Dharma is a Vedic Sanskrit word that comes from its root word Dhri or Dhriti which means “to sustain.” In an era where humans are severely affected as a result of the “unsustainable action” and are trying to find ways to find “sustainable living” understanding the true knowledge and wisdom of Dharma as a way to sustainable, happy and prosperous living has become more important and ever.
The word Hindu is not of Vedic origins. No Vedic texts, be that the Vedas, Upanishads, Aranyakas, Shastras or Sutras, mention any word or a word that even closely relates or resonates with the word “Hindu” or “Hinduism.”
Hinduism, although reveres and considers Vedic texts as “holy books,” it is not of Vedic origins. Dharma is often interpreted by Hindus by using later version of Sanskrit, better known as Panini’s Sanskrit, as “religion.” But is it one? I am afraid not. Why? Because Vedic word Dharma seeks no submission, offers no dictums, constitutes no commandments, and, most importantly, has no concept of the Prophets. You do not have to be a theist to read or benefit from Vedic precepts.
Vedic people respected a great many sages like Charuvaka or Charvak, also known as Lokayata, who were not just atheists but also hedonists. The objective of Sakshatkara or Realization of Absolute Truth according to the Rishis and Rishikas was not to achieve gods or reach their abode but to know, understand and realize our own true self – Aatmana.
The highest objective of Vedic people was to reach a state of Stithaprajna a state of absolute enlightenment; a state where a person is neither happy nor sad while living in a state of constant bliss while during one’s material duties, pursuing one’s profession and satisfying one’s material need and desires or Kama without any shred of conflicts.
The path to attain this state of Stithaprajna is what is best known as Yoga. And since a healthy body and calm mind are essential for understanding knowledge and realizing wisdom; the Rishis and Rishikas created and propagated the exercises for the body, namely: Ashtanga Yoga (the Yoga as is known today), Pranayama (breathing exercises) and Dhyana (Meditation).
Rishika Atri, according to Bhishma in Shanti Parva chapter of the Mahabharata, had clearly mentioned that “Vedic knowledge and wisdom shall remain useless and/or elusive for people without food in their belly and a sense of physical security.” Also, she says, “it is only when a belly is filled, mind is calmer, and a person has a roof over one’s head can they even begin to realize the need for knowledge.”
Dharma is not subjective, but an objective approach to life and living. A person must seek one’s own Varnashrama Dharma or Profession, Grihasta Dharma or family life and Samsara Dharma or Commitment to one’s society through an approach of self-determination called Swadharma.
Although it is possible to explain the Dharma in many words; it is equally impossible to define it. According to the great many Rishis and Rishikas, “Dharma, like the feelings of the mind, cannot be defined; one only has to experience and realize it through expanding one’s mind and efforts.”
To say Dharma is a religion is a result of gross ignorance. There is nothing called as Sanatana Dharma, either. For Dharma itself is Nitya (eternal) and Sanatana (everlasting.)
Dharma is also doing the right Karma or Satkarma. Philosophy of Karma is philosophy of actions. And as scientists agree, “every action… has an equal and opposite reaction.” As the great religions of the world say “Thou shalt reap what you sow.” So, it is important we do the right actions to yield the right results. We cannot expect to plant the seed of apple and expect it to grow mangoes.
Good actions according to the Rishis are that which are bereft of Six Detrimental Qualities or Arishadvargas, namely: Kama or lust, Krodha or anger, Lobha or greed, Moha or infatuation, Mada or ego, and Matsarya or Envy.
The fact that the humanity has often sought paths often infested by these unsustainable detrimental qualities is the reason why we have a world reeling in severe pain.
It is therefore important that we follow the Dharma and become Dharmic. But being Dharmic is not about kowtowing to a guru, worshipping an idol, reading some holy books, and doing everything with qualities that fall into the realms of Arishadvargas.
Being Dharmic can be better understood as the approach where we try to make the best of the situation, by not getting deterred by pains, by seeking perpetual bliss through patience and perseverance, and relinquishing hate to see the whole world as one family and, most importantly, live detached – i.e. To love all without a shred of expectation of living in the moment.
One of the best definition of Dharma was presented by Rishika Gautami, “Dharma is not doing to others what you do not want others to do to you.” At any rate, Dharma is never a religion. Also, person of any religion, or even an atheist, can be Dharmic provided (s)he knows, understands and realizes Dharma.