The Russian Doll of Hinduism in Ten Sanskrit Terms
Hinduism is often described as not so much a religion as a way of life; the final goal of that way of life is Yoga, yoke, the merging of Atman with Brahman. All our efforts, day in and day out, should be with that one goal in mind; all our small individual goals are merely milestones on the way to that final goal. The sum total of that all-embracing striving towards a final goal is summed up in the word Dharma. Put simply, dharma is a composite of many concepts. It includes the idea of duty, righteousness, right action and inner attitude; and yet it is more than the sum of these parts. To act within dharma is to do the right thing, right now, taking into consideration all aspects of that action, past, present and future, as well as individual temperament and needs, and the needs of others affected by that action; it is to act unselfishly, because it is right to do so, regardless of whether it is profitable or pleasurable, and even if doing so brings us into disrepute, defeat or danger.
Dharma is the spine that holds society upright. When each individual lives according to his or her dharma, society can function like a well-oiled machine; stability and happiness are its characteristics. When, on the other hand, we each live only for our own gratification—well, we have the results right before our eyes.