Religion is made from the Latin word ‘religare’ which means to come together, to come closer. Who comes closer? God and the individual. The word religion denotes a connection between God and the individual.
In Asian traditions, religion is known as dharma and dharma is something that you hold, you acquire, you posses. Dharma is a concept which indicates the beauty of life and enhancing the beauty of life. Expression, thinking, performance, interaction, all is clubbed under the concept of dharma in Asia. It is not just belief in God.
From the eastern perspective, dharma is actual positive and creative, harmonious and balanced human expression and behaviour. That is the concept of dhaarayate iti dharmaha, the positive quality that you imbibe. The positive expression that you have is your dharma. From this perspective, dharma becomes a way of enhancing the quality of your personality and connect you with your duties and obligations. It enhances the positive and beautiful within you.
There are two components of dharma. One is known as kartavya pradhaan. Kartavya pradhaan is interacting in the positive, harmonious, constructive, creative manner. Every action in life is constructive, positive, creative – kartavya karma pradhaan. The second aspect is guna pradhaan, cultivation of better qualities in life, cultivation of human qualities in life. Karma pradhaan and guna pradhaan are the two aspects of dharma in Asia.
This concept of dharma indicates a process of change, transformation, improving and becoming better. To be realized properly, dharma is linked with bhakti, which is of two types, apara, the lower, gross, material, and para, the transcendental.
Apara bhakti manages your mental states and conditions, difficulties and distresses, problems and dissatisfactions in life when you pray for the fulfilment of a desire or the eradication of a problem. Apara is something that connects you to the world and you try to improve this outer world by following the path of bhakti and dharma.
Yogis or people of spiritual traditions follow the para bhakti and the para dharma. Para bhakti is not the ritualistic but the experiential knowledge, and para dharma is not the social duty but the effort to improve oneself from inside. Dharma is an expression of the qualitative, positive and creative nature of life which does not have any negative component in it.
To live dharma, to live the precepts of dharma some people come together and decide to live their life according to the mandates, disciplines, regulations and systems of the dharma. They form a group which becomes a sampradaya, tradition. Dharma is the original idea, and the group is made of like-minded people who want to live that dharma and who don’t want to be distracted and diverted by other things which can take them away from dharma.
They form a group and the foundation of this group is the discipline, system, methodology and the routine. The way you are meant to act and behave, the code of conduct, becomes part of the sampradaya, and everything that becomes part is meant to enhance and develop the experience of dharma.
—14 June 2015, Ganga Darshan, Munger