The meaning of Sanatan is eternal. Vedic Dharma can aptly be defined as Sanatan Dharma. The Religion of vedas as called by Swami Vivekananda . In English, Dharma is defined by the word ‘religion’. But the term religion is incapable to describe the vast meaning of Dharma. In fact, the spirit of Dharma is so vast that it includes things related not only to our present incarnation but to the past and the future incarnations as well.
According to the definition given in the scriptures:
Meaning- Dharma is something that should be borne all the time. Thus, it is the powerful means that saves us from catastrophe and leads to evolution. For example, Vedas are not only the means to attain comfort in metaphysical world but they also show the path to all round development and prosperity.
MEANINGS OF SANATAN DHARMA
SANAATANASYA DHARMA ITI SANAATAN DHARMAH|
Meaning- Sanatan Dharma, as the name suggests owes its inception to none other than the eternal supreme soul- Brahm.
All the religions except Sanatan can be classified into two parts-Pre-historic religions and Historic Religions.
But Sanatan cannot be included in any of these two categories. It existed even before the birth of other religions and it exists even today. Sanatan shall exist in future also. History has witnessed the rise and fall of scores of religions and sects. But, Sanatan has withstood all kinds of upheavals and oppositions and continues to exist.
Regarding the future of Sanatan, we have to keep in mind that since it has no beginning hence it will have no end. So, it is beyond the reach of ‘natural-law of change’ which states that one which has born shall inevitably come to an end. There has never been an exception to this rule nor there shall be one. Even the divine embodiments of almighty Paraatman in physical incarnations had to see their end. Thus, even the physical embodiment of even the eternal God is not an exception to this rule.
Second meaning: Sanatan has no beginning and hence no end. It exists right from the moment of creation of universe to the time of Pralaya (the great deluge). It is Sanatan not because it owes its inception to the eternal God but because it is eternal in itself. It shall exist up to Pralaya and shall not be destroyed even after Pralaya when it will lie dormant but exist neverthless.With the beginning of new creation, Sanatan shall rise once again to protect mankind and help it prosper.
But all said and done one should not have a misconception that all the other religions are false. Every religion guides the human being to its ultimate goal. But these religions being historic and propounded by somebody inevitably will see their end, of course except Sanatan Dharma.
Third meaning :
SADA BHAVAH SANAATANAH, SANATANAM KAROTI ITI SANATAN YATI, SANATAN YATITI SANATANAH|
SANATANASHCHASOU DHARMA ITI SANATAN DHARMAH
Sanatan Dharma is eternal not because it owes its inception to the eternal God. It is eternal not because it is timeless and indestructible. Sanatan is eternal because it is capable of making all those who have faith in it eternal by providing them the ‘ultimate knowledge’.
Sanatan has three distinct features.
1.The eternal supreme soul propounded it.
2.It is eternal in itself.
3.It is capable of making its followers eternal.
Now a question naturally arises as to what are the traits of the followers of Sanatan. Let’s explore it in the fourth meaning.
Fourth meaning –
SANATANAM PARAMATMA SWARUPAM PRAAPYATI ITI|
Meaning – The religion that helps us attain union with the eternal soul is Sanatan. A follower of Sanatan dharma abides to the true- path and which helps him to unite with the almighty God ultimately.
This is the real characteristic of Sanatan,which helped India to prosper in all walks of life since time immemorial. But now, we are neglecting it and hence are facing the consequences. Those who discard religious path are sure to fall. Even God has said regarding such people:
YAH SHASTRA VIDHI MRITASRINYA VARTATE KAAMKAARTAH|
NA SA SIDDHIM VAARNOTI NA SUKHAM NA PARAAMGATIM||
TASMA CHCHHASTRAM PRAMAANAM TE KARYAA KARYAVYA VASTATAU|
GYAATVA SHAASTRA VIDHAANOKTAM PARAM KARTUMIHAARHASI||
Meaning – Those who neglect the scriptures and act in whimsical way neither attain perfection nor any comfort and salvation. O Arjun! Scriptures dictate the things worth your doing and unworthy of doing.
Even Manu says:
DHARMA EVA HATO HANTI, DHARMO RAKSHATI RAKSHITAH
Meaning – A exterminated religion kills the people ultimately but a protected religion protects its followers.
RELIGION AND COMMUNITY
There is only one religion. Nomatter if it has acquired different names in various parts of the world depending upon circumstances, culture and tradition but the fact is that it must necessarily contain all the good qualities capable of giving boost to the spiritual upliftment of a man and his ultimate salvation. These diverse elements of virtuosity have been named as religion. Anything lacking this spirit cannot be called a religion. For example ‘warmth’ is the distinctive feature of ‘fire’. If fire loses warmth, it is no more a fire. Similarly, the sun provides light and warmth, if it loses these properties, it will be no more than a dead star. Liquidity and coldness are the property of water. Without them, it will not be water.
Human being is the supreme creation of the nature. Our ancient sages, with the help of their tremendous insight had formulated certain rules for the society-how a human should live and what should be his behaviour in the society, etc. A man who doesn’t follow any rules and regulations is not a human. Such a conduct bound by certain norms and regulations is termed as religion. This very quality of man (Following the religion) makes him distinct from the animals. By, instinct man behaves like an animal. Force that checks this fall in human behaviour is known as religion. It is said that only those shall live-individual or institution- who follow the religion; those who do not follow the religion shall be no better than dead despite having a living body.
Let’s now consider the difference between the religion. Such as the soul that is present in a living body is eternal, similarly Sanatan dharma is also eternal. That is why it came to be known as eternal religion. Thus, this religion has no end.
The Hindus have received their religion through revelation, the Vedas. They hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times. Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery, and would exist if all humanity forgot it, so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral, ethical, and spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits and the Father of all spirits, were there before their discovery, and would remain even if we forgot them.
The Hindu Concept of “Creation”
The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honor them as perfected beings. I am glad to tell this audience that some of the very greatest of them were women. Here it may be said that these laws as laws may be without end, but they must have had a beginning. The Vedas teach us that creation is without beginning or end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then, if there was a time when nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make Him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound, and everything compound must undergo that change which is called destruction. So God would die, which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation.
If I may be allowed to use a simile, creation and creator are two lines, without beginning and without end, running parallel to each other. God is the ever active providence, by whose power systems after systems are being evolved out of chaos, made to run for a time and again destroyed. This is what the Brahmin boy repeats every day: “The sun and the moon, the Lord created like the suns and moons of previous cycles.” (1)And this agrees with modern science.
Atman, or the True “Self”
Here I stand and if I shut my eyes, and try to conceive my existence, “I”, “I”, “I”, what is the idea before me? The idea of a body. Am I, then, nothing but a combination of material substances? The Vedas declare, “No”. I am a spirit living in a body. I am not the body. The body will die, but I shall not die. Here am I in this body; it will fall, but I shall go on living. I had also a past. The soul was not created, for creation means a combination, which means a certain future dissolution. If then the soul was created, it must die.
Karma and Reincarnation
Some are born happy, enjoy perfect health, with beautiful body, mental vigor and all wants supplied. Others are born miserable, some are without hands or feet, others again are idiots and only drag on a wretched existence. If they are all created, why does a just and merciful God create one happy and another unhappy, why is He so partial? Nor would it mend matters in the least to hold that those who are miserable in this life will be happy in a future one. Why should a person be miserable even here in the reign of a just and merciful God?
In the second place, the idea of a creator God does not explain the anomaly, but simply expresses the cruel fiat of an all-powerful being. There must have been causes, then, before our birth, to make us miserable or happy and those were our past actions.
Are not all the tendencies of the mind and the body accounted for by inherited aptitude? Here are two parallel lines of existence–one of the mind [“subtle” matter], the other of [gross] matter. If [gross] matter and its transformations answer for all that we have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a [mind and a] soul. But it cannot be proved that thought has evolved out of matter, and if a philosophical monism is inevitable, spiritual monism is certainly logical and no less desirable than a materialistic monism; but neither of these is necessary here.
We cannot deny that bodies acquire certain tendencies from heredity, but those tendencies only mean the physical configuration through which a peculiar mind alone can act in a peculiar way. There are other tendencies peculiar to a mind caused by the person’s past actions. And a soul with a certain mental tendency would by the laws of affinity take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of that tendency. This is in accord with science, for science wants to explain everything by habit, and habit is got through repetitions. So repetitions are necessary to explain the natural habits of a new-born soul. And since they were not obtained in this present life, they must have come down from past lives.
There is another suggestion. Taking all these for granted, how is it that I do not remember anything of my past life? This can be easily explained. I am now speaking English. It is not my mother tongue, in fact no words of my mother tongue are now present in my consciousness; but let me try to bring them up, and they rush in. That shows that consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean, and within its depths are stored up all our experiences. Try and struggle, they would come up and you would be conscious even of your past life.
This is direct and demonstrative evidence. Verification is the perfect proof of a theory, and here is the challenge thrown to the world by the Rishis. We have discovered the secret by which the very depths of the ocean of memory can be stirred up–try it and you would get a complete reminiscence of your past life.
Ignorance, the Prime Cause of Bondage
So then the Hindus believe that every person is a spirit. The sword cannot pierce the spirit, the fire cannot burn it, the water cannot melt it, and the air cannot dry it. [Gita 2.23](2) The Hindus believe that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere, but whose center is located in the body, and that death means the change of this center from body to body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In its very essence it is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. But somehow or other it finds itself tied down to matter, and thinks of itself as matter.
Why should the free, perfect, and pure being be thus under the thralldom of matter, is the next question. How can the perfect soul be deluded into the belief that it is imperfect? We have been told that the Hindus shirk the question and say that no such question can be there. Some thinkers want to answer it by positing one or more quasi-perfect beings, and use big scientific names to fill up the gap. But naming is not explaining. The question remains the same. How can the perfect become the quasi-perfect; how can the pure, the absolute, change even a microscopic particle of its nature? But the Hindus are sincere. They do not want to take shelter under sophistry. They are brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and their answer is: “I do not know. I do not know how the perfect being, the soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as joined to and conditioned by matter.” But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a fact in everybody’s consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the body. The Hindus do not attempt to explain why one thinks one is the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation. This is nothing more than what the Hindus say, “I do not know.”(3)
Well, then, the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and infinite, and death means only a change of center from one body to another. The present is determined by our past actions, and the future by the present. The soul will [apparently] go on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death.
But here is another question: Is a human being a tiny boat in a tempest, raised one moment on the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next, rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions–a powerless, helpless wreck in an ever-raging, ever-rushing, uncompromising current of cause and effect; a little moth placed under the wheel of causation which rolls on crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry? The heart sinks at the idea, yet this is the law of Nature.
The Way to Freedom
Is there no hope? Is there no escape?–was the cry that went up from the bottom of the heart of despair. It reached the throne of mercy, and words of hope and consolation came down and inspired a Vedic sage, and he stood up before the world and in trumpet voice proclaimed the glad tidings: “Hear, ye children of immortal bliss!–even ye that reside in higher spheres![Svetasvatara Upanishad, 2.5] (4) I have found the Ancient One who is beyond all darkness, all delusion: knowing Him alone you shall be saved from death over again.” [Svetasvatara Upanishad, 3.8](5)