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
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
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
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
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,
(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
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
"The paths may be different but the goal is same";
"cows may be of different colours, but they all yield the same
-- 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
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
(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
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
Asatoma Sadgamaya, Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya, Mrityoma
Om Santi, Santi, Santhihi!
Oh Lord lead us from untruth to Truth, from darkness into
Light and from mortality to immortality.
Peace, peace, peace.