Dharma in Early Brahmanic, Buddhist and Jain Traditions

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Item Code: IHL047
Author: Vincent Sekhar
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 8170307910
Pages: 270
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.8 inch X 5.8 inch
Weight 490 gm
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Book Description

From the Jacket

This book is a researched work on the technical and popular meaning and understanding of Dharma from the early Brahmanic, Buddhist, and Jain perspectives. The early portion describes the evolution of the meaning of Dharma as various traditions encountered with one another at different stages. They portray the twin-trend of the ancient Indian culture, namely, Sramanic and Brahmanic trends of thought. For clarity’s sake, the author then presents the specific understanding of the meaning of Dharma from the above three religious and philosophical traditions. Special attention is given to Jain tradition. The Book also covers the technical meanings(s) of the term Dharma, compares and contrasts them between traditions. The later portion studies the contemporary relevance of Dharma as a vision and way of life, with a focus on the phenomenon of Violence and Non-violence, its myth and reality.

Vincent Sekhar is a Jesuit from South India. After his M.Phil. And Ph.D. in the Dept of Jainology from the University of Madras, he did post-coctoral research as a Junior Fellow at Woodstock Theological Centre, Washington, D.C., U.S.A. Besides teaching in the Dept of Philosophy at Arul Anandar College, Karumathur, he also coordinates the works of Jesuits in South Asia, engaged in the field of Interfaith Dialogue. He has published several articles on themes related to Jain studies from inter-disciplinary and Christian perspectives. His latest book is Quest for Harmony: An Anthology of Religions in Dialogue.


Dr. Vincent Sekhar has done full justice to explain and elaborate the different Themes of Dharma from Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions…His work grasps the unfathomable riches of the ancient Indian culture with an unbiased attitude and intellectual honesty…In my opinion, this work is a significant contribution to the field of religious studies.” Prof. Sagarmal Jain, Shajapur - 465001 Madhya Pradesh.

“This work continues a longstanding Jesuit tradition of respecting the religious idea and philosophical ideas of all traditions…This book will help the reader appreciate the truths of Dharma as an overarching theme throughout the history of Indian thought.” Dr. Christopher Key Chapple, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, U.S.A.


The concept of dharma stands as the cornerstone of Indian religious and philosophical thought. Derived from the verbal root dhr (hold), it refers to the processes through which society finds coherence. On a personal level, it provides meaning and context for human action.

The Dharmasastra materials of the Brahmanical traditions suggest specific life paths and offer rules and regulations for the maintenance of peace, harmony, and justice. Even today, these books help instruct individuals regarding their responsibilities and outline ideal patterns for behavior. In Buddhism, the term dharma refers both to the teachings of the Buddha and to the particular building blocks of the constructed world. For Jainism, dharma helps explain the continuity of movement in the universe; it also serves to underscore the need to observe correct and auspicious behaviors.

Dr. Vincent Sekhar, S.J., has written about dharma in all three traditions. Recognizing the underlying concern in dharma for the enhancement of proper action, he identifies and explicates key themes, including its relationship to ritual and meditation. From a Jaina perspective, he emphasizes teachings on right knowledge, the need to purify oneself of negative karmas, and the doctrines of nonviolence (ahimsa) and plurality (anekanta).

This work continues a long standing Jesuit tradition in respecting the religious ideas and philosophical ideas of all traditions. In this comprehensive survey of Dharma in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, Sekhar has articulated similarities and differences among these three important traditions. Appropriately, the book concludes with a discussion of Mahatma Gandhi’s understanding, practice, and teaching of Dharma. Gandhi demonstrates that a concern for highest values, particularly nonviolence, takes precedence over theological differences. This book will help the reader appreciate the truths of dharma as an overarching theme throughout the history of Indian thought.


The word Dharma has come to be known as duty in the course of history and human civilization. But it had different meanings at different times. Races and Religious traditions have given special connotations to the term Dharma at all levels. The Buddhist tradition, for instance, has understood this term to mean the ultimate constituent of reality. Technically speaking, Dharma and Adharma in Jainism are related to the movement dynamics of the world.

When two different traditions with their set-patterns of beliefs and practices encounter with each other, the social dynamics bring about a relation and change in the people’s attitude, belief and even practices. The Aryan and the Non-Aryan encounter in ancient India is a typical example of this. The Indo-Aryan literature is an outcome of the dynamics of cultural and religious encounter and exchange of these two races. The dialogue between the robust, positive attitude of the Aryans with the negative and renunciatory spiritual of the aborigines has resulted in the balancing of thought and ideals, seen expounded in the Aranyakas, Upanisads, and the Epics.

Down the centuries, we see a shift in emphasis of the objectives of life and the sadhana. In the Brahmanic age, it was ritual performance (Yajna) that ensured a happier life in some svarga or heaven. In the process of encounter, the objectives of life gave way to newer ideas such as Karma and Rebirth and ideals like Moksa or getting rid of the cycle of births and deaths. And the path of attaining Moksa is not any longer through merely external performances like ritual sacrifices, etc. but through ardent meditative and austere processes. This change in emphasis came through an age-long religious, theological exchanges between the Sramana and the Vedic/Brahmana traditions. Living religions like Jainism and Buddhism are representatives of Sramana culture.

The less life-affirming attitude of the Sramanas, life as impermanent and full of suffering, etc., has motivated them towards a definite objective in life, namely, conquering of oneself and rising above the limited conditions of life. To this end in view, the Sramanas would appreciate and live an attitude of detachment and renunciation. Getting rid of Karma that binds one to the life cycle is their primary concern and the goal to be achieved. For this, one needs to understand reality in the right perspective. It is the Right Knowledge of the Reality (of existence, its consequences, of the environment, its destiny, etc.) that will bring about the desired End. Hence, Atmavidya (knowledge about the Self) and Moksadharma (gaining the ideal of Moksa) are the twin-face of their goal/vision of life.

The social and cultural outcome of the Indo-Aryan encounter is the Varnasrama dharma, a general scheme or stratification of life in society. Indian cultural history illustrates that it is the highly educated Aryan brain and genius that played a major role in giving a shape to the material content of the Non-Aryan resources.

The ascetic spirituality of India is mostly attributed to the Sramana trend of thought. The idea of detachment and renunciation seem to be related to the ancient Indian asceticism, which may have a Sramana origin. This is seen in the age-old religious culture of the Jains, the Buddhists and other Sramanic traditions like the Ajivikas. These religious traditions emphasize the significance of ascetic practices for the purpose of attaining the goal of life. Though Karma can hardly be rid of by newer acts, yet all Sramana traditions acknowledge the fruit of ascetic practices. Jainism and Buddhism as living Sramana religions are models for a greater understanding of Indian asceticism as a way of life, thought they may differ from one another in their shades of meaning and understanding of different aspects of life.

As it is indicated earlier, the differences between traditions are mainly due to their vision about reality, the way they raise questions concerning the phenomenon of life, nature and environment, and the conclusions they arrive at through such a reflective process. Briefly, it is due to their philosophy of life and existence. Each tradition has its peculiarities in the understanding of concepts, common to all. It is these differences that form the basis for their differences in practice. For example, the ethical practices may seem similar in all Sramana traditions, but their rationale is closely bound to their belief system. Hence, sometimes one is tempted to link these two, namely philosophy and ethics to mean Dharma. Each tradition has its tenets, follows its great line of teachers, who themselves had, in their time, adhered to their predecessors’ teachings or perhaps modified or added newer elements to it (e.g. compare Parsva with Mahavira in Jain tradition). It is in this context that the manifold understanding of Dharma becomes evident and meaningful.

The Buddhist’s ardent love to get rid of mundane existence and its consequent pain and suffering has brought about a meditative process, to reflect upon the root carse of suffering, and an ethics of detached living. Later Buddhist trends show the worth of virtues like compassion in the legendary Bodhisattvas, whose actions present a model for right social relationship and personal psychological satisfaction. The development of newer ideals in Buddhism hasd given way to its deep-rootendness in different cultures and mations. The Jain saptatattvas or the seven metaphysical categories are the foundations for their ethical life. Right Knowledge of the nature of reality with a Right Faith or vision into the truth leads them to Right Conduct. Since nothing short of complete annihilation of Karma is the very ideal of life, whatever obstructs its path of achievement has to be eliminated. The attitude of equanimity and self-control, protection of life and comprehensive view of the multiple facets of reality are some of the Jain traits in the understanding of Dharma.

Hindu dharma has gone through an evolutionary process from Vedic time onwards, and the Brahmanic brain and position has played a vital role in the formation of the present-day understanding of dharma, namely, religion or Way of life in the broad sense, and duty in the moral sense. But it also refers to a social order, specified by the varna and the related system of Labour, and a spiritual order marked by the asrama system. Dharma has retained the latter identity despite large-scale assimilation from other traditions. While Hindu Dharma can not be conceived without a person’s placement in society, Sramana thought pays attention to how a person leads one’s life in society. A Person’s worth is judged by one’s action with all his intention, etc. to be a person is to be a moral person.

Although morality or ethics is upheld by all traditions, yet we see variations in their motives, their standard of judgement, etc. Special reference is made to the Jaina tradition to show how Dharma as a way of looking at reality finally precipitates into a system of moral behaviour for the laity and the clergy. The two-tier system of morality, seen from the absolute and the practical points of view, resolves the seeming conflict between two moral standards. It is also shown how Jaina ethics is firmly founded on its metaphysics. Jain dharma is both its vision and the way of life. Both metaphysics and ethics are treated as one unit.

The Sramana idea of liberation (Moksa, Nirvana, etc.) is closely linked to Ahimsa or Non-violence. No virtue is so valuable as Ahimsa. While Buddhism stresses the virtue of compassion or Karuna to all living beings, Jainism treats Ahimsa as the core of its religion. The Religion of Ahimsa preached by the ancient masters in relavant even today. Ahimsa preached by the ancient masters is relavant even today. Ahimsa is based on an animistic belied that all beings possess a life-force that cannot be destroyed. Any injury done to a living the elemental bodies, is sinful. Nirvana or Moksa is an ideal impossible to reach without Ahimsa.

This important concept has newer interpretations in modern times. It has gained acceptance in the intellectual, social and political of life and nation building. For example, the Anekanta doctrine of plurality, a special contribution of the Jains to the intellectual works, origainates from Ahimsa. And it is this pluralistic attitude of life and reality (opposed to dogmatism) that help in the modern age to practice dialogue and to negotiate with one another to resolve conflict. M.K. Gandhi and similar world leaders practiced Ahimsa in their world mission. There is no doubt that in a multi-cultural and global setting, and especially in a wounded and tarnished world, the ideal of Ahimsa is a fine invitation and a great task to accomplish. It may not be an exaggeration to conclude that Ahimsa, or in other words, protection and preservation of life and environment, is said to be the Essence of Sramana Dharma.

In the course of developing this thesis, I had a chance to delve deep into the ocean of ancient Indian culture and tradition, religion and philosophy, in order to contextualize their unfathomable riches. Hence the approach or methodology had to be interdisciplinary and in comparative light. The method included an analytical study of the texts and their commentaries and make critical reflections and evaluations. But the work was never easy as I am neither a historian nor a sociologist in order to interpret the texts of different traditions in a multiple socio-cultural contexts. Since the original texts and their commentaries are quite ancient and sometimes obscure, the contemporary reading of them and interpreting them were quite tough, but immensely valuable. Since very little has been said on Jain religion from sociological perspective, secondary sources with specific social thrust are hardly available. Yet, in a modest way, I have tried to present the material in a coherent manner, putting them in their contexts, and have drawn contemporary meaning for building up a society fitting to the future generations.




  Acknowledgment vii
  Foreword ix
  Appraisal xi
  Preface xv
  Abbreviations xxi
Chapter I Dharma in the Dialectic of Traditions 1
Chapter II The Ascetic Path of the Sramanas 20
Chapter III A Manifold Conception of the Meaning of Dharma 46
PART I Dharma in Hindu Tradition 46
PART II Dharma in Buddhist Tradition 61
PART III Dharma in Jaina Tradition 72
CHAPTER IV An Enquiry into Jaina Ethics 103
CHAPTER V Technical Discussion of the term ‘Dharma’ 126
PART I In Buddhist Abhidharma Tradition 126
PART II Technical Understanding of Dharma and Adharma in Jaina Tradition 143
PART III Comparative Analysis of Bauddha Dharma and Jaina Dharma and Adharma 149
CHAPTER VI Contemporary Relevance of Sramana Dharma 160
PART I The Phenomenon of Violence:
Evil and its Remedies
PART II Is Non-violence still a Myth?:
The Sramana Vision of Ahimsa as applied
To the Emergence of a Non-violent Society

CHAPTER VII Insights into the Sramanic Traditions 206
  Word Index 235
  Subject Index 239

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