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Dharma, Karma, and Moksha


Dharma, Karma, and Moksha


For those of us in the Western world, today's lesson on the Hindu belief system will probably be a bit alien. In fact, other than the word 'karma,' I'm betting most of the terms will be new. In order to help these new concepts stick, we'll try our best to link them to the familiar. As we do this, please remember we'll be doing some real oversimplification, while merely scratching the surface of an ancient faith. With that warning of sorts, let's get going on our terms.


We'll start with atman. Atman basically means your eternal self, the spiritual essence of who you are. It is not the body you inhabit; nor is it not the sum total of your material possessions. It is the spiritual you. For our purposes, we can try to remember this with a sort of play on words, saying atman is the spiritual essence of who 'I am.'


Our closest match to atman is probably our use of the word 'soul.' However, there are some huge differences. For instance, the Western Judeo-Christian system tends to believe when a person dies their soul travels on to heaven or hell. In other words, paradise or eternal suffering are the end of the road.


This is not the case with Hinduism's atman. Instead, it is believed that a person's atman is reincarnated, only to be housed in another physical, but again temporary, body.


Dharma - means duty or righteousness. It is the core values that a hindu must not fall from. 
There are different dharmas according to each caste for exaple a brahmin - must not own land, accumulate wealth, must spread knowledge a kshatriya- must protect the land of the people, women and children and the elderly . Each caste was an essential part of the system .. It was a dynamic system where caste could easily be lost and be outcasted or gained. 


Karma - is the realization of "cause and effect" every action has a reaction. We realize that all action will in turn have a reaction. In an ancient prayer it is said " If there is birth then there must be death.... but we are bound by our karma (actions). To do good actions is good you will receive good by your karma but this is not the ideal. It is thought to be selfish motive to do good and then wait to receive the fruits of action so in hinduism renunciation is a very high ideal. To do good without the desire for good to be done back. 


Moksha - This is the highest goal of hinduism. To attain oneness with the supreme. At this point there is no rebirth or reincarnation to complete ones remaining karma.