“Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.” J. Krishnamoorthy (writer and speaker of philosophy and spirituality).
This is the commencement of a multi segmented series of articles on Eastern Philosophy. This set of ideological views was originally developed in India, but in general the term “Eastern Philosophy” is broadly applicable to the metaphysical reasoning that originated from the Asian subcontinent namely ancient India and China. India (which in those days spanned the entire geographical region around the river Indus and its tributaries and included the Indian subcontinent, Tibet, Afghanistan, Mongolia, Burma, and Pakistan) was the fountainhead of all the eastern philosophical schools of thought and religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Sanatana Dharma was the core dogma from which the other philosophical notions were derived. In essence the inception of the eastern transcendental doctrines can be traced back to Sanatana Dharma what is currently defined as Hinduism.
Please note that I use the term “religion” to describe Hinduism very loosely, firstly to use a familiar term, and secondly to broadly designate the way of life of a particular sect of people rather than the communal system for the coherence of belief. Hinduism is not a religion in a traditional sense as we understand that expression and nowhere in the ancient scriptures is there a definition for the term “Hinduism”. It was the name ascribed to the followers of Sanatana Dharma by western scholarship. So it is by no means a religion but the Dharma can be comprehensively classified as a way of life, or the rules governing the right way to lead a virtuous life.
The term religion can be very broadly interpreted as “A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion” (“Religion | Define Religion at Dictionary.com.” Dictionary.com | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Dictionary.com. Web. 13 Jan. 2011. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religion).In this sense yes perhaps Santana Dharma can be classified as a religion. But in a traditional sense religion typically means “any formal institutionalized expression of belief”. From this perspective Sanatana Dharma is not comparable to other western religions such as Islam or Christianity or even the eastern religions for several reasons.
First of all the Dharma is not really a formally institutionalized faith and comprises of multiple creeds and sects but all the diverse creeds and sects share one ultimate truth and many moral and ethical values that form the base upon which the notions of all the various beliefs are built. The proceeding sections will expound on this in detail. Secondly, it has no central figures of authority. And then there are no specific set of institutionalized theological systems for every individual to unreflectively and incontrovertibly follow in order to seek the absolute. I refer to the term unreflectively to emphasize the will of an individual to blindly adhere to the rigid dogmas prescribed in the authoritative texts without an introspective mind. In fact introspection is an important aspect of the spiritual evolution process. Additionally, there are no central religious organizations that govern the overall moral and ethical standards. And also there was no prophet or a founder. There were many holy revered saints who have revived and dispersed the values of the faith, but none of them are designated as the founding father. Nor are there are any dogmatic assertions of salvation by one specific methodology in fact this school of thought stresses the fact that there are multiple paths that could potentially lead towards the same destination and each individual has been given the absolute right to choose his or her own route towards the absolute. Thus all religions according to this Dharma are paths to the same God and all devotees no matter what religion or denominations they belong to, are considered to be travelers on the path to the Ultimate Truth.
There are no undue restraints on the philosophical thought process and human reasoning either. From this standpoint, this philosophical system provides the complete freedom for every individual to contemplate, worship, reflect, and investigate upon the various paths that exists towards salvation. It also provides the option to freely choose and practice the values and beliefs that best suits his or her personality. Finally the belief system also emphasizes the need to adhere to one’s own natural course to attain salvation as opposed to the conventional rules and regulations set forth by formal channels. This is because coercion or rigid adherence to a particular doctrine does not necessarily imply salvation. Unless and until the individual’s mind is tuned to these beliefs which he or she accepts wholeheartedly and believes in them with absolute faith how can the soul be redeemed? Salvation is then described as a natural phenomenon that will occur only when the individual’s mind is tuned to such beliefs which in turn is dependent upon what is termed as the inherent or the predominant ‘Guna’ of an individual. The meaning of the term Guna or “Tri Guna” (three Gunas) will be described later. For now I will adhere to the general meaning of this terminology which would roughly translate to the typical characteristic of the mind that influences the thought process and the natural tendencies and predisposition of every individual. It is due to the effect and the influence of the gunas that the urge to seek the infinite cannot be coerced. It must develop spontaneously and evolve naturally.
Vedanta- the summation of the philosophy enunciated in the Vedas, stresses the fact that only when the mind is completely stabilized through constant penance and the Tri gunas are completely in equilibrium is the individual ready to seek the path towards higher goals and ideals. So therefore the Tri guna plays a vital role in Hindu philosophy.
The Upanishads also known as Vedanta (or the essence of vedas) are the interpretations of the vedas. Veda in Sankrit means wisdom or knowledge. The vedas are the oldest texts known to mankind which are primarily a collection of metric hymns and celebration formulas and all the philosophical details necessary for leading a spiritual life in order to attain salvation. There are 4 vedas namely Rig veda, Yajur veda, Sama veda, and Atharvana veda. The origins of the vedas are not known and cannot be accurately determined. Historians have only gone as far as providing ambiguous guesses. This is because even though it was first documented by a great Saint Veda Vyasa (whose date is also controversial and remains a mystery), the contents of the vedas were originally communicated from the guru to the disciple in form of ‘Sruthi’ (sound) centuries before Vyasa could document the words in a textual format.
In essence, vedas are an aggregate of sacred corpuses and collectively regulate the basic spiritual practices of Santana Dharma. The interpretation or the speculation of the essence of the Vedas forms a branch of philosophy termed as Vedanta. All forms are vedantas are primarily derived from the Upanishads which are commentaries of the Vedas
The next few series will lay down the foundation of the tenets of this Dharma at length. This discussion will be restricted to a brief overview of the historical roots of this school of thought and an introduction to the term Sanatana Dharma as this buzzword is far more complicated than what it appears to be at a superficial glance.