What is dharma?

The word dharma derives from the Sanskrit root dhri which means to hold up, to carry, to bear, to sustain. Dharma refers to that which upholds or sustains the universe. Since long before the time of the Buddha, dharma has been thought of as an unchanging universal law, similar to the laws of gravity and thermodynamics. Dharma is simply the way things are. Like the Tao (literally the “Way”), dharma can never fully be expressed in words (though a lot has been written about it; if you’d like, spend some time exploring a Google search of “what is dharma?”

With dharma, as with gravity, our lives go better if we 1) know it exists, 2) understand how it works and 3) act in accord with it. Unlike gravity, it is not always obvious that dharma exists, how it works, or how to act in accord with it. How are we to see it, understand it and live in accord with it?

The teachings of the Buddha, sometimes referred to as the Buddhadharma or simply Dharma with a capital “D,” supply answers to these questions. The Buddha himself said that he only taught two things: suffering and release from suffering. In developing an understanding of the cause of suffering and striving to release ourselves from suffering, we come to understand, and live in accord with, dharma. See “What is the Buddhadharma?”