerpts from Wikipedia, revisited and revised)

Dharma is an integral part of Indian philosophy and religion. The word dharma is derived from the root word ‘dhru’. Dru means – To sustain, To balance

Dharma thus holds back the one who is falling to hell due to his misdeeds, avoids him from doing the wrongs and lead a life in noble and righteous path. It is the thing which regulates the course of change by not participating in the change, but that principle which remains constant.

Dharma also means ‘that which has been established’ – which indicates rules, regulations and laws of righteous living.

Dharma, according to the references in the most ancient texts of Hinduism meant cosmic law and rituals. Read – Ayurveda To Improve Health of Herbs: Vriksha Ayurveda

Dharma as defined in Vedas, Upanishads and Epics

In the later period the meaning of dharma became richer in Vedas, Upanishads and Epics.

In these texts, dharma defined

  • human behaviours which were considered necessary for maintaining the order and balance of the things and events of the universe,
  • principles that prevent chaos in the society and community,
  • behaviours and action necessary to all kinds of life existing in the nature, society, family and also for individuals and
  • all behaviours considered correct, appropriate, moral, right and upright
  • religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviours that enable social order right conduct and good virtues

There is nothing in the world greater than dharma. The weak people overcome the stronger by dharma, as over a king. By true means the dharma is the truth. Therefore when a man speaks truth they say ‘he is speaking dharma’ and if he speaks dharma, they say, ‘he speaks the truth’. This shows that dharma and truth are one and the same. Read – Best Natural Medicine For Anxiety: Courage

Dharma – Sanskrit verses

Dharma in different religions and beliefs

We can find the concept of dharma with slight different meanings being explained in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

According to Hinduism – Dharma signifies behaviours which are considered to be in accordance with Rta. Rta is the order which makes the life and universe possible, for their existence, sustenance and smooth running. Rta includes right way of living, laws, rights, conduct, duties and virtues.

According to Buddhism – Buddhism call dharma as dhamma. It defines the cosmic law and order. It also includes the teachings of Lord Buddha. Read – Influence And Relation Between Buddhism And Ayurveda

According to Jainism – Dharma refers to the teachings of Tirtankara, the Jain guru.

According to Sikhism – Dharma is called dharm. Dharm means the path of righteousness and all other proper religious practices. Read – Jainism and Ayurveda Connection, Contribution

Dharma in Epics Dharma is also emphasized in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In Ramayana, Lord Ram kills Ravana and destroys his kingdom in order to protect and establish dharma. In Mahabharata, the Pandava brothers, with the help of Lord Krishna destroy the Kuru clan and kill the Kauravas in the battle of Kurukshetra to establish peace, harmony and righteousness. Read – Health Definition According To Mahabharata

Dharma in Patanjali Yoga

Master Patanjali tells that Dharma is an essential part of Yoga. He clarifies that the elements of Hindu dharma are the attributes, qualities and aspects of Yoga. He explains Dharma in two categories i.e. yama i.e. restraints and niyama i.e. observances Read – Incorporating Atma Jnana (Self Awareness) In Treatment – Case Study

Dharma and social stratification

Dharma has been devoted to social stratification by commentators of Manu Smriti treatise. The society was divided into four strata i.e.

  • Brahmana – the class of priests
  • Kshatriya – the king and administrators
  • Vaishya – the business class and
  • Shudra – the labour class

All these strata have been assigned their set of jobs. As long as they do their jobs without meddling with each others, they would be complementing each other and engage themselves in balancing the society and its norms. When they do their jobs, they are satisfying their dharma, the right to their duties in a righteous way. Read – 24 Stress Management Tips: Pranayama, Meditation, Lifestyle Changes

Dharma according to the life stages

The life stages have been divided into –

  • Brahmacharya – life of a student, preparation for enrolling into school
  • Gruhasta – the householder with social and family responsibilities
  • Vanaprastha – the life of a forest-dweller, renunciation of worldly pleasures and responsibilities
  • Sanyasa – giving away all property, becoming recluse, devotion and inclination towards liberation and spiritual matters

At each life stage, the person is enrolled with certain duties to fulfill. These are his dharma. Read – References Of Health And Ayurveda In Mahabharata

Dharma according to Van Buitenen –

Dharma is that which all existing beings must accept and respect in order to sustain harmony and order in the world. It is neither the act nor result to prevent chaos in the world. It is innate characteristic that makes the being what it is. Dharma is the pursuit and execution of one’s nature and true calling, thus playing one’s role in cosmic concert.

In Hindu dharma, it is the dharma of the bee to make honey, of the cow to give milk, of the sun to radiate sunshine and of the river to flow. In terms of humanity, the dharma is the need for the effect of and essence of service and inter-connections of the life’. Read – References Of Health And Ayurveda In Ramayana

This defines dharma as the acts, duties and deeds one needs to do according to the allocation from destiny, abiding to the principles of law and justice or laws of creation. Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) – Email / Skype

2 comments on “Dharma – To Follow The Right Of Life

  • Dr RajalakshmiGopalan

    17/07/2019 - 5:06 pm

    The wealth of commentary on Dharma is, in my opinion, unparalleled. Simple and pretty easy to understand. It is up to individuals to understand and follow. Youngsters must read this. My humble request is to bring this article in a small booklet form. Salutations to Dr. Raghuram.

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