Sanathana Dharma means ‘Eternal Religion’, unlike many other religions based on a single person’s teachings on God, on the creation of the Universe and on righteous living, Hinduism is an outcome of the enlightenment and collective wisdom of many wise sages of the past, it is emphasized in the Upanishads; the last phases of Vedas, that each person should aim to realize the ‘truth of nature’ based on his own knowledge and experiences. While such a philosophy could have evolved from the time man started wondering and discussing about Nature even when no writing existed, the literary aspect of the religion must have started only when Sanskrit became a popular and common language for normal exchange of views and thoughts. Also most of the literature of the past is in poetic and lyric form to foster easy communication.
In the philosophy that evolved, it is strongly emphasized that there is only one ‘God’ who is all pervading both in animate and inanimate objects, who is formless, called Brahman, or Universal Self, but ‘He’ can be conceived as existing in many forms, both in animate and inanimate shapes, and even in an absolute abstract form. Hence to convince common people, the great sages of ancient India conceived that the Infinite should be explained in Finite forms. They conceived that the best such forms are human figures endowed with such qualities and powers as may be needed for achievement of specific activities in this world. Accordingly, even though God is one Infinity, He is shown as deities in human forms each with the highest of power and qualities expected of human beings for specific activities.
Hence the often criticized belief that Hinduism consists of several Gods is a misconception, by whichever name ‘God’ is known, realized, and prayed, ‘He’ is considered as the source of Supreme Power responsible for all the activities in nature, and in all parts of creation including those of human beings. Also several stories have been built around such forms of Deities to explain to common man how such powers have been used for the benefit of mankind. Several poems and hymns have been written to describe the powers of those Deities which have become symbols of Hinduism’s thoughts on God.
Various types of rituals and religious ceremonies were also developed to propitiate such powers for the required benefits and boons to mankind. These were continuously altered according to the times and changing circumstances in the Hindu way of life. Also some modern scholars are discovering that various discoveries in Science regarding the Universe have been found in the Vedas, if only they can be interpreted correctly. A modern version of Creator and Creation and their inter-convertibility is given later in this chapter. Hence Hinduism is considered neither static nor dogmatic but dynamic and flexible that goes on changing with the times, with socio-economic conditions of the society and geographical conditions where communities live, but preserving the traditional values and basic focal issues, thus it has withstood the pressures of time and has been preserved even against all odds faced by humanity over many thousands of years.
All religions virtually teach the same for moral and righteous living but some features of the Sanathana Dharma distinguishes itself from other religions, some of which is briefly mentioned here :
- the belief in reincarnation of the soul after death
- practicing the creed of non-violence to achieve desired goals (Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha)
- recognizing godliness in everything and in all human beings, particularly in teachers and parents
- developing a balance of mind and body at various stages of life (Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaraprashtha, and Sanyasa) for integral growth, by material and spiritual exercises, to achieve Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death)
- A distinct philosophy that emerged is the Advita philosophy which theorizes that the Creator and Creation are one the same and are interconnected like matter and energy
- The rituals in Hinduism end generally with a phrase “Sarva Jano Sukhino Bhavanthu, Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti” which means that all people, irrespective of their faith or origin, should live in complete peace and harmony.
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