SOME ASPECTS OF SANATANA DHARMA:
A Practical Approach
- By Dr. L.Adinarayana
HERE is a piece of Vedic wisdom:
Having taught the Vedas, the Acharya imparts this post-instruction to the students:
“Speak the truth. Practice Dharma. Don’t deviate from Study.”
After learning the duties inculcated in the Vedas, the student should perform them regularly. These duties, in terms of speech, action and study, are meant for creating proper tendencies in a person. It is only when a person has proper disposition and a purified mind that the knowledge of the Brahman dawns upon him.
Based on the two cardinal principles of Truth and Dharma, the entire structure of our dharmic culture is built.
To put it in another way, the Ramayana by Maharshi Valmiki and the Mahabharata by Maharshi Vedavyasa are the two strong pillars on which the entire architecture of our culture rests. The two powerful narratives capture the power of dharma and truth, in a positive way in the case of the Ramayana and in a negative way in the case of the Mahabharata. Both of them exemplify the dictum:
When Dharma is destroyed, it destroys; (dharma eva hato hanti😉
When Dharma is protected, it protects. (dharmo rakshati raksitaH) (Manu, 8.16)
Both the Kavyas guide, support and inspire every one belonging to the Dharmic tradtion to lead a life of purity, commitment and fulfillment.
The present situation
Coming to the present situation, we are confronted by a variety of issues in our lives, causing a great deal of concern and anguish as to how to address them effectively.
Some of the issues are: Corruption, nepotism and favoritism; Gender discrimination; Caste discrimination; Intolerance; Violence; Economic disparity; Environmental pollution; and Health Issues like depression, obesity and stress-related problems.
This is the indication of a serious imbalance in the functioning and management of human affairs. There is no section in the society that is unaffected by these issues and every section has in some way or the other caused this imbalance in the harmonious functioning of the individuals as well as the society.
What stance should votaries of Sanatana Dharma take and what measures need to be taken to restore harmony among the individuals and in the society?
Before that, let us ask, ‘What is Dharma in our Samskriti?’ and ‘How do we define it?’
The Sanskrit word dharma has a wide range of meanings and a variety of connotations, including:
Conduct, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, religion, religious merit, good work according to a right or rule, etc.
When we look at the etymology of the word, it is derived from the root dhri, which means ‘that which upholds’, or ‘that without which nothing can stand’, or ‘that which maintains the stability or harmony of the universe’. It also includes ‘the innate behavior of things’. So any speech, action, conduct or behavior that does not contribute to the unity, integrity and harmony in all the dimensions of the universe is adharma. While the word dharma has no equivalent in the dictionaries of other languages, it holds a central position in defining our Vedic culture. It provides the principles for the harmonious development and fulfillment of all aspects of life – namely, artha, the acquisition of wealth and power, kaama, fulfillment of desires, and moksha, the attainment of liberation. Each epoch has its own distinct dharma and it varies from age to age.(Manu: 1.8) it is important to know that the dharmasatras have recorded the existing practices of different communities at a given point of time. And when there is decline or glaani in the practice of dharma and ascendance of adharma, we know what Bhagavan Krishna has said:
Yada yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati bharata
Abhyutthanam adharmasya tadatmanam srjamyaham.
We live in a democratic age that is individual-centric. That is, we choose the kind of power structure we want and define the pattern of governance, frame the laws and prescribe the mechanisms to implement them. It is therefore important that we should start at the individual level and initiate a change of attitude. Krishna’s assurance is at the macrocosmic level. But each of us is a microcosmic replica of the macrocosm and can initiate steps, and like Arjuna, we should undertake, to restore dharmic balance.
kariShye vacanam tava : I shall do Your bidding. (B.G., 18:73.)
Categories of Dharma
Among the various types of Dharmas, the category of GENERAL DHARMAS, in relation to human beings, is extremely important. Without these General Dharmas, human beings will be deprived of their very humaneness. Without them the SPECIAL DHARMAS have no relevance. The General Dharmas meant for the human beings are enumerated in the following way in the Yagnavalkya Smriti:
AhimsA satyamAsteyam soucamindriya nigrahaH
DAnam dayo damA kSAntiH sarvesham dharmsAdhanaM.
Vighnesvara, in his commentary known as MitAkSara, explains thus:
- Ahimsa is causing no pain to any form of living entity.
- Satya is giving expression to the truth of not harming any living entity.
- Asteya is not taking possession of an object without permission.
- Sauca, purity, is of two kinds: external and internal.
- Indriya nigraha is keeping the organs of perception and organs of action restrained from freely pursuing their objects and allowing them to engage themselves only in the pursuit of desirable objects. It is restraint exercised on the different organs in the body.
- daana is providing succor, according to one’s capacity, in the form of food, water, etc. to any form of living entity.
- dama is exercising control over the inner instruments called antahkaraNas, that is, manas, buddhi, cittaM and ahaMkAraM.
- daya is giving protection to those whose lives are in danger.
- kSAnti is keeping the mind unperturbed even when treated unkindly.
These are the instruments for observing Dharma in the case of every being, starting from Brahma to the one placed on the lowest rung on the social scale.
Here is another stanza from the same Yagnavalkya Smrti:
Acared sadrsIm vrttiM, ajihmAm-asathAM tathA.
The commentary by Mitaksara goes like this:
- Vayas refers to age, like childhood, youth, etc.
- Buddhi is intellect that functions in a natural way, conforming to the Vedic path.
- Artha means wealth, be it money, house or land.
- vAk is the ability to express one’s opinion, using words.
- vesha is dress or decorative items like flowers.
- sruta is having heard about the sAstrAs pertaining to the four-fold human objectives, namely, dharma, artha, kAma amd mokSha.
- Abhijana means’ kula’, one’s social status.
- Karma is one’s profession. Everyone is expected to act according to one’s age, ability, status, etc,. In the same way, one should practice Dharma that is appropriate to his power of intellect, his financial status, his ability to give expression to his thoughts, his education, his occupation and his social status. While doing so, ajihmAm, that is, he should not be crooked or he should not think of deceiving others.
- ashathAM, he should be without jealousy.
The above-mentioned Dharmas and the need to observe them in conformity with one’s own capacity, status, profession, etc. apply to every period of time and to people belonging to every country. This is the essence of Sanathana Ddharma.
The viseSa Dharmas derive their strength and support from the sAmAnya or general Dharmas. Performance of viseSa Dharmas like observance of varNAsrama Dharmas, prayer and worship, rigorous observance of vrtAs, penance, manthra japa, visiting holy places, etc., if they do not derive support and strength from the sAdhAraNa or General Dharmas, get reduced to mere acts of blind faith, pretence and arrogance.
Practicing varNAzrama dharma comes under vizeSa dharma, specific to the social category to which a person belongs.
According to Manu,
“ … to protect this whole creation, the lustrous one made separate innate activities for those born of his mouth, arms, thighs and feet. For priests, he ordained teaching and learning, sacrificing for themselves and sacrificing for others, giving and receiving.” ( I.88,89)
It is therefore very essential that everyone should practice svadharma.
Samskriti and its Defining Features
The concepts of ‘samanya dharma’, and ‘visesha dharma,’ including ‘svadharma,’ in particular, can be properly understood when we place them in the context in which they developed and flourished and sustained a whole set of values for thousands of years. It is a civilization, a samskrti, with certain defining features.
- Every act is done with due resolve and commitment (sankalapa) to realize the four goals of human existence: dharma, artha, kama and moksha.
- Every individual is bound by the laws of Karma. Karma is the principle by which an individual’s thoughts, feelings and actions create consequences in the present and future. It offers an ethical framework in which each bears responsibility and accountability for choices that are freely made. There is possibility for everyone to make and remake their lives and destinies.
- Reincarnation is the system of rebirth into another life based on one’s own past karma. Karma is neither God acting arbitrarily nor a random occurrence. The theory of karma, while it explains present circumstances, is a guide to good action. It is the individual ego that creates karma by making choices and is bound by the consequences. When the individual ego transforms itself and loses its separateness from the Ultimate Reality, such a release is called Liberation, the ultimate goal of human effort.
- Another defining feature of this culture, which is also referred to as sanatana dharma, is the importance given to in-wardness. Action is two-directional: outward-bound or inward-bound. When an action is outward-bound, it is called karma, (praavritti marga);
when it is inward-bound, it is called kriya, (nivrtti marga). Kriya is helpful in doing yogic practices like pranayama, dharana, dhyana, etc. Our ancient rishis were able to attain deep meditative states in which they discovered and realized many valuable truths.
- One such great discovery made by them is Sanskrit language and its application to embody the whole dharmic
- Another important feature of dharmic Tradition is the use to which the human body is put. It is, no doubt, an instrument to perform dharmic work. It is also, more importantly, an instrument of External texts, symbols and rituals only guide the individual towards direct experience. Higher knowing is within the body. The ancient rishis discovered several practices to bring about transformation through yoga and sadhana.
- A rishi is one who sees and hears the eternal truth. With his extraordinary faculties, he is able to experience directly the vibrations of the infinite. He does not compose mantras but hears or tunes into them. A collection of such mantras realized by various rishis is called veda, which is
Mantras are valuable instruments to reach higher levels of consciousness and realization.
- Each family in our culture traces its lineage back to a particular rishi. The legacy is passed on from generation to generation. The concept of family as it developed in our Samskriti promoted dharmic values in a practical manner, both by precept and practice. With the idea of joint families giving place to nuclear or ‘single’ families, personal relational equations have come under severe strain. With the invasion of the Western values and life-styles, people are becoming less inclusive and more materialistic. Everyone should, through sadhana, seek the ultimate goal of Liberation, not satisfied with mere survival, however comfortable and technology-driven it might be.
It is left to the younger generation to rediscover the Sanatana Dharmic traditions and re-establish the eternal values and re-create themselves in the modern context. In Western categories of thinking, growth and development are synonymous with urbanized modernization. But in dharmic categories of thinking, moral and spiritual qualities are essential for culture to flourish
- The ancient rishis have set the example of svadharma by doing tapas and svadhyaya, and by insisting on observing daily Anushtana, which plays an important role in spiritual It is the daily practice of certain spiritual performances like sankalpa, pranayama, concentration or dharana, dhyana, performing sandhya, offering worship, mantra-japa, performing homa, parayana or study of spiritual texts, etc.
- It is very important that learning of the sacred sounds of Sanskrit should go along with the practice of svadharma. Sanskrit sounds are mantric in their vibrational effect as they reach levels of consciousness that are deeper that the conceptual level. A program called “A sloka a Day ……” is getting ready to be implemented.
How do we go about effecting change?
As mentioned at the beginning, from the point of view of sanatana dharma, each and every person should address the issues, and cause a shift in the approach to every issue from mere passive acceptance of things to an active assertion of the efficacy of dharma and its operation, and set – and live – the example, by following svadharma.
Dharma prachara is, no doubt, important to enlighten people on the need for following a dharmic way of life. My brother, Lanka Krishna Murti, devoted all his life to the practice and propagation of Sanatana Dharma, through his creative writings as well as through the journal Dharma Prabha.
In my opinion, the effort should be reinforced by Achara, practice, at the individual level.
I suggest that everyone should be persuaded to practice svadharma, in tune with his placement in society and appropriate to his power of intellect, his financial status, his ability to give expression to his thoughts, his education, and his occupation.