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Sanatan- 101: Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma

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Introduction: Imagine yourself ian a tranquil safe forest- sitting near a clear creek during the early morning hours. The soothing light is slowly making its way in the darkness of night. You experience the air pass through your nose to your lungs and you feel yourself as part of nature. You think — what is this creation? How are various sense organs working? You go a step further and think — My eyes see only if I am in the body because a dead body does not see even though light falls on it. I can see in my dreams even without light. My stomach digests food only till there is life. Similarly ears hear, mind thinks etc.. only till there is life.

What is that causes the functioning of these organs? Now, you are moving towards Param Brahma and you have stepped into Sanatan Dharma. Various Seers have studied it for thousands of years and called these energies as deity and gave names to it. For example, the energy or cause that govern the eye and vision is called Indha as per Bhridaranyak Upanishad( बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद). Similarly different organs have different deities. All of these together are controlled by the Prana force without which none of the energies will work. This is beautifully described by Yagyavalka in Bhridaranyak Upanishad ( बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद). The cause of everything is called param brahma and is same as absolute self.

The focus of Hindu or Sanatana Dharma is to get united with self and attain liberation from the sorrows of world and the cycle of birth & death by :
— self-realization
— self-control
— karma with detachment

The entire focus of Sanatana is to control self rather than controlling others. With this background let us answer some basic questions:

  1. What is God ?
    This absolute self is God. It is called param Brahma. Our scriptures say — अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि ( I am brahma or God ). There is nothing sitting somewhere in the sky which you have to look up-to and try to beg for mercy instead, you are suppose to look within by means of yoga, sadhana, pooja, jap & tap. Some scriptures make a distinction between Param Brahma and Brahma and suggest that Brahma should dissolve in Param Brahma in dualistic approach.
  2. Why are there so many Gods ?
    There are multiple paths and you are free to choose whatever concept you can understand the best, as they all lead to same thing — understanding “brahma”. Below are listed the paths.
    — Chakra Path : In our body there are 7chakra’s defined. Each chakra has a controller or deity associated with it. For example mooldhara has Ganesha associated with it. The deity of third eye is called Shiva etc… When we think about the controller of these chakras we focusing on the deities Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva etc.. These chakras are within our body so, the reality is that we are carrying all the deities with us all the time but, we just don’t realize it. By means of dhyana, sadhana, Pooja , yoga , Jap we have to connect ourselves with these deities. Once we get connected with these deities then we get connected with the Pran or param Brahma” that which controls all the sense organs. This is what is “God” in Sanatan.
    — Thrimurty path: Vishnu, Brahma and Mahesh are 3 deities or Devas. They are nothing but, personification of three forces — Creation, preservation and destruction. Here also we can connect with the deities by dhyana, Sadhana, Pooja , yoga , Jap. By going temples or celebrating festivals in their name.
    — Avatar Path: Vishnu and Shiva take various forms or avatars in different yugas to establish rightfulness. When we worship these avatar’s we follow a process called pooja. By doing pooja we are connecting with these positive energies. You can go to any temple also to worship.
    — Devi worship Path: Women are considered the most powerful and the reason behind all creation. So this feminine energy is worshipped and invoked within. Even in the chakra path — each chakra has a supporting female deity.
    — Atheistic ( nāstika) path : In this path one focuses on yoga, Upanishad, Samkhya to achieve the ultimate reality which is “understanding of Brahma.”
  3. How do we do pooja ?
    We place an idol, light lamp, offer flowers, sing bhajans in the simplest form of pooja. We use “sakar” form to worship “nirakar” form within us. Ways of worship include navamavali, or stotram. These stotrams are various names of Gods. Each name has a meaning and it tells us to worship the “cause”, “time”, “that which is all encompassing”, “all pervasive”, “which cannot be described”, “which has no birth and no end”, “that which cannot have an idol”, “that which has thousands of forms or idols”, etc.. Each stotra always has one name that means “ tat tvam asi,”. By using idols we use the manifested form to connect with the Brahma.
  4. What do we worship ?
    Every particle on this planet is permeated by the param brahma so Sanatana Dharma tells us to worship all and see that one brahma in everything. We worship the manifested and the un-manifested and the cause. Since everything is born from nothing we understand everything and nothing and nothing as everything. We do pooja of the avatars, trimurties, Shakti, trees (like Banyan, Peepal tree ) , forces of nature like sun, moon, rivers as well as various body parts in a pooja called “atma vandan”. In fact when reciting “nammakam(नमकम् )“ — we pay respect to everything on this planet. total 170 things are worshipped.
    Sahasaranamam like — Vishnu Sahasranama, ganapati sahasaranam are also chanted to remove negativity.
  5. Do I need a murty?
    It is same as asking do I need “court ” to play tennis? Moorthy formalizes your worship and creates an environment and ambience where you can worship daily. As per Hindu religion every living and non living thing is permeated by param brahma only so you can worship this absolute self by using idols and visualizations as described in Narad Puran. I have written a detailed article on pooja here. When you become one with Bhrama — you have tuned your mind and body with a particular wavelength that cannot be perturbed and you reach a state of bliss.
  6. What is the meaning of Dharma ?
    Dharma is not the same as “religion”. The closest translation of Dharma is “duty”. The word “Sanatan” means “ That which is always true”. One that that no beginning or end”. Sanatan Dharma (सनातन धर्म) means — “Duties or righteousness that are always true.” The word Dharma is synonymously used to describe duties of a warrior, father, wife, son, student etc.. by referring to them as Stree Dharma, pitra Dharma, putra dharma etc..
  7. Who am I?
    Many Upanishads have answered this questions. According to them — “I” lives inside the body and that “I” is pure, free from all sins and cannot be destroyed. The goal of dharma is to realize this me. This me is one and same as – brahma. Bhagvad Geeta also describes the same. Isha Upnishad, Narad puran also gives the same concept. Many texts say — अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि
  8. What is Atma?
    It is same as me, as text say अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि (I am Brahma) or tat tvam asi (Thou art thee). Some text also give its dimensions. It is the size of a thumb and it enters our body through the crown of the head and lives in the heart.
  9. What is the proof of Atma/Brahma/I etc..?
    There is no mathematical formula or derivation available. However, there are logical arguments which point to the veracity of existence of Atma/Brahma/I. It is proved in Upanishad’s by using “inference” techniques. They have called the cause of creation, manifested, un-manifested creation, actions, time, space and nothingness as Brahma. It is an all inclusive abstract concept to explain the existence as well as non-existence. It is also mentioned that Brahma is inexplicable. There are certain things that you realize but, cannot give a derivation in mathematical terms- Like falling in love- it just happens as a realization and is personal to you. Other people cannot explain what you feel unless they have fallen in love. There is no formula of love. Same is with realization of Brahma and your relation with Brahma.
  10. What is Om?
    Ohm is the sound of universe. Sanatan way of life gives a lot of importance to sound and its correct way of recitation. Mantras create specific frequencies and help in healing, as well as give you strength in difficult times. Most of the mantras start with “Om”
  11. What is the book of Hindu Religion? There is no book of Hindu religion. There are thousands of books focusing on various tantra’s, mantras, yantras, Upanishad, puran, vedas, samkhya, sutras, yoga sutras, bhakti yoga books written by many Rishi’s and later translated by many scholars. Ramayana and Mahabharata are two Epic poems telling story of the Raghu dynasty king Ram and Kuru dynasty kings respectively. Here is a list of books that I have read which is just a drop in the ocean.
  12. What do Sanatani’s believe in?
    Sanatan does not instruct you to believe in anything or punish a disbeliever. It only tells you to understand, analyze, meditate, question till you realize. The oldest Nasadiya hymn in Rigveda asks several questions about creation and shows skeptism rather than dictating a belief.
  13. Where does it all fit in my day to day professional and personal life?
    In our professional and personal life we have several interactions and situations that can be very unpleasant, stressful as well as hurtful. Sanatan gives you tools to mitigate the impact of the hurt, as well as come out of it. It also gives you preparedness so that you will not get hurt. Remember the time when you accidentally cut your finger and it was bleeding? You probably spent 15 minutes in bandage before going back to your work. Now, think about a soldier who keeps fighting with several bruises and cuts. Why does that happen ? Because he is prepared. Similarly, by practicing Sanatan for several years you can view yourself differently and deal with situations differently. Since Sanatan is all about “self” it tells “आत्मानं सततं रक्षेत्।” (ātmānaṃ satataṃ rakṣet।- One must save oneself under any circumstances.) you will make wise choices.
  14. How do I convert to Hinduism?
    In Hinduism there is no concept of conversion. You just start following the Sanatan lifestyle, read books, be curious and socialize with people. Some people go to a temple and follow a purification process and do Homa to get initiated into Hinduism.
  15. Can I follow another religion and still be a Sanatani?
    Sanatan is a life style and is does not tell you to abandon anything and follow only one path. Sanatan gives you freedom to chose one, or many of the available paths or invent a new one. It allows you to learn; much like zero-shot learning in AI classification. So, if your religion does not interfere with this idea, then you can follow any religion and be a Sanatani.
  16. Do I have to become vegetarian to follow Sanatan?
    No and Yes. Hindu religion says-
    अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा तथैव च: (Ahimsa paramo Dharma.) So our diet should be in accordance to that. Except the people from warrior class everyone is advised to eat vegetarian food. For warrior class also only that meat which is acquired by giving minimal pain to the animal is considered pure and consumable. Vegetarianism is considered superior.
  17. Why are there so many rituals?
    Rituals set a tone and intent for the day. We should have good rituals in life. Repeatedly doing same things brings a positive mindset. A simple ritual as making your bed daily, lighting a simple diya everyday can bring a lot of discipline and happiness in life. Similarly there are various “vrat” which increase your mental acumen and have health benefits like cleansing your body. Doing Jap detoxifies your mind so, Sanatan lifestyle has rituals.
  18. What are Jain, Buddhist, Sikh etc..?
    These religions have stemmed from Sanatana and considered as part of Sanatana Dharma. “Ganpati sahasaranam — says — “ ōṁ jaināya namaḥ” which mean — worship Jain and its books. Buddha is called an Avatar of Vishnu. Sikh’s worship Shiva, Shakti, Raam, Hanuman etc along with Sikh Guru’s. All these religions follow Sanatana at its core unlike what many people would want to portray them as.
  19. Is Sanatana same as Hindu?
    No Books use the word “Hindu”. Only the word Sanatana is used in Geeta or any other books. As given in wikipedia – The term “Hindu” traces back to Old Persian which derived these names from the Sanskrit name Sindhu (सिन्धु ), referring to the river Indus. The term “Hindu” also implied a geographic, ethnic or cultural identifier for people living in the Indian subcontinent around or beyond the Sindhu (Indus) River.[70] By the 16th century CE, the term began to refer to residents of the subcontinent who were not Turkic or Muslims.[70][a][b]. Now, it is used to refer to people following Sanatana.

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