Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः)

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Sanatana Dharma (Samskrit : सनातनधर्मः) also termed lately as Hindu Dharma is founded on the concepts of Dharma, Karma, and Brahma, 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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[2]

"Hindu is a descriptive term for the people from the other side of river Sindhu and first used by Arabs in fifth century AD."[3]

The word Hindu (in the form 'Hidu') appears to have been applied by the Persian Emperors Darius (522 - 486 B. C.) and Xerxes (486 - 465 B. C.) to the territory and people to west and to the east of the great river, Sindhu, while the Greeks referred to the people in the same region as 'Indoi' from which comes the word 'Indian'.[4]

Hinduism is thus a more recent term greatly in use these days. Sanatana Dharma reflects the timelessness of the spiritual and theological practices prevalent in Bharatavarsha even in the present day. Sanatana Dharma eternally holds All together.

It, essentially, means to follow one’s eternal duty, which is to quest to understand every individual's core identity, his/her relationship and role in the bigger sense of Universe and then to learn to live according to those eternal and spiritual characteristics, especially by attained by one’s own self 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)[5]

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.[2] 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)[6]

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).[2]


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.[2]

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) [7]

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. [2]

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).[2]

Principles of Sanatana Dharma

The science of ancient Bharatavarsha was contained in the Shad Vedangas, the six angas (limbs or parts) while its theosophical ideas were given by Vedanta and Shad Darshanas. 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.[2]

The following principles are unique and 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. These concepts are unique, ancient and distinguish Hinduism among many faiths.

एकम् सत् || 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

एकम् सत् विप्रह् बहुध वदन्ति || ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti ||

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.[2]

जीवात्मा || 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

अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषोऽन्तरात्मा सदा जनानां हृदये सन्निविष्टः ।(Shve. Upan. 3.13)[8]

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.[2][9]

कर्मसिद्धान्तम् || Karma Siddhanta

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)

kāmamaya evāyaṁ puruṣa iti sa yathākāmo bhavati tatkraturbhavati yatkraturbhavati tatkarma kurute yatkarma kurute tadabhisampadyate ॥ 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. [2] 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.

पुनर्जन्मा || Punarjanma

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)[10]

sarvājīve sarvasaṁsthe br̥hante tasminhaṁso bhrāmyate brahmacakre । pr̥thagātmānaṁ preritāraṁ ca matvā juṣṭastatastenāmr̥tatvameti ॥ 6 ॥(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).[2]

ज्ञानम् || Jnana

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)[11]

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)

Two kinds of knowledge are to be known, thus say the knowers of Brahman - Para (परा Supreme) and Apara (अपरा 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.

मोक्षम् || Moksha

The development of the Chit aspect of the Jivatma, purification of the Iccha aspect being the main work of the human stage of evolution, the growth of Manas and later of Buddhi marks the journey of the Jivatma towards the gathering of experience. In this stage, Jivatma experiences varied sensations of the outer world, through the Manas receives and organizes the impressions conveyed by the senses. Manas being a slave of Kama, searches for the objects of enjoyment. Soon the Jivatma realises that there is a conflict between the Manas and Kama, that the pleasures longed for by Kama are not always pleasurable. Thwarting objects of pleasure sought by Kama, Manas diverts Iccha (Will) towards discrimination seeking the inner Self and not the sense-born images. This leads to the evolution of Buddhi or intellect and Jivatma endeavors to understand the Self and Non-Self. Realization that the cycle of birth and death is due to his own desires, brings the Jivatma to the threshold of liberation.

नाविरतो दुश्चरितान्नाशान्तो नासमाहितः । नाशान्तमानसो वाऽपि प्रज्ञानेनैनमाप्नुयात् ॥ २४ ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.24)

nāviratō duścaritānnāśāntō nāsamāhitaḥ । nāśāntamānasō vā'pi prajñānēnainamāpnuyāt ॥ 24 ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.24)

यदा सर्वे प्रमुच्यन्ते कामा येऽस्य हृदि श्रिताः । अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्यत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुते ॥ १४ ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.14)

yadā sarvē pramucyantē kāmā yē'sya hr̥di śritāḥ । atha martyō'mr̥tō bhavatyatra brahma samaśnutē ॥ 14 ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.2.14)

Meaning : When all the desires hiding in his heart are loosened, then the mortal becomes immortal ; here he enjoys Brahman. According to Brhdaranyaka Upanishad, Jivatma having become tranquil, wise, subdued, dispassionate, enduring and collected, he sees the Self in Self, in all, overcomes all papa, free from passion he comes a Brahman in the world of Brahmaloka.

स वा एष महानज आत्माऽजरोऽमरोऽमृतोऽभयो ब्रह्माभयं वै ब्रह्माभय हि वै ब्रह्म भवति य एवं वेद ॥ २५ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 4.4.25)[12]

So long as the mind is turned towards senses it finds misery, when it turns to understanding the Self, it finds Bliss. Such a man is termed Mukta, and the state Moksha, who has reached the stage of liberation, with the Jnana of Self, free from the cycle of births and deaths, and may or may not be surrounded by the physical conditions.[2]

वेदप्रमाणत्वम् ॥ The Authority of Vedas

Texts like Bhagavadgita which have been given or spoken by Sri Krishna, considered as a Supreme Being, and others composed by seers in their deepest super conscious state in which they were able to give revelations of Universal Truths while in meditation, on the Supreme Being, 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. The Astika darshanas include the Shad Darshanas which accept the authority of Vedas form the different theological bases of explaining about Atma, Brahman, Avidya, and Moksha which are exclusive features of Sanatana Dharma.

गुरुशिष्यपरम्परा ॥ Guru-Shishya Parampara

In the heart of Sanatana Dharma lies the tradition of handing down of knowledge from preceptor to the student. Teaching not only the shastras a Guru lays the seed of all moral and spiritual education at a young impressionable age thereby leading him on the path of a dharmik life. 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. This was the one tradition which upheld the society till date and the preserved the continuity of Vedas when no written

यज्ञाः ॥ Yajnas

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

उषा वा अश्वस्य मेध्यस्य शिरः । uṣā vā aśvasya medhyasya śiraḥ । (Brhd. Upan. 1.1.1)

Meaning : The dawn verily is the head of the yajna horse. Here the dawn is explained as the beginning of the day of Brahma, the day of creation.

The Shatapatha Brahmana, the Purusha sukta, Chandogya and other Upanishads, Manusmrti and Bhagavad Gita contain references of importance of Yajna in srishti. Yajnas also taught to see that man is a part of a great whole and related to all around him; and that as his own life was maintained by the sacrifice of other lives, so he must repay that debt by sacrificing to the Devatas in the fire and to men by charitable gifts as laid down in Panchamahayajnas. [2]

देवताराधना ॥ Devataradhana

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 which are held sacred and prayed to since ages. 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)

indraṁ mitraṁ varuṇamagnimāhu̱ratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo garutmān । ekaṁ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyagniṁ yamaṁ mātariśvānamāhuḥ ॥46॥

Meaning : Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni they call Him, and the golden feathered Garutman. Of what is One, seers speak as manifold, they call Him Agni, Yama, Matarishva. So also in the Manusmrti it is explained

आत्मैव देवताः सर्वाः सर्वं आत्मन्यवस्थितम् । ātmaiva devatāḥ sarvāḥ sarvaṁ ātmanyavasthitam । (Manu. Smrt. 12.119)[13]

All the devatas are indeed the Self, all rests on the Self. [2]

पुरुषार्थाः ॥ Purusharthas

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. 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.

  1. Dharma (धर्मः), is to develop ourselves morally and spiritually
  2. Artha (अर्थः), is to develop a career or trade and prosper materially
  3. Kama (कामः), is to enjoy and work out our basic material desires as is appropriate for our particular stage of life
  4. Moksha (मोक्षम्) is to retire from all the activities and focus on attaining Self-realization and freedom from any further rounds of birth and death in material existence.

आश्रमाः ॥ The Four Ashramas

In our life there are four main goals, as indicated by the four ashramas of life,

  1. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्यम् । the student’s life)
  2. Grhastha (गृहस्थः) or the householder stage of life
  3. Vanaprastha (वानप्रस्थः) or retired stage of life in which we take our spiritual goals more seriously
  4. Sanyasa (सन्यासः) or renunciation stage of life in which our spiritual purpose is the main focus

संस्काराः ॥ Samskaras

All rites and ceremonies ordained by the seers and ancient preceptors are based on the the concepts given as above such as about Atman, Jivatma, Moksha etc and those who understand these can clearly see the reason for the presence of injunctions and prohibitions along with the prayaschittas found in Vaidika Dharma.[2] Thus Samskaras are a complex combination of various elements expressing belief, sentiments and knowledge of the ancient seers about the nature of human life and the interrelationship with the Universe. Almost all samskaras, the domestic rites, involve kindling of Agni (Fire) as a primary constituent.[14]

धार्मिकजीवनविधानम् ॥ Dharmik Jeevanavidhana

Leading a Dharmik lifestyle includes adherence to principles of Dharma as laid down in Shrutis and Smrtis. Vedas proclaim that society and nature sustains one and all hence our duties towards them are more important not the individual. Rishis placed morals and ethics in the forefront and daily activities of life were based on them rather than for individual gains or sense gratification. Following Rta (ऋत) or highest natural order was of prime importance and jeevana vidhana was aligned to that principle.

Path of Ethical Conduct

Yoga shashtra of Pantanjali lays down ten rules of moral conduct, five of which are observances for positive traits and self-restraint to attain inner mental purity (Yamas). The other five are rules for lifestyle changes for discipline and external purification (Niyamas). These rules are for regulating one's behavior to avoid suffering and pain leading to the foundation of spiritual life. The path to discipline, control of the senses and mind, and discrimination between right and wrong is given by the Yoga darshana, to be practiced in everyday life by a spiritual aspirant.

अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः ॥३०॥ शौचसंतोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः ॥३२॥(Yoga. Dars. 2.30 and 32)[15]

ahiṁsāsatyāstēyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ ॥30॥ śaucasaṁtōṣatapaḥsvādhyāyēśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ ॥32॥

Yamas (for inner purity)

  1. अहिंसा || Ahimsa or non-injury to others and treating all beings with respect
  2. सत्यम् || Satya or truthfulness
  3. अस्तेयम् || Asteya or no cheating or stealing
  4. ब्रह्मचर्यम् || Brahmacharya or celibacy
  5. अपरिग्रहः || Aparighara or no unnecessarily selfish accumulation of resources for one’s own purpose

Niyamas (for external purification)

  1. शौच || Shaucha or cleanliness and purity of mind and body
  2. संतोषः || Santosh or contentment to cut the roots of desires
  3. तपस् || Tapas or austerity and perseverance (ability to bear the 'pairs' - hot and cold etc)
  4. स्वाध्यायम् || Swadhyaya or study of the shastras for attaining Moksha (or Pranava japa) and self-analysis
  5. ईश्वरप्रणिधानम् || Ishwara-pranidhana or self surrender to the Supreme (sarvakarmarpana)[15]

आत्मगुणाः ॥ Atmagunas

By following the practice path laid down in Yoga darshana man achieves certain qualities of the Self. Gautama Dharmasutras describe these eight virtues of the Self, to be cultivated at will by everyone, as follows

दया सर्वभूतेषु क्षान्तिर् अनसूया शौचम् अनायासोमङ्गलम् अकार्पण्यम् अस्पृहेति ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. 1.8.23)

dayā sarvabhūtēṣu kṣāntir anasūyā śaucam anāyāsōmaṅgalam akārpaṇyam aspr̥hēti ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. 1.8.23)

Compassion towards all creatures, forbearance, devoid of ill-will or envy, purity (external and internal), avoiding pain even to oneself (अनायासः), auspiciousness, freedom from self-pity or weakness, free from covetousness are the qualities of the Atman.

धर्मलक्षणम्‌ || Dharma Lakshanas

With conscious practice of yoga, purity of mind and Atman develops by which Atmagunas are manifested. Such a person automatically aligns with Rta and follows Dharma. Manusmrti lays down the following ten lakshanas of Dharma.

धृति: क्षमा दमोऽस्‍तेयं शौचमिन्‍द्रियनिग्रह:। धीर्विद्या सत्‍यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम्‌ || (Manu. Smrt. 6.92)

dhr̥ti: kṣamā damō's‍tēyaṁ śaucamin‍driyanigraha:। dhīrvidyā sat‍yamakrōdhō daśakaṁ dharmalakṣaṇam‌ || (Manu. Smrt. 6.92)

  1. Dhrti (धृति: । firmness or fortitude)
  2. Kshama (क्षमा । forgiveness)
  3. Dama (दमः । self-control)
  4. Asteya (अस्‍तेयम् । refraining from stealing or dishonesty)
  5. Shaucha (शौचम् । purity both external and internal)
  6. Indriya nigraha (इन्‍द्रियनिग्रह: । control over the indriyas or worldly senses)
  7. Dhih (धीः । intellectual power, knowledge of Shastras)
  8. Vidya (विद्या । knowledge of Self)
  9. Satyam (सत्‍यम् । truthfulness)
  10. Akrodhah (अक्रोधः । absence of anger)
अहिंसा सत्‍यमस्‍तेयं शौचमिन्‍द्रियनिग्रह:। दानं दमो दया शान्‍ति: सर्वेषां धर्मसाधनम्‌ || (Yajn. Smrt. 1.122)[16]
ahiṁsā sat‍yamas‍tēyaṁ śaucamin‍driyanigraha:। dānaṁ damō dayā śān‍ti: sarvēṣāṁ dharmasādhanam‌ ||

Yajnavalkya Smrti recounts the above instruments of Dharma similar to those given in Manusmrti, with slight differences. According to Yajnavalkya, Ahimsa (not hurting other creatures by thought, word or deed) and Dana (charity) are also the means to attain Dharma apart from the other qualities.

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.

Margas in Sanatana Dharma

Many texts describe the two primary paths adopted by the Jivatma; one outgoing and worldly where the Jivatma gathers the experience of samsara through the Pravrtti Marga and the second being Nivrtti Marga the inward or the returning path, where the Jivatma explores internally for the Self, the Eternal. It should be noted here that whatever be the siddhantas or thought ways (the three main being Advaita, Dvaita or Vishisthaadvaita) the goal of all philosophical pathways is to attain or be in union with the Eternal, Supreme Brahman. [2] Many Sampradayas have evolved over time however, their common goal has been to achieve union with the Brahman.

The constitution of the the human being is clearly outlined in the Shantiparva of Mahabharata (मोक्षधर्मपर्व Adhyaya 202)

Along the road - Nivrttimarga, 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 Pravrttimarga. 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.

कर्ममार्गः ॥ Karmamarga is for those in whom Kriya (क्रिया) 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.[2]

Sanatana Dharma Vs Religion

  • 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.


  1. Mandagadde, Rama Jois. (1997) Dharma : The Global Ethic Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 Sanatana Dharma : An Advanced Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics. (1903) Benares : The Board of Trustees, Central Hindu College
  3. Pandey, A and Navare, A. V. (2018) Paths of Yoga : Perspective for Workplace Spirituality. Springer International Publishing Inc.
  4. Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1962) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law). Volume 5 Part 2. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  5. Bramhasutra Bhashyam (Adhyaya 1 Pada 3) By Sri Adi Shankaracharya
  6. Devi Bhagavata (Skanda 1 Adhyaya 3)
  7. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
  8. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Adhyaya 3)
  9. N. S. Ananta Rangacharya (2003) Principal Upanishads (Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandookya, Taittiriya, Mahanarayana, Svetasvatara) Volume 1. Bangalore : Sri Rama Printers
  10. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Adhyaya 1)
  11. Mundakopanishad (Mundaka 1 Khanda 1)
  12. Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 4)
  13. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 12)
  14. Pandey, Rajbali. (2002 Reprint) Hindu Samskaras : Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Yoga Darshana by Patanjali (Pada 2)
  16. Yajnavalkya Smrti (Adhyaya 1 Grhasthadharma Prakarana)