What is Sanatana Dharma?
We are all divided in this world in numerous ways: by country, race, and skin color. But it is our faith, our religion, that separates us the most. In this article, I will discuss Sanatana Dharma, the common religion of mankind. If you have never heard of Sanatana Dharma, you may be surprised to learn that it is the world’s oldest religion, established by God Himself as the original, common, and everlasting religion of humanity, according to Hindu scriptures.
Before you go any further, I urge you to read this article with an open and accepting mind. We are generally highly passionate and emotional about our beliefs, and we are not really open to considering the virtues of other religions. This text is not at all intended to persuade you to change your beliefs. The sole objective of this post is to introduce you to the world’s oldest religion and how it can help you understand and explore spirituality in a different way.
In Sanskrit, Sanatana means ‘eternal,’ and Dharma means ‘religion.’ Thus, the literal definition of Sanatana Dharma is ‘eternal religion.’
I write in the Introduction section of my book Bhagavad Gita (In English):
There were no separate religions in the world when the Lord uttered the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna. Sanatana Dharma, which means ‘eternal religion,’ was the common religion of all humanity. Sanatana Dharma is the primordial religion of mankind. No matter how many faiths we construct for our own convenience and ego gratification, the reality remains that Sanatana Dharma will always be our actual religion, and Lord Krishna will always be our true object of worship.
As soon as Arjuna realizes this, he says to the Lord, “You are imperishable and the supreme one to be known; You are the ultimate repository of this universe; You are inexhaustible; You are the protector of Sanatana Dharma; You are the eternal person. This is my opinion.” [BG 11.18]
The following is the timeline of the origin of various religions:
- Hinduism – 3000 BCE (several studies place the date as early as 6000 BCE)
- Judaism – 650 BCE
- Zoroastrianism – 600 BCE
- Buddhism – 550 BCE
- Confucianism – 550 BCE
- Jainism – 525 BCE
- Taoism – 350 BCE
- Shintoism – 300 BCE
- Stoicism – 300 BCE
- Christianity – 1 CE
- Zen – 500 CE
- Islam – 600 CE
- Sikhism – 1475 CE
- Baha’i Faith – 1850 CE
As we can see above, Hinduism is the world’s oldest religion. However, what is referred to as “Hinduism” in the numerous studies from which the above data was derived is actually “Sanatana Dharma.” I shall explain the distinction between Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism later in this article, and things will become clearer.
Although these analyses imply that Sanatana Dharma is between 5000 and 8000 years old, a comprehensive examination of the Vedic writings reveals that it has always existed. Lord Krishna, for example, says in the Bhagavad Gita that He revealed the science of self-realization to the sun-god immediately after the universe was created.
Just because we have not unearthed any evidence of religion prior to the above given timelines does not indicate it did not exist. If God was present, the religion that preaches pursuing Him has to be present as well.
After carefully studying various scriptures, I have discovered this to be true. That is why, regarding my own beliefs, I write in Bhagavad Gita – The Perfect Philosophy:
In reality, I am not a follower of any particular world religion. Because we are all fundamentally the same, I believe we can only have one common religion that is eternal and universal. And that religion, I discovered, is the Sanatana Dharma — the common religion of humankind. I have always been a seeker of truth. And the truth, in my opinion, based on decades of research, is contained in the Vedic scriptures, on which ancient Hinduism and Sanatana Dharma are based. And that is why I do my best to adhere to Vedic principles and propagate them as much as I can.
When did Sanatana Dharma originate?
This is a counterintuitive question in and of itself. How can something everlasting have a beginning? The term ‘eternal’ refers to something that has always existed and will continue to exist. It has no beginning and will never end.
Our brains are not constructed in such a way that we can envision something without knowing where it came from. We always think in terms of time and space limits. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna clarifies this ambiguity:
“But never indeed, I, at any time, did not exist, nor you, nor all these rulers of men; nor verily, will any of us ever cease to exist hereafter.” [BG 2.12]
Again, in verse 10.30, He says “I am time.” Therefore, it becomes clear that time has no origin. Similarly, Sanatana Dharma – the eternal religion – has no origin and also no end. It has always been, continues to be, and will continue to be the true religion of humanity.
Is Sanatana Dharma extinct?
This question has already been addressed in the previous section. Sanatana Dharma is eternal by nature. It does not have a beginning or an end. It is just that we do not perceive it when it is right in front of us.
Most of us find it tough to let go of our egos, which is why we do not see the presence of Sanatana Dharma. We have a tendency to stick with our egos, which prevent us from seeing beyond the apparent. Our society teaches us that we are members of a specific religion, and we internalize this as part of our identity. “I am a Hindu,” “I am a Christian,” “I am a Muslim,” etc. And we stop there. We do not think it is necessary to look further. We do not want to view “ONE COMMON RELIGION” as a possibility. But it is always there, concealed in the texts, accessible only to those with the foresight to look.
Which scriptures relate to Sanatana Dharma?
As I previously indicated, Vedic scriptures are the world’s oldest scriptures. These are the same scriptures that deal with Sanatana Dharma. Ved Vyasa, who is none other than God’s poet form, composed the entire Vedic literature. “Among the sages, I am Vyasa,” Lord Krishna, the Supreme God, says in verse 10.37 of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, and epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana are the principal scriptures that contain the teachings and principles of Sanatana Dharma. The Mahabharata includes the Bhagavad Gita.
The Vedas are large bodies of texts that contain almost all the fundamental teachings of Sanatana Dharma. There are four Vedas – Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda and Atharvaveda. Upanishads are considered to be the most important parts of the Vedas and mainly focus on teachings related to the realities of the individual self (soul) and the Supreme Self (God).
The Puranas contain a wide range of tales and stories on various aspects of Sanatana Dharma, with the goal of teaching through stories. There are 18 major Puranas and 18 minor Puranas, with a total of nearly 400,000 verses. The Bhagavata Purana is the most important Purana because it recounts stories and pastimes of Lord Krishna, who according to Sanatana Dharma is God Himself.
Hinduism vs Sanatana Dharma
You might be asking if Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism are the same. After all, the deities in both religions are the same, and the scriptures are also the same.
Sanatana Dharma is essentially the same as Hinduism. However, there is a subtle but significant difference. The difference lies in what the adherents of each of these faiths focus on.
The followers of Sanatana Dharma focus on self-realization and God-realization. The adherents of Hinduism focus mostly on material happiness through deity worship and righteous conduct.
The aim of the former is to realize the truths about oneself and about the true nature of God. They seek answers to questions like “Who am I?”, “Who is God”, “What is my purpose in life?”, “How universe works?”, “What happens after death?”, and so on. Once they find answers to those questions they live according to the truths they thus discover.
The followers of Hinduism, on the other hand, focus on making their material lives more pleasant by making the gods happy and so bringing them anything they desire, whether it be peace, wealth, health, a longer life, or anything else. They focus on worshipping their favorite deities and live according to good conduct.
The term “Sanatana Dharma” appears in Vedic literature on multiple occasions. However, neither the term “Hindu” nor “Hinduism” are mentioned once. Reason? Sanatana Dharma is the true religion that emanates from Godhead. History tells us that Persians coined the term Hinduism to refer to the people who lived along the banks of the Sindhu River. Following Alexander’s invasion, Greeks began to refer to people living in this territory as “Indu” rather than “Hindu.” The name “Indu” was later used to name the country India, and the inhabitants became known as Indians. Therefore, “Hindu” originally referred to people of a certain geographical location rather than believers of a certain religion, but “Sanatana Dharma” is based on the most ancient religious scriptures – the Vedas. As a result, Hinduism is widely considered to be the religion of Indians. There are no such limitations in Sanatana Dharma.
The followers of Sanatana Dharma work hard to educate themselves spiritually by reading spiritual texts and aim to attain self-realization. They think beyond material lives and are always eager to know more about themselves, God, and their relationship with God.
In the end
Sanatana Dharma is a vast subject. However, I hope I have been able to provide you with a glimpse of what Sanatana Dharma is through this article. Please leave your thoughts about Sanatana Dharma in the comments section below, as well as any questions you might have concerning the subject.