The DHARMA (Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications) Initiative was a scientific research project that had a large presence on the Island between the 1970s and the early 1990s. The project is represented by variations of an octagonal logo, a variation of the Ba Gua, which comes from Taoist mysticism, that appear on most of its products and facilities.
The Initiative's general goal was to manipulate scientific laws in order to change any of the six factors of the Valenzetti Equation, a sequence that was believed to have some connection to the date marking the end of humanity, in hopes of delaying such a date.
The Hanso Foundation ended further funding to the Initiative in 1987. The DHARMA Initiative largely ended after the Purge, an event that saw the death of almost all of its members on the Island at the hands of the Hostiles, in either 1987 or 1992.
Creation of the DHARMA Initiative
According to various orientation films, the Initiative was founded in 1970 by Gerald and Karen DeGroot, two doctoral candidates at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was financially backed by Danish industrialist and munitions magnate Alvar Hanso and his Hanso Foundation.
However, since The Lamp Post was built in the 1960s, the date of 1970 given by Pierre Chang in the orientation films may be incorrect.
Finding and settling the Island
The Lamp Post
According to Eloise Hawking, an unspecified man used The Lamp Post station in Los Angeles to find the location of the Island in the 1960s. Located underneath a church, the Lamp Post harnessed the unique pocket of energy in that area and used it to find other similar pockets around the globe. Though this man was only interested in one specific area: the Island. Since the Island was always moving, the Lamp Post was integral in finding its location. Within a few years' time, the location was uncovered.
At some point in the early 1970s, the DHARMA Initiative founded a tiny community on the Island. The Barracks became the center of operation for the DHARMA Initiative on the Island. Significant quantities of construction materials, electronic equipment and various vehicles and machinery were brought to the Island during the phase of settlement for the construction of the various DHARMA stations. Off the Island, the DHARMA Initiative's activities were coordinated from Ann Arbor in Michigan. ("Some Like It Hoth")
Conflict with natives
The result of the Purge. ("The Man Behind the Curtain")
Not long after settling on the Island, the DHARMA Initiative fought an armed conflict with a group they called the Hostiles prior to 1973. The reasons for the conflict are not known, though Horace Goodspeed stated that the Hostiles were natives to the Island, implying that a conflict could have arisen from DHARMA moving into their territory or intruding on the Island. On August 15, 1973, DHARMA and the Hostiles agreed to a Truce, and an uneasy peace existed between them for nearly two decades.
DHARMA appears not only to have violated the Truce but to have taken steps as the conflict escalated, including devoting one of their stations (The Arrow) to developing new strategies against the Hostiles, installation of security cameras and other monitoring systems, weapon stockpiles (unusual for a utopian community), and even having a professional interrogator on their staff. The conflict between the two does not appear to have been helped by the appearance of the time shifting survivors in 1974-1977.
Regardless of the cause, the conflict ended on the 19th of December in 1987 or 1992 with an event known as the Purge. The Hostiles launched a toxic gas attack on the Barracks (and possibly other locations) that killed nearly all DHARMA personnel on the Island. Staff at The Swan survived, as they were sealed inside their station, and other DHARMA members, including Benjamin Linus and Ethan Rom, survived by joining the Hostiles. The bodies of those killed in the attack were piled into an open mass grave in the jungle. The Hostiles continue to survive today as the group Danielle Rousseau, the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 and the survivors of the freighter Kahana call "the Others".
After the slaughter, some of the DHARMA projects on the Island collapsed. For example, the polar bears escaped from their cages during the collapse, according to Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse in the Official Lost Podcasts.
Other than those DHARMA members who joined the Others (such as Benjamin Linus and Ethan Rom), there are only two DHARMA members on the Island who are known to have survived the Purge: Stuart Radzinsky and Kelvin Inman, who remained in The Swan after the Purge. Radzinsky committed suicide at an unknown date, and Inman, the last known member of the Initiative on the Island, died September 22, 2004. In the March 20, 2007 Official Lost Podcast, Carlton Cuse said he did not believe that The Others knew about the Swan station, but acknowledged that they might have observed the Swan through the monitors at the Pearl.
DHARMA after the Purge
Modernized DHARMA logo as seen at Comic-Con 2008.
The DHARMA Initiative collapsed or was destroyed off the Island as well, although the details of this remain unclear. In the Official Lost Podcasts, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse also make frequent references to DHARMA's fall as a "collapse". In the Sri Lanka video, Thomas Mittelwerk stated that "we all know what happened: the DHARMA Initiative failed."
The date of DHARMA's collapse is unclear as well. In 2010, Benjamin Linus states that the DHARMA Initiative has not existed "for over twenty years". ("The New Man in Charge") Hugh McIntyre of the Hanso Foundation said in an interview as part of The Lost Experience that the DHARMA Initiative's funding was cut in 1987. However, this seems to conflict with the 1992 date for the Purge (if we are to take the math of Horace Goodspeed's spirit literally).
The DHARMA Logistics Warehouse in Orote Peninsula, Guam, continued to function, delivering periodic resupply drops to the Island. This warehouse was run by Hector and Glen, who were unaware that the rest of the DHARMA Initiative no longer existed. In 2010, Benjamin Linus closed down this warehouse. ("The New Man in Charge")
Nothing is known about the fate of Alvar Hanso, the DeGroots, or the DHARMA headquarters in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Successors to the DHARMA Project
This article/section contains information that was shown or released via an official source such as ARGs or extended media (video games, books), however it has no canonical merit to the overall Lost mythos.
In the Sri Lanka Video, it is shown that in 2006, DHARMA-like work on the Valenzetti Equation is being conducted, suggesting the project's major aims are still being investigated in some new incarnation by Thomas Mittelwerk.
In the Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project of 2008, unknown benefactors attempted to restart the Initiative but failed due to constrains by the 2008 financial crisis. The "Project" consisted of a series of tests that dealt with different areas of expertise. The tests measured various skills of recruits, and official Volunteer Assessment Dossiers were sent out to recruits on November 18th. The "Project" was unable to continue spending due to the financial crisis, and sold the Dharma Initiative to the T.V. show Lost. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse started a new website called Dharmaspecialaccess.com that gave recruits exclusive information on upcoming Lost info.
Assorted images from the Swan Orientation film.
According to various orientation films, the Initiative was founded in 1970 by Gerald and Karen DeGroot, two doctoral candidates at the University of Michigan. It was financially backed by Danish industrialist and munitions magnate Alvar Hanso and his Hanso Foundation. The alleged purpose of the Initiative, according to the Swan Orientation film, was to create "a large-scale communal research compound where scientists and free-thinkers from around the globe could pursue research in meteorology, psychology, parapsychology, zoology, electromagnetism, and Utopian social-[static]."
The Barracks video also said that the mission of the Initiative on the Island was to study its unique properties for the betterment of mankind and advancement of world peace.
The Sri Lanka Video of The Lost Experience appears to build on the last statement, explaining that the DHARMA Initiative was part of a project begun in response to the Valenzetti Equation commissioned by the UN in 1967, a mathematical formula that reportedly predicts the amount of time until the extinction of mankind. The purpose of the DHARMA Initiative on the Island was to use scientific research to manipulate the environment in order to change any one of the core factors of the Valenzetti Equation which, in turn, would change the Equation's result and thus change mankind's destiny. They were also interested in researching the unique properties on the Island found nowhere else in the world, again for the betterment of humanity.
The memory game, revealing the acronym.
The word DHARMA was revealed to be a backronym in the Official Lost Podcast. Later in the ARG The Lost Experience, through the clues of Rachel Blake (known as the hacker Persephone at that time), players were directed to play a memory game available at the Hanso Foundation's website. Gradually the acronym was revealed and upon reaching level 42, the full acronym DHARMA was revealed as being "Department of Heuristics And Research on Material Applications". The acronym was later confirmed by Alvar Hanso in the Sri Lanka Video and in an ABC press release .
Little is known what the actual explanation behind the name is, although a heuristic is a particular technique of directing one's attention in learning, discovery, or problem-solving. Also, in the Sri Lanka Video, Alvar Hanso (standing in front of the DHARMA acronym) says "it also stands for the one true way", a reference to the word's meaning in Sanskrit (see below).
The DHARMA Initiative's logo is a representation of the I Ching, a Taoist method of divination. Dharma as a word is the governing essence of the universe in Hinduism and Taoism and the essence of phenomena in Buddhism. Additionally, in Buddhism, Dharma may refer to the Buddha's teachings as well as their practice.
The Barracks appear to be the DHARMA Initiative's central area of activity on the Island. The location is a secure residential compound comprising houses, offices and other surface buildings with electricity and water, plus an unknown number of underground facilities. Other buildings include a cafeteria and adjoining kitchen, recreational hall, school, infirmary, and security office. Outside is a small playground area, numerous walkways, benches, picnic tables and a gazebo. A motor pool location at the Barracks houses a number of DHARMA vans used by personnel to travel about the Island. Close at hand to the main residential area is a small harbor and wharf where submarines dock coming to and from the Island. The entire Barracks and the surrounding area is enclosed inside a sonar fence.
While all of the DHARMA stations appear to have had their own logos, the Barracks itself did not have one. However, the security outpost beneath the Barracks did have its own - and similarly the kitchen and maintenance areas within the Baracks had their own identification. The infirmary, however, does not.
DHARMA Initiative stations
The DHARMA Initiative conducted research and other activities on the Island in a number of stations. They all have (or have had) power (from an unknown source) and a water supply as well as various kinds of equipment (e.g. machinery, living quarters, computers, medical equipment, etc). Each facility also has its own octagon-shaped logo, utilizing a different symbol to designate which station items or personnel correspond to.
- A radio tower was built by the DHARMA Initiative ostensibly to relay the results of their experiments to their backers and external supporters off the Island. Multiple reports describe the tower as continuously broadcasting the Numbers.
- The source of DHARMA's electric power has been a question since the survivors discovered The Swan. Sayid theorized at the time that the Swan had its own geothermal generator, although prevalence of electricity at DHARMA facilities across the Island (especially the large amounts of power needed by the radio tower for continuous transmission) suggests another source. The Others maintained a deception among their own people that The Tempest was a power station, but this proved to be untrue. In "Happily Ever After" it was revealed that The Hydra contained a large and powerful generator, although in 2007, a member of Widmore's team indicated it hadn't been used in some twenty years, indicating it is not the Island's source.
The DHARMA Initiative was founded by Gerald and Karen DeGroot, with funding from Alvar Hanso. Over time members would be recruited and brought to the island to staff the various DHARMA Initiative stations located on the island. Off the island Eloise Hawking was staffed in the Lamp Post, working to locate the position of the island. Also located off the island was the DHARMA Logistics Warehouse, which staffed at least two DHARMA personnel. A number of DHARMA women and children evacuated the island in 1977 on the orders of Pierre Chang. The fate of a majority of the DHARMA personnel stationed on the island is unknown. Also among staff personnel is a few of the survivors of flight 815.
Pierre Chang in the Pearl Orientation film.
To instruct its members, the DHARMA Initiative created several orientation films, most of them featuring Pierre Chang under various aliases.
Known films are:
- The Barracks video - An introductory video that new members of the Initiative were shown upon reaching the Island. Pierre Chang explained the purpose of the Initiative and security protocols for the Barracks.
- The Hydra Orientation film - Explaining the primary purposes of the station, and instructing personnel in various protocols (ie the polar bears and the captured Others).
- The Swan Orientation film - Instructing the Swan station's inhabitants about the protocol, as a consequence of an unspecified incident. The film includes a short history of the Initiative.
- The Arrow Orientation film - Explaining the primary purpose of the station.
- The Pearl Orientation video - Instructing the Pearl station inhabitants on monitoring other stations.
- The Orchid Orientation video - Instructing the Orchid station inhabitants on monitoring the machines.
- Outtakes of the Orchid Orientation film - Introduced as a teaser for Season 4 at San Diego Comic-Con 2007.
- The Psychology Orientation test video - A series of flashing images shown revealed in The Lost Experience.
- The video filmed in the Sri Lanka video - Dated 1975, provides a broader history and overview of DHARMA. Revealed in The Lost Experience.
DHARMA logos and personnel
The Swan station's logo
The DHARMA initiative is represented by a series of distinct eight-sided logos. These octagon-shaped logos used by the Initiative appear on many items and are seen in the various DHARMA Initiative stations on the Island. DHARMA members also wear uniforms embossed with the logos, and this can also designates which station they belong to. Notable members of the Initiative include Pierre Chang and Horace Goodspeed, who wore various uniforms connecting them to particular DHARMA stations. According to information obtained in "He's Our You", an unknown person or group based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, (presumably the DeGroots), make large decisions and are the leaders of DHARMA. Horace Goodspeed appears to be the leader of all the DHARMA members on the Island, but ultimately does not make all decisions. Other seemingly high-ranking members of DHARMA are Jim LaFleur, the Head of Security, Stuart Radzinsky, the Head of Research and presumed architect of the Swan, and Pierre Chang, who appears to have some leadership at the Orchid.
The logos are all based on an octagonal design incorporating eight trigrams surrounding a central symbol. These are the trigrams of the I Ching, in which the broken bars represent yin and the solid bars represent yang. The central symbol is unique for each station. The design of the logo was derived from a Chinese concept known as "Bagua"; the trigrams are all inverted (inside-to-outside) from their normal "Later Heaven" order.
Cultural references to "Dharma" and the DHARMA logo
The Dharmacakra, a Buddhist symbol representing the teachings of Dharma.
In Eastern religion, Dharma means Natural Law or Reality, or the "Way of The Higher Truths" By this, it stands as the principle or law that orders the universe, individual conduct in conformity to this principle, and the essential function or nature of a thing.
In Hinduism, Dharma refers to individual obligation with respect to caste, social custom, civil law, and sacred law. Meanwhile, in Buddhism, it stands for the body of teaching expounded by the Buddha, and therefore the knowledge of or duty to undertake conduct set forth by the Buddha as a way to enlightenment. In addition, it is one of the basic, minute elements from which all things are made. It also refers to the Path of the Teaching, the journey of the student that ends ultimately in the alleviation of suffering and/or the undoing of karma. Finally, it also references ultimate reality, the realization that the most fundamental element of the universe is happiness, bliss, or Nirvana.
Surrounding the logo are 8 trigrams which are derived from belief in Bagua. Under Chinese legend, the 8 trigrams were represented to the Yellow Emperor in 3000 BC by heaven, each symbol allocated to a particular plane of existence, a family member, an element etc... and grouped into both Yin and Yang. Cross multiplication of the 8 trigrams yields the I-Ching which is an old method of divination in which coins or sticks are randomly shaken to produce lines making up the trigram. The I-Ching is then used to interpret the meaning of the combination of trigrams.
References in popular culture
A DHARMA logo appearing at the beginning of the film Cloverfield.
Main article: Outside references to Lost
- In an episode of NBC's The Office, Dwight asks Ryan a series of questions one of them being, "What is the DHARMA Initiative?"
- The band Miniature Tigers has a T-shirt featuring the DHARMA logo, with a Tiger in the center.
- In the sixth chapter of Half Life 2: Episode Two, Gordon Freeman can see a corridor behind a gas tank next to Uriah the vortigaunt, where the Swan's numbers input terminal can be seen opposite a concrete wall bearing a DHARMA logo with an unknown symbol (actually is the White Forest symbol, the rebel base where the game concludes).
- At the beginning of Cloverfield there is a DHARMA initiative Pearl Station symbol on the video of the night of the Monster Attack of New York.
- In season 1, episode 4 ("It's Only The Beginning"), of ABC's TV series "V", a DHARMA looking logo can be seen on the V's computer screen at the 31:51 time mark.
- The DHARMA Initiative closely resembles the NICE (National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments) from That Hideous Strength, the final volume of C.S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy. Both were scientific societies whose members lived and worked together, whose lower recruits believed their aims were purely noble and scientific and whose upper echelons seemed to have knowledge of secret matters (In Lost, the energy beneath the Orchid and Swan, in Lewis's book, the Macrobes) which they intended to exploit. Both groups did experiments on bears, which escaped captivity when the groups' activities collapsed, when purged by a group of people hostile to their aims, who defended nature and objected to scientific exploitation. The names of both societies are acronyms, which hint toward applied science.
- The acronym for DHARMA is similar to DARPA, the acronym for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency which funds classified and often quite exotic research for the United States government. 
- During DJ Dan's 7/05 podcast, a listener by the name of Anthony called in saying that in the 70s his grandmother joined what he thought was a cult. He said that the cult was called the "KARMA Imperative", although he probably meant to say the DHARMA Initiative but simply misspoke the name. According to Anthony's story, his grandmother joined the "KARMA Imperative" while attending the University of Michigan and was taken to an unknown location in the South Pacific and was never seen again, declared dead.
- In DJ Dan's First Live Podcast of August 11, 2006, Dan identified Keith Strutter as the guitarist and founder of Geronimo Jackson, and noted that Strutter's previous band was called The Karma Imperative.
- Capitalization: Since DHARMA is an acronym (source: The Lost Experience), its proper spelling is in all capital letters. However the canonical exceptions using "normal caps" have been the welcome sign at the submarine arrival dock in "The Man Behind the Curtain", as well as ABC press release for that episode that lists the three characters, Dharma Welcomer, Dharma Rep. 1 and Dharma Rep. 2.
- The backs of the Official jigsaw puzzles revealed that the "D.I.H.G." notations on the blast door map stands for DHARMA Initiative Hanso Group.
- The DHARMA Initiative had access to dynamite, likely used during the initial stages of station construction. ("LaFleur")
- "The Door" was presumed to be another station, but when opened by Sayid in "Live Together, Die Alone, Part 1" it was revealed to be a façade covering a rocky wall. This was most likely part of an elaborate deception put on by the Others.
- The Temple itself is an ancient ziggurat pre-dating DHARMA's arrival the Island, yet Ben's map identifies the location with a unique logo, suggesting some sort of DHARMA presence at the site. Close inspection of the computer monitors in "Namaste" reveals a listing of "Temple ruins."
- For fan theories about these unanswered questions, see: DHARMA Initiative/Theories
- What powers their on-island facilities?
- What events precipitated the Purge?
- Other than Ethan and Ben, did any other DHARMA personnel join the Hostiles?
- Why did they label most of their food, and other supplies, with the Swan station logo?
- Hanso Foundation
- DHARMA Initiative films
- Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project
- List of DHARMA Initiative members
- DHARMA logos
- DHARMA Initiative stations
- The Purge
- DHARMA Initiative Jumpsuits available at the ABC TV Store