An Introduction to Hindu Dharma

9. An Introduction to Hindu Dharma

A dharma without any name, often called as sanAtana dharma, popularly known as Hindu Dharma, is the most ancient dharma of the world. Whenever we are being asked the question – What is Hindu dharma, we find it difficult to answer the question, as what to include and what to omit to explain in brief. Lets try to understand our dharma in brief.

9.1. What is Hindu Dharma?

Put in simple words in one line, Hindu Dharma is a way of Life.

Hindu dharma is a dharma which covers all aspects of life from spiritual to practical. Even day-to-day mundane activities are connected with inner purity and Atmic well-being. Hindu dharma takes into account, the well being, peace and harmony of individual, family, society and universe as a whole. Every action as described in Hindu scriptures is not only beneficial to the individual practicing it, but it is connected to the universal well being. Like other dharma-s, Hindu Dharma (HD) is also based on divine revelations, which are called as Shruti-s. The pillars of HD are veda-s, which are considered as the supreme authority.

9.2. Final Goal of Hindu Dharma

Every human being, whether theist or atheist or anti-theist wants happiness and strives for it. We all try to make arrangements as such that we do not have to face any trouble in future. In case of any negative incident that may possibly happen in future, we make preparations in advance to face trouble. For example we earn and save money, invest it or deposit in bank so that it can be useful in the time of trouble. Every men, whether one believes in God or not is striving to remain happy forever and to avoid sorrow. In other words, men makes effort to avoid sorrow. If there is no sorrow, then there is happiness. Hence removal of sorrow is happiness which shines forth by itself without any effort.

It is nature of mind to avoid sorrow and search for happiness. Men searches for happiness in material object or in person. Spiritual path is also similar. There is nothing wrong to desire for happiness. However, the approach of laymen is not correct. A person is looking for happiness outside him, but in reality it is inside us says shAstra-s. Our mind has become extrovert and tries to find happiness in external objects through five senses. In Hinduism, we train our mind to turn inside and restrain itself from hankering behind sense objects. Spiritual path is the reverse journey of mind from extrovert to introvert. Hindu dharma enquires into the root cause of sorrow and comes to a conclusion that forgetting our true nature, which is eternal, is the true cause of suffering. Hence a systematic effort to realise our true nature is necessary.

The final goal of HD is eternal, everlasting peace and bliss. Since death is inevitable, this is possible only when one becomes free from the cycle of birth and death.

Since men cannot idle and our spiritual journey starts with doing karma (action). Since all actions first originate in mind and intention behind action is more important than action itself, HD teaches us with what intention (bhAva), any karma is to be done. HD teaches us how to remain satisfied and happy, how our actions affect others, how our actions (mental, verbal and with body) could be used for the well-being of all and in spreading peace and harmony. By doing actions, as prescribed in our scriptures (shAstra-s), one not only purifies internally, but also does good for others. The very action of doing good for others purifies us internally.

bhagavAn in gItA (BG 3.3) says that “there are 2 paths – path of action (karma yoga) and path of renunciation (GYAna yoga). Among both, path of knowledge is superior.” After doing works or vocations as prescribed by shAstra-s for some time, one attains sufficient inner purity to renounce the very actions (karma) that brought them inner purity and adopt the path of renunciation to finally attain Liberation. Liberation or Moksha means to realize our true nature, that we are not body but eternal Atman, which is pure consciousness and to merge with Brahman, the eternal God consciousness, dissolving our individual identity as incarnated soul.

10. Hindu Dharma, the eternal religion.

Hindu Dharma (HD) or sanAtana dharma (SD) is the oldest dharma. There was a time when there was no other dharma practiced. History does not dare to investigate into the origin of our dharma as in ancient days, oral traditions prevailed. Since HD was the only dharma, hence it does not need to have a name. Since the only religion practiced during ancient times was Hindu dharma, hence there is no process of conversion to Hinduism. 'Conversion' is not a requirement in Hinduism nor is there any 'conversion' ceremony where you pledge to a belief in a particular savior, nor you will find a claim that your sins gets washed away the moment you convert to the ‘right’ religion claiming to be the only truth.

After other religions were established, in order to separate itself from other religions, Hindus started to call themselves as practitioners of sanAtana dharma. The word Hinduism is not found in scriptures.

10.1. Few words about the word ‘Hindu’

The word ‘Hindu’ was coined with foreigners. ‘Hindu’ is derived from River Indu also known as River Sindhu. People living in the vicinity of Indus river (Sindhu river) i.e. in the Indus valley were collectively referred to as 'Hindus'. This civilization also extended to River Gangā. When Gangā is involved, we cannot forget River Sarasvatī and River Yamunā, also known as Jamunā. (There is another river originating from River Brahmapūtra known as Jamunā in Bangladesh). Indus (Sindhu), Gangā, Yamunā, Sarasvatī shared common civilisation. Our civilisation is called as Indus-Sarasvatī civilisation where Sarasvatī collectively refers to Sarasvatī, Gangā and Yamunā.

Hinduism and sanātana dharma are newly created terms. ‘sanātana’ means ‘eternal’, ‘dharma’ means ‘religion’. Hence, HD is called as ‘The Eternal Religion’.

10.2. Why dharma should be eternal?

The word ‘dharma’ is being mistaken to be limited to external rites and rituals and putting on external marks that identify you with a particular religion or a sect. However, the word ‘dharma’ is very vast.

Let understand what the word dharma covers.

10.2.1. What is dharma

sAyanAcArya and vArtikakAra (SrI sureshvarAcharya) while commenting on SrI Adi Sankara’s commentary on taittiriya upanishad Tai. Up. 1.11 ‘satyam vada, dharamam chara’ has given one of the definitions of ‘dharma’ as ‘agnihotra’. This definition is from vedic POV, since vedas and upanishads talk about path of karma (vedic rituals, karma kANDa)) and path of renunciation of karma kANDa (GYAna mArga), hence IMHO, the AcArya-s have given definition in context to the verse under explanation. Acharya-s point out that practising vedic rituals like agnihotra just once is not enough to make us inwardly pure. Practising rituals just once do not quality one to practice GYAna mArga. They should be diligently practised until one attains sufficient inner purity.

The word ‘dharma’ is very vast. It includes body functions. dharma of eye is to see. dharma of mind is to think. dharma also includes a predefined or expected way of life. dharma of a teacher (AcArya) is to teach and so on.

‘dharma’ could mean, virtue, character, mark, quality, nature, custom (tradition), justice, way of life, law (natural or manmade), duty (includes all kinds of duties like duty towards society, family, nation, etc), ‘that which is established’, a particular condition, right (rites and rituals), morality, customary actions, practice, observance, religion, etc. Please check more meanings on In short, dharma covers all aspects of life.

maharShi manu has described 10 qualities under the word ‘dharma’ in manu smriti 6.92

धृतिः क्षमा दमोऽस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियग्रहः ।

धीविर्द्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम् ।।

- मनुस्मृति ६|९२

Ten principles to be daily applied are

  1. dhruti - courage / Self Command

  2. xamA (kshamA) - Forgiveness

  3. dama - Control over mind

  4. asteya - Non-stealing

  5. shauca - internal and external cleanliness

  6. indriya-nigraha - control over senses

  7. dhI (buddhi) - to understand rightly by logical thinking

  8. vidyA - knowledge discrimination between right and wrong (AtmA-anAtmA-viveka, nitya-anitya vastu-viveka). Scriptural knowledge of AtmA is expected.

  9. satya - Truth

  10. a-krodha - Absence of anger

mahAbhArata in anushAshaNika parva 116.28-29 describes ahimsA as ‘param dharma’, the supreme dharma or the best dharma

(ahinsA is correctly spelled as ‘ahiMsA’ or sometimes typed as ‘ahi.nsA’ and pronounced as ‘ahinsA’)

ahiMsA is best or foremost dharma (parama dharma), ahiMsA is the best restrain (sayyam), ahiMsA is the best donation (dAna) and ahiMsA is the best meditation (tapasyA)


अहिंसा परमो धर्मस्तथाहिंसा परो दमः । अहिंसा परमं दानमहिंसा परमं रतपः ।।

अहिंसा परमो यज्ञस्तथाहिंसा परं फलम् । अहिंसा परमं मित्रमहिंसा परमं सुखम् ।।

- महाभा. अनु. पर्व. ११६।२८-२९

ahiMsA is the best ritual (yaGYa), ahiMsA is the best fruit (of actions and yaGYa), ahiMsA is the best friend (mitra) and ahiMsA is the foremost happiness    

  • mahAbhArata Anu. Parva. 116.28-29

From the above definitions of dharma, one can easily understand that  ‘practising’  dharma ‘makes’ one ‘human’. dharma induces human qualities, hence the false conception that humanity is the best religion or humanity is above all religions is not true. It is dharma that makes one human. dharma simply does not mean ‘rites and rituals’ or ‘dos and donts’, as evident from the quality dhI indicating contemplative nature of human beings and not blindly accepting anything yet staying within the vedic dictums. Whatever shAstra-s say does not override basic human values. Hence we must follow ‘the law of the land’ in a way that basic human values are kept intact and justice is upheld.

For convenience, we will divide dharma into two parts, changing and unchanging. Way of life, means of earning, etc come under changing part. Reflexes, emotional response, likes and dislikes, etc are unchanging. Even in ancient days a person would get angry, feel hurt, had likes and dislikes. Mind

bhagavAn in gItA says that each and every desire (vAsanA) is in the mind. Adi Sankara says that mind is that which ‘keeps thinking’ or in Sri Ramana Maharshi’s words, ‘Mind is nothing but continuous flow of thoughts’. Mind does not die with death of body and stays alive until one is liberated. Mind is very important in spirituality. All kinds of thoughts, emotions, and desires are within mind. Mind is also interchangeably used with jIva, and antakaraNa. Spirituality is direct dealing with the mind. Since mind is ancient, the old ways of controlling mind are also valid and does not become obsolete. It is said in viveka chuDAmaNi that destruction of desires are nothing but liberation. Connecting all the dots, we can conclude that veda-s are a systematic and guaranteed approach to control mind, train it, give it proper direction and finally get liberated. It is the dharma (foremost duty and birth right) of each and every soul to get liberated (achieve moksha) Logical approach

After understanding the meaning of dharma and what it covers, let's understand why dharma has to be eternal. Here, we do not talk about the ‘changing’ part, but the ‘unchanging part’. Infact, it is our duty to change the ‘way of life’ and ‘civil laws’ to suit present circumstances. The only care to be taken is to make sure that the new law does not oppose to veda-s which are eternal, unchanging.

While other religions were founded or claim to be purified form of previous corrupted religions at a particular time, the topmost canonical text i.e. veda-s are said to be present eternally without beginning or end. Western world believes that earlier humans were living like barbarians with no spiritual law and after some time a messenger of God appeared and taught them the purpose of Life. However, we believe the reason for veda-s being eternal is due to the fact when God creates universe and life, God also makes available all the resources necessary for living. So it is not that after a man becomes thirsty, God created water to quench thirst. Water already existed before humans came into existence or as the wise say, the soul was bound in flesh and bones and in the 5 bodies made up of combinations of 5 great elements (panca-mahAbhUta-s – earth, water, fire, air and space) and 3 guNa-s - sattva, rajasa and tamasa.

Since God has created Food for us, God must also give us knowledge on how to eat food i.e. eat raw or cooked, store it and regenerate food. This comes under dharma. Each organ has it’s own dharma i.e. it’s function.

Wise say that knowledge is already present, it is just waiting to be discovered.

Since God has created this world, we have to live in harmony with nature. Going opposite to nature is unwise and is disaster waiting to happen. Take modern example of pollution.

If we go on higher plane, we all know that one day we are all going to die and this world will come to an end as whatever is born has to face death.

Philosophically speaking, in the beginning, there was nothing but God, then God created the universe and human beings. It is also believed that one day God will also destroy his creation and we will all merge in him and the next creation will follow and the cycle will go on. The only way to escape is to be with God in this life itself. Once we got separated from God. Our spiritual journey is to return back to our creator. We are not body. Our real nature is Brahman which is eternal. Hence God must have also taught us the way to know our true nature. Compassionate, All loving God cannot simply leave us without giving us a path to realize our true nature. Hence in SD, it is strongly believed that no one created veda-s. They were revealed to great rishi-s intuitively. As long as the world exists and we live in duality, there has to be a way to reach and merge within our creator. Wise say that whatever thoughts are given are given to us by God only. In this sense too the knowledge about other walks of life is a result of grace of God via medium. dharma has to be eternal.

10.3. Myth of Aryan Invasion Theory

There is a popular belief that the original teachings of veda-s were brought to India by foreigners of German origin. These people were of superior race known by the name ‘Āryan’. It is they who taught us veda-s. In other words, we are not descendents of Rāma and Kr̥ṣṇa but belong to a foreign land.  This land does not belong to us. There is also another inferior race predominantly in our South India known by the name  ‘Draviḍa’. However this is not true.

The word ‘Āryan’ is not sanskrit word. The actual word is ‘Ārya’ (without ‘n’). It is an honorific title like ‘Sir’ in English. Max Muller has himself clarified that he had referred to ‘ārya’ as a honorific group of people and not as a race ‘Āryan’. It were Britishers who for instilling inferior complex in the hearts of Indians and creating rift between the North and South India spread the lies so that they can break our culture and spread their own. When one comes to know that you do not belong to the land you live in i.e. India, we will not feel proud of our country and culture. When one accepts that whatever is western is superior, then the slave mentality will naturally develop amongst Indians. It will become easy to rule. Britishers realised that without breaking the existing Gurukul system and Indian culture, they will find it difficult to rule India. Hence they adopted such wicked politics.   

The word ‘draviḍa’ i.e. draviDa refers to collective name for people from Andhra, Telengana, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. Word ‘drāviḍa’ i.e. drAviDa refers to collective region. ‘drāviḍaḥ’ (drAviDaH) means ‘Dravidian Languages’. Five primary Dravidian Languages are - Tamil, Telugu , Kannada , Malayalam and Tulu. Since Tamil is widely spoken in Tamilnadu state, it is also included as a ‘drāviḍa-desam’ i.e. Land of Dravid (drāviḍa) speaking people. In general, South Indian languages which have originated from five primary languages like Malyalam are also included as draviḍa language.   Alternatively draviḍa can be split into two words - ‘dra’ and ‘vid’ which when translated means ‘the place where three oceans meet’. In Adi Sankara’s biography, during debate with maNDaNa mishra, we find use of the word ‘draviDa-shishu’ which means residing in a place where three rivers meet, a place near Varanasi. shishu is taken as ‘son’. Hence it means ‘son of a place where three rivers meet’. [citation needed]

Britishers advocated that Rāma was an āryan while Rāvaṇa was a drāviḍa. It is a fact that Rāvaṇa was a rishi-pUtra and a Brāhmin. According to their theory, Rāvaṇa cannot be a Brāhmin as only āryans (north Indians) were Brāhmins, the knower of veda-s. They contradicted themselves and exposed their bigotry.  

Main stream archeology does not support Aryan Invasion theory.  The topic of Aryan Invasion is in itself a separate topic and beyond the scope of this work, however, we will put forth few points here.  In Mahābhārata, many places all around India are mentioned. When these places were identified and an excavation was carried out, the artifacts found in all mentioned places were dating to nearly same period with similar design, use of raw materials and manufacturing methodology.  There are claims that original Dwārkā city of Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa is found submerged. There were planned cities that flourished even 12,000 years ago.

It has been proved from scientific studies that DNA of North and South indians are same.  

Ours is an ancient civilisation which is unparalleled. Another fake claim by westerners is that Ṛg veda is the oldest of all veda-s and was brought by Aryans. Ṛg vedic brāhmins and Ṛg  veda originated in India in Sindhu-Sarasvatī civilisation (Indus-Sarasvati Civilisation). There is another claim that atharva veda was composed much later and is newest of all 4 veda-s. This is not true either. Kanchi Paramacharya says that we find reference to atharva veda in 10th maNDala of rig veda.  All veda-s existed in oral form in memory of brahmins and rishi-s. In order to preserve veda-s, they need to be remembered orally. This is explained later in appropriate section.