Every philosophy anchors itself on some fundamental faith or accepted truths. In the case of Sanatana Dharma also there are some fundamental accepted truths that have withstood test and tribulation of times. Below are few of these for our reference:
- There is a supreme reality(Purusha), a unity behind diversity, and a changeless truth behind the ever changing world
- This supreme reality manifests and unmanifests from and unto himself (Purusha)
- Purusha repeatedly assumes forms to correct the erring humanity
- Man is something greater than the gross body mind or intellect
- Soul is essentially divine pure and immortal
- Law of Karma with work with precision in the changing world
- Shrutis and the smirtis contain the eternal truths
Each of these statements or beliefs over which Sanatana Dharma – the way of life is defined, is worthy of individual contemplation. Each of these when thought through from the perspective of running our daily lives by themselves would yield higher quality action and individual value system. Together they present thus a formidable base for the way of life that is designed to lead man to realise his inner potential which in fact is far greater than what is visible and available externally!
No – This is not the final word on Dharma. I wish it was that easy to define and explain it, especially in English. ‘Dharma’ is one of the many words of ancient Indian Literature in Sanskrit whose meaning is elusive and difficult to define. Whenever anyone attempts to define ‘Dharma’, they often fail to go beyond a limit. To believe they have been able to understand it fully – they describe a finite meaning to this term. But the difficult part of the job is not simply understanding it – which actually comes much later.
Our learned and wise fore-fathers allowed themselves to be seers of revealed knowledge. God or Consciousness is said to have revealed the truth about life and living to these wise masters (or should i call them able students). They discovered the truths for themselves and passed it on to their progeny. They also created enough suggestive practices for the interested student to realize and discover these truths for themselves. The principles are nothing but the truths about life. Since truth itself has variations – they segregated the changeless portion (srutis) and the changeable portions (smritis). The sad part is that as people degenerated in discipline and principles, they could not follow the smritis and they almost lost access to the srutis. It is when situations like these arise that the all pervading God incarnates and re-invigorates the knowledge and its understanding. Such is the sanctity and purity of our knowledge.
These principles form the basis of our life – called ‘Sanatana Dharma’. The word ‘Sanatana’ means eternal while the word ‘Dharma’ means principles and truths about life and living. Hence our fundamental literature can be broadly called as ‘the eternal principles and truths about life and living’.
We also need to understand ‘Dharma’ a little more closely. ‘Dharma’ can be understood at a macro level where it may mean the above. It can also be understood at the individual or micro level closely as ‘Nature’. An individual’s nature is something when understood clearly helps one lead a peaceful and fulfilled life without any stress or strain. It is never difficult for a rose to spread fragrance, the sun to give light, a Ramakrishna Paramahamsa to protect, a scorpion to sting – because for all of them, it is their nature. They live their nature. It is when we don’t take effort to discover our individual ‘Dharma’ that we live something that is alien to us – hence we undergo stress and strain because of the inherent friction between our nature and our action.
‘Dharma’ that is equated loosely to righteousness is related at best to the smritis – or suggested code of conduct. These will change over time. Hence they are changing visions of truth based on the societal conditions at any time. Again this is not a concept that can be explained in a short blog post – but for those interested it has been elaborated upon number of times and this attempt will continue, because discovery for oneself is essential.
Whether it is ‘Dharma’ at the individual or at the macro level – it needs to be discovered by us first, understood fully, imbibed totally and lived trustfully. For this we need to discover it for ourselves – rather than attempt to learn it from others. In this process of discovering and understanding these eternal principles, we may end up realizing ourselves too.
‘Hinduism’ – a foreign way of calling what traditionally and historically termed as ‘Sanatana Dharma’, is what even most Indians think of as their religion. Because of this simple challenge in nomenclature – religion of ancient India may be thought of to be similar to that of the more recent religious faiths of the world. To understand why many other religious faiths are different from ‘Sanatana Dharma’ we need to be apprised of some basic facts.
‘Sanatana Dharma’ fundamentally does not mean religion or religious faith. It simply means Eternal Principles for Righteous Living. WOW! Every time i try to understand it, i think of the level of maturity that our ancient forefathers! Hence it was a guiding framework for right living. This is why every individual can have a personal form of God and its perfectly fine. Because ultimately as we evolve to higher levels of understanding, we all come to the same formless source.
‘Sanatana Dharma’ was not the message of one realized master. In fact much of the Vedic Literature does not have any human authorship. It has been maintained in the ancient Guru-Shishya parampara or Teacher-Disciple lineage. Most of the non-changing part of the literature was revealed through self-realized masters. Hence the realized masters never attributed the wisdom to themselves. Much of such revealed literature is called ‘sruti’. This shows the humility post self-realization too. They created another set of literature called ‘smriti’ that can be adapted based on the changes in the world outside. Hence the entire basis of the way of living (or called The Hindu Faith) is non-prophetic. WOW! Hence there was no way this eternal knowledge could be destroyed even though much of social and economic India faced tremendous assaults from numerous foreign nationals. I would say, they came because they must have heard about the very advanced and wealthy society that lived here. The reason for much misunderstanding about our own religion is also that we are attempting to understand it using a foreign language. Many of the western languages do not have Sanskrit equivalents. Hence a little effort to learn Sanskrit will help in delving deeper.
Because of these two fundamental facts – the huge repository of knowledge largely remains to this day. It is slowly becoming accessible to most Indians and citizens of the world. It is meant to be that way. These fundamental facts have become so ingrained in the overall culture and is rooted so firmly in the truth, which makes this land open to all faiths. We would never have heard any effort by the religious practitioners to put down or not accept other faiths. In fact historically India has been home to people of all faiths and has received people exiled from their homelands with open arms. The spirit of ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ or ‘Guest is God’ is practised to this day. I wish and pray that we benefit from this non-prophetic religious base which gives us all (whichever sect or religion we belong to) a chance (unrestrained freedom) to dip into this knowledge base. It will enable fill a much felt and growing gap with respect to spiritual development within every individual.
While i will attempt to write about the structure of the ancient Indian literature in a different blog – this thought that fundamentally our knowledge is non-prophetic and is very broad in its definition made me feel more catalyzed to dive deeper into this wealth of knowledge. I hope it will make you to start re-looking at our spiritual basics more closely and understand its greatness, vastness and comprehensiveness for your own spiritual well being.
I can track back my interest in spirituality to my formative years. Like most other people I got acquainted to the culture of the ecosystem in which I was brought up. During the course of my upbringing I was exposed in bits and pieces to various facets of the Hindu religion. As I grew up and started getting involved in limited proportions to chanting of vedic hymns and routine practices, I began to accept that my understanding that following these gives me the security of being a devout and religious person. So for a long time I was under the impression that spirituality meant practice of the religion’s code of conduct. Hence following it brought acknowledgement to my association with the Hindu religion.
Over a period of time practicing the suggested code of conduct and some experiences increased my curiosity, which led to my questioning if I really understood what I was doing. Being naturally inclined to books for information and knowledge, I started digging into religion and spirituality. What surprised me most was much of spirituality and religion was philosophy. As I was reading various books on these subjects, the doubts received greater affirmation. There was something intriguing about what I heard about Hinduism from many senior and aged people. I also attended discourses and tried to meet up people who have taken up religion more seriously. What I was being told about religion at a routine level and what it actually intended to achieve, I found was very different. And understanding this difference I felt was very important in a person’s evolution.
Some of the definitive clarifications I have received till date that have created an impact in my thinking are:
- ‘Hinduism’ is not an Indian word – it was what foreign conquerors who came to India termed us or rather our way of living as.
- The aboriginal (native) people were guided by certain broad guidelines for living, which had nothing to do with religion as it is known today. This set of guidelines was called Sanatana Dharma
- The non-changing part of the basic knowledge was split from that which changes with reference to context. The Vedas formed the non-changing parts of this knowledge base. They state the basic truths as discovered by the greatest enlightened masters. For a more detailed look at what the vedic literature contains please refer to http://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/vedantic-wednesdays-structuring-of-vedas-technical-and-spiritual/
- The changing part of the knowledge base was the flexibility given to people based on various factors and situations including but not limited to occupation. Thus the changing part of knowledge base was characterised by flexibility and over the generations has adapted itself to suit the needs of the current state of civilization
- For convenient and effective way of running society, people were divided into four broad groups with each one having defined responsibilities on behalf of everybody else. This division for the greater good, after many rounds of degeneration has today resulted in what is called the caste system. The basic fundamental reason why this exists is because division is being seen as a way of personal benefit.
There are many more learnings which I continue to pick up as I meet more learned people, and also read much deeper texts. But beyond all these interesting trivia, what I have come to fundamentally believe is that spirituality is a way to SELF realization. All religions and their core texts aid a person in reaching this exalted state. Any other use of religion is not its true intended purpose.
It is time people begin to first clarify, search and find for themselves what ‘Religion’ actually means. And how spirituality can help an individual grow in whatever is their current choice of religion. Therefore, what is of greater importance is the understanding of the core intent of a religion rather than the choice of the religion itself.
Religions across the gamut is only the means to an end called SELF realization. All religions in their nascent form have been designed to serve this and only this purpose. It is we who in all our ignorance and short sightedness perceive religion as an end by itself!
Book Name: Living With The Himalayan Masters
Author : Swami Rama
Of late, the number of books by people taking the spiritual has increased. From a very pure economic stand point of law of supply and demand it is rational that the number of spiritual masters keep pace with the volume of seekers. Hence number of books related to the lives of these masters and their experiences is an obvious fall out. And there are many gems hidden in the available set of literature. The uniqueness of this genre is establishing connect with a book is a highly personalized experience of the reader. And when a book connects – the reading becomes a journey!
As a lover of books and one who enjoys reading art in literary form any book in this genre seem equally enticing for purchase. One book that I did purchase recently was the “Living with the Himalayan Masters” by Swami Rama. The book’s title did intrigue me, and I must admit that this was one book of this genre that I completed reading in a fairly short duration of time. I did not mark a single line in the book to make notes; but I think that this is a book that I may want to reread again later, maybe multiple times.
The book is worthy of one’s time for a number of reasons. One; if you like stories. Two; if you like deciphering mystery. Three; if you would like to get a glimpse of the majestic Himalayan range. Four; if you like to read travelogue. Five; if you like reading works written in the first person.
But the real message of the book in my view lies hidden beyond the words. It seems like an honest account of a seeker’s journey. It has all the doubts, emotions, questions and thirst of any inquisitive individual. The beauty of the education is through the journey itself.
Few things that the book makes clear are
- the approach to learning is unique to the individual
- most of such journey requires a teacher to steer the path
- it is not one but a bouquet of experiences that shape the individual
- the influence of meeting enlightened masters
- keeping the company of like minded companions
- allowing every experience and every person to be viewed as a teacher
- building and sustaining trust in your guru
- learning the skill of constant contemplation
- maintaining stead-fastedness during the long journey.
The book also discusses a number of subtler aspects of Sanatana Dharma. It also refers to a number of technical aspects with respect to paths of enlightenment and discusses a number of religious systems as well. Some aspects of India’s cultural and spiritual traditions are also referred in the book.
If not for any of the above, the book can be read simply for knowing the intriguing stories of numerous, unknown sadhus who live in the mystical mountains, the Himalayas!