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What is the True Meaning of Sanatana Dharma?

What is the True Meaning

As Hindus like to claim, there is no religion called ‘Hinduism’ because Hinduism is a way of life. Even our country’s courts have declared so. What we have in India or Bharat is ‘Sanatan Dharm’, an eternal existence. Existence? Is that what Dharm is? Well ‘Dharm’ has many connotations and there is no word in English which can define it completely. Loosely, ‘Dharm’ is ‘that which is your true nature’ … this means that for the tree, Dharm would stand for giving shade or fruits; for the river, it would mean giving life-fulfilling water.

For Human beings Dharm means a lot of things but mostly it would mean living life the way it should be led – with justice, seeking knowledge, protecting the weaker, by being generous, by working to your complete potential, by living with discrimination & Viveka Budhi. Sanatan Dharm is the only religion (if it can be called so) which has a Different Philosophy for every age and every life form.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? So is Hindutva and Hinduism the same? All other religions have fixed rules – then why doesn’t Sanatan Dharm or Hinduism have any fixed rules? So much so that even rituals like marriage (not all marriages have the ‘saath phera’) or worship of God, have no fixed rules. A simple question will answer this puzzle. If a person kills another, it is an action liable for punishment; but if this is done on the border to protect the country, it is an action liable for reward, isn’t it? This shows that there is no concept in life which is fixed or permanent, then how can the philosophy to be followed in life, be unchangeable? So then what is the broad framework by which we can define Hinduism? Let us see:

  • Thirst for knowledge – it is an undeniable fact that Hinduism has survived till today because our ancient Seers and Rishis were unsurpassed in their quest for knowledge. With pride Indians claim today that ‘this was already written in our scriptures’, ‘we already knew about the atom’, ‘we discovered zero’, etc. because our ancients not just went seeking to understand about our Universe, but also transmitted their knowledge freely to all those interested.
  • Knowledge was more sacred than monetary wealth or titles – This is at the core of Hindutva. Everybody knows that our country has repeated had to fight against patenting of spices, crops, methods, etc. because our ancients believed that knowledge was to be made available to all those who wanted it. Those who pride themselves on the Indian Jugaad need to understand that this runs in our culture and free sharing of our Jugaad (simple inventions) also runs in our culture. Let knowledge flow in from all sides ….
  • Observing and Learning from Nature & Worshiping of Nature – Now this has to be simply the most important reason why we understand the value of everything in nature, be it rivers, trees, soil or animals. Even though today it seems that man has developed so much greed that he puts his wants before his needs, we still try to protect nature and animals as much as we can. Indians personify Reduce, Reuse and Recycle (no religious differences here).
  • Sacrificing of all desires to attain Moksha – Attainment of Moksha – breaking of the cycle of birth and death, is the natural goal of every human being & Hinduism believes that human life is the most precious because it helps one achieve Moksha. To achieve this ultimate goal, it is necessary to give up all desires while living itself. Fasting is considered one of the steps to help one achieve this aim of sacrificing desires. History says that we have had great stalwarts who sacrificed everything, their family, their throne, their lives even to achieve Moksha – Budha, Mahavir, Guru Nanak, Rishabhdev, Rishi Dadhich and many more. Here one point to note would be that sacrificing others or animals was prevalent in ancient India, but was always scorned upon. It was believed that such sacrifices would never get one Moksha even if one believed that it could get one place in Heaven (Swarg). Detachment was the next step.
  • Which comes to the next point that in Sanatan Dharm, heaven was never a permanent place to aim for… after one exhausted one’s merits, one would take birth again and again.
  • Vasudaiva Kutumbakam – the strong pillar of Bhartiya tradition and culture. The openness and large-heartedness to think of the whole world as one family is the hallmark of Sanatan Dharm. In fact this is the very reason why Parsis came to India when they were forced to leave their homeland. This is the very reason why India never felt the need to conquer foreign kingdoms and rule over them. This is the very reason why till today Indians are the most tolerant race. If this doesn’t define Hindutva, what does?
  • Tolerance – Today when the word ‘tolerance’ is treated to show weakness, it would be pertinent to note that this word is the very one which made every invader before the Europeans, love this land so much that they had only good things to say about it … in fact many of them never returned to their homeland. Even those who looted India could never utter bad against our country or culture and traditions.
  • ‘Praan Jaye Par Vachan Na Jaye’ – the fabled motto of Raghuvamshis (Sri Rama’s lineage) is still something that we Bharatvaasis pride on. Probably in no other country is business done through word-of-mouth as much as it is done in India. Aangadias – those who ferry diamonds and money mainly work as per word-of-mouth still and they do work worth crores of Rupees every day. Our folklore is filled with tales of Saints, Kings and commoners who have lived by this motto. And yes, this goes beyond religious differences too.
  • Spirituality – It is said that Indians by their very nature are philosophical and spiritual. It is so because while our culture has certain boundaries, moving within those boundaries is very free. We have a tradition of exploring the self free from the fetters of religion. Sufism is also a result of this.
  • Love of Arts – Our culture, our religion has spawned innumerous ways of expressing oneself – through music, dance, paintings, sculpture, theatre, stories, festivals, worship, so many ways. There was and is no restriction of any kind … even erotic was tackled in such a sublime manner that one could approach it without any shame & in fact brought one closer to Divinity. Hindustani Classical Sangeet anyone?
  • Freedom – Sanatan Dharm is probably the only religion without a fixed structure. One can worship and adore Divinity in any form, without a form; in any ritual, without a ritual; in any place of worship, only within self as a place of worship; innumerous ways to connect to the Divine. That is why you see Hindus visiting Temples, Churches, Mazhars, Stupas, etc. and vice-versa. And Indians are most willing to read texts of all religions to learn more about God. If this were not true, please tell me how our lyricists, musicians and dialogue writers of the film industry throughout India are able to write verses of other religions, so perfectly and touching the heart. Can lyricists of other countries write devotional songs of a religion they do not profess, so soulfully?

It must have struck readers that many of the above have seeped into all religions flourishing in India. Islam and Muslims through the ages lived peacefully here without many skirmishes between Shias and Sunnis, unlike in the Arab countries, because they too have come from the same cultural foundation of Hindutva. While Qawwali and Kathak (music and dance) may be frowned upon among the conservative Sunni Muslims, it is obvious that in India, they too do not shy away from connecting to God through this form of worship (though these days it may not be open enough). Sufism which believes in the soul and the yearning of the soul to reach the Divine, has so much semblance to a Hindu’s yearning for Moksh. And like Bhajans form the bridge from the soul to the Divine, Qawwali does the same. In fact the similarity also extends to the way the poetry is written – like a lover yearning for his loved one … Till today many Muslims celebrate Diwali by lighting up their homes and love to do the Garba dance and play Holi. Lighting of the lamp during dusk (‘batti karna’), ritual baths, ‘shagun’, etc. are certain rituals which go beyond the barriers of religions, because culture and tradition predates religion. Recently though, the bonhomie during festivals have been vitiated by some rogue elements. Christians too have preserved their old traditions and culture even if they follow a different religion now. My belief is that this is because of our strong belief in Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, as a race. In fact though there has been a very visible attempt to break the unity between people of different religions, through various ways of brain-washing, especially by the main stream media, people are very reluctant to tar everyone with the same brush. Neither all Hindus want to call all non-Hindus as traitors, nor do all non-Hindus want to call all Hindus as evil. The enthusiasm to celebrate Yoga day proved to the whole world that we are one. In fact when our soldiers were repeatedly attacked, every Indian, irrespective of caste, creed or religion came out openly to support our soldiers. Every attempt of political parties or skewed media is being exposed harshly through social media and people are becoming more and more aware of divisive forces. What better way to showcase this than the recent event when our PM Narendra Modi ji proclaimed a war on black money? Other than crooked politicians, have you seen any Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Hindus separately attack Modi ji? No – all the citizens are just children of Mother India. They are willing to stand together to fight this evil of corruption and black money. All only want a better India for their children. This is true Hindutva – Hindi hai Hum, Vatan hai Hindustan Hamara, Hamara – as Iqbal wrote so many decades ago.

Author: Rati Hegde

Published: Nov 14, 2016 (Originally post on http://postcard.news)

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