The idea of dharma is a central belief of Hinduism. Its meaning cannot be easily described or translated. Like karma, it is a fundamental concept.
The essence of Dharma is duty, but it is more. It is a universal principle as well as a personal principle. Hindu scripture says:
Dharma is truth.
It is said that
one who speaks truth
and one who speaks dharma
Bhridaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.14
Dharma embraces family life, social life and spiritual life. It is the guideline known as Sanatana Dharma meaning Eternal Law or Eternal Order which actually defines Hinduism.
See On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar.
The concept of “dharma” is difficult to convey in English. The term is an ancient one equivalent to the Persian word “daena” which means something like insight and revelation. In Zoroastrianism, Daena has been explained as a journey that enables the soul to see light at the end of life.
In the Upanishads, dharma is defined as truth, but both dharma and truth are philosophies unto themselves. They are short words that encompass entire belief systems. Dharma is a lodestar, an abiding principle, not only for Hinduism, but also for her sister religions, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. These faiths have arisen from different aspects of the Hindu world view and have evolved with their own specificities and emphases.
The word Hindu describes the original inhabitants of the Indus River Valley, but today many followers of Hinduism prefer to describe their faith as the Sanatana Dharma, an abiding principle which means The Eternal Order or Way.
See Chapter 8 of On Hinduism by Irina Gajjar to appreciate the full meaning of “dharma” in Eastern religions.
Dharma may be described as a religious path. It encompasses the idea of a universal and a personal principle which is is a lodestar for Hindus, Zoroastrians, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. According to Vedic scripture, dharma means truth:
Dharma is truth.
It is said that one who speaks truth speaks dharma
and one who speaks dharma speaks truth.
Bhridaranyaka Upanishad I.4.14
see On Hinduism, Chapter Eight, Darma