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Dharma as Principle of Self-denial and Emptiness


This paper aims to establish the meaning of Dharma as the principle of self-denial and emptiness. Dharma, a key concept in the religious thought of India, has the literal meaning of "supporter.” Something that supports something else does not exist for itself. Just as the truth supporting the universe is Dharma, so the four pillars supporting the roof of the house to prevent it from collapsing are also Dharma. The four pillars supporting the house do not exist for themselves, but create an empty space in the house. In this respect, the essence of Dharma is self-denial, self-sacrifice. The traditional ascetic practices and religions in India is referred to as sanatana dharma (eternal truth), and the core is the complete extinction of I-ness (individual consciousness). When individual consciousness is completely lost, mokṣa (nirvana) is achieved. The moment the eternal truth is achieved, the individual consciousness becomes zero, and this position can be likened to the center (0) where the x- and y-axes meet in the coordinates of mathematics. Just as the center in the coordinates of mathematics is a place where the value of the x-axis is zero and the value of the y-axis is zero, the center of the universe, that is, nirvāṇa is achieved when individual consciousness is completely lost. Dharma is the path of becoming nothing to reach the zero point, and the process of self-denial is bound to entail pain. The pain involving voluntary self-denial can be rather a positive nourishment for the realization of Dharma. In fact, we can say that the core of the Hindu ethics of Aśrama-dharma (the 4 cycles of human life) and Varṇa-dharma (the caste system) is voluntary renunciation for the complete extinction of individual consciousness and renunciation concerning that which is possible.

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  1. prakāśa-kriyā-sthiti-śīlaṃ bhūta-indriya-ātmakaṃ bhoga-apavarga-arthaṃ dṛśyam//(Yoga-sūtra 2.18: Swāmī Veda Bhāratī. Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali with the Exposition of Vyasa. 2004, 276).

  2. “Awareness that early cancer lump is painless could decrease breast cancer mortality in developing countries” (Garg. 2016, 321). Usually, the pain experienced by cancer patients is not due to cancer cells themselves, but to complications caused by cancer cells.

  3. This statement, as one of the four Mahāvākyas (the great sayings) of the Upaniṣads, is frequently repeated in the sixth Chapter of Chāndogya Upaniṣad (6.8.7: Radhakrishnan., 2007, 458) as the teacher Uddalaka Aruni instructs his son in the nature of Brahman, as the supreme reality. Mahāvākyas are all express the insight that the individual self (jīva) which appears as a separate existence, is in essence (ātman) part and manifestation of the whole (Brahman).

  4. The word “dharma” is derived from the root morpheme dhṛ (dhriyate loko’nena, dharati lokam vā iti dharmaḥ) which denotes the meanings of “to hold, maintain, support.”.

  5. In the Śrimad Bhāgavatam (1.16.25: Krishna-Dwaipayana., 2000, 60–62), dharma is symbolically represented in the form of a Bull with four legs. The four legs of Dharma are austerity (tapas), cleanliness (śauca), compassion (daya), and truth (satya).

  6. The vedic religion centers upon the sacrifice which is regarded as the best deed, and the sacrifice itself is said to be the way of Ṛta (Chakrabarti. 2003, 38).

  7. The dialogue of Yama and his twin sister Yami in the Ṛg-veda(10.10) was also interpreted by some Western scholars as the incest between the brother and the sister. According to Shruti S. Pradhan (1990, 109–110), however, these views, approached the Ṛg-veda from a Hellenic-Christian point of view, “are now outdated and therefore do not call for any serious recapitulation.” According to Sri Aurobindo (2001, 102), “Yama, lord of death, is also the master of the Law in the world, and he is therefore the child of the Sun, luminous Master of Truth from which the Law is born.”.

  8. The concept of Dharma is intimately associated with man’s duties. vrṇa-āśrama-dharma means Dharma or duties for the four classes of the society and the four stages of man’s life.

  9. Varṇadharma aims at organization of the society through four classes (cāturvarṇyaṃ) which was originally created in consideration of one’s inherent nature (guṇa), ability and function (karma) in the society(cf. Bhagavadgītā 4.13: Swami Chidbhavananda., 2005, 283–285).

  10. For original virtue and effectiveness of cāturvarṇyaṃ, see Aurobindo (1988, 111–113).

  11. The four puruṣarthas are dharma (righteousness, moral values), artha (prosperity, economic values), kāma (pleasure, psychological values), amd mokṣa (liberation, spiritual values).

  12. The fact that the verses expressing sexual desire of men and women were not excluded from the holy texts such as veda, 1.126.7, 1.179, 8.1.34, and 10.86, is itself “a proof that kāma was considered a value and as such not reprehensible” (Chakrabarti. 2003, 9).

  13. “According to the new perspective of Einsteinian and quantum physics, the biochemical molecules that make up the physical body are actually a form of vibrating energy”(Gerber. 2001, 5).


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Lee, G.L. Dharma as Principle of Self-denial and Emptiness. J. Indian Counc. Philos. Res. (2022).

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  • Dharma
  • Self-denial
  • Emptiness
  • I-ness
  • Aśrama-dharma
  • Varṇa-dharma