Dharma is a concept of the non-conceptual. It carries several meanings and interpretations that have evolved through history and have been influenced by different cultures. Accordingly, there are many translations for dharma, such as “cosmic law”, “order”, “duty”, “custom”, “quality”, “model”, “right”, “justice”, “virtue”, “morality”, “ethics”, “religion”, “religious merit”, “nature”, “character”, etc. In addition, for Buddhist’s Dharma represents as well Shakyamuni’s teachings and doctrines.
If all definitions are summed up, the Dharma gets the meaning of a cosmic law, the flow of the universe, the essence and the principles behind everything that creates and keeps balance in the universe.
However, not a single translation or definition is complete and the full sense of the word is difficult to convey. Or more precisely, there is no way to express meaning of Dharma in words.
The complexity of the Dharma is already mentioned by the Buddha himself:
"This Dhamma that I have attained is profound, hard to see and hard to understand, peaceful and sublime, unattainable by mere reasoning, subtle, to be experienced by the wise."
Over the last 2,500 years, Shakyamuni’s teachings have undergone slightly different interpretations, leading to development of the different Buddhist traditions that highlight slightly different practices.
But no matter which of these is considered true, the advice on how to approach the teachings is given by the Buddha himself shortly before his death:
"Rely on the teaching, not on the person;
Rely on the meaning, not on the words;
Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional;
Rely on your wisdom mind, not on your ordinary mind."
He encouraged each person to use their own intellect and wisdom to find meaning in transmitted words:
"Do not accept any of my words on faith,
Believing them just because I said them.
Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns,
And critically examines his product for authenticity.
Only accept what passes the test
By proving useful and beneficial in your life."
His advice should be maintained even in modern days. One should keep in mind that, without own assessment and experience even the most precious words have only a limited value; deeper understanding remains unachievable and awakening becomes just another dream.