Sanathana DharmaThe Religion
Sanatana Dharma, "The Law Eternal", is the more appropriate or rather the accurate name for the religion which is now known as "Hinduism". The word Hinduism is not the original name for the religion. It is a name aquired in later historic times, while the religion has been in existence since timeless beginning. This religion has its roots in the "Vedas" which are scriptures of the highest wisdom and which originated with creation itself. It was not a founded religion, it was based on revelations directly from God himself to the seers during their transcendental and intuitive communion with the Divine. It was the Dharma and code of life for men of Bharat or Aryavarta from times immemorial, i.e., from even the pre-historic and most antique ages.
The religion was used to be known as "Vaidika Dharma" or "Vedanta", as it has the Vedas for its authority and source (Vedokhilo Dharma Mulam); it is also called Sanatana Dharma as it delineates and embodies values and doctrines which are of eternal validity. Sanatana Dharma stands for "Rita" - the majesty of moral and spirtual law. It looks upon the whole universe as being under the purview of a moral law and subserving to the supremacy of God, its creator. Times may change, ages may roll by, continents may rise and disappear, but values of life like truth, love, compassion, one's duty to mother, father, preceptor and to fellow beings, and the eternal reality of the spirit and unity of all life, are truths and values that subsist and will subsist for ever. These are the eternal values and truths which are embedded in the Vedas and are embodied in the religion that had evolved out of Vedas. These values being of eternal validity and universality, are the justification for the religion that embody them, for being called as Sanatana Dharma, the eternal Dharma, law/religion.
The word "Hindu" was of a far, far later origin; during the Greek period of history, Greeks and West Asians used the term Indu/Hindu with reference to the people living beyond the banks of the River Indus, and later the name began to be ascribed to the religion of the land also. 'Hindu' thus has only a geographical connotation and derivation; but, nevertheless, it has come to stay.
Hinduism exhorts people to abstain from all violence by thought, word and deed to any being or creature. "Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha" - "Veneration of all life" (because everything is enveloped by God); "Isavasyamidam Sarvam" - "God inheres in all beings"; these are the basic, primary and fundamental tenets of Hinduism.
To sum up the whole essence of the Hindu religion and philosophy: "Love for all beings and love for God"- this is the essence of Hinduism, and as a matter of fact, it is the essence of all religions too. Anyway Hinduism can be said to be the most primeval and, so to say, as the mother of all
"Dharma" sustains the harmony in the cosmos
Dharma means that which links man with God. The Indian name for religion is Dharma. Dharma is described as: Dharanat Dharma ityahuhu, or Dharayati sa Dharmah.
Dharma is that which upholds the creation together, which sustains all the creation-that means which helps to keep up the harmony in creation. That is the Vedic 'Rita'. It lays the codes of discipline, temporal as well as spiritual for man to conduct himself during his life's journey so as to live in tune with and blend himself into the divine harmony of the Cosmos. Without religion, Cosmos will turn into chaos. Religion implies realisation of the Reality, i.e., realisation of God who pervades the entire creation, who inheres in all the beings and who holds all the creations together; it also charts out the pathway towards this supreme realisation.
"Prastanatraya" - The triple texts: the source scriptures for the religious philosophy (Vedanta) of the Hindus
(i) "Upanishads" (the end portion of Vedas- the essence of Vedas): Vedas are, of course, the basic source of Indian religious philosophy. But they are said to be originally countless-Anantavaivedah, though they have been later collated by sage Vyasa into four principal texts, namely, "Rigveda, Samveda, Yajurveda and Adharvaveda." The Upanishads, i.e, the culminating portions of these Vedas (Srutis-divine revelations or revealed scriptures) form the primary scriptural authority for the Indian religious philosophy)
(ii) "Brahma Sutra" (the Vedantic aphorisms, as given out by sage Vyasa): these are a systematic grouping together and enunciation of the essential doctrines of the Upanishads.
(iii) "Bhagavad Gita" (the song celestial): the gospel given by Lord Krishna (God Himself)
Brahma Sutras and Bhagavad Gita come under the category of Smritis. Smritis are secondary scriptures based on Srutis but they are human compositions whereas Srutis are of divine origin. These triple texts form the authority for Indian religious philosophy.
Hinduism is predominantly mono-theistic
While the Indian Philosophy in its higher and ultimate reaches is absolutist, i.e, believes in the ultimate Reality as being impersonal, the popular religion is predominantly theistic, i.e., it believes in a personal God. The impersonal Brahman (Absolute Spirit) manifests itself as "Iswara", a perosnal God, and besides as various Avatars from age to age. The concept of Avatar is explained later under "the principle doctrines of Hinduism". God manifests Himself on earth among humans, in a human form, to guide the erring humanity into the right path and to shower His infinite love and grace. God thus assumes various names. One is free to choose any name and any form for his adoration and worship. All names and forms ultimately belong to the one Supreme Being only. This is spelled out in the Upanishads and re-echoed in the Gita:
"Ekam Satyam, Bahuda Chintayanti"'
"Truth is one, but it is conceived differently"
"Ye yathamaam prapadyante Taamstathaiva bhajamyaham" - "Oh Arjuna! whichever path men may choose,, howsoever they may approach, I do accept them all, as all the paths in their ultimate reaches lead upto me only, who am the Supreme Godhead."
The infinite is conceived in different ways, as per the various and different levels of understanding and capacity of men. The multiplicity of names of deities and forms of worship practised by Hindus are like scaffoldings of different designs to suit the needs of men and women of varying temperaments, aptitudes and stages of psychological development prevailing amongst people. The Hindu seers are conscious of the amazing variety of ways in which we may approach the Supreme and they have provided for diverse ways of worship according, to suit the needs of anyone and as per his choosing and choice.
However, all worship is said to reach the only one and the supreme Godhead - "Sarva Deva namaskaram Kesavam prati gacchati!"
Hari roopo Mahadevaha, Lingaroopo Janardhanaha,
Yo vai Vishnuhu, sa vai Rudrah, sa pitamaha,
Yam Saivah samupasate Siva iti, Brahmeti Vedantinah!
The same applies also to the various Vedic deities like Indra, Varuna, Agni and various aspects, facets and manifestations of the supreme divinity. The different deities and god-concepts are, as it were, so many doorways through which men can enter into the sanctum sanctorum of the One and Final Existence. To a Hindu Worshipper, the "Ishta Devta", his chosen form of deity, is both the Supreme being as well as in whom all the other gods also reside. Thus, Hinduism is essentially monotheistic but with the belief and dictum--"Infinite is God and infinite are his expressions".
Man's imperative need for religious life
God is the mother and father of all the creation. He is the basis of all life. Can a son disclaim his mother? Just as the mother, so also is the religion for man. Actually, God's love for man exceeds that of thousands of mothers. He is the Sustainer, the Provider and the Redeemer. One cannot afford to remain a run-away and a 'prodigal son' for long. He has to get back "home" to his mother and father, i.e., God, sooner or later. God is Truth, God is Reality. A ceaseless quest for God is the purpose of human life. Hinduism accepts the theme of evolution of consciousness. Effort, i.e, "Sadhana" ( moral and spiritual practices ), accelerates this evolution; man is a ceaseless pilgrim on the path of perfection.
Man is of the same essence as that of his Creator. "Tat Twam Asi" (That thou art) - proclaims the scripture. The core of his personality is an "amsa" of God himself. In addition to his body (deha), man has a mind (manas),intellect (buddhi) and a soul (atma) which is the aspect (amsa)
of God himself. The Atma links man with God (Brahman).
Kathopanishad gives the beautiful chariot analogy explaining this.
"The senses (indriyas) are the horses, the objects sought by the senses
are the roads, the body is the chariot, buddhi is the charioteer and
mind is the reins that control the unruly horses. Lord of the chariot
is Atman, and senses are to be regulated by the reins of mind, mind by
the intellect and intellect should be subservient to the Spirit, who is
the lord of the chariot of the human body".
This is what is meant by "yoga", i.e, union of individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness by restraint of senses and mind and treading on the Godward path. This is the main theme of religion.
Religion implies realisation
Religion does not end with man's mere intellectual belief and faith in scriptural teaching; but it demands his intuitive experiencing of the Reality, the nature of which is suggestively pointed out in the scriptures. Religion finds its fulfillment and fructification in realisation of the Truth which is the sole purpose and goal of religion.
For this realisation, Vedic religion advocates all the three paths, viz, "Karma, Bhakti and Jnana." They are complementary to one another. All these paths duly integrated and harmonised are described in the Gita; Meditation on self is simultaneously stressed on for the Realisation. "Atmavare srotavyo, mantavyo, nidhidhyasitavyo Maitreyo"--says Yanjnyavalkya Rishi.
"Sravana" - listening to the scriptural Truth, i.e, any of the Maha Vakyas (from preceptor), "Manana" - reflection on the truth heard and "Nidhidhyasana" - deep contemplation on the Truth, this is the discipline for the realisation of the Truth(self)".
The Vedantic Maha Vakyas are:
1. "Pragnanam Brahma" - "The Supreme Consciousness is Brahman."
2. "Tatwamasi" - "That thou art."
3. "Ayamatma Brahma" - "The self within me is Brahman."
4. "Aham Brahmasmi" - "I am Brahman."
The first two Maha Vakyas are the Proclamations by the Guru, the preceptor, to the disciple by way of instruction (Adesa Vakya); the third Maha Vakya is the premise for contemplation by the disciple and fourth is his (disciples's) exclamation after his experiencing his identity with God-Head (Anubhava Vakya).
Before we take to the quest of Truth, we should have our hearts purified; this is the four fold preparatory discipline called Sadhana Chatushtaya enjoined on all aspirants.
The four fold disciplines are:
(i) "VIVEKA" - " Nityanitya Vastu Viveka Jnana" (discrimination between impermanent and the permanent, the unreal and the Real and non-self and Self).
(ii) "VAIRAGYA" - "Ihamutraphalabhoga Vairaga" (desirelessness for the joys of this world or the joys of the other world, i.e, of Heaven).
(iii) "SHAT SAMPATTI" - (the sixfold treasures). Sama (mind control), Dama (control of senses), Uparati (contentment), Titiksha (forbearance), Sraddha (abiding faith) and Samadhana (steadfastness and equanimity of mind).
(iv) "MUMUKSHATVA" - (yearning for liberation)
A moral, ethical and virtuous life is insisted upon and one should eschew and overcome the six inner enemies in our nature, viz., Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (attachment), Mada (pride) and Matsarya (hatred). Elimination of these is essential otherwise spritual effort will not fructify. In a purified heart only the light of the Spirit can dawn and shine.
Some of the principal doctrines of Hinduism
(i) The law of "Karma" (causation) and theory of rebirth
Creation is governed by an unalterable law - the 'Rita' of the Rig Veda. Nothing is arbitrary. God is not a capricious tyrant. The law of Karma, which is fundamental to Hinduism lays down that we reap the harvest, we have previously sown. The action is the seed, its consequences are the harvest we have to reap. As we sow, so we reap.
A corollary of the above is the law of rebirth. We go through many births before we are able to reach back to our source, i.e, God, and get released from the vicious circle of birth and death. That stage is called "Moksha", the final redemption.
Hinduism lays down how this state is to be reached. The word 'Moksha' itself gives the clue 'Moha -Kshaya' i.e, desirelessness. To be desireless is to be free from the fruits of our actions. The Gita calls it "Nishkama Karma". Action or Karma is essential for the world's progress and human welfare; it forms a major factor for human sustenance. But action with an eye on its reward or fruit binds us more strongly to the wheel of birth and death. Action carried out as duty, in a spirit of submission to God, indeed liberates. The Gita calls it 'Karma phala tyaga'. Such a doer is a free man; he carries out God's will and is not enslaved by any motive or selfish desires.
(ii) Varnasrama Dharmas
Hinduism takes cognisance of the overall welfare of society and all aspects and needs of life. It sets down four purposes for man's life. These are called the four Purusharthas - "Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha". Artha and Kama should subserve Dharma and all should be oriented towards attainment of Moksha. It also sets down the codes of duties pertaining to each stage of life viz. "Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa" (Asramadharmas) and so also to one's station and vocation in life (Varna-dharmas or caste duties). Here caste (Varna) is not to be determined by birth. It is determined by one's guna and karma (quality/qualifications and profession). Gita clearly says Guna Karma Vibhagasah. Guna is one's nature,aptitude and capacity. Karma is the profession which one has chosen 'commensurate with his qualifications and capacities'. All this duties are to be performed, as said above, as Nishkama Karma. 'Na idam mama', and 'Iswararpanam' are to be the attitude in all activities. Then Karma gets transformed into Yoga which redeems and liberates.
(iii) The concept of "Avatar"
One of the wonderful and unique doctrines of Hinduism is the concept of 'Avatar'. This word is derived from the word 'avatarana' which means 'descent'. It is descent of God to earth in human or any other form. Its purpose is to preserve Dharma, the Supreme Law of righteousness in the world. God incarnates again and again, from age to age, whenever Dharma is on the decline.
Man, though divine in origin, is still apt to do evil and contribute to filling the world with misery. 'To err is human' it is said. When men are almost on the threshold of disaster, God incarnates Himself and continues his mission of redemption and revitalisation of righteousness, Dharma. Hinduism usually refers to 10 Avatars. But indians have never been so rigid to believe that these will incarnate in India alone.
The Hindu regards every great prophet, no matter where he may manifest himself, as a God's Messenger, or as God incarnated Himself as man. This shows the great spirit of tolerance which has been the country's tradition, its unique catholicity in matters of religion and its veneration to other faiths. India has always extended generous hospitality to followers of other religion who have sought shelter in the country from time to time. In fact, 'secularism', i.e, respect and positive goodwill for different faiths, is the very basis of Hinduism.
"The paths may be different but the goal is same";
"cows may be of different colours, but they all yield the same milk"
-- such is the attitude of the Hindu to the other faiths.
Hindu social conventions unfortunately ha ve changed with passage of time. In the Vedic period, women were respected and enjoyed equality with men, and religious and spiritual activities were open to all men and women alike. Satyakama, Gargi and Maitreyi are examples of this equality. Some of the social denials and stigmas seen today are all subsequent accreations.
These evils are social ethos and degeneration which crept in later,in the course of history, due to various conditions and reasons, but they never had any religious origin.
Ritualism is an essential feature of any religion. They are, of course, disciplines primarily intended to cleanse the heart adn spiritualise the whole attitude, vision and life of man. The daily life and conduct of people of India even today are to a large extent guided by injuctions of the Vedas. This is particularly true of the ceremonies connected with birth, marriage and death. These are called "Samskaras" or purifactory and solemnising rites. Rituals, a large number of them, are thus meaningful, though sometimes the spirit underlying the ritual is forgotten or missed, there-by making the ritual appear as blind superstition. Hinduism is no exception to this general trend; but it must be kept in mind that rituals and extranuous ceremonials are not essentially the same as religion. All the same, the deeper significance of ritualism should not be lost sight of.
A Hindu is expected to worship even animals, plants, rivers and stones - the real objective being to spiritualise the whole vision and attitude of man. He has to see the all pervading God behind superficial forms. Further he has to step out of limitations of ego and esteblish kinship with all creation; to be able to apprehend the all pervasive spirit of God inhering in himself (man), bird, beast and stone alike. By worshiping a cow, he esteblishes kinship with all animal life; by worshipping a cobra, he esteblishes kinship with all creatures including reptiles; by worshipping an Aswatha tree or a Tulsi plant, he esteblishes kinship with all plant life; by worshipping rivers,mountains and stones, he esteblishes kinship with all the inanimate world. These rituals represent a discipline to cultivate an eye and heart to glimpse the divine behind every part and particle in the creation. Then alone can true love prevail between man and peace can reign on earth. That is the Rama Rajya or the "Kingdom of Heaven on earth" envisaged in the scriptures.
Altruistic and catholic spirit of Hinduism
Brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God is what Sanatana Dharma emphasises. It envisages, therefore, that each individual should help his less fortunate 'brother'. This ideology is represented in the saying "I can never attain perfection in a imperfect society. I must, therefore
work for the welfare of the community too".
Sarvevai sukhinah santu, sarve santu niraamayaah
Sarve bhadrani pasyantu, maakaschit dukhamapnuyat...
"May people of all the lands, everywhere, be happy"
-- Such are the religious prayers of the Hindus.
'Atmano mokshaya, Jagat hitayacha' is the integral ideal of Hinduism.
That is why Hinduism respected and continues to respect all men, whatever their race or community and as such there have never been any conversions to Hinduism which is actually a faith, a way of life. It provides within this framework infinite shades of beliefs, all of which are said to belong to Hinduism. It is synthetic religion that tolerates and respects others and their views. Conversions must come, if at all, by conviction and not by coersion or extra-religious considerations.
Hinduism is a religion that should satisfy every rational individual. To recapitulate, its fundamental principles are:
(i) it believes in an all-powerful, all-wise and omnipresent superhuman and spiritual power.
(ii) it lays down one of the most exhaustive moral, ethical and spiritual codes or laws for the guidance of the conduct of man on this earth.
(iii) it continuously affirms the divine origin of creation.
(iv) it recognises a way of life based on Satya (Truth), Dharma (Right conduct), Shanti (peace), Prema (love) and Ahimsa (non-voilence).
(v) its tolerance is a unique factor. It refuses to inflict any harm on one simply because the latter belongs to a different faith.
(vi) it brings the entire life of a man, his professional, social and religious duties under the guidance of Dharma, which is one of its most important concepts.
(vii) it has never relegated man or creation to a low level. One of the most profound statements in the Upanishads is "everything in creation is sacred, because it is breathed upon by the breath of "brahman".
All are an embodiment of the divine spirit.
- Divyatma Swarupas / Amritasya Putraha.
Om bhur bhuvah swah, tat savitur varenyam
Bhargo devasya dhimahe, dhiyo yonah prachodayat.
"May the Supreme Light illumine our intellect and direct the rays of our intelligence to the path of virtue."
Sarve Janah Sukhinobhavantu-- " May all beings be happy "
Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Mrityoma Amrutamgamaya
Om Santi, Santi, Santhihi!
Oh Lord lead us from untruth to Truth, from darkness into Light and from mortality to immortality.
Peace, peace, peace.
Om Tat Sat