Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hindu Dharma – The most organized, integrated spiritual and practical way of life.


|| Hari OM ||

|| ShrI guru sharaNam || 
|| ShrI Adi Sankara sharaNam ||

|| ShrI rAmakriShNaarpaNamastu ||

Note: Please note that this article is not complete and needs editing and corrections. There may be many typos. We also need to change layout and fonts colours. If and when time permits, we will add more information. In the holy occasion of Shri Adi Shankaracharya Jayanti, which is on 23rd April 2015, we have made an attempt to share our information. This article is also published on Google Docs anyone can edit it. We will try to improve it as much as possible. 


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Transliteration Key

Following transliteration key is adapted. There can be inconsistencies. We request interested readers to correct them. Some characters in both sanskrit and roman script are displayed below.

= a
= A or aa or ā
= sa
= Sa or sha, hence शास्त्र is written as shAstra or Sastra
= Sha
= ca or cha
= chha or Cha
सीता = sItA
गीता = gItA
= na
= Na
सरस्वती = sarasvatI (notice capital 'I')
मणि = maNi (notice small 'i')

visarga () i.e. dot above word is either written as n or .n or M or .m
कृष्ण = kRRIShNa or kriShNa or krShNa

Since we are using itransliteration key, hence we do not follow the basic English convension of starting a new line with capital letter when it comes to writing sanskrit words. e.g. Dharma is written as dharma (without capital D). The correct spelling of 'dharma' is 'र्म'. If we type capital 'D' instead of small 'd' then the word would become र्म (notice the difference between '' and ''). Again just typing capital 'D' and omitting 'h' i.e. Darma would result into 'र्म'. 'da' (), 'Da' (), 'dha' () and 'Dha' () are four different characters. If new line starts with English word then capital letter is used.

Initially reader may find it difficult to read and it may not appear pleasing to eye as we are not accustomed to read capital letters in the middle of a word. The idea behind convey the pronunciation of saMskrit (sanskrit). Typing 'ā' instead of capital a (A) is a better option but is too much time consuming on both windows or Linux, as ā has to be inserted as a special character atleast on Indian Keyboard with Libre Office v 4+. Hence we have adopted to write 'shAstra' instead of 'shāstra'.

Dedicated To

Lotus feet of Guru _/\_ (As it was my guru who introduced this ignorant soul to vedAnta and the great lineage of Adi SankarAcArya)


Jagadguru ShrI Adi SankarAcArya jI the revivalist of vedic dharma. 

Dedicated to Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Shri Ramana Maharshi whose teachings have deep impact on my life.  

I would also like to dedicate this article to the lotus feet of all the acharyas and Gurus who have kept the holy tradition of Guru-Shishya Parampara alive. Dedicated to Brahman, the Supreme Self, substratum of entire universe. 


Whatever is good is my Guru's, all errors and everything negative are mine.



Dear Divine Souls,

There are many books and articles written to explain Hindu Dharma. This is just another attempt to share our information about Hindu Dharma.

Unlike Abrahmanic religion which preach One God One Book theory and asks on to pledge their belief to one particular person for their salvation, the philosophy which is applicable to all mankind, Hindu Dharma, is distinctive in many ways.

As per Kanchi Paramacharya, SAstra (or shAstra) is an order or commandment. Wise say that a SAstra covers all aspects of life. Hindu Dharma is the most organized way of life where each and every aspect of life be it spirituality or day-2-day activities are coded and organized in a proper and systematic structure. Covering all walks of life in a systematic way shows the intelligence, organization, management power and deep thinking ability of our ancestors.

Let us try to understand what Hindu Dharma (HD) is and know the reason why and how HD is best organized approach of living a harmonious life.

Any SAstra i.e. Hindu spiritual doctrine begins and ends with peace chant called as Shanti Mantra. Even independent works start with worshipping either God or Guru or both as in case of viveka chudAmaNi. This shows that concern for universal well-being and respect to God and Guru is deeply rooted within Hinduism.
Lets start our article with one such peace chant found in atharva veda.

Opening Invocation

Om ! O gods, may we hear auspicious words with the ears;
While engaged in sacrifices,
May we see auspicious things with the eyes;
While praising the gods with steady limbs,
May we enjoy a life that is beneficial to the gods.
May Indra of ancient fame be auspicious to us;
May the supremely rich (or all-knowing) Pusa (god of the earth) Be propitious to us;
May Garuda, the destroyer of evil, Be well disposed towards us;
May Brihaspati ensure our welfare. 

Om ! Peace ! Peace ! Peace !

The above SAnti mantra (peace chant) from muNDaka upanishad of atharva veda

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 while giving explanation in brief. We will try to understand our dharma in brief.

What is Hindu Dharma?

Put in simplest 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.

Final Goal of Hindu Dharma

Every human being, whether theist or atheist or anti-theist wants and strives for happiness. We all try to make arrangements as such that we do not have to face any trouble in future. In case of sorrow or any negative incident that may happen in our life, 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 remove sorrow as soon as possible. Men searches for happiness in material object or in person. It is natural for human being to strive for happiness. 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. HD teaches us how to remain satisfied and happy, how our actions effect 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 (SAstra-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 says that there are 2 paths – path of action (karma yoga) and path of renunciation (GYAna yoga). After doing works or vocations as prescribed by SAstra-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 it, dissolving our individual identity as incarnated soul.

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. 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.

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.

The term Hindu is derived from River Indu or Indus valley. The people living in the vicinity of Indus river and Indus valley were collectively referred to as 'Hindus'. Hinduism and sanAtana dharma are newly created terms.

Why Hindu dharma should be eternal?

sanAtana means eternal. dharma means religion. Hence, HD is called as ‘The Eternal Religion’. Hence this religion is timeless, eternal religion.

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.

Is humanity the greatest religion?

In recent times, so-called seculars and revisionists often say that 'Humanity' is above all religions, humanity is greatest of all religions, etc. However they miss the basic point and the purport of vedAnta. This only shows the ignorance about what Hindu Dharma is, specially what the word 'SAstra' means or covers. SAstra does not simply mean parroting verses or doing rituals and rigidly holding onto obscure, outdated and orthodox beliefs. Adi Sankara (ShrI Adi SankarAcArya jI, one of the greatest saint who revived our eternal vedic tradition) says that if there were no SAstra-s (canonical scriptures) then there would be no difference between humans and animals i.e. humans would be living animal-like life without SAstra-s. Contradictory to popular belief that 'humanity' is the greatest religion, it is the scriptures that makes us live like humans. Humanity is just one aspect of scriptures, it is not the end of road. Abiding in peace and bliss and in non-dual state of consciousness is the supreme goal of Life. The unborn supreme reality of SD is called as brahman, which is sat (truth), chit (pure consciousness) and Anand (eternal bliss). Corrupt practices, rigidity, misunderstanding of SAstra-s and committing crimes in the name of SD does no make SD for barbarians of medieval period. The very path of advaita is such that non-violence will automatically drop from the heart of meditator. BhagavAn in gItA says to stay neutral to likes and dislikes, develop 6 qualities like restrain and control of mind, patience, faith, etc, and develop fourfold qualities like discrimination (viveka), dispassion (vairAGYa), six qualities (SATsampatti) like control over mind, patience, faith, etc (Sama, dama, uparati, titikshA, shraddhA and samAdhAna, as mentioned in viveka chuDAmaNi). An vedAntin detaches himself / herself from external and internal (mental) objects and desires. It is an established fact that sattva guNa (mode of goodness, divine qualities like compassion, forgiveness, unconditional love, etc) increase and becomes pre-dominant guNa while lower animal qualities fade away. Hence there is no question of a vedAntin practicing or preaching violence.

HD has many distinctive features, which are not found in other religions.

Distinctive Features of sanAtana Dharma

Some of the distinctive features of SD are :

  1. Religion without any name.
  2. One God depicted as many Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, Adi Shakti, Gaensha and Sanmukha. 
  3. God with form (attributes) and without form (attributeless, nirguNa brahman) 
  4. varNa-Ashrama dharma 
  5. Every action thought and carefully carried out is for personal and universal well being and for Atmic development i.e. to attain inner purity. 
  6. Takes into account after life. Following injunctions, as laid in SAstra-s, will make one ascend to higher, spiritual more evolved worlds of demi-gods, and other worlds. 
  7. Rebirth (re-incarnation) 
  8. Final liberation is to be free from cycle of birth and death 
  9. Freedom is here and now in this world. One can be free in this life itself, while living i.e. still being in physical body. 
  10. Covers people of all emotional temperaments. 
  11. Covers all aspects of Life. 
  12. Unlike other religions, which are named after their founders, Hindu dharma is not created by any one person. 
  13. Vedas have been independently existing since time immemorial. They were revealed to great saints called rishi-s. They were not created by men or God. Hence veda-s are eternal, without any beginning or end.  Since time does not exist before and after creation when there is nothing but Brahman, the unborn supreme reality, hence veda-s which have existed eternally are not restricted by time and hence are timeless.
  14. Conversion is not a requirement in Hinduism nor is there any conversion ceremony where you pledge to a belief in a particular savior.
  15. Heaven and Hell are not eternal nor the life in Heaven and Hell is eternal. A soul in order to suffer or enjoy the fruits of his / her action either ascends in heaven or descends in Hell, the lower worlds, and stays there until the fruits of karma are not exhausted. After the fruits are exhausted, the soul takes birth in earthly plane. Hindus do not wish to stay and enjoy with 72 virgins waiting in bedroom in Heaven.
  16. There is no judgement day and resurrection as believed by Christians and Muslims nor Hindus considered themselves as special people selected by God as believed by Jews.
  17. The cycle of creation, preservation and destruction of universe is an on going process.
  18. Life and Death are continuous and never ending like day and night until one extinguishes all desires and karma-s to get liberated
  19. Belief in concept of avatAra, incarnations of God either in full or in part and descend of fully realized saints and siddha-s for upliftment of humanity and for removal of weeds and non-vedic elements that have creeped into Hinduism.
  20. Guru-SiShya paramparA, the Guru – disciple tradition.

Now, we will discuss an important and unique part of SD which is the backbone of SD and the reason for sustainable of SD from time immemorial.

varnAshrama dharma

varNa is often translated and used interchangeably with the word ‘Caste’. Caste is not the word of Indian Origin. Caste is not varNa. Caste is translated as ‘jAti’ which is a subset of varNa. There are four varNa-s – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Sudra. Within Brahmin varNa, there are many jAti-s.

varNa – Ashrama vharma is made up of two words varNa [dharma] and Ashrama [dharma].
VarNa is by birth. It is a misconcept that varNa is purely based on guNa-s only. Before taking into consideration why varNa is by birth, lets understand four varNa-s.


veda-s are of utmost importance. They have to be protected. Veda-s are not short texts that can be easily memorized. Further the mantras (verses) contained in them have their own potency when they are pronounced properly. To ensure this, a full proof system was developed by great rishi-s (Seer) so that not even a bit of information gets corrupted while orally transforming from one person to another. Each verse in veda called as shruti vacan (commandment of shruti) has
- a rishi (seer to whom this verse was revealed),
- a devatA (god / demi-god to whom this verse is attributed or dedicated) and
- chandas or meter in which a verse has to be sung or pronounced.

Veda-s cannot be preserved by writing down even with svara-s (musical annotations) as they are insufficient to describe to pitch, length and the depth of a particular character in a particular word. This can only be known by listening it from an accomplished master. Mantra is sound. Sound is nothing but a kind of energy and vibration. We are all affected by vibrations and energy. When a vedic mantra is properly pronounced, it produces divine positive vibrations. Anyone who hears them or is present in vicinity receives these vibrations and his subtle body, mind and nADI-s are cleanses and purified. Each vibration has it's own frequency. Hence to generate a particular frequency, one needs to pronounce a word in a definite way to produce desired effect. This is the reason why veda-s cannot be preserved in books. They must be chanted.

To master one veda, it takes around 10 years. Hence to master 4 vedas, it would take 40 years of dedication. Further the works mentioned in vedas are to be carried out faithfully to ensure universal well being and for personal spiritual development. This is a Herculean task. For this purpose, an entire class was created, who was entrusted with this responsibility. They came to be known as brAhmin-s. Their foremost duty is to learn, recite, practice and teach veda-s.


Society needs to be safe guarded against any foreign attack and needs to be governed properly to function effectively. This duty was entrusted by kshatriyas.


Agriculture and trading are the heart of any community for it's sustenance. These duties are entrusted to Vaishyas. These are the business community. While the modern education has special courses for management and in doing business, SD already has a special varNa in whom art of doing business is in their blood.


Shudra-s are helping and trading class. They are essential for running of society. Without them society would collapse. They do not need to learn veda-s. Their spiritual progress is the duty of brAhmin. If he stops chantings vedas, it is shudra who has to suffer, as he is entrusted with different vocation. If a shudra starves, it is vaishya community which has to be blamed. If Shudra feels insecurity, Kshatriya has to protect them. 

Why varNa by Birth?

No varNa is higher or lower. It is just division of vocation by birth. In bhagavad gItA BG 4.13 and 18.41-48, Adi Sankara and other prominant vaidika AcArya-s explain us that varNa is based upon guNa (qualities), but guNa is inherited by birth because we can actions and fruits of past lives into account. So getting birth in a family of brAhmin or brAhmaNa is considered as a result of living a ethical, moral and spiritual past life or lives. However, today brAhmin-s and other varNa-s do not carry their prescribed duty, hence the natural advantage of being born in a particular varNa is lost. A materialist or an athiest Brahmin is Brahmin for name sake only, he is more or less like a Sudra. So a spiritual soul might be born in a pious and religious vaiSya family then materialstic Brahmin family, as his / her purpose to excel in spirituality may not be fulfilled by living in such Brahmin family as s/he does not get oppurtuinity and encouragement to walk on spiritual path since childhood.

Ashrama dharma

We have already seen what is varNa dharma. Like varNa dharma, Ashrama dharma is also divided into four parts – brahmacharya, grihastha, vAnaprastha and sanyAsa Ashram. For 25 years brahmacharya is to be observed, then comes grihasta i.e. to lead a family life. Next 25 years, one has to live in forest with or without wife and contemplate on inner meaning of scriptures. Lastly, one renounces the society and becomes a monk in search of highest truth, brahman, after knowing brahman, nothing more needs to be known. The purpose of human birth is fulfilled.

Though four Ashram-s are segregated by 25 years each, it does not have to by strictly followed. Learning of veda-s and byhearting verses might take around 25 years. After that upto 50 years one has to carry the burden of family and social relations. Grihastha is the most important Ashrama in the sense that it is the only Ashram in which money can be earned. Hence a grihastha nourishes and supports other three Ashram-s.

The idea is to purity the mind. When one becomes inwardly pure, then it is time to leave the society and contemplate on the inner meaning of vedAnta and meditate on the highest truth, the Brahman. If a person attains inner purity in childhood, then such a person is considered worthy of skipping vAnaprastha Ashram and enter into sanyAsa Ashram. After taking sanyAsa, one looses one's varNa and views all people with an equal eye. All sanyAsin-s are strive for only one goal in life – moksha i.e. liberation from the cycle of birth and death by realizing and abiding in natural state, our true nature which is Brahman.

Advantage of Vocations by Birth

When vocations are practiced by birth, there is a guarantee for everyone to get employment. A person has natural advantage as he learns his vocation by birth from his childhood. Today, when this arrangement is broken, everyone wants to do the best work. Sadly, best today means, the work which gives 'good money'. Hence there is competition for becoming a doctor or an engineer, which was absent in earlier times. Not giving freedom is not bad. The ultimate purpose of Religion is to up-root ego.

varNa dharma, which is the unique feature of SD has often come into criticism. The very reason why our dharma is sustained since time immemorial is being criticized by revisionists and social reformers, without understanding the importance of varNa and Ashrama dharma in maintaining communal harmony, peace and universal well-being, for peaceful and harmonious running of society. The misunderstanding and evil practices that have creeped into our society is not because of faulty SD, but due to our faulty understanding. Our dharma smriti-s are the most flexible one in the world up to the extend of removing absolute laws and creating new laws, as said in parASara smriti which is most suited in kali yuga. Discarding varNa dharma is like offering a solution of chopping off head if one is having a headache. Can this be a solution? Cure the headache and not decapitate the head. Tossing up veda-s and upanishad-s in wild for free may look ethically and morally great specially by the revisionalists advocating equality of all, but it gives rise to a great danger of misunderstanding them. An unclean mind, a destructive mind reading upanishads by himself / herself is like a disaster waiting to happen. If anyone can correctly understand upanishads and veda-s by themselves, there would have been no need of Guru-Sishya paramparA and no need of living a life of monk.

However, vocations by birth may be overridden, if an individual has attained inner purity early then expected or have attained purity by birth due to merits of his past life. In such a case, a disciple can be initiated into vedanta, which expounds the highest truth. However in order to maintain discipline and avoid chaos and excessive competion, certain restrictions have to be imposed for the good of all. Nor being authorized to learn veda-s does not mean that one does not have right to chant God's name, learn Agama shastra-s practice yoga, read itihAsa and purANa-s and even know the essence of upanishads in simple words. Only authentic chanting is forbidden for Sudra-s as it is a full time job.

Why not varNa purely based on guNa-s?

This question is often asked by so-called advocates of equal rights for all. However, not all purposefully try to denigrate and break our social culture. There are many people who genuinely have this doubt and they should not be blamed just for having a non-traditional view. Let us try to understand why varNa cannot be purely based on guNa-s i.e. qualities.

Even in medieval past and in around 9th century AD there were some saints who strongly opposed to an extend that they discarded veda-s and even established a new independent sect. Great examples are Lord Buddha and mahAtmA basavaNNa also called as maharshi baSeSvara who created a casteless veera Saiva or lingAyat sect.

This topic is debated extensively since ages. We will try to give the traditional POV. Various examples in purANA-s and mahAbhArata and in rAmAyaNa can be found which support both theories of varNa by birth and by guNa-s. Dharma smriti-s are however clear on this matter that varNa is by birth. Veda-s do not clarify it's stand in varNa either. We should not that only 5 % of veda-s remain rest is not extant anymore. Had there been no Adi Sankara bhagavadpAda, God knows what would have left for us to practice. According to Adi Sankara, varNa is by guNa, but guNa is inherited by birth Similar is the opinion of other traditional AcArya-s. However, lets for time being consider that varNa is purely based on guNa-s and try to reach a conclusion.

We all have three guNa-s, sattva, rajasa and tamasa. In the night, tamasa is predominant, in brahma-muhurata (3:30 am to 5:30 am) sattva is prevalant and during day time, it's rajasa. Hence each person is a brAhmaNa in early morning and sudra in night. This does not sound correct. Again, even during day time, our mood is not the same, sometimes, the effect of sattva is predominant for few minutes or even hours. Another moment one can get angry and have rajasa. Cursing others and pledging to take revenge make one tAmasika. So a person within 5 minutes has changed from brAhmin to kahatriya to sudra. How is this possible? It also does not make any sense.
Now lets imagine that if a person though born in lower varNa is promoted to higher varNa say brAhmaNa. Now suppose that s/he commits a mistake. Now has that person downgraded himself / herself to a kshatriya or vaishya or Sudra? Again after regret and some rituals and penance of one purifies can one again become a brAhmaNa? In other words, a brAhmaNa is not allowed to make any mistakes or making mistakes downgrades him or her. Does this make any sense?

Now suppose a Sudra claims to a pure at heart, is intelligent and wants to learn veda-s or become a priest. A bigger question is who is going to judge whether a person has a particular guNa. Qualities and desires are invisible. Hence to understand the desires (vAsanA-s), we will have to judge the actions, as actions are grossest for of vAsanA and vAsanA is subtlest form of action. Without trial and error what is the other choice. Are there any saints who can look into mind and declare predominant quality of a person. If there are, how many saints genuinely do have this ability? What if a person after spending some time realizes that he is not suited to become a priest or looses interest in it or that Guru finds him / her incompetent? Answers to these questions are not easy. We have a practical problem if everyone is given a free run to let their mind loose nad choose whatever they want to do and live the way they want to live. We would not say this is anarchy, but it's definitely a mess and there will be man souls who would have lost direction and clarity and on their goal of life. Hence it is better to stick to our own varNa.

Today not many brAhmin-s practiced vocation prescribed by great saints. BrAhmin-s have chosen to earn money by trading of shares or do job or business. If this is the case that the highest of varNa do not stick to their vocation, why would we? The answer is not easy either. There are two reasons for sticking to our varNa dharma.
1. No one denies that a Sudra can be an intelligent and probably even intelligent than brAhmin. But chanting veda-s is not only dependent upon intellect. It requires a pure and spiritually matured mind which is possible only after accumulating merits of many of many past lives. Todays education system does not consider 'nature' and 'mental makeup' of any person. It only depends upon recitation, retention power and intelligence. Suppose if A get 95 % but is of destructive mindset and B gets 90 % but his mind is constructive. Who will get admission first? Again, if you do not get admission in your field of choice, students select another branch and later they get job in a field that is not related to them nor do they like work they are doing. This produces stress of work as there is no 'liking' for the work, which after certain years manifests as incurable disease … and life goes on. Hence nature, mental makeup, purity of mind are important factors which should not be neglected.

2. Practicing vocation by birth is a choice. It is the choice of brAhmin-s to dedicate their lives for veda-s or to live for earning. This does not mean that those who are doing Job do not deserve to chant veda-s. Being born in brAhmin family gives one a great opportunity which is not possible if one is born in a family of a poor Sudra where both parents and even children have to work for their livelyhood else they die of starvation.
After understanding varNa-Ashrama dharma from traditional POV, lets understand the basic texts of SD.

What are basic texts of Hindu Dharma?

Many Hindus are ignorant of the scripture that is the very source of their religion - they do not know even its name. Here it is an attempt to atleast give brief introduction of the heart of our religion.

There are fourteen adobes of knowledge that constitutes SD. The fourteen dharma-pramANa-s (authorities of dharma) are called "caturdasa-vidya". caturdasa means fourteen (catur means four and dasa means ten), vidyA means knowledge.

The fourteen "abodes" of knowledge are: the four vedas; the six Angas or limbs of the Vedas; four up-angas or subsidiary limbs

Religious knowledge is encompassed by these fourteen branches of learning.

Vedas are Top most authoritative texts and are the most important. Vedas are symbolized in the form of human body as a veda purusha.

Man possesses a number of angas or limbs. In the same way the veda-s personified -- the vedapurusha -- has six limbs. ( It must be noted that the veda-s are also spoken of as vedamatha, Mother Veda. ) The four upangas (sub-limbs, secondary parts), though not integral to the veda-s, are supporting limbs of the vedapurusha.

Four Vedas: rgveda, yajurveda, sAmaveda and atharvanaveda

Six Angas: SikshA, VyAkaraNa, Chandas, nirukta, jyotiSa and kalpa

Four Upangas: mimAmsA, nyAya, purANa and dharmashAstra

There are yet four more vidyA-s. If you add them to the fourteen already mentioned, you will have eighteen vidyA-s - asTAdasa-vidyA which are all-inclusive. Of them, the fourteen already mentioned are directly concerned with dharma.
The remaining four -
1. Ayurveda,
2. arthashAstra,
3. dhanurveda and
4. gandharvaveda

- do not directly deal with dharma. 

We have two itihAsa-s, mahAbhArata and vAlmiki rAmAyaNa. 'itihAsa' means history. Adi Sankara considered both of them as authentic but when he used to simply mention itihAsa, it would mean only mahAbhArata. Both of these epics are given a special status of history. There are purANa-s, but they may have an element of imagination and moral of the story is generally considered as important than the story itself.
There are 18 purANa-s and 18 upa-purANa-s (subsidiary purANa-s). 'purANa' means history or that which is ancient. There are also sthala purANa-s. 'sthala' means place and purANa means history. Hence sthala purANa-s describe and glorify ancient historic places.

There are 18 dharma shAstras, which are called as smriti-s.

We will try to understand these in Brief.

Earlier it was said that Veda-s are pillars of SD. The question arises – 

What are veda-s?

It would be difficult to define veda-s a definition which would cover the content and the purport of veda. However the word 'veda' means 'vidyA' or knowledge. There are many great saints who have tried to explain veda-s by writing commentary on them. Out of them the one written by sAyanAchArya (Sayanacharya), who was an avaitin, is considered as the most authentic by all. According to him, the veda-s are a collection of mantras and their explanation or how they should be applied. Vedas are called unauthored (apurusheya), beginningless and endless. They teach highest truth.

Hence veda-s can be defined as a collection of mantras their explanation & application, their inner meaning and teaching of the highest truth to be directly experienced. Veda-s are unauthored, beginning-less and are divinely revealed mantras to great rishi-s (Seers) as a flash in their heart or as intuition. 

Vedas are divided into four parts – samhitA, brAhmaNa, AraNyaka, upanishad (vedAnta)

samhitA-s are collection of mantras which form major part of veda-s.  Traditionally when one says 'veda' it means samhitA part.

brAhmaNa-s explain which and where a mantra or a collection of mantra-s are to be applied. They are further split into araNyaka-s and vedAnta.

AraNyaka-s give inner meaning behind any ritual or practice. It is more connected with inner or mental practice.

vedAnta, i.e. veda-anta, as the name suggests is the end part of veda-s. Here 'end' does not literally mean the 'end part'. It means the core or essence. e.g. IshA upanishad is in the samhitA part. SamhitA-s generally deals with just mantra-s, still it is called as an upanishad.

There are many upanishad-s, technically 1180. Out of them some say 220 are extant. Out of this 108 are listed in muktikA upanishad. Out of 108, 10 are considered to be principle upanishads.

They are listed in a form of a verse so that they are easy to remember.

Isa Kena Kathaa Prasna Munda Maandukya TAithari
Aitareyam Cha Chaandogyam Brahadhaaranyakam Dasa

ईसकेनकथाप्रश्न मुण्ड माण्डूक्य तैत्तिरी ।
एइतरेयंच छान्दोग्यं ब्रहृदारण्यकंदश ॥

For convenience they are put as Numbered List: 

  1. IshA / ISa / IshAvAsya Upanishad 
  2. Kena Upanishad 
  3. KaTha Upanishad 
  4. PrashNa Upanishad 
  5. muNDaka Upanishad 
  6. mANDukya Upanishad 
  7. taittiriya Upanishad 
  8. aitareya Upanishad 
  9. ChAndogya Upanishad 
  10. brihadAraNyaka Upanishad 

In order to realize highest truth and to be free from cycle of birth and death, along with 10 principle Upanishads, study of Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras (topmost cannonical text) is prescribed. Together they are called as prasthAntrayi. To explain the concepts in simple and clear way, many AchArya-s have written commentaries on prasthAntrayi. Out of them Adi SankarAchArya's commentaries are oldest that are extant today.

Adi Sankara didnt single handedly caused downfall of Buddhism.

It is worth to mention that there is a misconception that Adi Sankara single handedly defeated buddhism and established vedic religion. The downfall of Jainism and Buddhism was mainly due to the combined effort of kumArila bhaTTa, udayanAchArya, and Adi Shankara. Buddhists had three main logical oppositions to SD.

1. Non-acceptance of veda-s (rituals).
2. Non acceptance of Ishvara
3. Non-acceptance of vedAnta, the philosophical part by establishing Sunya vAda (AtmAn is a blank, zero state)

The glory of vedic rituals was re-established by kumArila bhaTTa, a mimAmsaka or karma kANDin, who is considered as an avatAra of skanda bhagavAn

Existence of Ishvara by logical way was re-established by an adept in tarka, udayanAcArya, who by logical reasoning established the existence of Ishvara

The final purport of vedAnta, which is Self- Realization and that brahman is the substratum of entire universe and is not a Sunya avasthA, a blank, zero state, was established by Adi SankarAcArya.

On the other hand, the second avatAra of skanda bhagavAn, one of the great 63 nAyanAra saints, had many debates with Prominent jain AcArya-s, who too were very strong and even had great spiritual powers, refuted their objections and defeated them in debates thereby stopping conversion and re-establishing the glory of bhagavAn Siva. Under his influence, Siva bhakti spread far and wide in South India.

The six Angas are 

  • sikshA (Phonetics); Concerned with pronunciation
  • vyAkaraNa (grammar); Learn in accordance with rules of grammar like in pANiNi sUtra.
  • nirukta (lexicon, etymology); splits sanskrit word and gives deep meaning. 
  • kalpa (manual of rituals); Application of mantras in rituals, size of yajna kund / havan kund
  • Chandas (prosody); singing in a particular tone.
  • jyotiSha (astronomy-astrology). Perform any ritual or begin any work in auspicious time.
Their place in veda purusha is:
  • sikshA is the nose of the vedapurusa, 
  • vyAkaraNa his mouth, 
  • kalpa his hand,
  • nirukta his ear, 
  • Chandas his foot and 
  • jyotiSha his eye. 

To know the reason for each ssAstra being identified with a part of the body, each anga has to be individually studied.

A brAhmin is expected be acquainted with all anga-s. That he must be well- versed in the veda-s goes without saying. He must first learn to chant them and proficiency in the six Angas will later help him to gain insights into their meaning. For todays age, learning all four vedas is difficult, so only one shakhA (a part) of one veda is expected to be learned and memorized.

Four Up-angas are -

mimAmsA, nyAya, purAna and dharmashAstra

mimAmsA could be defined as, to perform rites and rituals according to the injunctions laid in veda-s. People following mimAmsA (pUrva mimAmsA) believe that veda-s are supreme authority. Veda-s themselves give fruits of actions. There is no concept of God in mimAmsA.

nyAya means logic. People following nyAya believe in Ishvara. They are philosophically oriented and do not find any need to directly experience God. nyAya is important but dry philosophy and adherents of nAya do not find any need to mediate in order to realize shAstra-s.

Further notes for interested readers (can be skipped):

An extension of nyAya is vaisheshikhA developed by maharShi kaNNaDa. vaisheshikhA takes the enquiry further from where nyAya left it. It is the nyAya school that Adi Sankara and later on AcArya SrI harSha attacked in their commentaries. Adi Sankara refuted some of it's concepts stating that nyAya though useful is not end of road. There is need of meditation and the knowledge of Brahman by direct experience is necessary for liberation. SrI harsha attacked the basic concepts of nyAya school including who deserve to take part in debate in his khanDAn-khaNDa-khAdya. This led to the entire collapse of nyAya system until a Gangesha Upadhyay revived it by establishing navya-nyAya (new school of nyAya). All traditional AcArya-s who were actively involved in svamata vistAra and para mata bhanga i.e. expansion or spreading of own siddhAnta (principles) and refuting opponents siddhAnta were all adept in nyAya and later navya nyAya. Navya nyAya is now simply referred to as nyAya.

purANa-s describe about important events of glorious past which may not belong to the current eon. Unlike history which we learn in school, purANa-s aim to impart moral, religious and spiritual instructions. They convey the message of veda-s in a very friendly manner through stories, so that laymen can understand it.

Eighteen purANa-s are

viShNu purANa
nAradiya purANa
padma purANa
garuDa purANa
varAha purANa
Srimad bhAgvata purANa

brahmANDa purANa
brahmavaivarta purANa
mArkanDeya purANa
bhavishya purANa
vamana purANa
brahmA purANa

matsya purANa
kUrma purANa
linga purANa
Siva purANa
skanda purANa
agni purANa

dharma shAstras are created by great saints. They are called as smriti-s which means 'recollected from memory'. They are based on veda-s. In terms of authority, they are considered secondary to veda-s. dharma shAstra-s are called as 'law books'. They give moral and ethical code of conduct.

"smrti" is what is remembered. "vismrti" is insanity. Manu observes :"There is smrti for the Vedas in the form of notes. The sages who had a profound understanding of the veda-s have brought together the duties and rites (dharma and karma) mentioned in them in the form of notes and they constitute the smrti-s. They are written in a language that we can easily understand. Read them. They tell you about your duties in detail, the do's and don'ts, and how the rites are to be performed. "

We have seen that the sixth vedanga, kalpa, contains instructions about the vedic works. The grhyashAstra-s, dharmashAstra-s and SrautashAstra-s of kalpa deal with sacrifices and other rites. The smrti-s elaborate on them and contain detailed instructions with regard to the rite one has to perform through one's entire life. There are rituals to be conducted from the time of conception until death. The smrti-s also lay down the daily routine to be followed by all of us.

manu, parAshara, yjnavAlkya, gautama, harita, yama, viShNu, Sankha, likhita, brhaspati, daksa, angiras, pracetas, samvarta, acanas, atri, Apastamba and shatapata are the eighteen sages who mastered the Vedas with their superhuman power and derived smrti-s from them. Their works are known after them like manusmriti, yajnavAlkya-smriti, parAshara-smriti and so on, and they contain all that we need to know about all the dharma-s to be adhered to and all the rituals to be performed during our entire life.

Apart from these eighteen, there are eighteen subsidiary smrti-s called upasmriti-s. It is customary to include the bhagavadgItA among the smrtii-s.

manu Smriti is most popular among intellectuals. Later comes Apastamba, gautam and yajnavAlkya smriti-s. parAshara smriti is considered to be suitable for kalayuga. What which is not covered by parAShara can be found in other smriti-s. In India, mitAksharI, a commentary on yajnavAlkya smriti was prevailing all over India. dayAbhAga, which is a digest of all smriti-s was prevailing in Bengal. 

The most practical part of parAshara smriti is that it says that old absolute law can be removed or replaced with a newer law. 5 brAhmin-s who are knowers of veda-s can form a council and create new law that is suitable at that time in the current circumstances.

Six Philosophical systems of India 

Orthodox systems are those which accept the authority of the Vedas, while the heterodox systems are those which reject it. To the latter group belong the three systems of Charvaka, Buddhism and Jainism.

The ‘shaddarshanas’, or the six systems of Indian philosophy belong to the former group. These systems are called 

  1. Nyaya. 
  2. Vaisesika. 
  3. Samkhya. 
  4. Yoga. 
  5. Purva Mimamsa 
  6. Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta.
The nāstika (athiest) schools are (in chronological order) They reject vedas: 

Cārvāka – Believes only what can be perceived. Rational thinking. 

Jainism – offshoot of Hinduism, Independent system. Some say, actual Jain Dharma is thiest and talk about Brahman as Jina Tatva. 

Buddhism – off shoot of Hinduism, independent system. Does not accept vedas or God, theory of Shunya (zero), nihilism. 

They generally deal with four topics:

  • Existence and nature of Brahman 
  • Nature of the jiva or the individual soul 
  • Creation of the jagat or the world.
  • Moksha or liberation and the disciplines that lead to it.

How is Hinduism the most systematically organized Religion?

As said earlier, Hinduism covers all walks of life.

There are different types of collections of Hindu Scriptures that are written in a different way or different purposes. Accordingly they are called as a SAstra, sUtra, siddhAnta or samhitA.

SAstra is that covers all aspect of life, it is the word of God.
sUtra or aphorism is that which means to explain anything in the most precise and shortest way.
siddhAnta is generally a rule or a principle or an established theory.
SamhitA is any methodically arranged collection of established texts or verses

We will try to briefly understand in what way Hinduism covers all aspects of life.

  • veda-s – Topmost Authority covering mantras and where to chant a particular mantra or personal and universal well being.
  • vedAnta (upanishads) – Philosophical Part of veda-s
  • bhagavad gItA and other gItA, independent and from purANas- and itihAsa
  • brahma sUtra – Topmost canonical text clearing contradictions, refuting multiple views and establishing truth (This texts is to be studied last after studing Gita and Upanishads)
  • itihAsa (history) – rAmAyaNa and mahAbhArata
  • purANa-s – Speaking of God in a friendly way through stories
  • yoga – control of mind, body and breath. Texts like patangali yoga sUtra, thirumandiram, etc – for meditatative purposes
  • dharma smriti-s – civil codes
  • nATya SAstra – Doctrine of Drama and Acting
  • nritya SAstra like bhArata NATyam, and other dance forms
  • niti SAstra-s – vidur niti, chANakya niti
  • haTha yoga – haTha pradipikA, gerANDa samhitA
  • yaska's nirukta – splitting of sanskrits words and giving multiple meaning
  • amarkoSa – sanskrit disctionary
  • pANiNi's aShTAdhyAyi – sanskrit grammar
  • patangali mahAbhASya – commentary on pAnini's aShTAdhyAyi further explaining sanskrit grammer
  • gruhya sUtra-s – describing day-2-day activities of house holders
  • vAstu SAstra – Art of house and temple building, city planning
  • Silpa SAstra for idol making and temple construction.
  • jyotiSa SAstra-s – Texts on Astrology like brighu samhitA and rAvaNa samhitA
  • paulisa siddhAnta, surya siddhanta, arya siddhAnta of Arya Bhatta and others for Astronomy
  • ank SAstra – Science of Mathematics, mystry of numbers
  • nyAya and tarka SAstra – School of Logic
  • chAyA SiddhAnta – Problem solving through the science of shadow
  • tantra – external, internal and mixed for of worship of God, related to awakening of kundalini and activation of chakra-s and other subtle bodies.
  • vimAnika SAstra – science of aeronautics.

The Taboo

  • kAmaSAstra - vAtsyAyana's kAmasUtra and nandi's kAmaSAstra – study of sexual behaviour. Contrarory to popular beiief, it's not 'sex manual' and has spiritual elements.

  • VamachAri mArg - Left Hand Paths which are generally conidered as taboo by common man crossing the human and civil limits, moral and ethical codes and do what is prohibited and still get enlightenment. KamasUtra is not a manual of tAntrika sex.
    An e.g. is aghori sAdhu-s. They are masters of energies and subtle bodies and do not consider anything as unholy as Siva is present in everythiing and is everywhere. Nothing exists that is not Siva.

Other paths which are corrupted from pure paths are secret techniques invoking ghosts, and Gods invisible power either for personal gain or for destructive purpose.

latA sAdhanA-s found in 64 bhairava tantra-s are connected with spiritual gains via sexual pleasures. They are rejected even by Saiva-s, sects worshipping Lord Siva as supreme, probably due to being born as a result of corrupted understanding of tantra.

  • tantra-s were designed so that men and women of all varNa and jAti can practise them. There is no restriction to anyone as far as practising them it concerned. Only advice is to learn them under the guidance and care of an enlightenmed Guru or a well veresed AcArya.
  • Lokayata / brihaspatya / cArvAka of prajApati daksha – An athiest docrtine supposedly founded by prajApati daksha of athiest nature which emphasizes on materialism. CarvAka-s consider lust as the cause of creation. According to pancAdaSi and sarvadarSana samgrah of SrI vidyAraNya svAmI, there were two types of cArvAka-s – (1) those who thinks Atman (Self or 'I') is physical gross body and (2), those believing that jIva is 'I' or Self or Atman.

Four upa-veda-s (sub veda-s or secondary veda-s)

  • Artha Sastra – kauTilya's artha Sastra for Financial management
  • dhanurveda – martial arts and art of war planning using different forms like cronch vyuh, chakra vyuh
  • Ayurveda – Science of medicine e.g. charaka samhitA, dhanvantari samhitA, Sushruta samhitA (plastic surgery). It is said that there was also blood transmutation in Ancient Indian technique.
  • gandharva veda – Science and art of singing and music. Music originated from sAma veda (sargam – sA, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni)

  • Oral traditions – many things not covered for changed according to the demographics and local culture

  • Independent compositions – poetic, prakaraNa grantha-s and related to and complimenting upanishads, bhakti sUtra-s like nArada and SanDilya bhakti sUtra-s are highly revered.

  • Advances in Engineering – non-rusting Iron pillar in Delhi calle viShNu stambha (Qutub Minar) was an astronomical observatory. Zinc distillation was carried out in India in Ancient days which no other country could replicate it at that time.

From the above we can conclude that Hinduism is a religion which covers all major walks of life and is the most organized religion.

Religious Tolerance

The very existence of various philosophical schools of thoughts in vedic times and in post-vedic period independent religions sprung out from SD, we can understand that Hindus by nature are very tolerant people and lived in harmony with those adhering to opposite siddhAnta. Though history suggests that there was blood shed in the name of religion, it was mostly between vaiShNava-s, advaitins and shaiva-s. Still this was very area specific and an entire nation cannot be blamed for this. Religious intolerance was not India's culture and Hindus do not believe in the spreading their religion by deceitful manner, by way of sword or by accusing non-believers of their siddhAnta of being possed by demons. Hindus would argue and win battles on philosophical grounds and this was restricted to the intellectual class and not a mass movement.

A lot more can be said on Hindu Dharma. If time permits, more articles will be incorporated.

We sincerely hope that sharing information has helped others to understand Hindu Dharma atleast to some extend from the traditional POV.

Closing Invocation:

Om ! May my limbs, speech, vital air, eyes, ears, strength,
And all the senses be fully developed.
All that is revealed by the Upanishads is Brahman.
May I never deny Brahman:
May Brahman never disown me.
Let there be no repudiation (from Brahman);
Let there be no infidelity from my side.
May all the Dharmas extolled by the Upanishads shine in me
Who am intent on knowing the Self.
May they shine in me !
Om ! Peace ! Peace ! Peace !

Peace Chant of Kena Upanishad of Samaveda.

|| Hari OM ||


Explaining Hinduism is not easy. Sri Chandrashekharendra Sarasvati Svami, 68th Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetha, who was often glorified as 'The Walking God' has explained Hindu Dharma in much detail. His discourses are penned down in a book called 'Daivattin Kural' in Tamil, which consists of 7 volumes. This book is translated in English nad published under the title, 'The Voice of God'. Out of these 7 volumes, two volumes are published separately as the title 'Hindu Dharma – Varna Dharma for Universal Well being'. The entire book is available online in html format here. There is another book called 'Voice of Guru – The Guru Tradition', which is an extraction of teachings related to Guru from various volumes is also very useful. Books are published by Bhartiya Vidya Bhavans. It is recommended to read both these books to fully understand Hindu Dharma.

Source: Extracted from the book, Hindu Dharma, which are the collections of saying of Kanchi Paramacharya

Scope of Work – Future Topics

  1. How Hinduism covers people of all types of emotional temperament
  2. Three Paths
  3. Two ways to live a life: Path of Action and Path of Renunciation
  4. Tolerance and acceptance of other philosophical systems
  5. Idol Worship and Beyond --> Why Idol Worship?
  6. varNa dharma and resistance from saints
  7. Why not varNa purely based on guNa-s (qualities)?
  8. What about New Hindu Converts? Which varNa do they have to adhere to?
  9. Vegetarianism and it's advantages.

Modern Hinduism

  1. Tolerance and living in Peace is taken place by cowardliness
  2. Pseudo-Seculars
  3. Pseudo Advaitins and Vedantins
  4. Independent Academicians – The Self Proclaimed All knowers of sanAtana dharma
  5. Attacks to Destroy Culture and scriptures by Portuguese and Britishers.
  6. Modern reformers
  7. Difference between ancient, medieval and modern reformers and saints.

Other articles

  1. Hinduism – The Land of Saints
  2. Asceticism, penance and meditative life
  3. Need for control of Mind and Yoga
  4. Need for asceticism
  5. Anything in excess is poison
  6. Our journey
  7. Contradictions in Hindu Scriptures and their Solution.
  8. Difference between a Yogi and a Advaita Sanyasin.

|| ShrI rAmaKruShNaarpaNamastu || 
|| ShrI ramaNarpaNanamastu ||

|| ShrI gurubhyo namaH ||