Difference between Dharma and Religion 

PIN Difference between Dharma and Religion
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In our Vedic tradition, many words cannot be translated into English. Like Yog (योग),Karma (कर्म), Brahm (ब्रह्म), Dharma (धर्म) etc. We consider Dharma as Religion but that’s not correct. If we try to define Religion then we can say that religion is a tradition, not Dharma. Religion is a cult or a spiritual lineage that is called a Sampradaya (community). So, religion means community. Sampradaya (संप्रदाय) is made of two parts; सम + प्रदाय। That means giving something equally. When you give knowledge of a particular person or a book to someone in a good way is called a Sampradaya. 


Sampradaya works on an ideology. Sampradaya has some lack of knowledge also. There are many things in sampradaya which are not logical. There have been many wars and war-like situations for religion. Religion works on a mass of people. In religion, you follow someone or someone’s path. On another side, Dharma is a work of wisdom. 

Ved Vyas Ji has stated the difference between Dharma and Religion. 


कारणाद् धर्मम् अन्विछेत् लोकचरितं चरेत्।  

महर्षि वेद व्यास |


Thinkers say that religion works in the crowd and dharma is for intellect. Dharma should be followed according to reason and intelligence. You should not follow Dharma because everyone is doing that. You should follow Dharma if you find logic in that and if you want to gain knowledge. Following someone else path will make it religion, not dharma.  


In daily life, we say that this person follows Vaishnav Dharma or Jain dharma, or someone follows Buddhism or Muslim dharma or Christianity that’s not right. Instead, we should say that a person follows Vaishnav Sampradaya or this person follows Shiv Sampradaya or follows Buddha Sampradaya. This person follows Muslim Sampradaya or Christan Sampradaya. Because if we are following anyone that is Sampradaya. We do not use our intellect in Sampradaya.  

Sampradaya has a structure and basis on that we decide what is right and what is wrong. 

A Scripture called Devi Bhagvat says that your religion or your sampradaya is decided based on your interest and who you worship. The selection of Dharma is not the same.  


शैवाश्च वैष्णवाश्चैव शाक्ताः सौरास्तथैव च | 

 गाणपत्याश्च ह्यागामाः प्रणीताःशंकरेण तु ||  

– देवीभागवत 


There are different kinds of Sampradaya or Religion as per their belief. Shaivism; People who consider Shiva as God, Vaishnav Sampradaya; who consider Vishnu as God, Shakti Sampradaya; who considers Shakti as God, Aur Sampradaya; who consider Surya as God, Ganpat Sampradaya; who consider Ganpati as a God.  

Now the question is what is Dharma? 

Word Dharma came from ध्रु (dhru) metal of Sanskrit. 

which means to wear. Wearing that will maintain the existence of a person or a thing and that is Dharma. Dharma of the fire is to give heat and light that means whenever you will go close to a fire that will give you heat and light. Everything has its own Dharma. 


So, what’s the Dharma of a human being?  


For that, there is a detailed discussion in Mahabharata.  


इज्या अध्ययन दानानि तप: सत्यं क्षमा दम:  

अलोभ इति मार्गो ऽयं धर्मस्य अष्टविध: स्मृत:।।  



Ved Vyas Ji says that he has heard 8 ways of Dharma. He has heard that that means they consider Vedas.  

  1. Yagna (यज्ञ): Yagna means karma which is done for the benefit of lots of people. 
  2. Adhyayan (अध्ययन): Adhyayan means study; study of self and the world. Study about the creation, the world, and the creator that is God and regular practice of that. 
  3. Dan (दान): means Donation 
  4. Tapaha (तपः) – means keep improving yourself, evaluate yourself and remove negative qualities to increases positive qualities.  
  5. Satyam (सत्यम): to walk on a path of truth 
  6. Forgiveness (क्षमा): to forgive others and self for the mistakes. 
  7. Damah(दमः) – to control the senses.  
  8. Alobh (आलोभ): not to be tempted or Greed.


This verse talks about Dharma and its path but there is no mention of whom to worship and which religion you should follow. Dharma talks about how we should behave and what should be our attitude. So, dharma means mental attitude or action-oriented things. That talks about what we should do and what we should not do that talks about how should be our attitude.  


You have to remember that Religion has rules, traditions, rights, and wrongs. But Dharma is not like that. Dharma depends on the place, time, and competency. That means if something good right now will change if a person, time, or place is different. If the person, time, or place is change is karma will be change. Good karma will become bad karma. The karma which is Dharma right now can be change into Adharma after some time and some changes. 


That’s why Ved Vyas Ji has said that you should see the place and time for Dharma.  


एव धर्म: : अधर्मो देश काले प्रतिष्ठित:  

महर्षि वेद व्यास 


We have to do lots of brainstorming to know what is Dharma. If we want to learn about it only a teacher/master (guru) can help us. For that, we have to think about Dharma with our intellect, heart, and conscience. There is no formula for Dharma like Religion. Dharma is based on time, place, and person. 



सूक्ष्मा गतिर्ही धर्मस्य दुर्ज्ञेया ही अकृतात्मभि:   



Ved Vyas Ji in Mahabharata says that the pace of Dharma is very subtle and the one who does not have control over self will not get to know about Dharma.  




Comments (3)

  1. Shivnath Kandi

    October 23, 2022 at 7:23 am

    Very well explained.

  2. m.n.sastry

    March 10, 2023 at 5:54 am

    Really all my confussion, well exlplained


    May 8, 2023 at 5:28 pm

    More detailed and categorical explanation is required for student of MA Hindu Studies. As we need Specific distinction in Dharma, Religion, Pantha, Mazhaba and Sampradaya. It has to be more indepth and specific bifercation of its characteristics and functions for heigher studies. For beginners and Graduate level student This is sufficient. Printing should be allowed so that students get hard copy for examination. To protect Sanatan Hindu Dharma author must be bold in mentioning that Non hindu does not believ in Dharma Sutra or Dharma Shastra. so give boldly examples of wrong following of Momahamad. Dharma teaches us to disseminate knowledge so allow printing.

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