What is “Dharma”?

| July 10, 2017 | 3 Comments

What does the word “dharma” mean in early Buddhism? We will look at several ways it’s used in the texts, and discuss its importance.

For further information, see Rupert Gethin, “He Who Sees Dhamma Sees Dhammas: Dhamma in Early Buddhism”. Journal of Indian Philosophy, 2004.


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Doug Smith

About the Author ()

Doug is Study Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. He has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year-long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the BCBS and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipiṭaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma. He posts videos at Doug's Secular Dharma on YouTube. Some of his writing can be found at academia.edu.

Comments (3)

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  1. St. Ralph says:

    Is Dharma anything like the Tao? Not that I under stand the Great Tao; I don’t and I’ve heard it said times without number that it is, in fact, unfathomable. But as far as the concepts go, are they anything alike do you think?

    • Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

      Hi St. Ralph and thanks for the question. Unfortunately I’m in the same boat in not really understanding what the Tao is, so I’d hesitate to answer that question. That said, the dharma in early Buddhism is something that is cognitively comprehensible, whereas I think the Tao basically isn’t.

  2. Nick Nick says:

    The sole meaning of dharma is ‘that which supports’. All of the things that are termed as dhamma, such as law, teachings, phenomena, practise, path, duty, etc, are merely things that support life and particularly salvation.

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