Explaining Sanatana: Righteous conduct not mere religion

“Truth is one. Sages call it by different names,” says Rig Veda.

By Lt Gen Dalip Singh

It is a rather unusual subject to write for someone from a military background who has never fancied any serious indulgence in the religious or political realm. What prompted me to write on this profound subject?

Politicians of all hues are basically an over smart breed and clever by half. So, when someone talks about eradicating Sanatana Dharma, one wonders whether it is out of ignorance or cunningness.

To my understanding, the word ‘Hindu’ is an imposed identity on us, derived from the River Sindhu as the region beyond the river Indus (Sindhu) was referred to as Hind by Romans, Arabs, Persians, and Turks. Inhabitants of Hind were identified as Hindus, so we have started calling ourselves Hindus. Our own scriptures have called our spiritual beliefs, philosophy, and way of life Sanatana Dharma.

Sanatana (सनातन) is a Sanskrit word referring to eternal, having no beginning or end, whereas the term Dharma denotes the moral and ethical order that upholds harmony in the universe. It encompasses righteousness, duty and virtuous living.

Adhering to Dharma is meant to ensure both individual as well as collective well-being, contributing to the overall balance and harmony of the Cosmos. Influenced by the tenets and beliefs of Abrahamic faiths, the common people consider the word Dharma synonymous with Religion, which it is not.

In the Sanatana way of understanding, Dharma basically translates as ‘Righteous Conduct’, which means that the conduct or Dharma would be situation and context-specific, whereas the word religion is prescriptive in nature and refers to a specific belief system and code of conduct. 

Being the oldest surviving spiritual philosophy, the Sanatana ways of thinking have gone through a number of transitions in their approach and thinking. The diversity in its beliefs is astounding, traversing from आस्तिक (believing in the Creator or Supreme being) to नास्तिक (a person who doesn’t recognize the existence of the Supreme being).

“Truth is one. Sages call it by different names,” says Rig Veda. Notwithstanding in-numeral strands of the Sanatana thought process, the scholars are unanimous in recognizing six prominent schools of Sanatana Darshan or Philosophy.

The six ‘darshanas’ are philosophical systems, or schools of thought, that take their authority from the Vedas. As implied by the meaning of the word ‘Darshana’, to see or to experience, the six disciplines offer unique points of view, six separate windows from which to observe and comprehend life, six seemingly disparate paths leading towards the one Ultimate Reality through the removal of ignorance of the nature of existence, liberation from suffering, and the attainment of enlightenment.

Each ‘Darshana’ is scientific in approach, with a doctrine based on logic and critical arguments. Each has a unique theory of knowledge and a metaphysical view of reality that could be theistic or atheistic, besides offering a strong ethical framework and theory to validate and substantiate the system. Each ‘Darshana’ was propounded by a founding sage, who also composed explanatory verses, sutras, often in the form of an Upanishad to elucidate its meaning and to serve as a guide towards the attainment of a higher or more meaningful life. Accordingly, these six important philosophical texts are:

  • Samkhya Sutras of Kapila Muni
  • Yoga Sutras of Maharshi Patanjali
  • Nyaya Sutras of Gautama Rishi
  • Vaisheshika Sutras of Kannada Rishi
  • Mimamsa Sutras of Maharishi Jaimini
  • Brahma Sutras (also called Vedanta Sutras) of Maharshi Badrayan

The word sutra means thread or string, implying that they bind together in written form, a previously known oral tradition. Apparently, the sutras were first written on leaves which were then bound together with string. Whatever the origin of the term, the sutra is a series of precepts that contains a theory, a statement, or an argument expressed in a condensed manner and therefore open to different interpretations. For this reason, the ‘Darshanas’ have traditionally required scholarly attention to be comprehended in contrast to prominent epics and Puranas, which dispense wisdom in a more accessible and simplified form.

A cursory glance over these six profound philosophies and ritualistic practices would reinforce our beliefs in the extraordinary diversity of ideas acceptable in the Sanatana thought process. Scholars have found verses within Sanatana traditions supporting different shades of philosophy including Monism, Monotheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Atheism. 

This speaks eloquently of a long and ancient practice of open-mindedness, tolerance, and objectivity, and that fundamentally these are all perhaps different perspectives to a singular reality. While each Darshana accepted the authority of the Vedas, it was not a blind acceptance, before recognizing the system of thought, the Saint Philosophers used a rigorous validating process, subjecting each assumption to deep analysis and stringent rules of logic and linguistics. In their early years, the codified darshanas were characterized by healthy arguments and refutations debated by the various schools.

This served to clarify and strengthen each codex with the result that the six darshanas give us six uniquely different, but coherent systems to use, to holistically understand life. But above all, each darshana reinforces faith in Vedas, belief in one omnipotent and omnipresent Param Brahma, the Karmic cycle of birth-rebirth, the ultimate goal of Moksha besides beginning with the firm belief that a spiritual temperament is a prerequisite to fathom the nature of life.

To an onlooker, the broad Sanatana traditions can be equated to a vast garden that has all varieties of flowers, even a few accompanied by thorns. It was and still is up to each individual as to what he or she discards and what he or she chooses to assemble in his or her unique bouquet.

Understandably, some rituals and practices including the Varna or Caste system or idol worshipping are found objectionable by many. But unlike Abrahamic religions, there is no prescriptive dictate or the provision of blasphemy in Sanatana tradition. When someone finds some beliefs or practices unacceptable, he or she is completely free of discarding them and choosing those practices that appeal to them or choosing a different faith!

Therefore, when someone talks of eradicating the most ancient and flexible belief system, it appears to be the case of ignorance speaking louder or political cunningness raising its head; maybe a mixture of both!

Lt. Gen Dalip Singh, PVSM, VSM retired from Indian Army after 39 years of service. He held important posts such as Director General – Recruiting, and Director General Ordnance Services in his distinguished career as a soldier.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times  

Images courtesy of Quora and Provided

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