What is the etymological meaning of the word ‘Dharma’? It is derived from the root ‘dhri’, which implies- to imbibe or assimilate something. ‘Dhaarnaad dharmam iti aahuhu’- That which is imbibed within our being is dharma. Saints have illustrated it by saying that Religion is vigour and vitality- the life force within all beings. It is the vital force which sustains life. Dharma is an inherent attribute of each and every existence. That is why it is called One’s Dharma. The dharma of fire is heat-trenchancy. So long there is vitality of heat in fire, we call it fire. If the heat trenchancy gets destroyed, the fire itself will disappear. In similar fashion, there is life-force in man, a distinctive attribute (which can be designated as his dharma) which makes man a man; otherwise, in its absence, man will be no different from animal.
It has been said in the Shantiparva section of Mahabharata: ‘Aahaarnidra bhayam... pashubhihi samaanaahaa’- That, hunger, sleep, fear, and mating are natural to both men and the animals. If there is any distinction between the two, it is of religion only.
The question is: Which dharma it is, imbibing which man becomes man? Once, this question was asked by an inquisitive to Swami Vivekananda. Swami ji replied- “Religion is not mere argumentation, hollow faith, or groping in darkness of ignorance; neither it is a collection of words which we can repeat like parrots; nor can one call it as finding out political venom out of some religious truth.” However, it is ironical that these misconceptions or self-devised definitions of religion are today dominating human psyche. Religion is understood by the majority as a set of community-specific customs, prevalent practices, and discourses. That is the reason we fight in the name of religion as we do not know and realise what it actually is.
Then, what is religion? This was the second question of the inquisitive to Swami Vivekananda. Pat came the reply- “Religion is realisation of God.” The end and aim of religion is to realise. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging; it is attaining the direct experience of the supreme within oneself. All our scriptures and great saints have proclaimed this one definition of religion. Sage Yajnavalkya said- “Religion is perceiving soul through yoga.” Shastras profess- “Sanaatanam parmaatmaswaroopam praapayati iti”- “That which helps us to attain the Supreme Lord is eternal religion.”
Just ponder! Is there any contradiction in these definitions? No, certainly not. All these definitions say in unison that Dharma is to seek and realise the God within oneself. Imbibing this religion within one’s being, man become man. That is why it is designated as the first and most essential pursuit of man. Man should therefore pursue this Pursuit (Purusharth) as his primal duty.