Some of the Principal Doctrines of Santana Dharma
Some of the principal doctrines of Santana Dharma:
1. The law of “Karma” (causation) and theory of rebirth
Creation is governed by an unalterable law — the ‘Rita’ of the Rig Veda. Nothing is arbitrary. God is not a capricious tyrant. The law of Karma, which is fundamental to SD lays down that we reap the harvest, we have previously sown. The action is the seed, its consequences are the harvest we have to reap. As we sow, so we reap.
A corollary of the above is the law of rebirth. We go through many births before we are able to reach back to our source, i.e, God, and get released from the vicious circle of birth and death. That stage is called “Moksha”, the final redemption.
SD lays down how this state can be reached. The word ‘Moksha’ itself gives the clue ‘Moha -Kshaya’ i.e, desirelessness. To be desireless is to be free from the fruits of our actions. The Gita calls it “Nishkama Karma”. Action or Karma is essential for the world’s progress and human welfare; it forms a major factor for human sustenance. But action with an eye on its reward or fruit binds us more strongly to the wheel of birth and death. Action carried out as duty, in a spirit of submission to divine indeed liberates. The Gita calls it ‘Karma phala tyaga’. Such a doer is a free person he carries out God’s will and is not enslaved by any motive or selfish desires.
2. Varnasrama Dharmas
SD takes cognisance of the overall welfare of society and all aspects and needs of life. It sets down four purposes for man’s life. These are called the four Purusharthas — “Dharma(righteousness/right conduct), Artha(wealth), Kama(desire) and Moksha(liberation)”. Artha and Kama should subserve Dharma and all should be oriented towards attainment of Moksha. It also sets down the codes of duties pertaining to each stage of life viz. “Brahmacharya(student life), Grihastha(life of a householder), Vanaprastha(retired life) and Sanyasa(stage of a renunciate)” (Asramadharmas). In current times we are student for life acquiring knowledge, so learning never ends. These are not segregated span of 10 yrs or 20yrs of ones life time, its a gradual process as we flow through life we enter these stages. As we mature and move to different phase of life we get a sense of what each ashrama dharma is and can adopt the lifestyle as required. SD has classified it in a way for the smooth functioning of the society and individual to contribute for the development of community at large keeping self transformation as a baseline. Many great masters have crossed these boundaries at a very young age as we have seen in history.
So also to one’s station and vocation in life (Varna-dharmas or caste duties). Here caste (Varna) is not to be determined by birth. It is determined by one’s guna and karma (quality/qualifications and profession). Gita clearly says “Guna Karma Vibhagasah”. Guna is one’s nature,aptitude and capacity. Karma is the profession which one has chosen commensurate with his qualifications and capacities. All the duties are to be performed, as Nishkama Karma. if all activities are done with an attitude of care and surrender to the divine then Karma gets transformed into Yoga which redeems and liberates. The caste system also was established to maintain harmony in the society and help individual grow and transform. However it has been widely misused due to many factors and reasons.
3. The concept of “Avatar”
One of the wonderful and unique doctrines of SD is the concept of ‘Avatar’. This word is derived from the word ‘avatarana’ which means ‘descent’. It is descent of Divine to earth in human or any other form. Its purpose is to preserve Dharma, the Supreme Law of righteousness in the world. Divine incarnates again and again, from age to age, whenever Dharma is on the decline.
‘To err is human’ it is said. When men are almost on the threshold of disaster, God incarnates Himself and continues his mission of redemption and revitalisation of righteousness, Dharma. SD usually refers to 10 Avatars. But followers of SD have never been so rigid to believe that these will incarnate in India alone.
The SD follower regards every great prophet, no matter where He may manifest himself, as a God’s Messenger, or as God incarnated Himself as man. This shows the great spirit of tolerance which has been the faith’s tradition, its unique catholicity in matters of religion and its veneration to other faiths. It has always extended generous hospitality to followers of other religion who have sought shelter in its portals from time to time. In fact, ‘secularism’, i.e, respect and positive goodwill for different faiths, is the very basis of SD. An example I came across was Lal Ded a 13th century Kashmiri Mystic her works influenced many of the sufi contempararies of her time. Lal Ded’s Vakh as it is called draws influence from islamic, sufi and sikh cultures.
“The paths may be different but the goal is same”;
SD social conventions unfortunately have changed with passage of time. In the Vedic period, women were respected and enjoyed equality with men, and religious and spiritual activities were open to all men and women alike. Lopamudra, Gargi , Devahuti, Avaiyar and Maitreyi are examples of this equality. Some of the social denials and stigmas seen today are all subsequent accretions.
These evils are social ethos and degeneration which crept in later, in the course of history, due to various conditions and reasons, but they never had any religious origin.
5. Ritualisim : This is an important feature of any faith. I will detail this is in a separate post.
Brotherhood of man and Fatherhood of God is what Sanatana Dharma emphasizes. It envisages, that each individual should help his less fortunate ‘brother’. This ideology is represented in the saying “I can never attain perfection in a imperfect society. I must, therefore work for the welfare of the community too”.