Dharma is the path of righteousness, duties and the codes of conduct as described by the Hindu Scriptures. Dharma should not be mistaken as religion as it has no direct translation, it means to hold together with the same set of duties and act.
Dharma makes a person's life as more disciplined. This helps us to be positive, joyous and happy which ultimately helps in attaining the union with the supreme reality. The root of Dharma is Peace - within and without. Dharma is a Sanskrit word created from (धृ). which means to Hold Together. The Brahman (whom all the gods make up), claim the hymns of the Rig Veda, created the universe from the Sound of OM, they hold the earth and sun and stars apart, they support the sky away and distinct from earth, and they stabilize the quaking mountains and plains. Hindu Dharma includes the religious duties, moral rights and duties of each individual, as well as behaviours that enable social order, right conduct, and those that are virtuous.
धर्मः तस्माद्धर्मात् परं नास्त्य् अथो अबलीयान् बलीयाँसमाशँसते धर्मेण यथा राज्ञैवम् ।
यो वै स धर्मः सत्यं वै तत् तस्मात्सत्यं वदन्तमाहुर् धर्मं वदतीति धर्मं वा वदन्तँ सत्यं वदतीत्य् एतद्ध्येवैतदुभयं भवति ।।
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.5-6
Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king.
Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks the Dharma";
and if he speaks Dharma, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.
Ancient Sage Manu wrote in the Manusmriti that there are 10 essential rules for the observance of dharma:
Patience (dhriti) - The state of endurance under difficult circumstances.
Forgiveness (kshama) - Conscious decision to release negativity for someone.
Piety or Self Control (dama) - Control over the mind, senses and thoughts.
Honesty (asteya) - Moral character for being truthfulness in all aspects.
Sanctity (shauch) - The state of being Holy and Pious.
Control of Senses (indraiya-nigrah) - Controlling of senses to attain the Supreme.
Reason (dhi) - Questioning, Reasoning to understand the self.
Knowledge or Learning (vidya) - Learning to understand thr difference of truth and lie.
Truthfulness (satya) - Moral character for being realistic at all aspects.
Absence of Anger (krodha) - Anger is a feeling to destroy everything, we need to overcome Anger.
Manu further writes, "Non-violence, truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of dharma". Therefore dharmic laws govern not only the individual but all in society.
The purpose of Dharma is one step further than to attain just a union of the soul with the supreme reality. Dharma also suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both the material world joys and the supreme happiness. Rishi Kanda has defined Dharma in his epic Vaisesika as "that confers worldly joys and leads to supreme happiness". Hinduism is the only religion that suggests methods for the enlightenment and attainment of the highest ideal leading to the eternal bliss. It endorses the idea that one's Dharma to marry, raise a family and provide for that family in whatever way is necessary. Dharma of a son can be different as that of parents. The practice of Dharma gives an esteemed experience of strength, peace, joy and tranquillity within one's self and makes his life more disciplined.
There are four stages of life as per the Vedic Culture in Hinduism. These are the levels which each stage of life requires to perform proper Dharma - Brahmacharya (Student), Grihastha (Householder), Vanaprastha (Retired) and Sanyas (Renunciation). Ashram is another facet of Dharma. In Hinduism, it is properly defined what are the moral duties and responsibilities of a person at each stage of life which should be followed religiously. Ashram is actually a framework designed to perform duties timely and effectively.
Brahmacharya Ashram - Brahmacharya Ashram is the first stage of life. A boy enters Brahmacharya Ashram through the performance of Upanayan Ceremony - Janeu Sanskar. Through this transformation rite, a person is said to be reborn(Dwija) and all his Karma and Sanskaras counting is said to be started . The age of initiation into the first stage of life differs in different Varna. The initiation ceremony takes place for a Brahmin at the age of 8, for Kshatriya at the age of 10 years and a Vaishya at the age of 12 years. As per Hinduism, a Shudra cannot perform this rite (though in some cases it has been evident). The education in Gurukul begins following the Upanayan Sanskar. The studens resides in the Ashram with Guru who bestows the knowledge upon the disciple (shishya). Vedas, Purans, Upanishads and other sacred texts are studied during this stage of life. Strict discipline and total control over senses is required at this stage of life.
Grihastha Ashram - Grihastha Ashram is the second stage of life when a student has completed his Vedic Gurukul. Marriage is a social responsibility instead of a personal desire. A person has to marry to perform his duties for the continuation of his set of group through progeny. The other responsibilities includes raising a family, educating children, leading a social life. This Ashram mainly refers to satisfy all the worldly desires whether material, emotional or sexual.
Vanaprastha Ashram - Vanaprastha Ashram is the third stage of life when a person is required to leave his family and village. He must handle all his duties and responsibilities to his grown up children and he have to go to a forest. He have to wear deer skin or bark of trees (chhaal) to enter into a complete state of learning, meditation and purifying his body. He must do a deep penance (Tapasya) to purify his mind and soul. His wife is also allowed to live with him and perform her duties as a wife to support husband and perform social duties towards him.
Sanyas Ashram - Sanyas Ashram is the fourth and final stage of life in which a person has to loose all the attachments from the mateiral world. In this stage he has to identify the nature of the Supreme Brahman. During this stage renunciation from the material desires, wordly joy is required. He has to lead a simple and spiritual life and try to attain Moksha in the best possible way he can.