CHENNAI: Sanatana dharma is by its very essence a term that is devoid of sectarian leanings or ideological divisions. This is evident by the very term itself. The two words, sanatana dharma, come from the ancient Sanskrit language. It’s approximate meaning is ‘natural law’, or those principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe. Thus, the term sanatana dharma can be roughly translated to mean ‘the natural, ancient and eternal way.’
By it’s nature, sanatana dharma is: god-centered rather than prophet-centered; experience based rather than belief based; beyond any historical date of founding; The process of growth, which comes from the seed; inherent in, and inclusive of all; in the world, while above the world; both immanent and transcendent; the whole and the parts; loving of all and excluding of none. It is the more appropriate or rather 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 acquired 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 the 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 the people of Bharat from times immemorial, i.e., from even the pre-historic and most antique ages.
Hinduism exhorts people to abstain from all violence by thought, word and deed to any being or creature. Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha — ‘veneration of all lives’ (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’ — 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 religions.
Through the course of time and human limitations, Hinduism may have taken on various elements which do not reflect this eternal essence of universal truth. However, the power of sanatana dharma continues behind the Hindu tradition, particularly in its yoga and vedanta spiritual forms, providing it with a depth, breadth and vitality that perhaps no others spiritual tradition on earth is able to sustain. One can find in Hinduism all the main religious teachings of the world from nature worship to the formless absolute.
There have already been important movements in this in direction. In fact, one can argue that the global spread of Hindu teachings like yoga, Vedanta and ayurveda is a sign of sanatana dharma arising at a global level.
Gurus from India and their teachings have spread to all countries. This is not just a spiritual path or what is called moksha dharma, a way of liberation. It shows a dharmic way for all aspects of life starting with personal life style practices, to the family, education, business, intellectual culture and even politics (all spheres of dharma, artha, kama and unfortunately, the teachers who try to universalise the moksha dharma of Hinduism and apply it to all religions leave out the other aspects of dharma, which includes the dharmic foundation for both social and individual lives.
A new resurgent global Hinduism or santana dharma will project all aspects of dharma and not to be limited to moksha dharma. It is important that we replace this ‘radical universalism’ of all religions being the same, which is a misinterpretation and diminution of sanatana dharma, with a global Hindu and dharmic resurgence that affirms sanatana dharma as both a spiritual path and a way of life on all levels. It is not only yoga and Vedanta that have universal value, so does the foundation of Hindu dharma on all levels.
This includes Hindu rituals, which are a science of interacting with the cosmic forces, Hindu temples and holy places which are conduits for cosmic energy, Vedic Sciences like ayurveda, veda astrology and vaastu, Hindu music and dance and Hindu art forms. These outer aspects of Hindu or dharmic living can be developed and adapted in different cultural contexts but their basic principles are as enduring as the great truth of vedanta that there is only one self in all beings.
(This article is an ‘Ashirvachana’ given by His Holiness Sri Balagangadaranatha Mahaswamiji, 71st Pontiff of Sri Adichunchanagiri Mahasstana Math)