“Dharma” is the sanskrit translation of the Pali word “Dhamma” which roughly means “law”. But this isn’t law in a legal sense but in a natural sense, like the “law of gravity.” The law referred to by “Dharma” is the natural process that leads to enlightenment, moksha, awakening or liberation (pick your favorite term). To learn the Dharma is to learn how to wake up and become enlightened.
There are many teachers who have taught people how to wake up and become enlightened. For this reason, it is customary to put the teacher’s name as a prefix. This helps the listener know which Dharma is being discussed. Most of what is taught on this site is “Buddha-Dharma”, though not all of it is. The Dharma taught by great teachers such as Lao Tzu, Ramana Maharshi, and Nisargadatta are examples of perfectly wonderful teachings from completely different traditions. If I were teaching you how to get to heaven through Christianity it would be perfectly acceptable (though a little weird) to call it “Jesus-Dharma.”
So why do I teach mostly Buddha-Dharma? Am I a Buddhist? Not really, or rather, if this self thinks it is a Buddhist then it is a rotten one. I honestly do not believe a lot of what is taught in Buddhism as a religion. What I do believe is that learning how to become enlightened is a skill, no different than learning to play the piano or learning to cook. Enlightenment, as you’ll discover, actually has very little to do with what beliefs you have and everything to do with learning and practicing specific skills that liberate the mind. And as it turns out, the best teachings that I have found on these skills happen to come from the Buddha. That’s why most of what is taught here is Buddha Dharma. It is a choice based on pragmatism rather than faith or religion. If you were hoping for religion, I recommend searching elsewhere.
What many beginners to the Buddha’s Dharma don’t know is that Buddhism is not just one tradition, it is many different ones. They are all based on the teachings of the Buddha, but from that original set of teachings, the traditions became very different. A student could learn the Dharma in Tibetan center, but be absolutely lost at a Zen center or Theravadin temple. On the surface it would seem that there is not really one Dharma being taught. Lucky for me, a good friend who is a Sri Lankan monk helped me to get my head around these differences by explaining that while all these traditions look different, they are all really just “the same cake with different icing.” In other words, it only seems like these traditions are different on the outside, but on the inside the core teachings are actually the same. What I hope to focus on in this explanation of the Dharma are those core teachings.
So, what are these teachings? In the many traditions that make up Buddhism the Dharma is most often divided into three overall parts: morality (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna). I really love this way of organizing the teachings because it chunks them together in a way that is both meaningful and manageable. It is an oversimplification for sure, but it is still helpful. I like to think of these three parts of the Dharma as “Getting your act together”, “Getting your head together” and “Getting it done”.