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Dharma or concepts
- the teachings of the Buddha which lead to enlightenment ( The Universal law of nature )
- the constituent factors of the experienced world (The characteristic of elements)
In East Asia, the character for Dharma is 法, pronounced fǎ in Mandarin Chinese and hō in Japanese. The Tibetan translation of this term is chos (Tibetan: ཆོས་; Lhasa dialect IPA: [tɕǿʔ]). In Mongolian dharma is translated as nom, which is noteworthy since it ultimately derives from the Greek word νομος (nomos) (law). In South and Southeast Asian Theravada areas the Pali term 'Dhamma' is used for Dharma.
The Buddha's teachings
What is called Buddhism in the west has been referred to in India (the teachings' place of origin) and the East generally for many centuries as Buddha-Dharma. This term has no sectarian connotations but simply means "Path of Awakening" and thus conforms to a universal understanding of dharma. The teachings are means of getting the hearer to question their own cherished beliefs and view of life; when through investigation and insight is opened the door to truth, the teaching can be put aside.
"Dharma" is sometimes taken to denote the sayings of the Buddha and his early disciples (e.g. the Vinaya and Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon), or more broadly to include the later traditions of interpretation and addition that the various schools of Buddhism have developed to help explain and expand upon the Buddha's teachings. In later tradition, this was seen as the 84,000 different teachings (the Kangyur/bka.'gyur) that the Buddha gave to various types of people based on their needs. Alternately, "Dharma" may be seen as an ultimate and transcendent truth which is utterly beyond worldly things, somewhat like the Greek logos, seeing the dharma as referring to the "truth" or ultimate reality or "the way things are".
The Dharma is one of the Three Jewels of Buddhism in which practitioners of Buddhism seek refuge (what one relies on for his/her lasting happiness). The three jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha (mind's perfection of enlightenment), the Dharma (teachings and methods), and the Sangha (awakened beings who provide guidance and support).
The Buddha's Dharma Body
The qualities of the Dharma (Law, truth) is the same as the qualities of the Buddha and forms his "truth body" or "Dhamma Kaya": In the Samyutta Nikaya, Vakkali Sutta, Buddha said to his disciple Vakkali that,
- "Yo kho Vakkali dhammaṃ passati so maṃ passati"
- O Vakkali, whoever sees the Dhamma, sees me [the Buddha]
Another reference from the Agganna Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, says to his disciple Vasettha:
- "Tathāgatassa h'etam Vasettha adivacanam Dhammakayo iti pi ...":
- O Vasettha! The Word of Dhammakaya is indeed the name of the Tathagata
Qualities of Buddha Dharma
The Teaching of the Buddha also has six supreme qualities:
- Svākkhāto (Sanskrit: Svākhyāta "well proclaimed"). The Dhamma is not a speculative philosophy, but is the Universal Law found through enlightenment and is preached precisely. Therefore it is excellent in the beginning (sīla – Sanskrit śīla – moral principles), excellent in the middle (samādhi – concentration) and excellent in the end (paññā - Sanskrit prajñā . . . Wisdom).
- Sandiṭṭhiko (Sanskrit: Sāṃdṛṣṭika "able to be examined"). The Dhamma can be tested by practice and therefore he who follows it will see the result by himself through his own experience.
- Akāliko (Sanskrit: Akālika "immediate"). The Dhamma is able to bestow timeless and immediate results here and now, for which there is no need to wait until the future or next existence.
- Ehipassiko (Sanskrit: Ehipaśyika "which you can come and see" -- from the phrase ehi, paśya "come, see!"). The Dhamma welcomes all beings to put it to the test and come see for themselves.
- Opanayiko (Sanskrit: Avapraṇayika "leading one close to"). The Dhamma is capable of being entered upon and therefore it is worthy to be followed as a part of one's life. In the "Vishuddhimagga" this is also referred to as "Upanayanam."
- Paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhi (Sanskrit: Pratyātmaṃ veditavyo vijñaiḥ "To be personally known by the wise"). The Dhamma can be perfectly realized only by the noble disciples (Ariyas) who have matured and enlightened enough in supreme wisdom.
Knowing these attributes, Buddhists believe that they will attain the greatest peace and happiness through the practice of the Dhamma. Each person is therefore fully responsible for himself to put it in the real practice.
Here the Buddha is compared to an experienced and skilful doctor, and the Dhamma to proper medicine. However efficient the doctor or wonderful the medicine may be, the patients cannot be cured unless they take the medicine properly. So the practice of the Dhamma is the only way to attain the final deliverance of Nibbāna.
These teachings ranged from understanding karma (Pāli: kamma) (cause and effect) and developing good impressions in one's mind, to reach full enlightenment by recognizing the nature of mind.
Dharmas in Buddhist phenomenology
Other uses include dharma, normally spelled in transliteration with a small "d" (this differentiation is impossible in the South Asian scripts used to write Sanskrit), which refers to a phenomenon or constituent factor of human experience. This was gradually expanded into a classification of constituents of the entire material and mental world. Rejecting the substantial existence of permanent entities which are qualified by possibly changing qualities, Buddhist Abhidharma philosophy, which enumerated seventy-five dharmas, came to propound that these "constituent factors" are the only type of entity that truly exists. This notion is of particular importance for the analysis of human experience: Rather than assuming that mental states inhere in a cognizing subject, or a soul-substance, Buddhist philosophers largely propose that mental states alone exist as "momentary elements of consciousness", and that a subjective perceiver is assumed.
One of the central tenets of Buddhism, is the denial of a separate permanent "I", and is outlined in the three marks of existence. The three signs: 1. Duḥkha (Pali: Dukkha) - Suffering, 2. Anitya (Pali: Anicca) - Change/Impermanence, 3. Anātman (Pali: Anatta) - Non-self. At the heart of Buddhism, is the realization of no "self" or "I" (and hence the delusion) as a separate self-existing entity.
Later, Buddhist philosophers like Nāgārjuna would question whether the dharmas (momentary elements of consciousness) truly have a separate existence of their own. (i.e. Do they exist apart from anything else?) Rejecting any inherent reality to the dharmas, he asked (rhetorically):
śūnyeṣu sarvadharmeṣu kim anantaṃ kim antavat
kim anantam antavac ca nānantaṃ nāntavac ca kiṃ
kiṃ tad eva kim anyat kiṃ śāśvataṃ kim aśāśvataṃ
aśāśvataṃ śāśvataṃ ca kiṃ vā nobhayam apyataḥ
sarvopalambhopaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ
na kvacit kasyacit kaścid dharmo buddhena deśitaḥ
When all dharmas are empty, what is endless? What has an end?
What is endless and with an end? What is not endless and not with an end?
What is it? What is other? What is permanent? What is impermanent?
What is impermanent and permanent? What is neither?
Auspicious is the pacification of phenomenal metastasis, the pacification of all apprehending;
There is no dharma whatsoever taught by the Buddha to whomever, whenever, wherever.
—Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, nirvāṇaparīkṣā, 25:22-24
Meanings of "Dharma"
Dharma in the Buddhist scriptures has a variety of meanings, including "phenomenon", and "nature" or "characteristic".
Dharma also means ‘mental contents’, and is paired with citta, which means heart/mind. In major sutras (for example, the Mahasatipatthana sutra), the dharma/citta pairing is paralleled with the pairing of kaya (body) and vedana (feelings or sensations, that which arise within the body but experienced through the mind).
Dharma means the source of things and Truth.
Dharma is also used to refer to the teachings of the Buddha, not in the context of the words of one man, even an enlightened man, but as a reflection of natural law which was re-discovered by this man and shared with the world. A person who lives their life with an understanding of this natural law, is a "dhammic" person, which is often translated as "righteous".