Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Paul Younger


This thesis is a study of the concept of dharma in the Indian Religious Tradition. The basis of the study is the claim by the Tradition that dharma is known most authoritatively in the śruti literature, and that subsequent smrti literature recalls that authoritative meaning. The study sets out to validate for the understanding of an outsider to the Indian Tradition the evidence for and nature of that claim. Two texts are examined -- the Rg Veda and the Bhagavad Gītā representing śruti and smrti literature respectively.

Within the Rg Veda we examine the actions of the vedic gods -- primarily Agni, Indra, the Adityas, and Soma -- conveyed by the verb and noun forms of the root dhr. Our discussion of those actions is organized in three thematic contexts: Cosmology, Sacrifice, and Community. The study of the gods' acts establishes a root or core meaning which we phrased: the upholding of the orderly relatedness of all that is. Establishment of such a root meaning provides the basis upon which we argue that there is validity to the Tradition's claim that dharma is most authoritatively known in śruti literature.

For our purpose it is not sufficient just to establish a root meaning. The core meaning must demonstrate continuity in the usages of dharma in smrti literature. For that purpose we examine the Bhagavad Gītā and show that in Kisna's teaching dharma's root meaning is both recalled and retained as the central theme of the text. The examination of dharma's in the Gītā is organized according to three themes: (1) Cosmology, (2) transformation of the sacrifice into yoga, and (3) the community.

The textual study established that the root or core meaning of dharma underlies and gives coherence to the diversity of actions of the vedic gods, and, subsequently, to Kisna's action in creation. Not only is dharma a significant concept in the Rg Veda, but, also, that root significance is demonstrably present in Kisna's teaching. Our contention is that the root or core meaning expresses the "authoritativeness" of dharma's śruti meaning for smrti literature.

The validation of the Tradition's claim with regard to dharma for the authoritativeness of śruti or smrti literature has important implications for the scholarly critique of the agreement for continuity in the Indian Religious Tradition. Such critituques have been formulated primarily by Western scholars of the Tradition. Brief consideration is given to the historical and linguistic critique of continuity. Against such claims it argued that it is essential to see the nature of the claim for continuity on the Tradition's own terms as part of a revelation embodied in Veda and recalled as the basis of change in the subsequent Tradition.

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