Rajiv Malhotra, founder, Infinity Foundation, writes:
The word “dharma” has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Monier-Williams’ Sanskrit-English Dictionary lists several, including: conduct, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, religion, religious merit, good work according to a right or rule, etc. Many other meanings have been suggested, such as law or “torah” (in the Judaic sense), “logos” (Greek), “way” (Christian) and even ‘tao” (Chinese). None of these is entirely accurate and none conveys the full force of the term in Sanskrit. Dharma has no equivalent in the Western lexicon.
Dharma has the Sanskrit root dhri, which means “that which upholds” or “that without which nothing can stand” or “that which maintains the stability and harmony of the universe.” Dharma encompasses the natural, innate behavior of things, duty, law, ethics, virtue, etc. Every entity in the cosmos has its particular dharma — from the electron, which has the dharma to move in a certain manner, to the clouds, galaxies, plants, insects, and of course, man. Man’s understanding of the dharma of inanimate things is what we now call physics.***********
The reduction of dharma to concepts such as religion and law has harmful consequences: it places the study of dharma in Western frameworks, moving it away from the authority of its own exemplars. Moreover, it creates the false impression that dharma is similar to Christian ecclesiastical law-making and the related struggles for state power.
The result of equating dharma with religion in India has been disastrous: in the name of secularism, dharma has been subjected to the same limits as Christianity in Europe. A non-religious society may still be ethical without belief in God, but an a-dharmic society loses its ethical compass and falls into corruption and decadence."