Sanskrit term meaning "way" or "path" or "duty" or "doctrine" or even a "thing". Most commonly used in the West to refer to the Teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sanskrit root meaning is also given as 'decree' or 'custom'. When translated in Chinese, the character 法 (fa) was chosen, which commonly also means law, or a way or a method.
In abhidharmic writings (='further or special dharma') dharma is a single nexus in the web of karmic inter-reactions.
Edward Conze deals with this in detail in the first chapter of his excellent 'A Short History of Buddhism.' I'll illustrate my point with just a few quotes, but it's worth reading everything he has to say. Anyway, he says:

Dharma...comprises all the mysteries of the Buddhist faith, and cannot easily be explained in a few words...'Dharma' is the name for an impersonal spiritual force behind and in everything.

[ He gives three other base meanings,

  1. the one ultimate reality immanent to and directing worldly things
  2. By extension of 1. ultimate truth as stated in the Buddha's teaching,
  3. senses 1. and 2. manifested in our lives when we act in accordance with them, thus 'virtue' and 'righteousness'.

These are all mentioned in the two previous write-ups. It's the fourth meaning I think we are lacking ]

"In its fourth sense the word becomes rather subtle and assumes a meaning which constitutes the specific contribution of Buddhist thought, containing at the same time all the tensions that have caused it to develop. Buddhist writings everywhere are replete with references to 'dharmas' in the plural and they become unintelligble unless the specific meaning of this term is appreciated. The word here is used in a scientific sense, which results from considering things and events in their relation to the Dharma in sense 1, i.e. from studying them as they are in their own ultimate reality......A 'dharma' is an impersonal event, which belongs to no person or individual, but just goes along on its own objective way. It was regarded as a most praiseworthy achievement by a Buddhist monk if he succeeded in accounting to himself for the contents of his mind with the help of these impersonal dharmas...without ever bringing in the nebulous and pernicious word 'I'....the orginality of Buddhism is to be found largely in what it has to say about these elusive dharmas."

(Hinduism) (Sanskrit)

  1. the natural occupation of the living entity, which is to serve God; Righteousness
  2. the name of Yama the God of Righteousness, and also of Death.

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