Dharma and Gita

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Rādhakrishnan declares that next to the conception of reality, dharma is the most significant concept in Hinduism (qtd. in Creel 161) , while Badrinath notes that dharma is the fountainhead from which all Indian thought proceeds (Essays, 29). Dharma like many concepts in Hinduism is difficult, if not impossible, to define adequately, though many attempts have been made to do so (Larson 146). The Grand Sire Bhishma in the Mahābhārata make this point while conversing with Yudhishthira, “It is difficult to say what righteousness [dharma] is. It is not easy to indicate it. No one in discoursing upon righteousness can indicate it accurately” (Ganguli, Santi Parva CIX 237-38). Koller delineates the problem of defining dharma: Dharma is “one of the most basic and pervasive concepts in Indian thought … [and] is an extremely complicated concept, embracing many differing, though related, meanings, and extending to a wide range of referents” (131). The importance and ubiquity of this idea makes the task of proper definition vital for understanding Hinduism. One of the best sources for understanding the concept is found in the Bhagavadgita, which serves as a veritable handbook for dharma.
The most common English translation for dharma is religion but this is a demonstrably problematic translation (Sharma 307-08).The word dharma comes from the verbal root dhṛ meaning to uphold, sustain, or integrate, thus dharma is that which sustains and integrates, and the meaning of “dharma is the essential nature of a thing, without which it ceases to be” (Tejoymaynanda 22). This wide conception of dharma stands in contrast to some others that tend toward the laconic and cursory. Larson offers a very succinct and insufficient definition of dharma as “correct usage” (147), while Ingalls provides a similarly limited explanation of dharma as “an ideal or goal of human morality” (45)
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