Sanātana means “all-inclusive” and devoid of time; hence, Sanātana is “Anant” (eternal). “Adi” means beginning and “Antam” means an end; “Anant(am)” means that which has no beginning or end. So, a Ḍharma which is inherent in all, irrespective of time or place is Sanātana Ḍharma. Ḍharma originates from the root concept “Ṛta”, which refers to the natural flow or the natural phenomena. Ḍharma has a spectrum of definitions but, in short, it can be classified in two ways – one, it is an innate property of every entity in creation which constitutes a phenomenon; second, it is a path to a choice-of-action (or inaction) towards the cumulative well-being of the surrounding. Sanātana Ḍharma is not a name, nor a title, nor a religion, nor a philosophy. So what is it? We will explore that in detail, not as opinions, but with references from Sanātana Ḍharma literature. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.1-19., Wikipedia. R. 2018)
There are various concepts that constitute Sanātana Ḍharma literature like Iśvara (Iśvara), Brahman, Guru, Mukti, Mokṣa, Karmā, Ḍharma, Puruṣa (Puruṣa), Prakṛti, Yoga, Bhakti, Advita, and more. Broadly, Ḍharma, artha, Kama, and Mokṣa are considered fundamental; however, the quintessential concepts that define Sanātana Ḍharma are Iśvara (not Brahman), Guru, Ḍharma, and Karmā. Karmā becomes a subset of Ḍharma, and Iśvara becomes a subject explored through a Guru. So, that leaves only two concepts, Guru and Ḍharma. A Guru is a guide to help us understand Ḍharma, through Vak (speech) obtained by Śruti and/or Smrti. So, a Guru’s Vak is Satyam, and that Satyam is Iśvara (The Singular awareness is Brahman). Brahman is a word with no definition, it is only a realization. In other words, the Smrti and Śruti are the means by which the Rishis obtained and realized the Vedā, and Vedā is Satyam. That Satyam is the way to explore both Guna (character) and Nirguna (devoid of character) of the Infinite Consciouness (Brahman). Iśvara is not a being, it is a concept, and the entire Vedic literature proclaims the concept of Ḍharma and the concept of Iśvara through which the realization of Brahman can be attained. This is the very reason there is no equivalent word for Ḍharma, Guru, or Isvara in any other language. Never interpret a Guru as a teacher, Isvara as God, and Ḍharma as duty or law. These concepts are like fundamentals towards exploring the essence and the very foundation of the Sanātana Ḍharma literature, and also Hinduism, a segment that emerged in Kaliyuga as a religion. “Hind” was more a geographical region rather than a religion, but in the current era got interpreted as a religion. This region which is identified as “Hind” only had Ḍharma that evolved from the Vedas and other literature – hence people started using the title “Hindu Ḍharma”. The meaning of Ḍharma will keep evolving in this discussion, and it should evolve during our exploration of life. Various great individuals in the past have explored Ḍharma their entire lives under the guidance of Gurus (Maharśi/Rishis), through the examination of Śāstra (Śāstra Parishilana), and by making efforts to implement in one’s life (dharm:anustanam). This attempt in life to explore and understand ḍharma is called Ḍharma Sādhanā. Defining ḍharma gets a little complicated, but let us delve into it. Ḍharma originates from the root concept “Rta”, which refers to the natural flow or the natural phenomena in creation. Ḍharma can be defined as that message which explains an innate property of an entity (phenomenon); it also explains the choice of an appropriate option and a path to that option. Ḍharma, when performed as an action (or inaction), results in a consequence called sat:karmā. This consequence (sat:karmā) not only benefits the doer (kartā) but encompasses the cumulative well-being of the environment (Prakṛti) and becomes a means of reaching a higher consciousness. In other words, dharma is that action that doesn’t disturb the natural flow of creation (Ṛta); rather, it sustains the natural order and harmony within creation. Hence Rishi Jaimini, who established the Mīmāṃsā School of philosophy and was a student of Veda Vyāsa, defined dharma as:
“codaṇā-lakṣaṇaḥ arthaḥ dharmaḥ”
Meaning, that which leads to the cumulative wellbeing of all the surroundings.
This action/inaction (Ḍharma) performed is collective of the position (like ashram or upādhi) held by a being (kartā) in a given situation in time (kālá). This action, together with its consequence (phala), is called karmaphala. It is not advised to override or misuse such a property for the sake of personal desire, which becomes Aḍharma (negation of ḍharma). For example, the ḍharma of fire is combustion, the ḍharma of water is to flow and stick together, the ḍharma of air or wind is to spread; overriding this for personal desire, like stopping the natural flow of water in an ecosystem, or using fire for destructive purposes will cause the ecosystem to go out of balance. In this way, ḍharma is an inherent nature bestowed by Prakṛti (nature/creation). Now, let us ask a question. If Prakṛti bestowed an inherent nature in all elements of creation, then we as human beings are also made up of these five elements (Pancha Bhūta). Then shouldn’t we be inheriting their properties? It is only a human who, due to buddhi (intellect) clouded by desire (rāga/dveṣa) and self-defined identity (Ahaṃkāra), chooses a path that appeals to one’s own satisfaction, and not the cumulative well-being of everything. Because of individual identity and selfish desire, a human creates a false notion that one is independent of creation and the environment. Human beings fail to realize that we are a part of the same Prakṛti and our will (desire) is finite within the will of Prakṛti; it is our consciousness that is actually boundless, not our physicality or desire. So, an action in line with ḍharma of the being in a given situation leads to sat:karmā, else leads to dush:karmā. So, the closest English equivalent phrase for Ḍharma is “a natural or universal law resulting in sat:karmā”. However, there are flaws in calling it a law. Why? Because a law (self-made or natural) can be evaded and the offence hidden from the eyes of the enforcer of the law, but Ḍharma is such a law that is free to be chosen depending upon the will of man. However, what can’t be evaded or fled from is its consequence – which is karmā. (Complete discussion on Ḍharma can be found on this portal’s topics). This is why Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 of Sankhya Yoga, Sloka 47, that the choice of a being is only in the action to be performed (ḍharma or a:ḍharma due to convenience or desire or Satva Guṇa) and never in its results.
कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d.)
So, ḍharma is not a constant like a rule or a commandment, it changes depending on the situation, time, upādhi (a type of being, like an animal or human or mountain), person’s ashram, and more. Then what in this creation doesn’t change? Let us put it this way – if ḍharma is like a wheel that spins (changes), then based on what does this wheel spin off? The answer is an axle. An axle is what keeps or holds the wheel, allowing it to turn. In this creation, for Ḍharma to change, the axle that holds this Ḍharma as the unchangeable entity is Sanātana Ḍharma; meaning, for all the Ḍharma which changes, the one ḍharma that is always a constant is Sanātana Ḍharma – as the one Eternal Ḍharma. So, what is this one eternal Ḍharma that is never subject to change? This eternal unchangeable subject is Satyam or truth. This eternal ḍharma that is applicable to us all, irrespective of time and situation, is to realize the truth; and this property of aspiring to understand the truth is built into us all. This property is called Sanātana Ḍharma. But why realize or seek the truth? The answer is liberation or MUKTI. This realization could come via many approaches, but the aspiration is the same – which is Mukti. Why? This we will see next by exploring Sanātana Ḍharma on a fundamental level (also kindly explore the definition and significance of the concepts of Guru and Ḍharma on this portal by clicking their respective titles).
There is a lot of ancient literary content, especially Sanskrit literature, related to the Sanātana Ḍharma. The earliest scriptures are the Vedās. From the Vedās, other literature evolved, like the Upanishads; and from various manifestations of Iśvara (Iśvara) evolved the Puráńa. So literature is evolving (also in many other languages), which is the reason why Ṣanatana Ḍharma is not equal to Hinduism – a title that emerged only later in the recent course of Kaliyuga as a religion. Therefore, the debate should never be Ṣanatana Ḍharma vs Hinduism, as Hinduism is a subset, and more or less getting identified as a religion, whereas Ṣanatana Ḍharma is not a religion – this we will soon explore.
No matter which Sanātana Ḍharma literature (including Puráńa and Itihasa) one tries to research – like Srimad Bhagavatam, Śrī Mahā Bharatam, Śrī Ramayanam or Śiva Mahā Puráńa – all revolve around one word, and one word only, which is DHARMA; and all this literature was given to us by Gurus (Rishis). Therefore, Sanātana Ḍharma is not a religion, it is not a cult, it is not a theory, it is not even a philosophy, but before we jump to any conclusions, kindly continue reading. Sanātana Ḍharma literature is more an encyclopedia narrating the construct of this reality, its constraints and the lifestyle or existence of entities in kālá(m) (time or era) in order to realize Truth (Satyam). It explains the nature of this reality and the supreme consciousness. However, it doesn’t dictate or command, the only enforcers are the constraints of reality itself. The content is only to help in realizing that a human being, with its physical body, is only a temporary state of existence, and is here to use this physical form (allowed by this reality or Prakriti) to learn, implement and grow in consciousness, leading to Brahmanandam (Brahmā:nandam). It explains how we are not a separate entity but a part of the whole, a part of the same energy (Prakriti) and consciousness (Puruṣa), yet we have an experience that gives us the illusion of being independent. This has been elegantly quoted by renowned Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev as:
“though we are just a part of this whole thing, life gives you an individual experience. Though we are really nothing, a speck of dust in creation, still we can sit here and feel like an individual. This is the magnanimity of creation”
(Sadhguru, WCKIF. 2018)
This approach to realizing oneself as one with everything (Brahman) is nothing but Yoga, which is the effort towards uniting or realizing the One or the Singularity. This is the reason why there is no conversion into Sanātana Ḍharma and neither does it preach, propagate or publicize its message. Hence, one should never try to advertise, popularize, or preach it; one should only walk the path and be an example for others. A person eager to learn, or with an urge to understand devotion, or a desire to seek Iśvara (the concept), will automatically make efforts to explore Śāstra (Śāstra), and more importantly, implement it to evolve oneself into a lifestyle, but only by choice.
Now, let us approach this from a different angle. Why is Sanātana Ḍharma not a religion or a philosophy? This is because Sanātana Ḍharma doesn’t dictate rules, command duties, or outline principles specifically towards a superhuman entity; nor does it lay down a regimen or course in an academic fashion towards reaching a specific philosophical destination. Though many consider the destination of Sanātana Ḍharma literature to be Mukti, Mokṣa, Jīva:brahmaikya:siddhi or peace, these are not destinations – they are directions in which a being progresses. Yet the so-called destination is already within each being. The only thing left is REALIZATION, which is hindered by various layers of illusions, like survival, desire, identity, greed, physicality, goals, role models, fame, achievement, lethargy, doubt, uncertainty, materialism, and more. Hence, Sanātana Ḍharma literature is neither textbook (scripture)-oriented nor destination/result-oriented; rather, it is liberation-oriented and this is the reason why all Yoga is in its practice (application). As explained by Śrī Adi Śankaracharya’s renowned composition of Advita Siddhānta titled Vivekachudamani (Crest-Jewel of Discrimination):
“Erudition, well-articulated speech, a wealth of words, and skill in expounding the scriptures—these things give pleasure to the learned, but they do not bring liberation”. “Neither by the practice of Yoga or of Sankhya philosophy, not by good works, nor by learning, does liberation come; but only through a realization that Atman and Brahman are one –in no other way”. “Certain knowledge of reality (Brahman) is gained only through meditation upon right teachings, not by sacred ablutions, or alms-giving, or by the practice of hundreds of breathing exercises”
(Swami Prabhavananda. Isherwood, Christopher. 1947)
So, Sanātana Ḍharma is not based on specific scripture, nor is it book-based, nor based on an academic course. It is not based on the destiny of hell vs heaven, nor on charity work. It is not based on rituals or the physical/breathing exercises in Yoga. It is not philosophy-oriented, since there is no philosophical destination. Then what is it based on? It is realization-based. Realization doesn’t mean to achieve something; it means removing the cloud of illusion that covers our true nature, which is consciousness. This cloud of illusion is called A:vidya, which is a result of māyā. This a:vidya is described in Yoga Sutra as one of many vṛttis (false realities). This cloud of illusion can be explored in the article Antahkarana/Chitta. Yoga comes from the root word “Yuj”, meaning to merge or join, and the word Yoga is not limited to physical exercises for the body or just breathing techniques. Yoga Sutra (of Maharśi Patanjali) is a comprehensive and holistic path divided into eight limbs (called Astanga:yoga), which allows one to free oneself of various limitations and influences so that one’s own body and mind are not an obstacle to one’s liberation. Hence, Yoga is a means and a path – and not academia – towards realization. Liberation is an automatic consequence of realization and not the other way around. Hence, liberation is not an achievement, it is an inherent state that is realized in the process of Yoga. (I.K.Taimni. 1975)
Rather than just assertions of Sanātana Ḍharma being “not destiny or purpose-oriented”, let us examine this. As said earlier, Sanātana Ḍharma doesn’t lay out a specific set of principles towards reaching a destination (let us say that destination is God/Iśvara or heaven). Please note, principles exist when someone defines something to be either good vs bad or right vs wrong or good vs evil, allowing a person to make a moral choice. Hence, principles exist for the sake of morality (kindly explore the section on Pápa & Puńya on this portal to better interpret the notion of good vs bad). So, does this mean there is no evil and no morality in Sanātana Ḍharma? Does this mean there is no good vs bad? Let us analyze this very carefully, the need for a person to seek principles exists only when there is a certain level of confusion towards reaching a goal, like safety and survival, but if such confusion doesn’t exist then do we need principles (or a philosophy)? An animal doesn’t have the self-identity which allows it to raise a question about it’s own existence and creation, hence it doesn’t seek philosophy, it lives on instincts. However, a human being claims self-identity, so seeks more than just survival. But if this confusion is gone, then what is needed is time – to realize our true inherent nature, the Ātman. A set of principles (might constitute a philosophy) exists so that one can justify a set of actions, but those justifications don’t necessarily define a path or a lifestyle to higher consciousness. They provide a safe haven within a social structure – for us to exist in safety and to seek and walk the path to higher consciousness. Again, higher consciousness or peace or liberation are not external entities that one has to achieve, they are the inherent nature of Ātman that one has to realize. Hence, it is all about seeking, exploring, and realizing, without a time limit, nor with any rush or fear of God or Hell. Sanātana Ḍharma says that we are one single consciousness or awareness (which is referred to as Brahmam or Brahman) so the time in hand is only to realize and not reach a finish line. Sanātana Ḍharma is to be a witness and not to pass an examination. This is the reason why enlightened beings continued to stay in their physical form even after realizations, they didn’t seek death or heaven. They realized that they are everything, and the body will merge with Prakṛti in time. These realized beings existed as a witness to both truth and māyā (illusions) of individuality, identity, and ignorance around them. For them the body was not a limitation, it was just a manifestation of Prakṛti. The Patanjali Yoga Sutra, translated by I.K Taimni, says:
“The practical student of Yoga need not worry himself over these academic questions of Philosophy. Yoga is a practical science and every practical science has generally a theoretical basis which may or may not in reality correspond exactly with the facts which form the real basis of science.”
Let us make it very clear that, unlike philosophy or religion, Sanātana Ḍharma says, “all paths lead to Iśvara (Iśvara)”. Now, is Iśvara a superhuman entity or is He/She a God? Iśvara is a concept – but to understand how, we need to explore and study Sanātana Ḍharma literature itself; but for now, we can get a glimpse of it on this portal by clicking this link (Iśvara). Now, if all paths lead to Iśvara then there is no path to choose from. So how can a concept (Iśvara) be a destination? And since all paths lead to this concept how can it be a philosophical destination? Meaning, no matter what, it is the same thing. So, if the question arises, what is a faster path or a better path to Iśvara, then yes, for that we have Śāstra and various Siddhānta. So, why do all paths lead to Iśvara? In Sanātana Ḍharma, it is not just bhakti (devotion) that leads to Iśvara. Even action, curiosity, and enmity with Iśvara will lead to Iśvara. Why? This can be seen in the article Navavidha Bhakti. Even if a being is unable to reach Iśvara, at the end of a yuga or end of creation, Iśvara – in the form of Laya – reaches those who couldn’t reach Him. This can be explored in the article Time & Laya. Now comes the aspect of heaven. In Sanātana Ḍharma the equivalent word for heaven is Swarga:loka. So what is a loka? Lo:ka means “that which is seen”. Meaning it exists because we see it or acknowledge its existence. If we don’t acknowledge it, then it doesn’t cause any hindrance in our exploration of the evolution of consciousness. Loka, though generally referenced as a celestial world in an expanding universe, can sometimes be perceived as a separate dimension, wherein Kaal(am) (time) as perceived on Earth would be different compared to another loka. The Puráńa state the existence of fourteen lokas, out of which seven are considered as higher lokas called Vyahrtis (bhu, bhuvas, svar or swarga, mahas, janas, tapas, and the highest of all lokas, Satya:loka(m)), and seven lower lokas known as Patalas (atala, vitala, sutala, rasaataala, talatala, mahaatala, patala). Below these is naraka. So, Swarga:loka is another loka like Bhu:loka, which is a temporary abode or a temporary passage for a Jīva. Now, the question is, how is Sanātana Ḍharma a religion when Swarga:loka is not even the highest among lokas and, so, how can it be a destination? (Śrī Garikapati. 2016)
This message can be seen in Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2 of Sankhya Yoga, Sloka 42 & 43, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:
कामात्मानः स्वर्गपरा जन्मकर्मफलप्रदाम्।
क्रियाविशेषबहुलां भोगैश्वर्यगतिं प्रति।।
यामिमां पुष्पितां वाचं प्रवदन्त्यविपश्िचतः।
वेदवादरताः पार्थ नान्यदस्तीति वादिनः।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d.)
Meaning, those dwelling only in Karmā (rituals) defined in the Vedas towards attaining desired objects (like pleasure or power), seeking heavens (Swarga:Loka स्वर्ग) as their highest goal (or destiny), are people who limit themselves and convince others with delicate flowery words; but they have no insight of the Ātman or the self and its potential.
Another sloka from Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 9 of Rajavidya Rajaguhya Yoga, Sloka 21, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:
ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्गलोकं विशालं क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्यलोकं विशन्ति।
एव त्रयीधर्ममनुप्रपन्ना गतागतं कामकामा लभन्ते।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d.)
Meaning, after a certain time in heaven (Swarga:loka) the Jīva depletes its karmāphala and falls back into other mortal lokas and so the cycle of karmā (actions defined as per the Vedā) and janma (taking birth) continues as long as the life of desire (kama) continues.
Is the statement “way of life” an accurate description?
Take a majestic mountain, for example, that has trees, herbs, animals, birdlife, water streams, minerals, snow on the top, the clouds touching its peak, packed with flora and fauna. Say we stand at its foot and see a rock tumbling down from the mountain. Do we look at the rock and conclude the mountain is a big rock or a bunch of rocks; is that the limit of our highly evolved mind and thought? The culture of Sanātana Ḍharma fostered various paths towards truth and various approaches for upliftment. Just because it gave birth to many profound personalities and their teachings, which eventually got tagged with the suffix “ism” – that made Buddha into Buddhism and Hind into Hinduism, and more – does that mean the culture and literature of Sanātana Ḍharma is also a religion?
Can the tree with various branches be evaluated on the basis of one branch? How can a culture that gave forth the path of bhakti, alongside the path of inquisition, alongside a path of materialism, alongside a path of Nastika (not atheist), within a path of duality and non-duality, be a religion?
A path of action and its result, alongside a path of action in actionlessness; a path of surrendering, alongside a path of wholeness in oneself; a path of content in desire entwined into law, alongside the path of renunciation; is this in any shape “a religion”?
How can a culture that defines divinity and, at the same time, rejects all authority, be a religion?
How can a culture wherein the devotee can command the divine, be a religion?
How can a culture that fostered so many regimens and Siddhānta and yet is not dogmatic, be a religion?
How can a culture that takes a lump of clay, implants divinity into it, and later submerges it as just clay after a certain practice, be called a God-centric system or a belief system?
As Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva said, referring to the concept of deities and yantras:
“This culture is a Godless culture”
“The people from outside didn’t understand the technology of God making. Making up God doesn’t mean imagining something. That is how it happened in a variety of other cultures. But in this culture we evolved the technology of God making “
“When you pretend what I do not know as I know, that’s belief. But you cant believe something all by yourself, so you need hundred people around you, that is why believers are in groups, seekers are alone.”
“You don’t have to teach seeking, you have to teach belief systems”
(Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. 2018, 2019)
In the profound composition of Yoga by Maharśi Vaśiṣṭha, he says to Śrī Rama:
“What is called as fate or divine will is nothing other than the action or self effort of the past. The present is infinitely more potent than the past. They indeed are fools who are satisfied with the fruits of their past effort (which they regard as divine will) and do not engage themselves in self effort now”
“It is, however, ignorance to attribute all this to an outside agency and to say that ‘God sends me to heaven or to hell’ or that ‘an outside agency makes me do this or that’, — such an ignorant person should be shunned”
(Swami Venkatesananda. 1993)
As Dr. David Frawley said:
“The beauty of Hindu Ḍharma is that it is not a man-made historical religion, dependent upon a church, savior or prophet, or preaching any belief or dogma; Hindu Ḍharma rises from the Earth and nature, from our Inner Being and allows us to embrace the entire universe within us.”
(Dr. David Frawley. 2018)
So, how can literature not dependent on a God, or a savior, or an institution, or an establishment, or an entity (not limited to a specific time and place) or personality, be in any shape considered a religion?
As Alan Watt, a British-American philosopher wonderfully explained:
“The so called Hinduism is not merely what we call a religion; it is a whole culture. It’s a legal system, it’s a social system, it’s a system of etiquette, and it includes everything. It includes housing, it includes food, it includes art, because the Hindus and other ancient peoples do not make as we do a division between religion and everything else. Religion is not a department of life, it is something that enters into the whole of it. As you see, when a religion and a culture are inseparable, it’s very difficult to export a culture”
(Alan Watt. 2015)
Let us take a round-shaped cup to a lake and immerse it to collect its water; now, what is the shape of the water in the cup? It is round. Does that mean the water in the lake is also round? If we get some templates and borrowed vocabulary from other societies, and rummage through the Sanātana Ḍharma literature, we are bound to find a Siddhānta (regimen) that fits into one of those templates. Does that confine Sanātana Ḍharma to that specific template? This is a culture which proclaims a Guru to be higher than the divine. This culture may try to describe the divine, but the divinity of a mother is indefinite. A culture that eloquently describes the aspects of divinity, but when it comes to drawing a similarity, it equates it to a mother, a father, a Guru and one’s true self. How can such a culture be deemed a Religion?
A culture wherein enmity with the divine is also a path to the divine. A path of servitude, a path of inquisition, a path of service, a path of enmity, a path of joy, a path of rejection, a path of rebellion, a path to the self – all can lead to the same divinity. Can such a culture be fitted into the confines of a religion?
Every being has the liberty to choose a path. It could be the path of devotion infused with glorious tales of divinity and joy; or a path like Gautama’s, to stumble upon by curiosity; or a path like Rama’s, with utmost servitude to one’s law (Ḍharma, not really law) put forth by one’s Guru; or like Shishupala’s who, with hatred, cursed the Divine; or like Pundariksha, to not trust the Divine but just mimic it; or like the Gopika who, partly due to lust (kama), sought the Divine; or like Pārtha, who chose the path of friendship with the Divine; or like Maharśi Kardhama, who brought the very Divine to tears; and some sages who made the Divine bow down to them and yet reach them. Can such a culture, in any sensible shape or form, be limited to a borrowed vocabulary that is not it’s own and be construed with terminologies like religion or God or heaven or soul or any other delusion?
True liberty and freedom are in seeking and that seeking is not a job, nor duty, nor fear, nor competition, nor an excuse, nor authority, nor an escape to some utopia. It is a quest to pure seeking, towards unblemished and limitless and infinite truth. A seeking which is not just to taste the ocean but to dive in with open arms – like a salt ball that dives into the ocean to understand its vastness but, in its exploration, become’s one with the ocean itself. True seeking is not reading a few books and developing a tunnel vision towards self desired destiny. Seeking is free from destiny. Just like sailors, who use the stars for navigation and sail towards them – they never reach the stars, but they do reach the destination. It is this seeking that is the Ḍharma (not law) which is an inherent and inbuilt PROPERTY/NATURE within each being. Whether it is a human or an animal or a mountain or a river, it has that one Sanātana (all-inclusive) property (Ḍharma) to seek the truth, which is the Sanātana Ḍharma. So it is not just “a way of life”, it is “the way that life is”.
If neither superhuman entities nor heaven are the destination, what possible reason is left for a devotee to worship the manifestations of Iśvara? Does it mean one has to be an atheist? Śāstra says “A naastik (atheist) is not a person who doesn’t believe in God/Iśvara, its one who doesn’t believe in Śāstra”. What does that mean? Śāstra says that no person (other than a few anomalies) is born with a complete understanding of this creation and/or Iśvara. Hence, if one behaves as if he/she knows/understands all and has blind faith in something, the faith is baseless – unless that basis is fear. Now, if all paths lead to Iśvara, and no one is born with complete understanding of Iśvara or creation then where are principles, and where are superhuman entities, and what is the need to choose a path to even begin with? This is why Sanātana Ḍharma is not a religion or a philosophy. Let us address a common confusion of the current generation, which is one’s identity as a Hindu. The question is, am I a Hindu? Or what identity should one claim towards Sanātana Ḍharma, should one call oneself religious, or devotional, or spiritual? If Sanātana Ḍharma is not a religion and has no principles, how can one identify oneself as anything? If one says “I am a Hindu”, the question arises, what principles does one have to follow to be a Hindu. If one says “I am devotional”, with no Superficial Beings, the question is, devotional to what? The ancient beings who lived the life of Sanātana Ḍharma sought divinity in everything, in trees, mountains, land, rocks, animals, the sea, the sun, the moon, the planets, fellow humans, and pretty much everything. Hence, devotion was a path and not an identity. So how does one identify oneself? For this, the Rishis said “Ahaṃ Brahmasmi“, meaning “I am the truth, the ultimate, the very creation and expanding universe itself”. Because one is not a separate being, one is the very universe and the very Ātman that is the extension of Pāramatma. This is the only identity that one has to seek and strive for. Now, if one does have to measure one’s life and one’s path in existence, then should one say “I am good/bad”; should one say “I am spiritual/devotional/religious”? The only measure for oneself is simple – ARE MY ACTIONS ḌHARMA OR AḌHARMA? In other words, one can say, “am I walking the path of Ḍharma” or “am I in the wheel of Ḍharma or not”. But, if one is yet to understand ḍharma, the true measure is a question with self-honesty, which is, “am I an explorer and ready to understand ḍharma, or is my mind filled with prejudice with a liking towards opinionated content”. The question “am I walking the path of Ḍharma” was the only measure that Śrī Rama had in the story (Itihasa) of Śrī Ramayana. What made Śrī Rama the pinnacle of humanity was not that He had a bluish hue, or He was handsome, or He was strong. What made Him rise up to divinity was His determination towards one thing, and that was to choose Ḍharma and nothing else. So the question should never be, am I a Hindu, or am I devotional, or am I religious; the question to oneself should always be, are my actions in line with Ḍharma. This is the reason why Sanātana Ḍharma is not a religion. On the other hand, Hinduism – though not portraying itself as a religion – is widely inflating itself into customs, rituals, beliefs, deity worship of superhuman entities, and more. But Hinduism is a subset that emerged out of Sanātana Ḍharma. The world today recognizes the section of humans who worship a specific set of entities, especially superhuman entities, as a religion, hence that aspect of deity worship is very much prevalent in the modern customs and beliefs in the temples that originated in Sanātana Ḍharma. But worship and bhakti is just one aspect of Sanātana Ḍharma and not the whole, also bhakti has a much wider meaning than just ritualistic worship. Now, does this mean there is no God? Sanātana Ḍharma says the final destination towards the evolution of consciousness is to reach a point where one realizes that one is Iśvara and that Ātman is an extension of Pāramatma and that the destiny of Jīva(the life force) is Jīva:brahma:ikya:siddhi. Ritualistic worship should be a ladder to foster gratitude and selflessness so that one can realize the path to higher consciousness and towards Jīva:brahma:ikya:siddhi and not heaven. Then what about Rama, Kṛṣṇa, Śrī Śankara, and others? They are anomalies, manifested among us with consciousness higher than the masses, a consciousness of the Supreme. These anomalies set a target for humanity, they became living examples so that one who wishes to can understand ḍharma. They simplified things, as and when confusion and deception prevailed. They made themselves living examples of the Vedā and Ḍharma for us to look up to. They are a ripple to counter disturbances arising out of ignorance and ego. In short, they shine as a beacon of hope for those who fall short of confidence. This is the message explained in Srimad Bhagavād Gita, chapter 3 of Karmā Yoga sloka 21, wherein Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d.)
Does this mean Śiva, Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu, and Brahmā are not real? They are real, but they are concepts of a Singular Consciousness that operates in their different modes of creation, as a Creator, as a Preserver, and as the one which performs Dissolution. And they manifest into the physicality, meaning Prakṛti – as and when required – to uplift Ḍharma. Please click to explore the concept of Iśvara and Prakṛti & Puruṣa.
What is Śāstra and what is the difference between Science and Śāstra?
Before we go ahead, let us understand what Śāstra (Śāstra) is. Is Śāstra religious literature, stories, rules, proclamations? No, Śāstra are a factual compilation of natural phenomena, constraints, and their effects, compartmentalized into various fields of study. They are not really rules, because they are not enforced by anyone. It is like Science, which is a study compartmentalized into various fields, and are facts not enforced by anyone, except by nature itself. Since the origin of such compilation is Sanātana Ḍharma and since the descendants of this literature are widely inherent in Hinduism, it is thought of as religious literature. Let us take an example. Ganitha:Śāstra is the study and compilation of numeric calculations and the movement of heavenly bodies, mainly used to compose calendars and plan for future and past celestial events. One doesn’t have to believe in a superhuman entity to accept numeric calculations. The same goes for Vāstu:Śāstra – the study of physical structures, and the alignment of the flow of solar and other natural energies. Bhautika:Śāstra is physics, Rasayana:Śāstra is the compilation explaining chemical reactions, Jīva:Śāstra is the study of all living beings and their anatomy, physiology, morphology, etc., Yoga:Śāstra is a compilation defining the well-being of human energy in line with nature, Samudrika:Śāstra is the compilation about the oceanic flow and entities, Muhurta:Śāstra is the study of timing in alignment with other heavenly bodies, Jyotish:Śāstra is the study of predictions and possibilities. There are many such compilations of Śāstra in Sanātana Ḍharma, given to us by Rishis, but one doesn’t have to believe in a superhuman entity to accept or explore the study of the progression of the moon, the sun, or good health. So, does it mean Śāstra is Science? No, the difference between Science and Śāstra is that Science is a study conducted by human beings using buddhi (intelligence) which is still in progress and still young. Science mainly involves determining or analyzing the phenomena of the physical world using accumulated information, and the metrics used for measurements are sensory in nature, meaning those which can be justifiable by the indriya (sense organs) of a man. So Science mostly relies on the physicality, meaning the physical aspect, of creation (although this notion is slowly changing). Śāstra, on the other hand, is not just obtained through indriya but through gyanendriya and chitta by Rishis through their dhyāna, tapasya, and yoga of bhakti, karmā, and jñana. The metrics of science have their limitation, and since the study is still young and in progression, it cannot be deemed that Science and Śāstra are the same. Anything in Śāstra that is yet to be rationalized by metrics of the present Science is usually deemed as either philosophical or mystical, hence Śāstra is tightly associated with religion or superhuman entities. But please note, most of the content in Śāstra is derived from the Vedās and has been compartmentalized by various Rishis towards the well-being of a human during the course of one’s existence. One might agree with the significance of body hygiene – say for example dental hygiene, which is explained by Śāstra, with regard to oral health – but to classify everything else that one is yet to comprehend, as either false or abstract is nothing but ignorance. There is a difference between accepting one’s lack of knowledge in the exploration and the study, verses proclaiming it as false or superstition. This is the reason why Śāstra defines a naastik as the one who doesn’t believe in the exploration and the study of Śāstra, and not in the belief of Iśvara. Hence, the sloka from Srimad Bhagavat Gita, part of Śrī Mahā:bharatham, composed by Maharśi Kṛishna Dvaipāyana (prominently addressed by the title Vedā Vyāsa), chapter 16, sloka 24:
“तस्माच्छास्त्रं प्रमाणं ते कार्याकार्यव्यवस्थितौ।”
“Tasmaac Shastram pramaananche Karya karyou vavasthitav”
(Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
What this means is, one should perform kriya (action) because Śāstra says so, and not because one likes the kriya (action) or likes its outcome. Desire should not be the basis for a kriya (action) or its associated karmā, and so when Śāstra is taken as the basis, then the Karmā that is associated with it gets nullified. This is the reason why a gyani is not associated with an ashram and hence the Dharma of that ashram is not applicable to the gyani. Subsequently, the karmā associated with that Ḍharma gets neutralized.
Now, if all paths lead to Iśvara (Iśvara) then what is the need for an example or for hope? Kindly read the concept of Laya by clicking this title. Sanātana Ḍharma says that Iśvara reaches out to those who cannot reach Him, like a ball of moist clay that falls on beads, making them stick to it. Now, this statement sounds as if Iśvara is a person. Sage Ramana Maharshi, when asked what Iśvara was and how one could see Him, said Iśvara is the concept, and since it is a concept it needs to be explored, and that path of exploration leads one towards an evolved consciousness, gratitude, and peace. Apart from all this, we said there are no duties or rules because if you have rules, that means there is a classification of good vs bad, but Sanātana Ḍharma doesn’t have the concept of good vs bad, right vs wrong, good vs evil. It only has one thing, which is Ḍharma; and the absence of Ḍharma is Aḍharma. The choice to understand Ḍharma, the freedom to either choose it or not to choose it, and the reason for choosing one option over another is for the free will of a being because all paths lead to Iśvara, no matter what. The topics Devotion and Nava:vidha Bhakti will help us understand that there are countless paths to Iśvara, but if a person asks a question regarding one particular path, then since Sanātana Ḍharma explains the construct of this reality and its constraints, it should automatically have an answer to that question. To answer such questions, we have Śāstra, and that Śāstra explains Ḍharma and that Ḍharma is a constraint of this reality – whether we like it or not. So Ḍharma is not a choice, it applies irrespective of our choice. It is like this creation, this reality and this existence that is not our choice, but it is here and we are here. This is the reason why Ḍharma is not a duty or a responsibility that one can choose or resign oneself from. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.1-19)
Preserving the sanctity of Ṣanatana Ḍharma
Then the obvious question, how can one replenish the sanctity of Sanātana Ḍharma in this era of Kali:yuga? It is neither one person’s duty nor responsibility to do that. Śāstra says that the entire wealth of information presented in Vedic literature is for us to evolve in consciousness, not for us to be a spokesperson for Sanātana Ḍharma. It is our ḍharma (not duty) to perform the karmā associated with our ashram(am). It is a person’s ḍharma that he/she must perform Nitya Karmā (Karmā that is to be performed daily). It is our ḍharma (not a duty, nor obligation) to share this with our children and siblings. In this process comes a time when we ourselves rise up in consciousness, without self-measure, and it is at this stage that Iśvara sends to us those who seek knowledge and jñana. One should get ripened in Śāstra and devotion before trying to feed others. One should grow like a big tree, wide with branches, filled with leaves, but still in one place, composed in confidence from devotion; and those who seek shelter will automatically seek the shade of such a tree. A tree never attempts to publicize its shade. Like ants automatically seek and crowd around a drop of sugar syrup that falls on the ground, so will a Jignyasu/Jijñāsu (a person eager to understand and learn about Iśvara) seek that person who has ripened in devotion. The Puráńas depict various attempts by asuras and rakshasas to overthrow ḍharma. It is Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu who will come, if necessary, to preserve ḍharma and protect His devotees. Iśvara will manifest into anomalies like Vedā Vyāsa and Śrī Śankaracharya to revitalize Śāstra and ḍharma. Our ḍharma is to perform our respective Karmā and seek devotion. It is for Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu (Vishnu) in His Yoga Nidra to consider those who desire comprehension of Iśvara and help them reach a Guru. In a few other pages, we have discussed that Pravachanam is not a profession or a publication; it is when people eager to understand Śāstra or Guru Siddhānta urge a devoted scholar to share and explain the events in Śāstra, the Puráńa and the life stories of Gurus. We ourselves should become Kanaka (gold), shine like gold by becoming the very dhara so that others can glow in our luminescence. A sloka from Srimad Bhagavat Gita, part of Śrī Mahā:bharath(am), composed by Maharśi Vedā Vyāsa, in chapter 3 of Karmā Yoga, sloka 26, Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:
“न बुद्धिभेदं जनयेदज्ञानां कर्मसङ्गिनाम्।
जोषयेत्सर्वकर्माणि विद्वान् युक्तः समाचरन्”
“Na – buddhi bhedam janayed ajnanam karmā sanginam
Josayat sarva karmani vidvan yuktah samacaran.”
(Gita Supersite. n.d., All Glory to Śrī Śrī Guru and Gauranga. 2005)
Meaning, those who are deluded or are ignorant of their true existence as the Ātman, are under the impression of the material and the physical (Prakṛti). They are bound by the expressions and the dictations of their Guṇa (rajas, tamas, sattva) and the actions of the information interpreted by the mind and the body. The one who has accumulated some knowledge and understands one’s true self (the Ātman) shouldn’t cause agitation and disturbance in other’s lives. With our knowledge, we should try and implement it’s teaching in our lives and walk the path of devotion and not try to correct or enforce our views/will on to others; rather, we should encourage others to perform their ḍharma.
Once a great scholar read all the literature and felt content that he knew everything. He then reached out and asked Devi Saraswati if there was anything more. Upon which, She opened the doors of Her library, endless in literature gratifying Iśvara. What this means is that, no matter how much we read or listen, we cannot consume the Ocean of Knowledge and the accounts and events that have happened, or are yet to happen, in the creation and dissolution process of Iśvara.
Then the obvious question, how and when can we learn enough to reach Ishwar(a) (Ishvar)? It is important we understand that researching and exploring Śāstra is not a competition to finish, nor is it a syllabus or a course which, at its end, will have a confirmed result. Our journey towards Iśvara and devotion is like a huge salt ball that dives into the ocean to seek its depth and the vastness, but in its course of exploring the ocean’s depth, it dissolves and becomes the ocean itself. Similarly, exploring Iśvara, implementing Śāstra in our lives, will one day lead to Iśvara assimilating us with Himself, because it is He who must help us overcome our setbacks and uplift us. It was Iśvara (Narayana/Śrī Mahā Viṣṇu) who helped Indra to get the ambrosia while performing Kshira:sagara Manthan(am). At the same time, it was Iśvara (Śiva) who consumed the Halahala when it threatened them. (Srichaganti. K.D.S, n.d., p.16)
In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, chapter 2 or Sankhya Yoga, Sloka 46, Gitacharya (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) says:
यावानर्थ उदपाने सर्वतः संप्लुतोदके।
तावान्सर्वेषु वेदेषु ब्राह्मणस्य विजानतः।।
(Gita Supersite. n.d.)
Meaning, the one (Brahmin) who has realized one’s true self and the truth, for them the entire knowledge of the Vedā is like a small well (pool of water) when there is floodwater everywhere.
This explains why there is no equivalent word for ḍharma in other philosophies – because it is a concept that is explained in Sanātana Ḍharma only, around which all human actions are entwined. Hence the sloka from Taittiriya Upanishad:
“सत्यं वद धर्मं चर”
“Sathyam Vade, Ḍharmam chara”
(Sanskrit Documents. T.U. 2014)
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