By Bhaswati Bhattacharya
On the detailed census form that arrives every few years, many must complete several demographic questions before returning it to the Census Bureau. For the question on religion, many assert their rights not to answer the question in a secular (non-religious governed) society. Many avoid the word Hindu and mark the Other box, not because they do not like Hindus, but because the western world developed the term Hindu in the 1800s for those who did not follow either Islam or Christianity. They did not like the way Westerners describe Hindooism as a pagan religion worshipping elephants and monkeys.
Those adhering to the world view of timeless existence and eternalism know Sanatana dharma. They align their life values to the timeless principles of nature. This original term has devolved now into the popular term Hinduism. Sanatana dharma explores the principles and science of the forces of nature, which in modern society are called the physical sciences and natural sciences, such as geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, metallurgy and biology.
Sanatana dharma sees nature and its laws as the backbone of honesty. Truth is the way the clouds, mountains, trees and animals behave. This philosophy was adapted to the human mind, which becomes convoluted and muddy from the ego.
The idea of what is true and right is explored in Western philosophy as epistemology and ontology. Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge, known as veda in Sanskrit. Ontology is the study of the nature of reality and of being, known as dharma, asking the heavy questions, ‘What is real?’ and ‘What is the meaning of being?’
The term Sanatana dharma and the idea that the mind could know what is right and real was first mentioned and explained in depth in the Rg Veda, the first of the four classics of Vedic literature, one of the oldest texts created by humankind to understand the world and itself, circa 10,000 BCE. Sanatana refers to the eternal and the idea of knowing that which has neither beginning nor end, nor limits and boundaries.
It was the working way of truth and cosmic order with a code of ethics so obvious that it was neither named nor identified by its users until invaders from central Asia described it as the way of life for those living east of the Indus River, or the h-Indus. The term Hinduism began to pervade the literature west of Asia and was even used by the submissive brown gentlemen of the 1700s. Even today, those educated in Western schools call themselves Hindus. In the quest for India’s freedom, after suffering enough of Persian and European invaders, a revivalism movement began in order to avoid having to use the term Hindu because of its non-native, Persian origin.
Ayurveda follows the philosophy of Sanatana dharma, with a medical world view that the body will decay faster when not aligned with truth because it is misaligned from nature. Nature will realign or else destroy all that is not in harmony with it in order to maintain overall balance.
My mother interprets this into a practical teaching when I ask her how to know what is Right. ‘If I find a pen on the ground, should I pick it up? It does not belong to me, yet to whom does it belong when someone has lost it?’ My mother’s discernment on conscience is impeccable. She answers simply, as decades of reading the Bhagavad Gita daily and translating Rabindranath Thakur’s poems have guided her.
She says that as you see the pen, whatever thought spontaneously manifests in your mind is the correct way. If you have spent time cleaning your mind daily, with meditation and yoga, you will be aligned. If your aligned mind tells you to take the pen, then you should follow that path of karma and choose it as your right way, accepting the consequences of what will happen and not happen due to your picking up the pen and claiming new ownership. It, with all its karmas, will enter your life.
If, however, on seeing the pen, your mind spontaneously tells you that the pen is not yours and that someone dropped it and may come back looking for it, as improbable as it may be, it is your duty to follow your mind’s original decree. Live life this way, and you will have no regrets, accept all punishments and enjoy all the bounty that comes to you without guilt that perhaps you did not deserve it.
The South Asia Times Columnist Dr. Bhaswati Bhattacharya is a Fulbright Specialist 2018‐2023 in Public Health and Clinical Asst Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York. Her bestselling book Everyday Ayurveda is published by Penguin Random House.