Sanatana Dharma and Communal Harmony

In today’s environment in India where religious and communal disharmony keeps threatening to raise its ugly head, Sanatana Dharma is our perfect panacea for communal harmony, says OSWALD PEREIRA

Bharat or India has a rich philosophical, spiritual and cultural legacy. In ancient times, the people of Bharat were a much more evolved and civilised people than the rest of the world who were living in dark, barbaric conditions, fighting for survival in forests.

India’s vast body of Vedic teachings are amassed under the umbrella term Sanatana Dharma, which literally means eternal religion. Being the oldest religion, Sanatana Dharma can be said to be the parent of all religions. But it’s more like a mother, giving nourishment to other religious beliefs, without impinging on their growth and independence.

Can Sanatana Dharma be called a religion of the Hindus?

Before we answer this question, we should know the origin of the word Hindu. The word Hindu is derived from the Sanskrit word Sindhu which is the local name for the Indus River that flows through the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent. Sindhu also means sea.

The word Hindu or Indu was used by Greeks to denote the country and people living beyond the Indus river. But the word Hindu was more related to ethnicity than religion. The word Hindu is believed to not appear in the scriptures, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Puranas. However, Hindus in earlier centuries, accepted  these scriptures as part of their spiritual and religious beliefs; and so do Hindus in the present day.

Sanatana Dharma talks about the Vedas, the Supreme Being and the way to reach Him. Thus it follows that the Hindus, with their belief in the Vedas, are Sanatanis.

Sanatana Dharma is transcendental, and its adherents believe that the eternal and intrinsic inclination of the living entity is to perform seva or service. A Sanatani practises virtues such as honesty, purity, goodwill, mercy, patience, forbearance, self-restraint, generosity and asceticism and his Dharma is to follow universal and axiomatic laws that are beyond our temporary belief systems.

Sanatana Dharma promotes truth and righteousness. It upholds the sacredness and dignity of all creation, inspiring man to live in harmony with all living beings.

Now comes the most important question? Do those who follow and practise Sanatana Dharma believe in Hinduism? Ideally, a Sanatani shouldn’t be following any ism, including Hinduism, because of its sectarian connotations.

However, this is not an ideal world and, perhaps, to expect a practitioner of Sanatana Dharma to disown Hinduism might be asking for too much. Would one ask a Christian to discard Christianity because of its sectarian connotations?

But herein lies the fault line. Personally, I feel one can be a good Christian, without believing in an organisational religion, Christianity. The true significance of being a Christian is to be all-loving, all-accepting, universal, all-embracing, broad-minded and liberal ― in one simple word, Catholic (not to be read as the religion Roman Catholic).

In like manner, for Sanatana Dharma to be effective and spread love and harmony, it is important for it to be free of the ism in Hinduism. In other words, one can be a good Hindu without necessarily believing in ‘Hinduism’ ― which is a term that, in fact, was coined by western writers and propagated by the colonial powers to divide and rule … Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

In the final analysis, Sanatana Dharma is the mother of all religions, watching over, benignly, other world religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and many others. A mother doesn’t discriminate or stifle, but allows all to grow and prosper independently. So Sanatana Dharma should be all-religion-tolerant ― never ever discriminating against or dividing religions.

Most importantly, in today’s environment in India where religious and communal disharmony keeps threatening to raise its ugly head, Sanatana Dharma is our perfect panacea for religious and communal harmony.

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