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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Introduction to Hindu Dharma

Wishing You And Your Family A Very Happy Deepavali And
A Peaceful & Prosperous New Year

Let us try to understand what Hindu Dharma is

Any Shastra i.e. Hindu spiritual doctrine begins and ends with peace chant called as Shanti Mantra.It shows the concern for universal well-being is deeply rooted within Hinduism.

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 !

Shanti Mantra from Mundaka Upanishad of Atharva Veda:

An Introduction to Hindu Dharma

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 to 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. Let’s elaborate a bit further. 

Hindu dharma is a dharma, which covers all aspects of life from practical to spiritual. 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

Everyone wants and strives for happiness. We all try to make arrangements as such that we do not get any sorrow. 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 (shAstra-s), one not only purifies internally, but also does good for others. The very action of going good for others purifies us internally. 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 it, dissolving our individual identity as incarnated soul.

Hindu Dharma, the eternal religion.

Hindu Dharma 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. It is called as Sanatana Dharma. SanAtana means eternal. Dharma means religion. Hence, HD is called as ‘The Eternal Religion’. HD is also called as Eternal religion because the canonical texts, i.e. veda-s have existed before the beginning of time. Hence this religion is timeless, eternal religion.

Distinctive Features of Hindu Dharma

HD has many distinctive features, which are not found in other religions. Some of them are:

Religion without any name 

  1. One God depicted as many Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Surya, Adi Shakti, Gaensha and Sanmukha. 
  2. God with form (attributes) and without form (attributeless, NirguNa Brahman) 
  3. VarNa-Ashrama dharma 
  4. Every action taught and carefully carried out is for personal and universal well being and for Atmic development i.e. to attain inner purity. 
  5. Thinks into account our after life. Following injunctions as laid in shAstra-s will make one ascend to higher, spiritual more evolved worlds of demi-gods, and other worlds. 
  6. Rebirth (re-incarnation) 
  7. Final liberation is to be free from cycle of birth and death 
  8. 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. 
  9. Covers people of all emotional temperaments. 
  10. Covers all aspects of Life. 
  11. Unlike other religions, which are named after their founders, Hindu dharma is not created by any one person. 
  12. Vedas have been independently existed since time immemorial. They were revealed to great saints called Rishis. They were not created by Men or God. Hence Vedas are eternal, without any beginning or end. 

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 Dharma is made up of two words VarNa (dharma) and Ashrama (dharma).


Veda-s are of utmost importance. They have to be protected. Vedas are not short texts to be 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 Rishis (Saints) so that not even a bit of information gets corrupted while orally transforming from one person to another. 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. For this an entire class was created, who was entrusted with this responsibility. They came to be known as Brahmins.


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.


Shudras are the helping class. They are essential for running of society. Without them society would collapse. They do not need to learn vedas. 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 who has to be protected. 

No varNa is higher or lower. It is just division of vocation by birth.

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 wife and contemplate on inner meaning of scriptures. Lastly, one renounces the society and becomes a monk in search of highest truth, after knowing thi truth, nothing more needs to be learned.

Advantage of Vocations by Birth

When vocations are practised by birth, there is a guarantee for everyone to remain employed. A person also has natural advantage a 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, 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 Hindu Dharma 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.

However, vocations by birth may be overridden, if an individual has attained inner purity early then expected for 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.

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 intro of the root of our religion.

There are fourteen adobes of knowledge that constitutes Hindu Dharma. The fourteen dharma-pramanas (authorities of dharma) are called "caturdasa-vidya".

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

All religious knowledge is encompassed by these fourteen branches of learning.

Vedas are Top most authoritative texts and are the most important. Vedas are symbolized as a Veda Purush i.e. in the form of human being.

Man possesses a number of angas or limbs. In the same way the Vedas personified -- the Vedapurusa -- has six limbs. ( It must be noted that the Vedas are also spoken of as Vedamatha, Mother Veda. ) The four Upangas, though not integral to the Vedas, are supporting limbs of the Vedapurusa.

Four Vedas: Rgveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvanaveda

Six Angas: Siksa, Vyakarana, Chandas, Nirukta, Jyotisa and Kalpa

Four Upangas: Mimamsa, Nyaya, Purana and Dharmasastra

There are yet four more vidyas. If you add to the fourteen already mentioned, you will have eighteen vidyas - astadasa-vidya which are all-inclusive. Of them, the fourteen already mentioned are directly concerned with dharma. The remaining four - Ayurveda, Arthasastra, Dhanurveda and Gandharvaveda - do not directly deal with dharma. 

There are 18 dharma shastras, which are called as Smriti.

There are 18 Puranas and 18 up-puranas (subsidiary puranas). There are also Sthala Puranas. Sthala means place and Puranas means history. Hence Sthala Puranas describe and glorify ancient historic places.

The word "sastra" means an order or commandment. 

We will try to understand these in Brief.

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

What are veda-s

It would be difficult to define vedas. There are many great saints who have tried to explain the vedas 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 vedas are a collection of mantras and their explanation or how they should be applied. Vedas ar called unauthored, beginningless and endless. They teach highest truth.The word veda means 'vidya' i.e. 'knowledge'

Hence veda-s can be defined as a collection of mantras their explanation and their application, their inner meaning and teaching of the highest truth to be directly experienced. Vedas are unauthored and beginning-less and are divinely revealed mantras to Rishis as a flash in their heart. 

Vedas are divided into four parts – SamhitA, BrAhmaNa, AraNyaka, Upanishad (VedAnta)

SamhitA-s are collection of mantras which form major part of veda-s. 

BrAhmaNa-s explain who mantras 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, as the name suggests is the end part of veda-s. Here end does not literally mena the end part. It means the core or essence. e.g. Isa Upanishad is in the Samhita part, which deals with just mantra-s, still it is called as an Upanishad.

There are many upanishads, 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 / Isavasya 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 way and clear way, many acharyas have written commentaries on prasthantrayi. Out of them Adi Shankaracharya's commentaries are oldest that are extant today. Contrary to Popular belief, the downfall of Jainism and Buddhism was mainly due to the effort of Kumaril Bhatta, a Mimamsaka and Udayanacharya, a Tarka Shastri ( teacher of Nyaya). Adi Shnakara re-established vedic religion. 

The six Angas are 

  • Siksa (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.
  • Jyotisa (astronomy-astrology). Perform any ritual or begin any work in auspicious time.

  • Siksa is the nose of the vedapurusa, 
  • Vyakarana his mouth, 
  • Kalpa his hand, Nirukta his ear, 
  • Chandas his foot and 
  • Jyotisa his eye. 

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

A Brahmin must be acquainted with all. That he must be well- versed in the Vedas 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 leanred and memorized..

Four Up-angas are -

Mimamsa, Nyaya, Purana and Dharmasastra

Mimamsa could be defined as to perform rites and rituals according to the injunctions laid in vedas. People following mimAmsA (purva Mimamsa) believe in authority of vedas. Vedas give the fruits of actions. There is no concept of God in Mimamsa

Nyaya means logic. People following Nyaya believe in God. They are philosophically oriented and do not find any need to directly experience God.

Puranas are describe about important events of glorious past. Unlike history which we learn in school, Puranas aim to impart moral, religious and spiritual instructions. They convey the message of vedas in a very friendly manner through stories, so that laymen can understand it.

Eighteen puranas are

Vishnu Purana
Naradiya Purana
Padma Purana
Garuda Purana
Varaha Purana
Srimad Bhagavata Maha Purana

Brahmanda Purana
Markandeya Purana
Bhavishya Purana
Vamana Purana
Brahma Purana

Matsya Purana
Kurma Purana
Linga Purana
Shiva Purana
Skanda Purana
Agni Purana

Dharma shastras are created by great saints. They are called as smritis which means 'recollected fro mmemory'. They are based on vedas. In terms of authority, they are considered secondary to vedas. Dharma shastras 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 Vedas have brought together the duties and rites (dharma and karma) mentioned in them in the form of notes and they constitute the Smrtis. They are written in a language that we can easily understand. Read them. They tell you about your 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 Grhyasastras, Dharmasastras and Srautasastras of Kalpa deal with sacrifices and other rites. The Smrtis elaborate on them and contain detailed instructions with regard to the rite one has to perform through one's entire life. Actually, there are rituals to be conducted from the time of conception until death. The Smrtis also lay down the daily routine to be followed by all of us.

Manu, Parasara, Yajnavalkya, Gautama, Harita, Yama, Visnu, Sankha, Likhita, Brhaspati, Daksa, Angiras, Pracetas, Samvarta, Acanas, Atri, Apastamba and Satatapa are the eighteen sages who mastered the Vedas with their superhuman power and derived the Smrtis from them. Their works are known after them like Manusmrti, Yajnavalkya-smrti, Parasara-Smrti and so on, and they contain all that we need to know about all the dharmas to be adhered to and all the rituals to be performed during our entire life.

Apart from these eighteen , there are eighteen subsidiary Smrtis called Upasmrtis. It is customary to include the Bhagavadgita among the Smrtis.

Manu Smriti is most popular. Later comes Apastamba, Gautam and Yajnavalkya smriti-s. 

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.


To expand any further would be too much time consuming and difficult. 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.

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.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I would like to quote Swami Vivekanand:
"Religion is realization; not talk, not doctrine, nor theories, however beautiful they may be. It is being and becoming, not hearing or acknowledging; it is the whole soul becoming changed into what it believes."

"Religion is the manifestation of the Divinity already in man."

I don't know about others and can't say anything but this is cent percent true for Sanatan Dharm.

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