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Decoding Dharma — The Ancient Teachings Of Ayurveda

what is dharma

Ayurveda teaches the path of the fulfillment of individual dharma as a way to stay healthy – spiritually, psychologically and, of course, physically. Disease strikes when we stray from the course of dharma. Cheating, lying, stealing, violence, and abuse may fester in us unnoticed by all; but our non-dharmic behavior cannot escape the searing look of our own Self.

What Is Dharma?

Dharma is a concept that is not easy to translate into English. It is loosely translated to mean “religion,” and has become synonymous with religion because of its wide use over many years. Living in dharma, however, encompasses following a universal code of conduct that is essentially secular (non-religious), but entirely spiritual.

The word, dharma, has many meanings, such as duty, ethical conduct, charity, law, not harming others, the innate duty of things (e.g. the dharma of fire is to burn), compassion, altruism, positivity, etc.

According to Sage Manu, the Hindu Law Giver, dharma has the following 10 attributes:

  1. Dhṛti (patience)

  2. Kṣamā (forgiveness)

  3. Damo (mental steadfastness or mental strength)

  4. Asteya (non-stealing)

  5. Śauca (cleanliness)

  6. Indriya nigraha (restraining of senses)

  7. Dhī (wisdom)

  8. Vidyā (knowledge)

  9. Satyam (truth)

  10. Akrodham (non-anger)

Dharma is a core value of Indian culture, and so important that it can even be described as a synonym of Indian culture. To be cultured is to be dharmic. All that is positive is dharmic and all that is negative is non-dharmic. Dharma, in itself, is a cultural value and pervades all other cultural values.

The Connection Between Self And Cosmos

Ayurveda conceives a dynamic model of this universe wherein all objects, beings, events, phenomena, and experiences are vitally interconnected. According to Ayurveda, when we humans choose to discard truthfulness, forgiveness and righteousness (dharma), we agitate not only our immediate sphere of influence but the entire cosmos.

Sage Charaka declares unequivocally, “The root cause of the derangement of the wind (vāyu), etc is unrighteousness.”[i]

Rivers become violent and change course, meteorites appear frequently, earthquakes shake the terrain, and even the sun, moon, and stars become enraged.[ii]

Self-Care is Planet-Care

The dharma of Ayurveda teaches how self-care is really planet-care, and how one healthy unit is the beginning of more healthy units. This health, gained through dharma, is in turn the foundation of a healthy life. When firmly established on the pillars of bodily health, we humans can dare to aspire for the fulfillment of material and spiritual goals. The practice of dharma entails the strategy to not only survive, but also thrive, and that, too, excellently so. When dharma is violated, both the individual and society are violated, sooner or later.

Almost every life situation is an epic event of cosmic magnitude, bursting with dharmic question marks. In fact, Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” is one such crossroads.

When the dharmic content of our thoughts and actions is denied, blocked or resisted by us, ill health at the physical, psychological, or spiritual level will definitely eventually manifest.

The Importance of Living by Dharma

Ayurveda declares that living by dharma is not only critical to the here and now, but also influences our journey of consciousness after death. Ayurveda promises that dharma practiced in our daily life ultimately leads us face-to-face with the Absolute Truth at our time of transition. Any wavering from the path of dharma leads one astray and trapped in the endless cycle of birth and death.

Dharma not only ensures a good life and an even better afterlife; it also influences the collective human experience today, at this moment; and dharma’s regard or violation by society affects our collective consciousness in a big way.

Disease and Dharma

A disease at one level is a savior at another. Ill health is often a message to wake up. The one who explores the dharmic goals of this earthbound journey listens to the voice of the spirit within, and thus, no more accidents, passivity, manipulations, and power games.

The sages conceived of health at a grand scale, in which even the sun and moon were entreated to stay on the course of their respective dharma (spiritual journey), or else a cosmic chaos of unimaginable magnitude would follow. Likewise, the Dosas – Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha – in our body have their respective dharmas (nature and function) and when the Dosas, for example, stop following the dictates of nature, disease follows.

Collective Consciousness and Ayurveda

In Ayurveda, we see collective consciousness being modified by living dharmic-ly, and following spiritual and moral injunctions as social, but ultimately, spiritual creatures. Ayurveda also recommends that we follow environmentally-friendly lifestyles, and cultivate compassion for all fellow beings, plants, and animals, as we are all really individual parts of one collective consciousness.

Ayurveda awakens within each of us the power to heal ourselves. If this life is an extension of nature, then why not use nature to be the best we can? Why be at war with nature? Why not instead outstretch both arms and find ourselves lost in nature’s compassionate embrace?

Ayurveda teaches peace with the internal forces that regulate body and mind and a peaceful relationship with the external elements that compose our environment. Ayurveda is based upon remembering, reconnecting, and celebrating the eternal harmony and sacred connections between man and nature. In discovering the deep nurturance ever-available in nature, followers of Ayurveda gradually become one with nature’s great eternal rhythm and cycle.


[i] Charaka Sāṃhita, Vimānāsthānam, III, 20

[ii] Charaka Sāṃhita, Vimānāsthānam, III, 6.3


Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.


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