Dharma and the Cycles of Time


Dharma and Moksha. Central beliefs in Hindu traditions cluster around two concepts: dharma and moksha. Each idea concerns the direction of human destiny.


1.     Definition: The word dharma refers to (a) the cosmic and social order and (b) the rules pertaining to it.

a.     Early Vedas rta. Principles of cosmic order. Efforts to insure constant fertility and well being of the world via sacred rituals meant to nourish gods an other powers that sustain the world all in accordance with rta.

2.     Dharma is gradually destabilized over the great and cyclical course of time

a.     Hindu notion of time as cyclical (cf. Vishnu and the lotus stem)

b.     Yugas and the decline in virtue (cf. the mythical cow)

                                                             i.      Krita: 1,728,000; Treta: 1,296,000; Dvapara: 864,000; Kali: 432,000

                                                           ii.      1 cycle = 4,320,000 years = 1 mahayuga (then minor dissolution of the world for 1 mahayuga)

                                                        iii.      1000 mahayugas = 4,320,000,000 years = 1 kalpa = one day in the life of Brahma, followed by return to cosmic nondifferentiation for 1 kalpa of time

c.      Brahma lives for 100 Brahma years of Brahma days and Brahma nights 315 trillion, 360 billion years (315,360,000,000,000 years), after which nothing exists, including Brahma, but primal substance. Then the cycle begins again and continues endlessly.

                                                             i.      Individual, society, history = insignificant. Even the gods are trapped in the cycle and eventually fall.

3.     This notion of time provides the backdrop to an understanding of human life as characterized primarily by suffering

a.     The authors of the Upanishads provide a new way of understanding the divine, the human being, and the means and ultimate ends of religious life.