Meaning - Universal law and order; Righteous conduct; Individual duty; Nature
Dharma was never about religion. It is a gross injustice to the most revered word in the history of our existence. The expanse of this word is evident from multiple interpretation and the uniqueness is such that there is no direct known translation of this word in western languages. We can only attempt to understand the significance of this word and more so in this age where righteousness is scantily available as treasure troves.
The word "Dharma" is derived from Sanskrit meaning "to hold, bear or support". This word signifies the behaviors that are in accordance with Rta, the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Rta can be translated as "universal law","cosmic order" or "truth". Rta was understood to manifest itself as the imperative force behind both the moral order of society.
In Hinduism, or more aptly Sanatana Dharma meaning the Eternal Tradition, Dharma means the natural laws that makes the life and universe possible. It refers to the innate characteristics of all things that exist. For example, it is the dharma of fire to burn and cause heat. It can never cause cold. It is also explained as the law of righteousness and equated to Satya(truth) as follows:
धर्मः तस्माद्धर्मात् परं नास्त्य् अथो अबलीयान् बलीयाँसमाशँसते धर्मेण यथा राज्ञैवम् । यो वै स धर्मः सत्यं वै तत् तस्मात्सत्यं वदन्तमाहुर् धर्मं वदतीति धर्मं वा वदन्तँ सत्यं वदतीत्य् एतद्ध्येवैतदुभयं भवति ।।
Nothing is higher than dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by dharma, as over a king. Truly that dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma"; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.
— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.14
In Buddhism, Dharma means cosmic law and order and is also attributed to the teachings of Buddha.
In Jainism, Dharma refers to the teachings of Jinas or any competing spiritual school, supreme path. A major Jain text, Tattvartha Sutra, mentions Das Dharma which means ten righteous virtues, forbearance, modesty, straightforwardness, purity, truthfulness, self restraint, austerity, renunciation, non attachment and celibacy.
In Sikhism, Dharma refers to the path of righteousness and proper religious practice.
Dharma is not religion. The two words mean entirely different. Religion comes from a Latin word which means to bind. In all sense, it means exactly the opposite of Dharma.
In short, Dharma is goodness. It can be understood as a barometer of a moral and ethical order of a society. Upholding Dharma is critical for societal stability and order. Whenever there is rise in Adharma, one can see poverty, destruction of morality, rejection of ethics and, chaos or distress.
What happen when Dharma vanishes?
यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत |
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् || 7||
Whenever there is a decline in righteousness and an increase in unrighteousness, O Arjuna, at that time I manifest myself on earth.
- Vasudev Krishna
Bhagavad Geeta - Verse 4.7
Source - Wikipedia