On Dharma : the Carrier Wave
"The knowable as well as the path,
Nirvâna as well as what is the domain of representational thought,
Meritorious acts, one's life span, the Buddhist Canon,
The physical universe, certainty of deliverance, and life style."
Vyâkhyâyukti (Logic of Explanation).
"Dharma" is derived from the verbal root "dhri",
"to hold, to carry, to possess". In Hinduism, this
comprehensive term is used to refer to the lawful order of the
universe. Hindus call their religion "sanâtana-dharma", the "eternal
religion". Used in individual contexts, the word is linked with "karma",
for realizing one's "dharma" can only be done to the extent given by
So-called "Dharma religions" like Jainism & Buddhism have this
discovery of the cosmic law in common, and are contrasted with the
"Vedic" religions based on the Vedas. Dharma religions are
non-theist or transtheist, meaning they do not introduce an
absolute "substance of substances", a Creator-God like Brahman,
Yahweh, Theos, Deus or Allah (in monotheism, this absolute Deity is
also singular). They do accept the existence of God, but do
not accept his omnipotence and omniscience.
As the central notion in the teachings of the Buddha, "dharma" has various meanings :
• cosmic law (the "great norm") underpinning the
world, in particular the law of karmically determined rebirth ;
• the teachings of
who articulated the cosmic law for our age, discovering it by way of
& wisdom ;
• the ethical rules & norms of behavior related to the community
("sangha") practicing the Buddhadharma (cf. the Vinaya-pitaka) ;
• manifestation of reality, either in terms of outer phenomena,
things or entities, or as mental content, object of thought or
reflection of entities in the mind ;
• the building blocks of the empirical person and its world.
Given these meanings, it is clear there is no
such thing as "the dharma" as a single, static "something". Quite on
the contary, with the word "dharma" the dynamical
reality is hinted at.
Considering the etymology of "dhri", one may
distinguish between either a designation of thatness or essence (cf. "essentia"
or "Dasein"), referring to the question "What is ?" ("Quid est ?")
or a designation of whatness or existence (cf. "existentia" or
"Sosein"), referring to the question "Which is ?" ("Quod est ?").
The latter intends to mark off existing entities in conventional terms,
whereas in the former an essentialist, ontic or substantialist ultimate
perspective dominates. Then, "dharma" refers to entities or existents
in their own right ("svabhâva"), possessing an inner nature, character
In Indian Buddhism, the ontic approached was often favored, explaining why
in Lesser Vehicle tenet systems ("Sautrântika" & "Vaibhâsika") own-nature
or inherent existence is maintained. Once the higher tenet systems, like
the Middle Way Consequence School, emerged (ca. 3th century CE), "dharma"
got equated with the ultimate truth, namely the absolute absence of
anything independent & static, the fundamental "empty" nature of all
phenomena, i.e. devoid of "svabhâva".
The wisdom-mind realizing
the "Dharmakâya", the "Body of Truth".
Dharma, the cosmic law rooted in the ultimate nature of phenomena, singles
out the ongoing dynamism typical for all phenomena, emerging out of
emptiness like a gold coin out of its gold. While all phenomena are
process-like instead of substance-like, and so impermanent dependent
arisings, ultimate truth is "permanent" in the sense of it being a
continuous dynamism. Hence, a Buddha, an Awakened One realizing the
ultimate truth and abiding in the Dharmakâya, while also an impermanent,
dependent arising, is a continuous process.
Like a carrier-wave, modulated in order to transmit a signal, the Dharma
possesses or holds the continuum of all possible processes. As this
continuum is not random but organized, the Dharma is a continuum
characterized by laws. The fundamental law of this continuum is the
absence of self-nature, in other words, abides by the universal logic of
interdependent arising, abiding & ceasing. While this impermanence of
production and its linear progression are universal, a
all possible modulations of this ordered process, is "permanent" in
the sense of being a "continuous dynamism". This permanence is however not
of the nature of "existence" or "non-existence", but totally beyond
conceptuality & so linguistic denotation.
Dharma is the Second Jewel of the Triple Gem.