Accepting a three-fold cosmic order embracing a universal ethical law, the structure of social morality and individual social roles.
Dharma evolved from the Vedic Rita (consciousness of the cosmic order) into dharma (the sum total of religious-social tasks and obligations of human beings which uphold the cosmic order) around 2000 years ago. It is employed when universal philosophy and cosmology require practical application in individual and social life, or where the necessity of everyday mundane tasks and obligations requires the belief in and understanding of some transcendent meaning. It has been used as a strategy of non-violent conquest, particularly in the history of India.
Dharma was classically applied by Asoka, (265-238 BC), who after a series of bloody conquests, turned to Buddhism and renounced violence, resolving to live and preach the dharma. He advocated reason rather than authority for winning others to his cause. Gandhi's non-violent independence movement in India suggests a contemporary application of dharma as both a universal ethical law and an individual responsibility.
In that it bestows significance on each required social role and task, dharma gives a sense of order, meaning and participation to every member of society. The individual is linked to the cosmos.
At its most extreme the strict interpretation of the basis of individual roles and tasks in cosmic law led to the injustices and abuses of the caste system in India, where rigid, inherited obligations deprived millions of the right to significant social participation.