Dharma is a term which is very difficult to translate in one or two words but is so fundamental to Hinduism that ‘Hindu Dharma’ is often preferred over ‘Hinduism’ as a term for the tradition as a whole. The basic meaning of Dharma is ‘that which supports or upholds’, and it has both a descriptive and prescriptive sense in describing what is and prescribing what should be. It denotes the order and harmony of the cosmos, the natural world and human society. In the moral realm, it denotes duty or righteousness as the principle with which conduct should conform. It encompasses general moral obligations incumbent on everyone (sadharanadharma, common to all, or samanyadharma, the same for all) as well as obligations specific to particular groups.

Hindu ethics are rarely absolutist, as the right thing to do often depends on context and your personal duty depends on who and where you are. The lists of general moral obligations differ in various sources but usually include such things as not lying, not stealing, not harming others, self-control, patience, and generosity as found in most religious and non-religious worldviews, uncontroversial in theory but open to interpretation in practice.

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Hindu Worldview Traditions


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