Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः)
The concepts of Dharma, Karma, Brahma constitute the tripod of Sanatana Dharma (Hindu Dharma), which is Anadi (अनादिः । beginningless), Anantha (अनन्तः। endless), and therefore Sanatana (सनातनः। eternal, everlasting). With its rich connotations, Dharma is not translatable to any other language.
One of the most remarkable things in Sanatana Dharma, is the way in which it has laid down a complete scheme of Knowledge and then crowned it with a Philosophy composed of six faces, but governed by one idea and leading to one goal. No such comprehensive and orderly view of human knowledge is elsewhere to be found. Dharma is not merely a set of beliefs having no necessary connection with the daily life of humanity, but it is the very set of principles of a healthy and beneficent life, which we call a Dharmik lifestyle.
- 1 Defining Sanatana Dharma
- 2 Authority of Sanatana Dharma
- 3 Principles of Sanatana Dharma
- 4 Expansion of the ten principles
- 5 Ten general rules of moral conduct of the Vedic path
- 6 Dharma Lakshanam
- 7 Paths in Sanatana Dharma
- 8 Some important points of Sanatana Dharma
- 9 References
Defining Sanatana Dharma
The term Sanatana Dharma, definitely grounded in and distinctively Hindu, belonging to Bharatavarsha, unites under its fold the most divergent forms of thought and philosophies, yet exclusive enough to leave outside it forms of thought which are non-Hindu. Its directives are towards building up a character - pious, dutiful, strong, self reliant, upright, righteous, gentle and well-balanced - a character which will be that of a good man and a good citizen.
"Hindu is a descriptive term for the people from the other side of river Sindhu and first used by Arabs in fifth century AD."
Hinduism is also more accurately reflected by its Samskrit name, Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma eternally holds All together.
It, essentially, means to follow one’s eternal duty, which is to search for and understand our spiritual identity, and then to learn to live according to those eternal and spiritual characteristics, especially by one’s own spiritual realizations. This is also the purpose and mission of the Vedic philosophy and culture, and our ultimate duty in human life.
Authority of Sanatana Dharma
A term of wide import, Sanatana Dharma is inclusive of may siddhantas and tattvas (philosophies) all unified in their goal of achieving the highest state of mankind. Here we revisit the texts of final authority on which Sanatana Dharma is based on.
Sanatana Dharma is founded on the Shrutis, consisting of The Four Vedas, which is the final authority, revealed by to the Rishis, organized and compiled by Maharshi Veda Vyasa. Sri Adi Shankaracharya, in his Brahmasutra Bhasyam attributes the following to Maharshi Veda Vyasa
युगान्तेऽन्तर्हितान्वेदान् सेतिहासान् महर्षयः । लेभिरे तपसा पूर्वमनुज्ञातः स्वयंभुवा ॥ (Brah. Bhas. 1.3.29)
yugānte'ntarhitānvedān setihāsān maharṣayaḥ । lebhire tapasā pūrvamanujñātaḥ svayaṁbhuvā ॥ (Brah. Bhas. 1.3.29)
The Vedas, together with the Itihasas, were withdrawn at the end of the Yugas. The Maharshis, permitted by Svayambhu (Brahma) recovered them by Tapas. Further modifications of the recovered vedas taking place at the beginning of each cycle were suited for the special conditions for that age as given by the Devi Bhagavata slokas
द्वापरे द्वापरे विष्ण्णुर्व्यासरूपेण सर्वदा । वेदमेकं स बहुधा कुरुते हितकाम्यया ॥ १९ (Devi. Bhag. 1.3.19)
dvāpare dvāpare viṣṇṇurvyāsarūpeṇa sarvadā । vedamekaṁ sa bahudhā kurute hitakāmyayā ॥ 19 (Devi. Bhag. 1.3.19)
Then, in the Kali yuga, He (Vishnu) in the form of Vyasa, divides one Veda into many parts for the benefit (of men).
Next to Shrutis in authority comes the Smritis, which explain and develop Dharmik Vyvastha laid down for common understanding the laws which regulate national, social, family and individual obligations. Just as the Vedas, the Rishis with the necessary authority made alterations and adaptations to suit the needs of the time.
Of the Smrtis, Manusmrti and Yajnavalkya smrti, are widely accepted as chief authority in all matters of law. The other Smrtis are drawn upon when it is necessary to supplement these. Manu, the first codifier of social and individual laws, proclaims the authority of Shrutis and Smrtis thus,
श्रुतिस्तु वेदो विज्ञेयो धर्मशास्त्रं तु वै स्मृतिः । ते सर्वार्थेष्वमीमांस्ये ताभ्यां धर्मो हि निर्बभौ ॥ २.१० (Manu. Smrt. 2.10) 
śrutistu vēdō vijñēyō dharmaśāstraṁ tu vai smr̥tiḥ । tē sarvārthēṣvamīmāṁsyē tābhyāṁ dharmō hi nirbabhau ॥ 2.10 (Manu. Smrt. 2.10)
The Veda is known as Shruti, the Dharmashastras as Smrti; these should not be doubted (but carefully consulted and considered) in all matters, for from them Dharma arise. 
Puranas and Itihasa
Next in succession to the Smrtis come the Puranas and Itihasa, which according to the Bhagavata and Skanda Puranas are considered as Panchamaveda. As given above the Devi Bhagavata sloka assertains that Vishnu in the form of Vyasa reveals the Puranas, as is fitting for the sake of Dharma.
It was this flexibility, characteristic of the Sanatana Dharma, that preserved it through so many ages, when other ancient practices perished. Till date every adherent of Sanatana Dharma, falls back on the Vedas, compiled by Vedavyasa for resolving any points of contention. Thus came into being the saying
व्यासोच्छिष्टं जगत् सर्वम् । vyāsocchiṣṭaṁ jagat sarvam ।
On these Shrutis the whole fabric of Vaidika Dharma or Sanatana Dharma, the religion of the Vedas, as it is truly named, is built. They propound a system by the mastery of which all the energies which vitalize the Universe and nature may be controlled, at the direction of Isvara (Absolute Consciousness).
Principles of Sanatana Dharma
The science of ancient Bharatavarsha was contained in the Shad Vedangas, the six angas (limbs or parts) while its philosophy was given by Vedanta and Shad Darshanas, the six philosophical views. All philosophies are designed to lead man to the One Science, and One Wisdom, which saw One Self as Real and all else as unreal. Unity of all knowledge was the core concept with no distinction between science, philosophy and religion.
The following principles are the ones most accepted by the majority of people who follow Sanatana-dharma, and are also referenced in the Vedic texts. Beyond these, there are various schools of thought, which have further developments in their own outlook and philosophy, such as the Shaivites, Vaishnavas, Shaktas, Brahmanandis, Tantrics, and so on.
- One Supreme Being : With no beginning or end, the all in all, the unlimited Absolute Truth, who can expand into many forms is the Supreme Being. In this regard, the RigVeda (1.164.46) says
Though sages may call Him by different names (such as Krishna, Rama, Paramatma, etc.) there is but one Absolute Truth (Satya), or The One Existence (Brahman) which is source and foundation of everything. Vedas declare the triple nature of Ishvara (called variously as Brahman, Supreme etc) to be Sat-Chit-Ananda (सत्-चित्-आनन्द) and Satyam-Jnanam-Anantam Brahma सत्यंज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्मा (Taittriya Upanishad 2.1.1). He is the form of eternal knowledge, universal truth and bliss. He is supreme, full of beauty, knowledge, is all-powerful and all-pervading. He is also known by His three main features: namely Brahman, the all-pervading, impersonal spiritual force or effulgence; the Paramatma, the localized expansion known as the Super Consciousness which accompanies every individual soul in the heart of everyone; and then Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality and form of God. The goal to be achieved by every human being and Concept of God as the ultimate goal are the foundational aspects of Indian theosophical views.
एकम् सत् विप्रह् बहुध वदन्ति || ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti ||
- Jivatma : In Shruti and Smrti, in Purana and Itihasa, the Self in man is declared to be of the nature of Brahman. The Jivatma is Brahman, as a seed is to the tree, and remains a wanderer in Samsara till he realizes his true Self. Shvetashvatara Upanishad says thus
The measure of a thumb, the Purusha, the Inner Self of all, ie ever residing in the heart of men. Embodied in a form (Upadhi) (casting off the wornout ones), experiencing and evolving through it, reaps his reward in the invisible worlds. Three-fold is his nature - Iccha (Will), Jnana (Wisdom) and Kriya (Action) the laws of which cover the making of Karma for the Jivatma. He goes through the three stages of the evolution of Manas : subjection to Kama, conflict with Kama, triumph over Kama and development of higher intellectual powers. Once Buddhi or Intellect is evolved, Avidya disappears and he attains unity with Brahman.
अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषोऽन्तरात्मा सदा जनानां हृदये सन्निविष्टः ।(Shve. Upan. 3.13)
- Karma Siddhanta (Law of Cause and Effect) : Karma literally means action, but every action belongs partly to the past, partly to the present, partly to the future, it has come to mean the sequence of events, the law of causes and effects. So Karma is not simply action, it inseparably includes the consequence of an action also. The Jivatma undergoes it’s own karma, by which each person must experience the results or consequences of his activities and creates his own destiny based on his thought, words and deeds. Hence all things are interlinked together indissolubly, woven, and interwoven inseparably; nothing occurs which is not linked to the past and to the future. As discussed previously, Jivatma is three-fold in nature consisting of Iccha, Jnana and Kriya (Will, Wisdom and Activity) which are expressed as Desire, Knowledge and Action in the lower world of upadhis, of forms and these three fashion a man's Karma, following a definite law. Desire is the key force directing a thought, which in turn determines an action in man. Brhadaranyakopanishad (also given in Shatapatha Brahmana 14.7.2) aptly summarizes it as follows
काममय एवायं पुरुष इति स यथाकामो भवति तत्क्रतुर्भवति यत्क्रतुर्भवति तत्कर्म कुरुते यत्कर्म कुरुते तदभिसम्पद्यते ॥ ५ ॥ (Brha. Upan.4.4.5)
Man verily is desire-formed; as is his desire,so is his thought, as his thought is, so he does action, as his action is, so he attains.  Shankaracharya comments on this saying "Desire is the root of the world". Thus, Karma siddhanta is based on three aspects Desires (which impel man towards attachment), Mind (the creative power makes a man's character), Actions (circumstances are made by actions). Karma differs from destiny in that Karma is not a final thing awaiting us, but is a constant becoming, in which future is not just shaped by the past but is also being modified by the present. Karma is said to be of three kinds - Prarabdha, Sanchita, Agami.
kāmamaya evāyaṁ puruṣa iti sa yathākāmo bhavati tatkraturbhavati yatkraturbhavati tatkarma kurute yatkarma kurute tadabhisampadyate ॥ 5 ॥
- Punarjanma (Rebirth) : Man (Jiva the seed of Brahman) transmigrates in different forms wandering about in the Universe, as long as he thinks of himself as different from Ishvara or the Supreme. As long as this Avidya continues he wanders in Samsara only attaining moksha from punarjanma (cycle of birth and death) once he realizes his identity with the Paramatma. Shvetashvatara Upanishad summarizes in a single sloka, the reason for punarjanma and the means to end it.
सर्वाजीवे सर्वसंस्थे बृहन्ते तस्मिन्हंसो भ्राम्यते ब्रह्मचक्रे । पृथगात्मानं प्रेरितारं च मत्वा जुष्टस्ततस्तेनामृतत्वमेति ॥ ६ ॥(Shve. Upan. 1.6)
In the wheel of Brahman, the immense source and support of all Jivas, the Hamsa (the Individual) is made to wander, thinking himself and the director (Ruler) different. United with Him, he attains immortality (Amrtatva).
sarvājīve sarvasaṁsthe br̥hante tasminhaṁso bhrāmyate brahmacakre । pr̥thagātmānaṁ preritāraṁ ca matvā juṣṭastatastenāmr̥tatvameti ॥ 6 ॥(Shve. Upan. 1.6)
- Jnana or Knowledge : The knowledge of Vedas, Vedangas, Darshanas all culminate in the Vedanta. All these were summed up together as the Lesser Knowledge (outward and revealed), and the Knowledge of the ONE, is alone considered as supreme and indivisible by virtue of it being an internal experience of Atma. Thus states Mundakopanishad
द्वे विद्ये वेदितव्ये इति ह स्म यद्ब्रह्मविदो वदन्ति परा चैवापरा च ॥ ४ ॥ तत्रापरा ऋग्वेदो यजुर्वेदः सामवेदोऽथर्ववेदः शिक्षा कल्पो व्याकरणं निरुक्तं छन्दो ज्योतिषमिति । अथ परा यया तदक्षरमधिगम्यते ॥ ५ ॥ (Mund. Upan. 1.1.4 and 5)
Two kinds of knowledge are to be known, thus say the knowers of Brahman - Para (Supreme) and Apara (foundational). Apara vidya consists of the four vedas, shiksha, kalpa, vyakarana, nirukta, chandas and jyotisha.The Paravidya, whereby that Eternal is reached. Knowledge of the Brahman (Jnana) is attained by experiencing the Self or Atma which is possible by the removal of Avidya, the root cause of karmic cycle of rebirth.
dve vidye veditavye iti ha sma yadbrahmavido vadanti parā caivāparā ca ॥ 4 ॥ tatrāparā r̥gvedo yajurvedaḥ sāmavedo'tharvavedaḥ śikṣā kalpo vyākaraṇaṁ niruktaṁ chando jyotiṣamiti । atha parā yayā tadakṣaramadhigamyate ॥ 5 ॥ (Mund. Upan. 1.1.4 and 5)
- Moksha : Along the road - Nivrttamarga, or the returning path, the Jivatma returns from his wanderings in the Samsara and ultimately reaches the destination, the Eternal, all the while paying for the debts he incurred in the Pravrittamarga. To see the Self is Jnana, wisdom; to love the Self is Bhakti, devotion; to serve the Self is Kriya, action. Based on his nature the Jivatma, chooses his path to Moksha. Thus evolved the three fold path to Moksha :
भक्तिमार्गः ॥ Bhaktimarga is for those in whom Iccha (इच्छा) predominates.
ज्ञानमार्गः ॥ Jnanamarga is for in those in whom Chit (चित्) predominates.
All the three margas, in fact, are one, in which emphasis is laid on one of the three inseparable temperaments. Yoga amply supplies a sadhaka the tools by which the Self can be seen, loved and served. Mukti involves not an alteration of the circumstances surrounding the Jivatma, but the attitude of the Jivatma towards the Self and Non-Self.
कर्ममार्गः ॥ Karmamarga is for those in whom Kriya (क्रिया) predominates.
- The Authority of Vedas : Texts like Bhagavadgita which have been given or spoken by Srikrishna, considered as a Supreme Being, and others composed by sages in their deepest super conscious state in which they were able to give revelations of Universal Truths while in meditation on the Supreme form the spiritual core of Sanatana Dharma. This Bharatiya Samskrtika Parampara or Vedic literature, along with other texts like Agamas and the practices congruent with them, form the basis of the Sanatana-dharma.
- Guru-Shishya Parampara : All can receive proper instruction on how to follow the teachings of the Vedic philosophy from a Guru who is in line with a genuine parampara, or line of gurus.
- Dharmik Jeevanavidhana : Leading a Dharmik lifestyle includes adherence to principles of Dharma as laid down in Shrutis and Smrtis.
- Bahudevataradhana (Many Deities) : The presence of vast host of Devatas does not obscure the Unity of Brahman (Ishvara), in his triple form as Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva than does the vast hosts of men, animals, plants and minerals. As said in the Shruti
इन्द्रं मित्रं वरुणमग्निमाहु॒रथो दिव्यः स सुपर्णो गरुत्मान् । एकं सद् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्त्यग्निं यमं मातरिश्वानमाहुः ॥४६॥ (Rig. Veda. 1.164.46)
Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni they call Him, and the golden feathered Garutman. Of what is One, sages speak as manifold, they call Him Agni, Yama, Matarishva. So also in the Smrti
indraṁ mitraṁ varuṇamagnimāhu̱ratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo garutmān । ekaṁ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyagniṁ yamaṁ mātariśvānamāhuḥ ॥46॥
All the devatas are indeed the Self, all rests on the Self. 
आत्मैव देवताः सर्वाः सर्वं आत्मन्यवस्थितम् । ātmaiva devatāḥ sarvāḥ sarvaṁ ātmanyavasthitam । (Manu. Smrt. 12.119)
- Yajna : Shrutis declare it, Smrtis inculcate it and the Shad Vedangas circle around the concept while Dharmashastras show by practice that the worlds are built and maintained by Yajnas. Sanatana Dharma has incorporated and maintains that the yajnas pervade the whole life of man. That Srishti (Creation) began with Yajna is given by the following mantras of Brhdarnayakopanishad and the great
- Purpose of Life :
- The Four Ashramas (stages): In our life there are four main goals, as indicated by the four ashramas of life,
- ब्रह्मचर्य || brahmacharya (the student’s life),
- गृहस्थ || grihastha or the householder stage of life,
- वानप्रस्थ || vanaprastha or retired stage of life in which we take our spiritual goals more seriously,
- सन्यास || sanyasa or renunciation stage of life in which our spiritual purpose is the main focus.
Amongst these stages, first is
- Dharma, which is to develop ourselves morally and spiritually;
- then Artha, which is to develop a career or trade and prosper materially;
- then Kama, to enjoy and work out our basic material desires as is appropriate for our particular stage of life;
- and then retire from all that and focus on Moksha or attaining Self-realization and freedom from any further rounds of birth and death in material existence.
Expansion of the ten principles
- The Vedic Tradition is not a religion, but a way of life, a complete philosophy for the foundation and direction for one’s existence.
- It is based on Universal Spiritual Truths that can be applied by anyone at anytime.
- The Vedic tradition recognizes that the individual soul is eternal, beyond the limitations of the body, and that one soul is no different than another.
- All living entities, both human and otherwise, are the same in their essential and divine spiritual being. All of them are parts of the eternal truth, and have appeared in this world to express their nature and also to gather experience in the realms of matter.
- For this reason, Vedic followers accept the premise of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, that all living beings in the universe comprise one family, and that as such all beings are spiritually equal and should be respected as members within that family of the Supreme.
- The ultimate purpose of human life is to shed all attachments to matter and attain moksha (liberation from material existence) and return to the transcendental realm which is not only our true nature but also our real home.
- Every person’s capacity to progress spiritually depends upon their personal qualities, choices and abilities, and is not limited by the circumstances of one’s color, caste, class, or any other circumstance of birth or temporary material limitations or designations.
- The Vedic path is based on regaining our natural spiritual identity. To pursue this goal, all human beings have the eternal right to choose their personal form of spiritual practice, as well as the right to reject any form of religious activity, and that coercion, forced conversion, or commercial inducement to adopt one religion over another should never be used or tolerated to present, propagate, or enforce one’s spiritual beliefs on others.
- The Vedic path offers personal freedom for one to make his or her own choice of how he or she wants to pursue their spiritual approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth he or she wishes to understand. This is the height of spiritual democracy and freedom from tyranny.
- Recognizing the value and sanctity of all forms of life, as well as the Eternal Divine Being that is their true Self, the Vedic principle is that we should therefore strive in every possible way to peacefully co-exist with all other species of living entities.
Ten general rules of moral conduct of the Vedic path
Of the ten rules of moral conduct five are for inner purity (Yamas) & the other five for external purification (niyamas)—
Yamas (for inner purity)
- सत्य || Satya or truthfulness,
- अहिम्सा || Ahimsa or non-injury to others and treating all beings with respect,
- अस्तेय || Asteya or no cheating or stealing,
- ब्रह्मचर्य || Brahmacharya or celibacy,
- अपरिघर || Aparighara or no unnecessarily selfish accumulation of resources for one’s own purpose.
Niyamas (for external purification)
- शौच || Shaucha or cleanliness and purity of mind and body,
- तपस || Tapas or austerity and perseverance,
- स्वाध्याय || Swadhyaya or study of the Vedas and self-analysis,
- संतोष || Santosh or contentment,
- ईश्वर प्रणिधान || Ishwara-pranidhana, or acceptance of the Supreme.
- Dhriti (firmness or fortitude),
- Kshama (forgiveness),
- Dama (self-control),
- Asteya (refraining from stealing or dishonesty),
- Shauch (purity),
- Indriya nigraha (control over the senses),
- Dhih (intellect),
- Vidya (knowledge),
- Satyam (truth)
- Akrodhah (absence of anger).
These principles are part of the eternal, universal truths that apply equally to all living entities who can use them for progress regardless of class, caste, nationality, gender, or any other temporary qualifications. These basic principles, as we can see, are not so difficult to understand and are the basis of the Vedic spiritual life.
Paths in Sanatana Dharma
- Karma yoga, which is the path of right action, detachment from the fruits of one’s labor, and dedicating our activities for a higher and spiritual purpose, especially to Bhagavan. This is not merely to acquire good karma, but to become free from it altogether to attain moksha.
- Jnana yoga (pronounced gyana), the path of intellectual development and understanding of what is real and what is not. On a deeper level, jnana yoga is the process of discriminating between truth and non-truth, or reality and illusion (maya), and understanding what is the Divine. This is the knowledge of the soul and Bhagavan, and the relationship between them. Therefore, the acquirement of jnana or spiritual knowledge is one of the first steps in spiritual development.
- Raja or dhyana yoga, known as the royal (raja) way, also called astanga yoga, is the eightfold path leading to liberation. From either hatha yoga, karma yoga, or jnana yoga, a person may go on to practice raja yoga. It is one of the most popular systems of yoga today.
- Calming all mental agitation, which gradually helps the meditator to fuse with the objects of meditation by supraconscious concentration.
- Patanjali defined in the Yoga Sutras the eight steps of this path, consisting of the first two steps as following the yamas and niyamas or the essential rules of moral conduct, explained above.
- Asana, which means a seat or postures for meditation that are often used in hatha yoga.
- Pranayama, breath control for fixing the mind in concentration. Prana means life or energy, and also can mean spirit. Ayama indicates the length and retention of breath between inhalation and exhalation, and control of the prana within the body.
- The fifth step is pratyahara, control of the senses and checking the mind’s attraction to external objects.
- sixth step is dharana, concentrating on the object of meditation. The seventh step is dhyana, when the mind is in a state of undisturbed flowing meditation. This leads to the eighth step which is samadhi, in which, according to the eightfold path, the yogi becomes one with the Supreme, or fully engaged in thought of the Supreme. This ultimately reaches to moksha if performed diligently and steadily. However, this is an arduous path and much more explanation is required.
- Bhakti yoga is the final form of spiritual realization and attainment of the spiritual world. It is the process of simply developing loving devotional service to the Bhagavan. It is by far the easiest of all the yoga processes and has fewer requirements for the practitioners than any other process. Bhakti is the yoga that begins, continues, and ends with love and devotion to the Supreme. There is no stronger binding mechanism than love, and spiritual love is the natural sentiment that emanates from Bhagavan and connects all living beings. Thus, it is said that attaining this sentiment of devotion to Bhagavan holds the sum and substance of all other yoga processes and religions. It is the strength of this connection that can deliver one to the spiritual realm or Bhagavan’s domain.
Some important points of Sanatana Dharma
- A formal process of conversion to Sanatana-dharma is not necessary because the principles, as outlined above, can be practiced by anyone at any time, or to any degree one wishes.
- Anyone can be on the path of Sanatana-dharma merely by adopting this way of life.
- It is not an institution that you need to join that makes you a follower.
- It is the acceptance of it in your heart and the practices that you adopt.
- However, you can approach a guru of your choice who inspires you and can guide you and then ask for diksha, or initiation, by which you may then accept a formal ritual as a qualified follower of the Vedic path in the school of thought or parampara that your guru represents. Then you may receive a spiritual name, indicating your dedication and change of spiritual orientation, or even further take an initiation as a priest or brahmana.
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- Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Adhyaya 1)
- Mundakopanishad (Mundaka 1 Khanda 1)
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