Sanatan Dharma

How Dharma is different from Religion or Mazhab

Updated on: Created on 28-08-2020

Part I - Dharma, Chapter 5/5 - How Dharma is different from Religion or Mazhab

This is Part I - Dharma, Chapter 5 / 5

Table of Contents

Created on 28-08-2020

7. Is Dharma is different from Religion or Mazhab and Guru different from Prophet or Nabi?

One of the most important word in Sanātana Dharma is ‘Dharma’. However, in general discussions, not only in English translations, but in general discussions, ‘Dharma’ is always substituted by the words ‘Religion’ or ‘Mazhab’. Similarly, another important word which is no English word for it is ‘Guru’. This word ‘Guru’ is revered very high by dhārmika Traditions. However, Abrahamic religions often substitute the word ‘Prophet’ or ‘nabi’ with ‘Guru’ in order to communicate with potential converts from Dhārmika traditions to theirs. Let us understand how both terms used are different and they do not justify being substituted by each other.

7.1. Dharma and Religion or Mazhab

Religion is the word used by Judeo-Christians to define their belief system. ‘Mazhab’ is an Arabic word for ‘religion’. All three belief systems are collectively known as ‘Abrahamic Faiths’. Ideally, they all should exist as one single ‘Abrahamic Faith’ and not as three distinct religions. The commonness amongst them is that they all have ‘One God, One Book and One Prophet’ philosophy. They all believe in one and only one Supreme Identity known Yahweh, God or Allah (though there is little difference in the definition of these words). They all believe in one book and they all pledge their belief in one person as their only and ultimate saviour. Abrahamic religions are more focused on faith i.e. they are faith based. If you believe in all three, you will swim the ocean, if not, you drawn no matter how much good karma you do. These religions are action oriented. They believe in doing karma as instructed to them by their prophet and as prescribed in their holy book. Others who do not adhere to these three pillars are doomed to be in hell eternally.

Sanātana Dharma or Hindu Dharma on the other hand is knowledge based. Here there is freedom to think what you want and one can reject or refuse to accept what is being said in the Hindu śāstras. There are laws which are not dependent upon our belief in any religion or ideology. These laws are based on universal principles and are scientific in nature.

For example, the law of karma applies to anyone, where one is theist or atheist. If one does good karma, even without his belief in existence of God, one does get the fruits of karma. Similarly the path is based on the knowledge of other subtle bodies. For example Upaniṣads describe that we all have five koshas or five sheaths and not just one body i.e. physical gross body. The existence of other four is true for all human beings is not dependent upon a person’s belief in them or in Hindu Dharma. It is ‘yogic science’. We all have chakras, nāḍīs and vāyus within our bodies. Ayurveda describes of three types of prakritis – vāta, pitta and cough. This knowledge is of general nature applicable to all.

In sanātana dharma, an atheist also has a place in the society and may be respected by the society due to his generous deeds.

Sanātana dharma puts great emphasis on learning and building logic. Logical reasoning is encouraged is evident from the fact that there is a dedicated school of logic known as ‘Nyāya Śastra’, one of the six basic philosophical texts of Sanātana Dharma.

7.0.1 Nyāya – a dedicated school of Logic

Sanātana dharma, even an atheist or a nihilist can also debate with a Brāhmaṇa. It is what used to happen in debates between Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. Only in Sanātana dharma there is a branch that is dedicated to developing logic – the Nyāya śāstra. Sanātana dharma is the only dharma in which the principles of debate as mentioned in nyāya śāstra were challenged by the great āchārya Śrī Harśa (Sri Harsh) who challenged the fundamentals principles of nyāya and destroyed it in his magnum opus ‘Khaṇḍana-khaṇḍa-khādya’ a text purposefully written in complex grammar. The result was collapse of Nyāya school. New school known as 'navya nyāya' or 'the new school of logic) was founded by Śrī Gangeśa Upādhyāya. Śrī Gangeśa Upādhyāyawas so impressed with Śrī Harśāchārya’s work that he went on to write a commentary on ‘Khaṇḍana-khaṇḍa-khādya’. Such is our unique tradition.

7.2 Prophet or Nabi and Guru

Sanātana Dharma does not have a word for ‘Prophet’. From the lives of the great men and women and founders of Abrahmic religions, we understand that the prophet is the one to whom God or supreme Godhead or his representative (like Angel Gabriel) communicates with the chosen one. The person may not have realized the true intention of teachings nor is it necessary that he or she may have even visited heaven and had vision of supreme Godhead.

In Sanātana Dharma, there is a concept of ‘guru’. There are seven types of Gurus as mentioned in Guru Gītā. We will talk about the top most guru the ‘Paramguru’. Paramguru is the one who is God Realised or has the true knowledge of the Self or Atman or Brahman. He or She is one with God, merged in Īśvara or Paramātmān. Īśvara manifests through such divine jīva. Īśvara expresses himself and communicates through such divine and blessed Jīva. There can be more than one Guru present in at a particular time i.e. many gurus in same period or year. This is different from the concept of ‘prophet’