The Sanskrit word Dharma means many things, including “law,” “teaching” and “religion.” In this context, it means one’s destiny or purpose. In general, it refers to one’s service or career, which is often defined by class and family. If a Hindu man’s father is a tire maker, the man’s dharma is probably to make tires, too. Traditionally, the dharma of most women has been to be a housewife and a mother. Dharma also means righteousness, or living morally and ethically at all times.

Another aspect of dharma is paying the five debts. Hindus believe that they are born in debt to the gods and various humans, and they must repay those karmic debts during their lifetime. The debts are:

  1. Debt to the gods for their blessings; paid by rituals and offerings.
  2. Debt to parents and teachers; paid by supporting them, having children of one’s own and passing along knowledge.
  3. Debt to guests; repaid by treating them as if they were gods visiting one’s home.
  4. Debt to other human beings; repaid by treating them with respect.
  5. Debt to all other living beings; repaid by offering good will, food or any other help that is appropriate.

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