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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Is Religion Dharma?

July 29, 2005

Many intellectuals thought that with the advent of science and technology, religion would loose its importance and fade into the background. With the occurrence of many global events in this millennium, religion has actually taken the forefront, globally. “Religion” has become a very important word today, invoking both, a sense of good and evil; fear and curiosity. There has been a significant increase in orthodox religious followers, and an equal increase in the number of people who deny religion. Many have begun studying religion in depth. But is religion dharma? Within Hinduism, Dharma is equated to religion, regardless of its true definition. When people talk about Dharma, meaning religion, they often become reserved because of the conflicts religion created these days. Religion and Dharma have come to mean that we should believe in something without questioning it. This is opposite to science and the scientific way of thinking where we need evidence and proof. So, then the question arises, if we can understand things scientifically, do we really need this Dharma? Can we not lead life without any dharma or religion?In order to answer this question, let us spend some time understanding the word ‘Dharma’ and ‘Religion’ and the historical context in which they were created. The culture that was in India or in the Indian subcontinent (Bharata Khande), according to the archeologists, was formed approximately 8,000-10,000 years ago. The world accepts that the Vedas are the first literary pieces created by humans. The maturity of the people of the Vedas is recognized through this literature. Thus, far before these Vedas were written, the tradition and culture were always apparent in the subcontinent in a fully developed form. As an important part of this tradition, in the Vedas, we find the reference for Dharma several times. That means 'Dharma' as a concept, is as old as the Vedas or pre-Vedic times. By the time the Vedas were written, the concept of Dharma, had already been very much evolved and had become not only the integral part of this culture, but as Swami Vivekananda very beautifully summarized it, ‘has been the nerve current behind this culture throughout the subcontinent.’ Being 10,000 years old, Dharma is a very elaborate subject and it has to be discussed separately as an independent topic. For the present discussion it is sufficient to know that it encompasses the wide variety of things such as faith in God, which is expressed in the form of going to the temples, private/ public ceremonies, etc. These ceremonies are essentially God based. Therefore Dharma naturally emphasizes the faith in god. Dharma also emphasizes the various great people who have guided mankind time and again through the scriptures written. Dharma also explains the nature of things such as to rise in the East is the dharma of the sun, to burn anything it comes across is the dharma or the essential quality of the fire. In that way, Dharma is also defined as the essential quality of nature.Dharma at the social level includes charity, protecting the weak, respecting the elders, selfless service for humanity, and etc. At the individual level, Dharma includes practices such as fasting for some period of time or on certain days of the week, engaging in the right deeds, not coveting others’ work, which does not belong to the individual, non-injury etc. Such moral codes are also prescriptions of Dharma. Thus Dharma encompasses all from the understanding of global nature to the individual level. The concepts of Dharma are so vast. In this culture of Indian sub continent where Dharma has been the basis of the society, people used to live and also even now live harmoniously though their Gods may be different and their practices vary. The people who belong to this subcontinent believe and pay respects to different God forms; there are various temples that they go to, and event the rituals practiced are often varied from house to house. In that way, there is variety in India and within this variety is harmony. This variety has been appreciated by one and all in this culture for several years. Hence, in this culture several Gods flourished, several temples came into existence and at the same temple there are various God forms and a multiple practices. Dharma is flexible and so, the psyche becomes flexible under the concept of DharmaThe concept of Religion has a different historical background and context. It is derived from three major western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Before then, there was no concept of religion. There were several tribal religions that used to exist in the West prior to these three, but they were small tribal religions. Each tribe had their own faith in God and their own form of God. But these tribes fought consistently, and there was no respite from war. Great thinkers of these cultures felt that they should bring about a uniting concept. Hence, this word and concept of ‘religion’ was formed. The word religion means ‘to reunite.’ So historically, the concept of religion was necessary to see that all the warring sections of the tribal communities were brought together. They were educated and given a peaceful way of living. As a result this concept of religion truly enhanced their peace. So in that sense of religion, these religions have done phenomenal work of bringing the various tribes into one fold. This might have ended wars between the tribes but we are not sure whether annihilating these smaller tribal religions has resulted into overall good or not. The great thinkers of those years felt that with this concept of religion, they can bring peace. With the acceptance of one god and only one prophet or a messenger of god and only one book of wisdom, religion was born. The prophet or the leader of the religion would use power or compassion to bring people or warring tribes under the fold of religion. The messenger has also given greater basic laws of sacrifice, compassion, and self discipline. They not only preached, but these principles were also practiced. Religious institutions thus were formed in order to carry on this message to people far and wide. In order to achieve this, they had political and economic backing. On the other hand, Dharma already existed in the East. There were no such facilities such that people would move from place to place and hence, ideas did not go from place to place. While there were communication barriers, until recently, religion and Dharma were two separate ideas and practices; religion was begin followed in the West and Dharma was being followed in the East. As the world grew smaller with technical and communication advances, the process of translating the activities in different countries and putting it into one language became prominent. Dharma advocates charitable acts of kindness, as does religion. Honesty, love, and compassion are emphasized in Religion, as they are in Dharma. Soon the commonalities between Dharma and Religion led to the interpretation that they are one in the same, and Dharma became known as Religion, and Religion as Dharma. But, in doing so, the important differences of the two were not recognized. Thus, it is important to note that although there are similarities in the two concepts, there are some marked differences. Religion refers to one God, one prophet, and one text, whereas, dharma has several saints, many God forms, and multiple texts. What needs to be appreciated and noticed in Dharma is that it has survived for tens of thousands of years with so many Gods, saints, and texts. Moreover, these are continuously revised and saints continuously come on this earth to guide. The concept of one saint does not clash with the other saint. Without knowing this detail, often people ask those Hindus belonging to Sanatana Dharma, “Which one text is your Bible? Which one saint is your prophet?” Some answer stating that Bhagavad-Gita is our sole spiritual text and that Krishna is our sole prophet. In doing so, Hinduism is not defended but rather offended. Sometimes they feel bullied when people ask the question ‘Look at our religion, we have one saint, we have one god and one book, whereas you do not have one particular thing. There is no consistency’. So this is how the Hindus belonging to the Sanatana Dharma feel defensive. Since under the idea of religion, people have to follow one particular religion, one particular saint and one book of wisdom, obviously the followers wanted to be loyal to their own religion. Under the idea or concept of religion, people started claiming ‘……my god is the only god....’, ‘…….my god is better or true god than your god’, ‘… book is the message from god….’, ‘……there is only one wise person that is my prophet…’ Thus the religion resulted in war.On the other hand, when according to the faith if we could have accepted a number of saints, a number of texts and a number of gods, then we could not understand why one should say my…is good, and your… is evil! It would not be possible. A religious man started thinking that it is his or her moral responsibility to convert a non-believer into his own religion and may feel it to be his duty. The conversions have become religious activity for them, so called the religious sects. When conversion is the goal, people started converting others by foul means or fair means and conversion has become one the major religious practice for those people who believe in one god, one prophet and one book. The people who had respect and humble for generations towards their ancestors started looking down upon them thinking that they have not reached heaven! This is so because they are so brainwashed. Thus the respect for ancestors has gone away from their hearts who convert themselves from one religion to another. Now after converting their religion, they want to be very loyal to their new religion. So they are the persons who aggressively try to find faults in the parent religion. Religion, and the concept of religion, have created wars, have created conversions and have also resulted in cultural liberation of people. The religion since being the word of wisdom has become a trap for man’s greed, corruption and selfishness. A lot of times they have tried to use the attraction that if you believe in my gods with a touch he can remove you sickness, He can make you healthy. Give the bribe of health, bribe of money and position, or giving some social advantages they try to convert people. If only we spread the concept of Dharma around the globe, we can avoid all these problems. Dharma which can easily accept hundreds of gods can easily accommodate few more gods, which can take wisdom from several hundreds of books of wisdom, can certainly absorb a couple of more spiritual texts. Swami Vivekananda addressed the church congregation in America and stated …“If you hand been a little more patient, we could have easily accepted Jesus Christ as one of our incarnations.” Similarly, when in the culture Dharma, the way of life is so different between individuals; we can smoothly accept another way of life. In addition Dharma prescribes a personal Sadhana. Dharma does not try to lure you saying there is a savior who will save you and you don’t have to do anything. Dharma, though it gives all that freedom at one level, on the other side it reminds a person to grow in the spiritual direction, focusing inwards. The English language is such an adaptable language, that it can easily introduce ‘Dharma’ into its vocabulary. We do not need to adapt ‘Dharma’ to the word ‘Religion’ because that will ultimately dilute its meaning, as it has done thus far. Dharma cannot really remove the religions; Dharma can only absorb the noble and give a facelift to all these religions that already exist and those that come in the future. The new religion coming up does not have to be something like a protest against the previous religion, it can be like an improvement over the previous thought and idea and wisdom so that it can satisfy the changing scenario and moving culture and civilization. This facility we can only give to the world if we can take the world by the word called ‘Dharma’ rather than the word called ‘religion’.We all know that America is a very progressive country which is open to looking forward at various ideas. For example, as North America embraced yoga, the world has also embraced it. Yoga is intended to provide inner peace. Yoga is spreading all over the world like a wildfire. What ever America accepts, the world also accepts. For example, McDonald’s, it started in the U.S., became popular, and is now a worldwide chain. At this juncture when we look closely at what yoga is trying to do; the original idea of yoga is essentially an inward journey, an internal harmony, a peace and tranquility. Once a person develops this inner peace, a harmony or tranquility, such a person can only give peace, harmony or tranquility to the world outside. Yoga is taken as physical exercise, acrobatics or contortions, all over the world. We do not have to worry about it. All that we need to care about is to give the philosophy of yoga which is nothing but the philosophy that is dealt with the Sanatana Dharma or the practices of DharmaDharma is having the components such as the realization of our inner nature, the divinity through the practices of self control in Raja yoga, self sacrifice in Karma yoga, the practices of analysis of happiness analysis of inner freedom and the state of existence which is not wakeful, dream or deep states in Jnana yoga, or by raising above from complaint to tolerance, acceptance appreciation and finally to see divinity through love in Bhakti yoga. Thus yoga is nothing but Dharma. When you look at the principles of any religion for that matter which involve love, compassion, sacrifice, respect for other faiths and practices, etc they are all in a way principles of yoga. If only we can spread the philosophy of yoga as we spread the practice of yoga, we can bring respect for many ideas and thoughts from all the saints and great persons from all over the world.The Upanishad says let noble thoughts come from all directions and this is the approach of Dharma. When this is our highest ideal then it is easy for one who follows dharma to accept the noble ideas coming from all other religions. Simultaneously, when all the people of the world can be convinced about the broad approach of Dharma and understand that what is important are the principles of dharma and not the actual religion, then such an approach will be able to unite the population and help to create the global village – vasudhaika kutumbakam. Such an approach is there in Dharma which is the practical way in which one can practice yoga. This way slowly, when yoga spreads, along with it, the concept of Dharma can spread. A Christian can remain as a Christian practicing yoga and then practicing Dharma. A Jew can remain as a Jew practicing yoga and continue to take the inward journey and the course to Dharma. When there can be such a wonderful harmony between milk and milk, water and water, between the same species, between the same kingdom of plants and animals; in the same way, let there be wonderful harmony between the human beings with the concept of Sanatana Dharma.


Gerry said...

Dr Taylor says: I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we will project into the world, and the more peaceful our planet will be.

Ayça Gürelman said...

yes true. if we have peace within us we project that in the world around us