208pp. July 2010
Author: Hiltebeitel, Alf;
This introductory work proposes a fresh take on the ancient Indian concept dharma. By unfolding how, even in its developments as "law" and custom, dharma participates in nuanced and multifarious understandings of the term that play out in India’s great spiritual traditions, the book offers insights into the innovative character of both Hindu and Buddhist usages of the concept. Alf Hiltebeitel, in an original approach to early Buddhist usages, explores how the Buddhist canon brought out different meanings of dharma. This is followed by an exposition of the hypothesis that most, if not all, of the Hindu law books flowered after the third-century BC emperor Asoka, a Buddhist, made dharma the guiding principle of an entire realm and culture. A discussion built around the author’s expertise on the Sanskrit epics shows how their narratives amplified the new Brahmanical norms and brought out the ethical dilemmas and spiritual teachings that arose from inquiry into dharma.

A chapter on the tale of the Life of the Buddha considers the relation between dharma, moksa/nirvana (salvation), and bhakti (devotion). Here, Hiltebeitel ties together a thread that runs through the entire story, which is the Buddha’s tendency to present dharma as a kind of civil discourse. In this sense, dharma challenges people to think critically or at least more creatively about their ethical principles and the foundations of their own spiritual values. A closing chapter on dharma in the twenty-first century explores its new cachet in an era of globalization, its diasporic implications, its openings into American popular culture, some implications for women, and the questions it is still raising for modern India.

Dimensions of Asian Spirituality Series
“[A] short and useful book, which unpacks the concept of dharma by resorting to a series of vignettes. . . . The book strikes the right tone, rendering it useful for assigned reading in an undergraduate classroom or informing the curious general reader about the basic dimensions of this important term. . . . This excellent book is highly recommended.” —Pacific Affairs (85:2, June 2012)

Dharma would be an excellent supplementary text for undergraduate courses exploring Hindu or Buddhist traditions. For instructors of these courses or anyone interested in the philosophical complexities of this concept and its relevance to twenty-first century ethical concerns, [this book] is a superb reference guide, intellectually stimulating and enjoyable.” —Education about Asia (fall 2011)

“Educational, thought-provoking, and enriching. . . . The present volume is pleasingly compact—a primer of sorts—and nicely done.” —Journal of Hindu Studies (4:1, May 2011)
Author: Hiltebeitel, Alf;
Alf Hiltebeitel is professor of religion, history, and human sciences at the George Washington University.
Read Chapter 1 (PDF).
Editor’s Preface

1. Dharma and South Asian Spirituality
2. King Asoka’s Dhamma
3. Vedic Dharman and Dharma
4. Early Buddhism: Three Baskets of Dharma
5. Classical Brahmanical Dharma
6. Two Dharma Biographies? Rama and Yudhisthira
7. Two Dharma Biographies? Sita and Draupadi
8. Dharma in the Bhagavad Gita
9. Dharma and Bhakti
10. Reimagining the Dharma Hero: The Adventure of the Buddha
11. Dharma for the Twenty-first Century

Further Reading