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 Dharmika Jivana Vidhana.[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]

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'.[3]

Pandey & Navare (2018)[4] mention Hindu is a descriptive term for the people from the other side of river Sindhu and first used by Arabs in fifth century AD. The idea of Hindu religion originated from Nature worship. Nature is personified into Gods in many places in Vedas, the ultimate source of Hinduism[5]. Sanātana Dharma was the overarching term originally used for so many spiritual paths practiced in Hindu society in ancient India. That can be loosely translated as eternal truth.

Sanatana Dharma reflects the timelessness of the adhyatmik and theological practices prevalent in Bharatavarsha even in the present day. Sanatana Dharma eternally holds All together. But it should be noted that the words Sanatana dharma do not mean that Dharma always stands still or is immutable. It means that our culture is timeless with a long tradition behind it but does not mean that Dharma permits no change.[3]

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 adhyatmik characteristics, especially 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.

Western scholars with their penchant for neat categorization have attempted to classify Hinduism as “polytheistic” — meaning worshiping a number of different gods; or “henotheistic” — having many different gods but regarding one as superior to the others; “pantheistic” — believing that the universe is Divine and ‘that God and Nature are the same. All of these categories apply is some way or other to one or other particular sect or philosophical school, but none of them adequately describe Sanatana Dharma as it is. Sanatana Dharma has no founder, no dogma, no central teaching authority, no creed, no stock theology or generally accepted philosophy, no uniform customs or traditions, and above all insists that all religions are relatively true[6].

Historical Linkages of Sanatana Dharma

This section has been taken from the writing of Pandit Ram Sivan[6].

"There are two world religions which have formed the cultural and ethical basis of the world as we know it. Both have an unbroken history going back thousands of years. Judaism with a 5000 year old tradition is the mother of the western civilization through its offshoot Christianity. Hinduism is the older of the two with a literature going back to the beginning of recorded history. The ancient civilizations such as the Roman, the Greek, the Egyptian, the Sumerian, and the Babylonian have all passed away. Even the Jewish culture has undergone many radical changes since its inception 5000 years ago - yet the Hindu civilization continues as a vibrant and living vector, and has remained virtually unchanged for over 6000 years.

Hinduism is a term that was coined by foreign invaders of India to designate the traditional socio-religious systems of the people of ‘Hind’ or India. This term does not appear in any of the sacred literature of India. Hindus refer to their religion as Sanatana Dharma which loosely translated means “The Eternal Path’. Sanatana means eternal perpetual or sustained. Dharma means any method by which one sees reality for what it is, and that by which one is drawn closer to the Absolute Truth and Ultimate Reality — it is the Philosophia Perenis.

Hinduism is a living religion that has an unique in-built ability to adapt itself to changing circumstances. The flow of Hinduism can be divided roughly into major periods of change and development. The ancient Indian focus was always upon the spiritual development of humankind which is perennial and supra-mundane — dating is therefore an extremely problematic issue in matters relating to Hinduism and its development as seen through its literature.

Hindu teachers recognize the fact of their own historical development and do not lay claim to exclusivity or uniqueness in any way. There is no pretense that the religion descended from heaven and was the personal and unchangeable revelation of any one individual or that there was a “chosen” group of the “elect”. What Hinduism does claim is that it has, along with many other religions, universal and perennial Truths which are timeless and eternally valid.

Authority of Sanatana Dharma

A term of wide import, Sanatana Dharma is inclusive of many siddhantas and tattvas (philosophies) all unified in their goal of achieving the highest state of mankind which is Nihshreyasa (निःश्रेयसम्). As knowledge is the rightful source of authority, as knowledge of the great Rshis was the product of their Reason in resonance with the Divine Reason, the Shrutis, given to the world are authoritative. The system of morality inculcated in Sanatana Dharma, is therefore authoritative as it

  • is founded on the recognition of Unity of Self
  • draws its precepts and sanctions from that supreme truth
  • is capable of appealing to and being verified by Reason

Sanatana tradition acknowledges the Prasthānatrayī as its three primary sources. The texts comprising the Prasthānatrayī are the Upaniṣada , the Bhagavad-Gītā, and the Brahmasūtra.[7]

Here in the following sections we revisit all 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 are the final authority, revealed by to the Rshis (Apaurusheya (अपौरुषेयम्), organized and compiled by Maharshi Veda Vyasa. Each of these vedas are classified into 4 based on their content namely, Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanishads. The subject matter deals with profound jnanakanda with exclusively unique siddhantas and thoughts about the aspects of life, death, yajnas, punarjiva (rebirth), karma, brahman and the karmakanda which includes descriptions of yajnas, their procedures, materials required and the reason for such activities. They also include the governing powers of nature (the deities) and their stuti (praise) which extol their heroic deeds. The various procedures, the classification and the results of performing shrauta yajnas are clearly elaborated in these texts. Atharva veda also describes the more mundane things such as remedies in medicine, agriculture, charms and other socio-cultural perspectives.

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)[8]

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 in the Devi Bhagavata slokas

द्वापरे द्वापरे विष्ण्णुर्व्यासरूपेण सर्वदा । वेदमेकं स बहुधा कुरुते हितकाम्यया ॥ १९ (Devi. Bhag. 1.3.19)[9]

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 Smrtis, which explain and develop Dharmika Vyvastha laid down for common understanding the laws which regulate national, social, family and individual obligations. Just as revealed in the Vedas, the Rshis 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) [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. [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 ascertains 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]

Siddhantas in 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, distinctive features, 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 as an extension to the basic principles of Sanatana Dharma. These concepts unique and ancient, which mark out Hinduism among many other faiths, constitute the dharmika tattvajnana (धार्मिकतत्वज्ञानम्) explaining the integral unity of Sanatana Dharma.

एकम् सत् || One Supreme Being

Sanatana Dharma's highest point of convergence is the Brahman or the Supreme Being with exceptionally absolute nature. 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 ||[11]

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, Paramatma, Parameshvara, Supreme etc) to be

Sat-Chit-Ananda (सत्-चित्-आनन्द)

Satyam-Jnanam-Anantam Brahma सत्यंज्ञानमनन्तं ब्रह्मा (Taittriya Upanishad 2.1.1)

It is the form of eternal knowledge, universal truth and bliss. Also referred to as He, 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 adhyatmik 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] Kathopanishad clearly explains the attributes and nature of the Brahman as follows,

अशब्दमस्पर्शमरूपमव्ययं तथाऽरसं नित्यमगन्धवच्च यत् ।

अनाद्यनन्तं महतः परं ध्रुवं निचाय्य तन्मृत्युमुखात् प्रमुच्यते ॥ १५ ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.3.15)

aśabdamasparśamarūpamavyayaṁ tathā'rasaṁ nityamagandhavacca yat ।

anādyanantaṁ mahataḥ paraṁ dhruvaṁ nicāyya tanmr̥tyumukhāt pramucyatē ॥ 15 ॥ (Kath. Upan. 1.3.15)

Meaning : Having perceived (through meditation) that (Supreme Paramatman) which is always soundless, touchless, colourlesss, imperishable, tasteless, odourless, beginningless and endless and higher than the great (Jivatma), one gets released from the clutches of death.[12]

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)[13]

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][12]

Thus the first thing we learn here is the Unity of all Selves and this is the foundation of Dharma (word used in the sense of Ethics).

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). Sri Ramana Maharshi in his Upadesasaram, very clearly explains that Karma is jada (insentient) thus,

कर्तुराज्ञया प्राप्यते फलम् । कर्म किं परं कर्म तज्जडम् ॥ १॥

karturājñayā prāpyatē phalam । karma kiṁ paraṁ karma tajjaḍam ॥ 1॥ (Upad. Sara. 1)

Meaning: By the command of karta (performer of Karma) the fruit of action is determined. So how is Karma supreme, for it is inanimate.

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)[14]

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)[15]

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. Then there is the higher (Para knowledge) by which is attained that Aksharam or Immutable Brahman.[16]

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 adhyatmik approach, and what level of the Absolute Truth he or she wishes to understand. This is the height of adhyatmik democracy and freedom from tyranny.

  1. Dharma (धर्मः), is to develop ourselves morally and adhyatmikly
  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.

Here we elaborate on the two boundaries of the book called Life, namely Dharma and Moksha. The intermediary two namely Artha and Kama are based on Dharma thus forming Trivarga governing the codes for worldly existence.

धर्मः॥ Dharma

Purusharthas define our lifestyle by influencing our thought processes directly, establishing the code of conduct through Dharma, the first of the Purusharthas. The system of morality so inculcated by the Sanatana Dharma is authoritative as it is developed based on Reason (Chit), on the Divine Wisdom primarily and on the illuminated Human Reason (Buddhi) secondarily. The object of morality is bring about happiness by establishing harmonious relations between all the Jivatmas. Thus the standard of Ethics or Dharma is in other words to unite not to divide.

Ethical teachings have therefore reference to the lower sheaths of a man's body and to the different classes of beings who form his surroundings.

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)[17]

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)[17]

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.[12] 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 all-pervading the Brahmaloka.

स वा एष महानज आत्माऽजरोऽमरोऽमृतोऽभयो ब्रह्माभयं वै ब्रह्माभय हि वै ब्रह्म भवति य एवं वेद ॥ २५ ॥ (Brhd. Upan. 4.4.25)[18]

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]

Sanatana Dharma Vyavastha

The previous section is a brief summary of the siddhantas (theories) or mental processes on which Sanatana Dharma is based on. The present section deals with the course of action to be taken, the system of Karma (activities) that leads one on the path of Dharma, establishes him on the Prvritti marga of Jnana taking him to his goal of Nihshreyasa and Moksha.

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 adhyatmik 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.

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. One of the fundamental concepts has been that of the 'ऋृणम् (debts) owed by a person to the seers, devatas, pitrs, bhutas (manushya and other beings), which he paid off by Svadhyaya, by Yajnas, by having progeny, and by charity respectively. 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][3]

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.[19]

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 adhyatmik 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 script was not developed.

Teachableness and obedience to the teacher are insisted on, and many rules were given intended to impresss on the student the duty he owned to his preceptor. A student was to be ever serviceable and careful not to offend, regarding the guru as his father in the highest sense. The position of the Guru is defined and elevated as given below by Manu

उत्पादकब्रह्मदात्रोर्गरीयान्ब्रह्मदः पिता । ब्रह्मजन्म हि विप्रस्य प्रेत्य चेह च शाश्वतम् ॥ २.१४६ ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.146)[10]

utpādakabrahmadātrōrgarīyānbrahmadaḥ pitā । brahmajanma hi viprasya prētya cēha ca śāśvatam ॥ 2.146 ॥

Meaning : Of the progenitor and the giver of the knowledge of Brahman, the giver of Knowledge of Brahman is the more venerable garther; for the birth of the Brahman in the Brahmana is verily eternal both here and after death.[2][20] Only to a dutiful pupil was the knowledge given :

यथा खनन्खनित्रेण नरो वार्यधिगच्छति । तथा गुरुगतां विद्यां शुश्रूषुरधिगच्छति ॥ २.२१८॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.218)[10]

Meaning : As a man by digging with a spade obtains water, so also he who does service obtains the wisdom enshrined in his guru.[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)[21]

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

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 adhyatmik goals more seriously
  4. Sanyasa (सन्यासः) or renunciation stage of life in which our adhyatmik purpose is the main focus

वर्णाः ॥ The Four Varnas

Varna is a conceptual framework that aims to provide a conceptual basis for building a social order that promotes harmony and overall wellbeing of everyone.[22] There are four varnas, namely

  1. Brahmana
  2. Kshatriya
  3. Vaishya
  4. Shudra

The purpose of varnas was to organize the society.

धार्मिकजीवनविधानम् ॥ Dharmik Jeevanavidhana

Leading a Dharmika Jivana Vidhana 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.

Dharmika Vyavahara

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 adhyatmik 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 adhyatmik aspirant.

अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः ॥३०॥ शौचसंतोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः ॥३२॥(Yoga. Dars. 2.30 and 32)[23]

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)[23]

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 (Page 1648 of Reference [3]).

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)

Dayā (दया । Compassion towards all creatures), kṣānti (क्षान्ति। forbearance) anasūyā (अनसूया। devoid of ill-will or envy ) śaucam (शौचम्। purity (external and internal)) anāyāsaḥ (अनायासः । avoiding pain even to oneself ) maṅgalam (मङ्गलम् । auspiciousness) akārpaṇyam (अकार्पण्यम् । freedom from self-pity or weakness) aspr̥heti (अस्पृहः। free from covetousness) are the qualities of the Atman.

धर्मलक्षणम्‌ || Dharma Lakshanas

With conscious practice of yoga, purity of mind and body, atman gets purified by which Atmagunas are manifested. Such a person automatically aligns with Rta and follows Dharma. Manusmrti lays down the following four lakshanas of Dharma. Following the Vedas, Smrtis, Sadachara (सदाचारः), one's inner consciousness are the four lakshanas defined in a simplified form.[2]

वेदः स्मृतिः सदाचारः स्वस्य च प्रियमात्मनः । एतच्चतुर्विधं प्राहुः साक्षाद् धर्मस्य लक्षणम् || (Manu. Smrt. 2.12)

vedaḥ smr̥tiḥ sadācāraḥ svasya ca priyamātmanaḥ । etaccaturvidhaṁ prāhuḥ sākṣād dharmasya lakṣaṇam || (Manu. Smrt. 2.12)

Additionally Manu lays down the following ten lakshanas

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)

Yajnavalkya Smrti recounts the above qualities as the means to be on the Dharmika path, similar to those given in Manusmrti, with slight differences.

अहिंसा सत्‍यमस्‍तेयं शौचमिन्‍द्रियनिग्रह:। दानं दमो दया शान्‍ति: सर्वेषां धर्मसाधनम्‌ || (Yajn. Smrt. 1.122)[24]
ahiṁsā sat‍yamas‍tēyaṁ śaucamin‍driyanigraha:। dānaṁ damō dayā śān‍ti: sarvēṣāṁ dharmasādhanam‌ ||

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.

परो धर्मः || Paradharmas

Bhagavata Purana (7.11.8-12) describes the 30 Para Dharmas (highest dharmas of mankind) that everyone should have[25]

सत्यं दया तपः शौचं तितिक्षेक्षा शमो दमः । अहिंसा ब्रह्मचर्यं च त्यागः स्वाध्याय आर्जवम् ॥ ८ ॥

सन्तोषः समदृक् सेवा ग्राम्येहोपरमः शनैः । नृणां विपर्ययेहेक्षा मौनं आत्मविमर्शनम् ॥ ९ ॥

अन्नाद्यादेः संविभागो भूतेभ्यश्च यथार्हतः । तेष्वात्मदेवताबुद्धिः सुतरां नृषु पाण्डव ॥ १० ॥

श्रवणं कीर्तनं चास्य स्मरणं महतां गतेः । सेवेज्यावनतिर्दास्यं सख्यमात्म समर्पणम् ॥ ११ ॥

नृणामयं परो धर्मः सर्वेषां समुदाहृतः । त्रिंशत् लक्षणवान् राजन् सर्वात्मा येन तुष्यति ॥ १२ ॥

  1. Truthfulness (सत्यम्)
  2. Compassion (दया)
  3. Asceticism (तपः)
  4. Purity (शौचम्)
  5. Endurance (तितिक्षा)
  6. Discriminatory power (इक्षा)
  7. Control of mind (शमः)
  8. Control of senses (दमः)
  9. Nonviolence (अहिंसा)
  10. Celibacy (ब्रह्मचर्यम्)
  11. Selflessness (त्यागः)
  12. Study of Vedas (स्वाध्यायः)
  13. Unity of word, action and deeds(आर्जवम्)
  14. Contentment (सन्तोषः)
  15. Service with equality (समदृक् सेवा)
  16. Withdrawing from Pravritti (ग्राम्येहोपरमः)
  17. Observing fruitlessness of human actions (नृणां विपर्ययेहेक्षा)
  18. Refraining from useless conversations (मौनं)
  19. Self Introspection (आत्मविमर्शनम्)
  20. Equitable distribution of food etc to needy (अन्नाद्यादेः संविभागो भूतेभ्यश्च यथार्हतः)
  21. Knowledge of Self and Deities in all beings (भूतेभ्यः आत्मदेवताबुद्धिः)
  22. Hearing (the stories and qualities of Srihari)(श्रवणम्)
  23. Constant chanting (of the name of Srihari)(कीर्तनम्)
  24. Contemplation on Supreme (स्मरणम्)
  25. Service (सेवा)
  26. Performing dharmik duties (इज्या)
  27. Bowing to (अवनतिः)
  28. Rendering service to (दस्यं)
  29. Behaving as his friend (सख्यम्)
  30. Dedication of oneself to Srihari (आत्म समर्पणम्)

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 tenets, as we can see, are not so difficult to understand and are the basis of the Vedic adhyatmik 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]

Goal of Sanatana Dharma

Recognition of Unity of the Self and leads to the establishment of mutually helpful relations between all separated selves. Every moral precept finds its sanction in this Unity. Universal Love which is an expression of the Unity, is the root of all virtues and its opposite is the root of all vices. Universal Brotherhood has its basis in the Unity; men are divided by their Upadhis, both dense (Sthulasharira) and subtle (Sukshmasharira) but all are rooted in the one Self. Only this teaching advocated by Sanatana Dharma, when realized by one an all can put an end to all strife and serve as a foundation for peace.[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, for learning more about the Vedic path in the school of thought or parampara that your guru represents.

Views of some prominent scholars on Sanatana Dharma

  • Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, prominent Vedantist and former President of India mentioned the following about Hindu (Sanatana) Dharma[26]: "The Hindu attitude to religion is interesting. While fixed intellectual beliefs mark off one religion from another, Hinduism sets itself no such limits. Intellect is subordinate to intuition, dogma to experience, outer expression to inward realization. Religion is not the acceptance of academic abstractions or the celebration of ceremonies, but a kind of life or experience".  Dr Radhakrishnan, further said: "Hinduism is wholly free from the strange obsession of some faiths that the acceptance of a particular religious metaphysics is necessary for salvation, and non-acceptance thereof is a heinous sin meriting eternal punishment in hell"[26].
  • Frawley (1995)[27] translate this term as “eternal tradition” and pointed out and summarized its characteristics like it is not limited to any scripture, messiah, church, community, or particular historical end, embraces a timeless self-renewing reality and divinity in all forms of nature and existence.
  • Sriram Ramanuja Achari quotes[6] The Mahabharata (Vana Parva 297;35) and says that it defines Sanatana Dharma as follows:— “The Eternal Duty (Sanatana Dharma) towards all creatures is the absence of malevolence (prejudice) towards them in thought, deed or word, and to practice compassion and generosity towards them’. Thus, according to this definition any who practices the above three things is a “Hindu”regardless of their theological or philosophical convictions.


  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 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 Sanatana Dharma : An Advanced Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics. (1903) Benares : The Board of Trustees, Central Hindu College
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kane, Pandurang Vaman. (1962) History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Medieval Religious and Civil Law). Volume 5 Part 2. Poona : Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute
  4. Pandey, A., & Navare, A. V. (2018). Paths of Yoga: Perspective for Workplace Spirituality. In The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Fulfilment. Palgrave Macmillan Cham.
  5. Vivekananda S (1896), Page 147 Practical vedanta. http://​www.​vivekananda.​net/​PDFBooks/​PracticalVedanta​.​pdf.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 An concise introduction to the Eternal Path to Liberation Pandit Ram Sivan, (Srirama Ramanuja Achari), Simha Publications, Sydney
  7. Pandey, A., & Navare, A. V. (2018). Paths of Yoga: Perspective for Workplace Spirituality. In The Palgrave Handbook of Workplace Spirituality and Fulfilment. Palgrave Macmillan Cham.
  8. Bramhasutra Bhashyam (Adhyaya 1 Pada 3) By Sri Adi Shankaracharya
  9. Devi Bhagavata (Skanda 1 Adhyaya 3)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Manusmriti (Adhyaya 2)
  11. Rig Veda (Mandala 1 Sukta 164)
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 N. S. Ananta Rangacharya (2003) Principal Upanishads (Isa, Kena, Katha, Prasna, Mundaka, Mandookya, Taittiriya, Mahanarayana, Svetasvatara) Volume 1. Bangalore : Sri Rama Printers
  13. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Adhyaya 3)
  14. Shvetashvatara Upanishad (Adhyaya 1)
  15. Mundakopanishad (Mundaka 1 Khanda 1)
  16. Swami Gambhirananda (1937) Eight Upanishads, Volume 2 (Aitareya, Mundaka, Mandukya and Karika and Prasna) Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kathopanishad (Adhyaya 1 Valli 2)
  18. Brhdaranyaka Upanishad (Adhyaya 4 Brahmana 4)
  19. Pandey, Rajbali. (2002 Reprint) Hindu Samskaras : Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments. Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  20. Manusmrti English Translation (Page 26)
  21. Manusmriti (Adhyaya 12)
  22. Nithin Sridhar, Varṇa vyavastha as a conceptual social order that facilitates self-actualization,
  23. 23.0 23.1 Yoga Darshana by Patanjali (Pada 2)
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