“What is Sanatana Dharma of Hinduism? And what are the core beliefs that define a Hindu?
One may find it difficult to give the answers with context to the many spiritual paths and traditions that Hinduism embraces. Sanatana Dharma is the most diverse of all world religions, having thousands of different deities, sacred texts, philosophies, sampradayas, mandirs, rituals, sadhanas, holy places, festivals, gurus and devotees. The multiplicity in Hinduism is bewildering to an uniformed Hindu and others. But amidst the plurality lies unity and catholicity.
The plurality in Hinduism has often been compared to a bouquet of flowers and a salad bowl. The discrete contents of a bouquet or salad bowl combine together to form a single product. Similarly, the multiplicity of beliefs, practices, sampradayas, etc. all make up to produce a single, fascinating canvas called Hinduism. It has been dubbed as a “family of religions” and commonly described to be “a way of life”.
The multiple beliefs and pathways to moksha in Santana Dharma reflect its freedom of worship and the choices of sadhana that suits one’s innate inclinations and karmic capacities.
It is mainly because of its universality and respect for all spiritual paths that Hinduism has flourished through several millennia, and like a great river it flows tenaciously ahead, retaining the ancient while dynamically evolving to meet the present.
Hinduism, Beliefs & Impressions deals with the basic principles of Hinduism and the beliefs of a Hindu. For a Hindu unacquainted with the rudiments of Sanatana Dharma, this book will not only enlighten but also breathe meaning to the practices and beliefs he or she follows For those curious about Hinduism the book will serve to inform and also facilitate in gaining a better understanding of Hinduism. In the introduction to the book, the reader will get a bird’s-eye view of the different aspects that comprise Hinduism. The reader will come across some repetitions about certain beliefs and principles in the first two chapters, but they have been made to justify the topics. For the more interested readers references to Hindu sacred texts and of scholars are provided as footnotes. We hope this publication will motivate the readers to study and experience Hinduism further.
Sanatana Dharma, commonly referred to as Hinduism, is considered by many of its believers and practitioners to be the world’s oldest living dharma or religion that originated from the Indian subcontinent. It has also been described as Vaidika Dharma (religion rooted in the Vedas), Arya Dharma (dharma of Aryans) and Manava Dharma (religion of humanity).
Hindu traditionalists prefer to call it Sanatana Dharma. Santana mean eternal and also ancient. And dharma in this case means religion, however, it has a much more deeper meaning than religion. So, Sanatana Dharma means the religion or the tradition of spiritual beliefs, disciplines and practices that are not only ancient but also eternal. In other words Hinduism is a tradition of spiritual, cultural and social disciplines and practices of great antiquity, with its main roots in the Vedas and continuing relevance to our own times.
Hinduism derives its name from the ancient Persians who called the River Sindhu, that flows through modern day Pakistan, as Hindu, because ‘S’ was pronounced as ‘H’ in their language. Subsequently, as a result of this linguistic practice, the people living on the eastern banks of Sindhu came to be known as Hindus, and later the British developed the term Hinduism to describe the various religious traditions they encountered across the country. Thus the name Hindu had a geographical significance, After the Persians, the Greeks called the river Hindu (i.e. Sindhu), ‘Indos’, and the people, ‘Indoi’. In English the words ‘Indos’ and ‘Indos’ became Indus and Indians.
Throughout the course of history, Hinduism has been like a great river that tenaciously moves forward, retaining the ancient while dynamically evolving to meet the present.
WHAT IS HINDUISM?
Sanatana Dharma evolved over a period of several centuries, thanks to hundreds of enlightened rishis or sages. So, it does not have one founder and philosophy. It is often referred to as a family of religious traditions because of its many deities, sacred texts, philosophies, sampradayas as and religious leaders. This makes Sanatana Dharma fascinating and rich, yet at the same time difficult for outsiders to grasp.
Hinduism extends the boundaries of the term” religion” beyond that which is described in western faiths. Dr S. Radhadrishnan, the former President of India and renowned Oxford Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics, has famously suggested that Hinduism is more than a religion; it is a way of life. Kim Knott, Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds, writes, “By doing so [that is by saying that Hinduism is a way of life], he [Radhakrishnan] made the point that it was not something separate from society and politics, from making money… and getting an education. And, like other modern Hindus, he suggested that the closest term to be found within Indian thought and practice was Hindu dharma, the law, order, truth, and duties of the Hindu people.”1
Many other scholars, historians, indologists, practitioners and spiritual leaders have described Hinduism. Pramukh Swami Maharaj, a renowned Hindu leader and head of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, was asked by an Indian industrialist on 6 November 1996 to explain Hinduism in two sentences.
Swami replied in Gujarati,”Hindu dharma manas ne manava banave chhe, ane ae manava ne moksha no marga shikhvade chhe.” It means,” Hindu dharma makes an individual into a civilized person, and teaches the person [to attain] the path of moksha [liberation].” The words of Swamiji brilliantly summarize Hinduism in brief. One finds them to be true because the basic practice of morality prescribed by the Hindu sacred texts, namely, satya (truth), daya (compassion),ahimsa (nonviolence), brahmacharya (continence), asteya(non-stealing), aparigraha (non-possession) and others, transforms an individual into a civilized or noble person. And the idea of moksha matches with the ultimate of the four goals (dharma, artha, kama and moksha) of human life prescribed by Hinduism.
Hinduism pervades every dimension of the social, cultural and spiritual lives of the Hindus. It is alive and vibrant today in millions of homes and mandirs in India and abroad through its festivals, rituals, spirituals gurus and traditions called sampradayas.
THE ARYAN INVASION THEORY
There are two beliefs among scholars about the founders of Vedic civilization. One group strongly propounds that the Aryans2 came from central Asia, invaded north-western India and established the Vedic culture. The other group says that the Aryans were the original inhabitants of India and thus there was no Aryan invasion of India. Each group argues on the basis of archaeological, linguistic, textual (Rig Vedic accounts) and other sources. However, there is a growing among scholars and researchers that the Aryan invasion and Aryan migration theories are invalid.3 Lord Colin Renfrew (1988), a British archaeologists writes.”If one checks the dozen references in the Rigveda to the Seven Rivers, there is nothing in any of them that to me implies invasion… Despite Wheeler’s comments, it is different to see what particulary non-Aryan about the Indus Valley Civilization is.”4Laurie Patton, Professor of Early Indian Religions at Emory University, Atlanta, USA, notes, “First, very few, if any, archaeologists or linguists embrace the invasion theory, and have not done so for several decades.
The Rig Veda says the Vedic civilization flourished in north-western India, Knows as the land of the Saptasindu (seven rivers). Scholars, Jim Shaffer and Diana Liechtenstein, in their paper “South Asian Archaeology in the Indo-Aryan Controversy” write, “The excavations at Mehrgarh near Sibri, Pakistan, do demonstrate an indigenous development of agricultural food production by people living there as early as the seventh millennium BC.
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