Sanatana Dharma, the Mother of all Religions.
H. H. Swami Chidanandapuri
(Transcribed and Translated from the OHM-BC Satsang on 4 November 2022, by Sukumar Canada)
Guru Sakshath Parabrahma: Tasmai Sri Gurave Namah:
Hari: Om, Sri Guribhyo Nama:
When we discuss the topic of Sanatana Dharma, I remember my childhood days. My grandmother and I were very close and she used to teach me prayers and tell me stories regularly from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharatha. She taught me about an interesting prayer that ‘gold’ would chant with utmost concern. It goes like this:– “Lord, you may melt me down, beat me hard, flatten me, and stretch me out into any forms and shapes at your will. I can endure all kinds of use and abuse without any complaints, but please do not weigh me against the Kunnikkuru (red bead vine) seeds on the other side of the balance and try to equate me with them.”
When we talk about Sanatana Dharma, there is always an erroneous notion people want to propagate that as another religion, just like the other popular religions of the world. When people start comparing the Sanatana Dharma with Christianity and Islam, I reminisce about the prayer of gold requesting the Lord not to compare it with the discrete, limited philosophies. Sanatana Dharma is not just a religion. Hinduism, the modern name of Sanatana Dharma, is not limited because it doesn’t preclude other ideas and thoughts or it doesn’t declare that Hinduism is the only path nor their’s are the only messengers who found the ultimate Truth.
A religion with one form of god, one path to attain salvation, one messenger to obey, one prophet to seek guidance from, and one scripture to follow, etc. is very limited when we think about the diversity of the universe we live in. Sanatana Dharma is not like that because it is expansive in philosophy and diverse in concepts, visions, and ways of life. Even if all the other religions and belief systems of the world go extinct, Sanatana Dharma will not perish. Sanatana Dharma encompasses the essence of all religions and it doesn’t matter if a new one emerges and an old religion disappears, it will continue to flourish.
During the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s expedition to find America, there was a great exposition in Chicago in which delegates from all the religions of the world attended. There was a world religious conference – World Parliament of Religions- held there in which Swami Vivekananda embarked on his missionary work to expose and expound the ideas of Sanatana Dharma for the world outside India. In a historic speech, he gave at the conference, he started by congratulating the organizers of the conference in the name of the “mother of all religions”, the Sanatana Dharma. He explained the essence of it to the leaders of other religions and it was an eye-opener for the world. He said Sanatana Dharma is the mother of all religions because all the fundamental values of all the religious philosophies are entrenched well in Sanatana Dharma.
Here we need to understand two Sanskrit words – Sanatana and Dharma. Sanatana means “that which will ever be” i.e., “that which is eternal”. It means the Dharma that will never perish is Sanatana Dharma. In the world we see around us, everything perishes as they were all born, begun, or created at some point in time. Anything that is born must die; meaning anything that has a beginning must have an end. Now, if one says that there is this philosophy that will never go extinct is a proposition hard to trust based on our experience. Is it a vain statement or a claim uttered out of ignorance or arrogance? We know that the great Rishi’s of yore in India have always used logic and reasoning behind all their statements in the scriptures. They never demanded people believe them without proper inquiry. They encouraged their disciples to question everything they read and study in the context of religion. Sanatana also means something beyond what we know of. These thoughts are eternal as they will survive even if all other thoughts and philosophies are rendered futile upon rational inquiry.
The word ‘Dharma’ is used and misused as religion in many parts of India, especially in the central and North Indian states. In Kerala, Dharma connotes something to be given away as alms. Giving Dharma (alms) is considered a virtuous act. But if we have to keep anything for ourselves, that should not be given away, is Dharma and Dharma alone. We must abide by Dharma in our life, at every stage of our survival. We must hold on to it until our last breath. Why is that the case?
What is Dharma? It is very pertinent now as we face a lot of local and international issues, including religious, social, and even world-war-level situations everywhere. We also make a big deal about the management of the wealth of the world – be it coal, gasoline, gold, or other natural resources, etc. They are all causes of war now; even drinking water is one such resource. At this time, people working in any walk of life, are advised to adhere to Dharma for them to survive and thus sustain the world. “Yena Dharayathe Sarvam” is the definition of Dharma. “That which carries” is the Dharma of an entity. That is the “essential characteristic of the entity without which it doesn’t exist.” For example, the Dharma of water is to wet other things.
When we consider known things in the universe, from the smallest to the biggest – take an atom to the universe as a whole. The microcosm to macrocosm– how do they function individually? We can see that it is based on a ‘mysterious’ law of nature that is ever-controlling their survival. The particles inside the atom are moving fast with no stoppage resulting in a static disposition of the atom as an entity and a complex structure. It is a miracle in itself because the inner mechanism of the atom is not explainable. A physicist, a chemist, or a nuclear scientist could come up with theories on an atom, decipher ideas about it, split it, and even release energy from it, but it is still a wonder that no one can clearly explain.
Those who chant “The Thousand Names of Siva or Devi”, there are references to several millions of stars and galaxies in those chants. We don’t know how many stars are out there and we don’t know how many planets are there for each star. With all-encompassing in it, a concept of an oblong sphere or an egg shape has been imagined by the Rishis of yore. This shape is peculiar that it has both tendencies – to shrink itself into its center; to expand out from the center. Let the scientists work on the details as to how and why the phenomenon occurs with precision.
In the universe of a complex system of stars and galaxies, as well as in the small atom, the natural law is functioning equally diligently. Neil Bohr, the famed scientist, got attracted to Vedanta because he could observe the similarity of it with the mystical natural law that is keeping the smallest of the small atoms and the biggest of the big galaxies functioning because of the incessant motion of the inner components. We can call it the rhythm of the universe, natural law or eternal philosophy, or an order. That order is the eternal truth, the Dharma of the universe, according to Indian spirituality. Dharma is essentially the rhythm of the universe.
But what is Dharmic life for you and me? Is it mimicking the universe’s law in our life? Or aligning oneself with the rhythm of the universe as we live as an integral part of it? How do we apply it to our day-to-day life? Essentially, the idea is, that I, as an individual should not adversely affect or get affected by this universal rhythm, through my thoughts, words, and deeds. Living life with this awareness of alignment with the universal rhythm is indeed the Dharmic life. It is not important to do rituals and go to temples and churches. Of course, they have their place in the overall social milieu, but they are done with different aims. The message of aligning our life with the universal rhythm is most pertinent in today’s world as the survival of life in the universe depends on this.
Whenever religions tend to work against Dharma, that religion must be discarded. If science and technology come to disrupt the rhythm of the universe, that will become detrimental to life in the universe. Whatever is against Dharma becomes unsustainable in the long run whether it is religion, science, environmental issues, technology, or social issues. When science, religion, social setup, and other developments are aligned to Dharma, they are great for the world and when the alignment gets disrupted, we suffer the consequences- whether we are rich or poor. Destruction and sorrow will prevail. So, Dharma is the foundation of the universe. It is this dharma or universal law that the scriptures such as Vedas and epics like Ramayana and Mahabharatha portray to teach us its importance.
Be it political science, economics, or science in general, they all must be in line with Dharmic values, and that is the message India must propagate in the world. This is not against any religion, philosophy, or science. But the idea is to have awareness of Dharma in all endeavors undertaken by humanity.
As mentioned before, several religious leaders from around the world took part In the world parliament of religions, held during the 400th anniversary of the expedition by Columbus. It was a grand occasion, but the 500th anniversary was not celebrated that well due to some unknown reasons. The conference was successful and that was the first time world leaders of various religions got together to see if there is a common theme that would be considered universal amongst all religions. In the end, they decided to come up with a resolution at the end of the conference as a vision for the future –The theme of the universal value selected was “Tolerance”. That was the greatest vision most of the leaders agreed on. But Swamy Dayananda, a natural leader among the several religious groups from India, including Vedantic monks attending the conference, opposed the idea of toleration as a universal value. He said tolerance cannot be a lofty value for an august conference like the World Parliament of religions. The concept of tolerance is at best at the level of kindergarten not that of a mature society. Instead of tolerance, Indian delegates proposed “Universal Acceptance” as the value to be propagated. Tolerance is no doubt, good and practical in some situations, but it is shallow in esteem. Tolerance has a connotation that “I am tolerating you although I don’t accept or approve of your choices.” It is like a staunch vegetarian sharing the same dinner table with a meat eater, tolerating the situation out of helplessness. “I am disgusted with your choice of food, but I don't have a choice now”- a kind of scenario where you acquiesce and that is tolerance. That is not enough as a universal value according to the Indian concept of Dharma. Tolerance is just a beginner’s practice of working together as a society. That is not enough as a universal value, but only a practical compromise. Universal acceptance is about accepting the differences of choices among people of various religions and recognizing that all ideas have intrinsic value as long as they are aimed at the betterment of humanity.
Universal acceptance of wisdom is that “the essence in you and me is the same”. That one true essence made me as me, with all my colors and shapes; and it made you with your colors and shapes. The Lord is the indweller of all and it is the same for you and me whether you belong to this or that religion.” There are several great aphorisms like this in Vedanta philosophy. If we look at the world with this universal outlook, where is the difference in people? That is the essence of India’s message of Dharma. It is this message we need to propagate around the world and it is very relevant now.
In the west- USA, Australia, and Europe, many call themselves non-religious. A major percentage of the population moved away from religion resulting in several churches being closed and being converted into business centers. Some are being purchased even by Hindus for their Satsang centers. Nonreligious doesn't mean that the person is not Dharmic or they are anti-social. We must recognize that people reach such conclusions to be nonreligious due to the dogmas and beliefs forced upon them by the religious leaders and their edicts.
A rational man questions everything before accepting. Intelligent questions are required for science as well as for Dharma to enhance life as a whole. In the Sanatana Dharma, all questioning is encouraged. A child may ask her parent “how come a human has an elephant face,” seeing the sculpture of Ganapathi. She may ask “how come Lord Vishnu has four hands?” Encourage such questions from children. Find logical and convincing answers to quench their curiosity. But do not force ideas and beliefs on kids. As adults, admit it if you do not know the answers. Make it a point to learn and then teach them.
If religion is just based on beliefs, no questioning is allowed within its framework as you are asked to believe that “the words are given out by God and it is sinful to doubt or question those words.” When people do not get proper answers to their questions, they get dejected and they move away from religion. Of course, some members of the flock will continue to be in the fold due to financial and social compulsions.
Sanatana Dharma philosophy encourages questions and we can see beautiful examples of such situations in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita where a teacher’s words get questioned by the disciple. In Bhagavad Gita, the Lord advises Arjuna on various topics and finally tells him to analyze His words with a critical mind before implementing them in his life. Arjuna does criticize the Lord and questions him on several occasions. For example “vyāmiśreṇeva vākyena buddhiṃ mohayasīva me” means, Lord, how come you are telling me confusing words that are not making sense to me?”. The Lord responded to His disciple with encouraging replies and inspiring answers. Sanatana Dharma encourages questioning and that is another value we should propagate. Rituals have their value for social and entertainment reasons, but it is the logical approach, the Sanatana Dharma is what we must tell the world.
The world is now quarreling over religion, language, geography, and resources and we are facing a war-like situation, at the scale of a world war. At this time, there is no point in advising the factions to stop the war from outside. But we must give out the logically sound message of Sanatana Dharma to the world by living its values ourselves. We must do it using the language and technology the new generation understands and we must communicate with them on their wavelength.
Q & A
Swamiji, politically, there is a new narrative seen in the media that Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people are not Hindus. What is your opinion? Why is this being popularized now?
It is happening with the communist people wilfully trying to create division in society. They categorize everybody based on communes and according to them, society must be divided based on how they see each group in society. For example, they talk about communes of haves and have-nots. Their communal division is based on the communist ideology and they are ready to disrupt and destroy the social structure of the society to achieve their goal. As a party, they want to ensure a perennial supply of have-nots for them to ‘serve’, and they would split the society by hook or crook and put one faction into their fold. For example, the word Dalit is used by the communist party to divide the society of people who are proud of their ancestry by calling them lowly (Dalit means downtrodden). Now it is not legal to use that word in India as that is derogatory. They try to split the Hindu community by separating the SC and ST people to bring them into a minority camp and they even attract the terrorist factions of some of the other religions to their fold.
Sanatana Dharma activists are trying to stop it and keep the SC and ST communities within the diverse Hindu umbrella and so the communists are not very successful. What we know is, that the tribals are strict adherents of Sanatana Dharma in their time-tested ways of centuries-old customs and rituals and they continue to practice the same with pride. Tribals have their rituals and they are all part of the diverse Sanatana Dharma in practice. The communal forces are still trying to split India into majority-minority lines, but we continue to resist. People who try to split them away from the Hindu fold are disguised as benefactors whereas they aim to strip the tribals of their pride and self-confidence. We must see, appreciate and practice the common thread that binds the diverse factions of Hindu communities, i.e., Santana Dharma, and work with all by fully accepting and assimilating the culture of all, on equal footing. Lately, India is doing a tremendous job in ensuring this.
Q: Dharma is to be practiced within the constraints of time and place. It is also known that Dharma is subject to change according to time and place. If that is the case, when such changes are required, who is the authority to make usurp such changes?
Dharma has two basic tenets. One is the basic philosophy, Sruthi, and the other is the rituals and activities we undertake based on social norms of the time, Smriti. The basic philosophy is permanent such as adherence to Truth, Dharma, Love, etc. But the rituals can vary depending on the people, time, and place. They are also categorized into two – that which is fixed and the other that is changeable following time and place. If the Dharma is not willing to modify and adjust itself with the time and place, they face extinction just like the religions that are based on mere beliefs and dogma. Sanatana Dharma insists that we must adjust the rituals and societal norms accordingly. For example, in the Badrinath temple in Uttarakhand, the priests are Kerala Brahmins from the time of Adi Shankaracharya. Their dress codes and rituals are different from that of a Kerala priest. The changes were implemented to address the climatic constraints and other factors.
The great leaders of Santana Dharma were instrumental in social reforms and they spearheaded several changes to get rid of regressive rituals prevalent in the past. The provision of timely, appropriate changes is built into the philosophy of Sanathana Dharma.
There is no central figure, a supreme commander out there to approve such reforms. Society collectively must make and approve the changes required on a consensus basis. That means you and I must be bringing about these reforms. Also, the changes must address modern issues with modern solutions. We must deal with the problems of youngsters using modern approaches as well.
Q: Today’s youngsters, including Hindu Youths, claim that “non-religion” is their religion. How can we direct youngsters of Hindu families back to Sanatana Dharma?
Human beings want to be loved and the parents of the youth must understand this, however busy they are. Not only they should love their children, but it must also be explicitly expressed as well so that they know. However, do not force any rituals and activities on them if they are not inclined to do them. The parents should be practicing the rituals and religious activities by being an example for them. For example, chanting hymns and prayers- don’t ask or force them to do it- but show it by your example.
Also, do not denigrate any other religion; but encourage them to analyze all and come to a reasonable conclusion. Teach them values through stories from the epics, Ramayana and Mahabharatha. Don’t wait until they are grown-ups to impart Dharmic Values to them. When we do the rituals, tell them why we do them. When we go to temples tell them what each ritual means. We should be able to explain our rituals and values when they ask. So a parent must learn it first and then pass it on to the next generation.
prajanaṃ sveṣu dāreṣu
evaṃ dharma pradhāneṣṭhaṃ
The abstention of all maliciousness to other sentient beings, truthfulness, justice, compassion, self-restraint, procreation with one's own spouse alone, amiability, modesty, and patience, the practice of these virtues is the best of all Dharmas, thus declared Manu-Svayambhuva. (MB. Santi Parva).
With reference to god, one of the most popular statements from the Veda is:–
mātṛ devo bhava, pitṛ devo bhava, ācārya devo bhava, atithi devo bhava.
Let your mother be your god, let your father be your god let our teacher be your good, and let the one you encounter desirous of hospitality be your god.
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