Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Sanatana Dharma

"At the earlier stages of spiritual evolution and metaphysical thought the Vedas mention the names of various gods and goddesses: Mitra, the Sun; Varuna, the god of night and of the blue sky; Dyu and Prithivi, the Sky and the Earth; Agni or fire god, the friend of all; Savitri, the Refulgent; Indra, the master of the universe; and Aditi, the mother of all other gods (the Adityas). Gradually, however, we come across a tendency towards extolling a God as the greatest, controlling all other divine entities. This marks the progress of the concept of God or the ultimate Reality from polytheism to monotheism, ultimately leading to monism."
- Swami Tattwamayananda

The first mandala of the Rig Veda brings out this idea most beautifully: ‘God is called Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, and God is the heavenly, noble-winged Garutman. The Reality is one, but sages call it by many names; they call it Agni, Yama, Matarishvan.’ (1.164.46)

The idea that names may be many and different but they all denote the one God occurs in ‘Vishvakarma Sukta’ too. Therein it is stated: ‘The name-giver of the gods is one; other beings come to him to inquire.’ (10.82.3)

Scope of Sanatana Dharma 

It has been difficult for the Westerners (and others) to understand the essence of Sanatana Dharma because it cannot be put in the West-defined categories of polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism etc.

The scope of some religions in this world can be fit according to these parameters and they can be defined and understood using these terms, but some cannot be fit into these limited definitions.

To understand Sanatana (eternal) Dharma/‘Hinduism’, one needs to realize that it is all encompassing – there is even scope for non-existentialism and atheism in the scriptures – then how can we make it fit into a category?

The ancient scriptures of Sanatana Dharma are of two kinds – Shruti and Smṛti.

1. Shruti is considered to be solely of divine origin. It includes the four Vedas (Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda) the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads with commentaries on them.

The Shrutis present a kind of naturalistic polytheism; with the main Gods appear as fire, sun, wind etc. The major Vedic deities/Gods are - Indra, Surya, Agni, Vayu, Varuna, Mitra, Aditi, Yama, Soma, Sarasvati, Prithvi, and Rudra. Mostly worshiping the various life-giving elements and energies of nature, which play a crucial role in nurturing life forms on the planet and beyond. But Upanishads also talk about the Unity of Consciousness.

2. Smṛti refers to all the knowledge derived and inculcated after Shruti had been received.
Hence, Smrti is not considered 'divine' in origin, but was 'remembered' by later Rishis (sages by insight, who were the scribes) by transcendental means and passed down through their followers. 
It is in the Smritis that the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh seems to appear. It includes the Bhagavata Purana and the Vishnu Purana which are Sattva Puranas. For example these both declare Vishnu as Para Brahman Supreme Lord who creates unlimited universes and enters each one of them as Lord of Universe.

Hence, we can observe that at one point, some scriptures – like the Vedas (Shruti) proclaim a kind of pantheistic polytheism – the natural elements and energies – like fire (Agni Dev), earth (Dhara Devi), wind (Anil Dev)– are worshiped as personified Gods/Goddesses.

At one point – monotheistic principles surface – especially in Vedanta Darshana (Upanishads, also Shruti) with the concept of Unity of Consciousness deeply imbibed in it.

In various Purana (Smriti) – polytheism again resurfaces, even though it defies the strict definition of polytheism because same Truth is manifested in seemingly large number of Gods and Goddesses

Deity Worship

As far as the psychology of deity or idol worship is concerned – these idols, images and symbols - help most people in focusing their concentration, and hence the practical usage cannot be questioned.

That is why most Gods – even in pantheistic religions (fire god, water deity etc.) – are personified.
The human mind can feel closer to images than abstract ideas.

Moreover, this provides people the liberty to select one's deity (Ishta Devta) according to one's personality and inclination

Core values

Following are some of the core fundamentals of Hindu faith/Sanatana Dharma:

v   There is a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being (Paramatma/Brahm) who is both immanent & transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality.

v    There are many paths to reach the Truth, thus, all religions/faiths are genuine paths to attain Paramatma, deserving respect and understanding. Within Sanatana Dharma also, there are several path to select according to one's inclination to attain Mukti - Karma Yog, Jap Yog, Gyan Yog, Raj Yog, Bhakti Yog, Lay Yog among other paths.

v    Karma is the law of cause & effect by which each individual creates his/her own destiny by thoughts, words & actions.

v    Aatma (part of Paramatma) or Soul reincarnates, is indestructible, immortal, eternal; goes through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and Mukti (liberation) from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be deprived of this destiny.

v    ALL life forms are sacred, to be loved & revered, so you have to follow Ahimsa - non-injury.

v    Divinity exists in unseen worlds and temple worship, rituals, sacraments & personal devotions can help in connecting with God. Thus God can be worshiped in many forms - as Krishna, Ganesha, Kaali, Durga, Shiva, or any other form/name. 

v   Maya - "ब्रह्म सत्यम, जगत्‌ मिथ्या" - The experience of this world is not absolute reality. No one reality exists - each individual has his/her own subjective world-view of the reality. Truth starts surfacing only as we get closer to Paramatma; Brahm is the ultimate reality, and without knowing this Truth, one cannot find reality. 

It is time that we start understanding our own culture and start reading our scriptures. 

It is time we stop defending our faith and way of life in front of others, and try to be more sincere followers of our revered heritage.

It is time we inculcate the values of self-respect and knowledge - in ourselves and in our children.


  1. As far as Idol worship is concerned, what is practised in India is actually deity worship. Idol worship is a misnomer., because you don't just worship any idol, but you worship deities.

  2. Thank you for the comment. Yes, you are correct, thanks for the correction, I will make changes in the blog post.

  3. For idol worshiper
    He is in the dark and wishes to remain in the dark. He does not want light. If you throw any beam of light upon him by interrogation, he resents it and shudders at it.He feel that mental analysis might make him a renegade and therefore he avoid it. Not that he cannot reason Among idolators you will find best lawyers whose fallacy detecting capacity is unquestionable, Shrewd Politicians who clearly see invisible forces working in the domain of world politics, traders form whose an eye no corner of the world market all intellectual and you will find them worshiping in temples as devoutly as their uneducated brothers and sisters - side by side with them and as vaguely too.
    for more information read - Works of Raja Rama Mohan Roy Vol I, page 70

    1. Thanks for the comment.
      You might think that quoting a centuries ago excerpt might prove your point on 'Idol worship'. But please stand corrected - it does not.
      This out of context quote shows nothing but your own bias and inability to come out of the darkness of labeling & judging others' faith.
      My dear friend, when we judge based on these stereotypes - the world becomes a darker place.
      May you see light soon.

  4. Vedas in its pure form though can be understood by the Rishis (who had that acquired intellect), such rishis authored Brahmans which can be stated to be the first interpretations of the Vedas. Some scholars have mistaken Brahmanas to be a part of the original Vedas. Brihal Parashar Smriti defines thus "A Brahman is a book which tells the meaning of Vedic Mantras and its use". Similarly in Vaishaishik Darshan, Maharshi Kannaaad says "Brahmanas defines words of the Vedas and its meanings.

    1. Only the four Vedas is included as a Shruti(divine origin).

    2. Thank you for sharing this information with me Sir, I will make the changes. Thanks a lot. Regards.

  5. Please stop spreading falsehood
    The Rk, the Yajur, the Saman, the Atharva ; only the mantra portion(collection of the mantra) are called the Vedas(Shruti).

    It has been an age long practice to put the word Veda in beginning and end of the Mantra portion and not of Brahmanas. Besides, the Nirutka clearly differentiates between the two when it says: so much is Veda and so much Brahaman -
    Ityapi nigamo bhavati. Iti brahmanam (Nirukta, V.3.4)
    Panini is his grammer book called Astadhyayi(IV. II, 66) also writes to the same effect: ( Chandobrahmanani ca tadvisayani.)
    This also proves that the mantra portion is Veda and the commentary portion is Brahmana
    For a fuller treatment of the subject, I refer you Commentary to the Rgveda(Rigvedadi Bhashya Bhumika BY Swami Dayananda Saraswati) etc. There, Swamji proved that in the presence of so many testimonies the above saying of your article cannot be held as a vaild. If you accept this, the Vedas can never be eternal(sanatana), as the Brahmanas contain historical reference of many sages, savants and kings. History is always written after the occurrence. It cannot per-exist the birth of those whose life it describes. The Vedas contain no history.There is no reference in them, of any particular man or particular event. There, the words are used in their derivative sense
    SRI AUROBINDO Perspectives on Swami Dayananda Saraswati
    In the matter of Vedic interpretation I am convinced that whatever may be the final complete interpretation, Dayananda will be honored as the first discoverer of the right clues. Amidst the chaos and obscurity of old ignorance and age-long misunderstanding his was the eye of direct vision that pierced to the truth and fastened on that which was essential. He has found the keys of the doors that time had closed and rent asunder the seals of the imprisoned fountains. [ THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SRI AUROBINDO - VOLUME 1]