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  • Writer's pictureShrikant Soman

Bharat Dharma

Updated: Jun 17

Bharat Dharma

Dharma vs. Religion

To begin with, it's essential to grasp the profound meaning of the term "Dharma" (धर्म). Dharma is not precisely synonymous with "religion," especially not in the way religion is typically perceived in contemporary contexts.

Original Concept of Religion

The word "religion" originates from the Latin word "ligare," meaning "to bind or connect." The term "re-ligare" translates to "to bind or connect again," an interpretation proposed by St. Augustine and supported by modern scholars like Tom Harpur and Joseph Campbell.

Similarly, the Sanskrit word "Dharma" (धर्म) conveys the idea of "that which upholds or supports," deriving from the root word "Dhr," meaning "to hold." In this sense, "Dharma" aligns with the English understanding of "religion" as something that binds or connects.

Understanding of Religion Today

However, the concepts of Dharma and Religion have evolved and diverged over time. The original meaning of the English word "religion" emphasized the idea of binding or connecting, specifically in a spiritual or communal sense. Over time, the popular understanding of "religion" has come to include a more defined set of elements. These typically include a set of beliefs and practices that connect the human world with the spiritual or divine realm. This encompasses sacred texts, dogmas, preachers, churches, rites, sacraments, moral laws, worship practices, and more.

Understanding Dharma धर्म

Dharma, on the other hand, encompasses a broader and more fluid concept. In Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, Dharma refers to the ethical and moral principles that sustain the order of the universe and guide individual conduct. It is not limited to a set of beliefs or practices but includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, and the right way of living. Dharma can be contextual and can vary based on a person's age, caste, gender, and occupation, emphasizing the performance of one's duty. in accordance with universal principles of morality and righteousness

Summary - Religion and Dharma धर्म

In summary, while both "Dharma" and "Religion" share a foundational concept of binding or connecting, their interpretations and applications have diverged significantly. "Religion" in its popular modern sense often implies a structured system of faith and worship, whereas "Dharma" refers to a broader ethical and moral framework guiding individual and societal conduct.

Hindu Religion

Now, let's turn our attention to the concept of the Hindu religion. Referring to it as the "Hindu" religion is essentially a matter of convenience. We use the term "Hindu" because it provides a simple and widely recognized label for our faith, a term initially coined by foreigners and later adopted by the people of the region.

However, delving deeper, we find that labeling our religion as "Hindu" is both inadequate and misleading. It oversimplifies a rich and diverse spiritual tradition. By questioning the label "Hindu," I am not suggesting that we lack a religion in the popular sense. We certainly possess a structured system of beliefs and practices, as described earlier. But the issue extends beyond mere nomenclature.

The problem isn't just about what we call our religion—be it "Hindu," "ABC," or "XYZ." This is a superficial concern. It is not an issue of a ‘label’ but of the ‘product’ The real issue lies in the fact that what we refer to as "Hinduism" encompasses an immense variety of beliefs, rituals, and practices. In essence, we don't have a single religion but rather a multitude of religions under one umbrella.

If we were to group all these diverse spiritual practices and traditions under the label "Hindu," we would need to systematically describe each subset: "Hindu 1," "Hindu 2," "Hindu 3," and so on. Each would represent different sets of beliefs, dogmas, rituals, forms of worship, and priestly practices. This complexity means we are looking at not just hundreds or thousands, but potentially hundreds of thousands of distinct religions within what is broadly termed "Hinduism."

This diversity is a testament to the richness of our spiritual heritage, but it also challenges the simplicity implied by a single label. Therefore, understanding "Hinduism" requires appreciating the vast array of religious experiences and practices it encompasses, each with its own unique characteristics and significance.

In other religions such as Christianity and Islam, core beliefs are typically more uniform and clearly defined, allowing for straightforward statements about what adherents generally believe. For example, stating that Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus or that Muslims believe in the prophethood of Muhammad reflects widely accepted and central tenets of those faiths, without the need for qualifiers like "mostly" or "generally speaking.". It is wrong to say that Christians MOSTLY/GENERALLY believe in the divinity of Jesus. It is more correct to say that ALL Christians believe in the divinity of Jesus. Can we apply the same understanding to Hindu Religion? Certainly NOT. 

In these (Christianity, Islam) religions, doctrines and beliefs are often codified in scriptures, creeds, or official teachings, leaving little room for interpretation or variation among followers. As such, statements about their beliefs can be made with a high degree of certainty, without the need to hedge with phrases like "mostly" or "generally speaking."

However, when it comes to Hinduism, the situation is markedly different. Hinduism encompasses a vast array of beliefs, practices, and philosophical perspectives, with no single authoritative scripture or creed that all Hindus adhere to. Therefore, when attempting to describe Hinduism, one often needs to qualify statements with phrases like "mostly" or "generally speaking," as these beliefs may not apply universally or may be subject to interpretation and variation among different groups or individuals.

For instance, Hindus might worship different deities, follow various rituals, and adhere to distinct philosophical schools. Some may primarily worship Vishnu, others Shiva, and yet others may revere the Divine Mother in her many forms. Philosophical beliefs can range from dualistic schools like Dvaita to non-dualistic schools like Advaita Vedanta. Ritual practices can vary significantly from region to region and community to community. This vast diversity means that any attempt to define Hinduism must account for these variations, leading to the liberal use of qualifying phrases.

Therefore, while other religions might allow for concise definitions and clear central doctrines, Hinduism's pluralistic nature requires a more nuanced approach. This complexity is not a weakness but rather a testament to the rich tapestry of beliefs and practices that make up the Hindu faith. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and appreciating the religion's diversity and the challenge of encapsulating it within a single, definitive statement.

The Hindu religion is distinct in its lack of rigid dogmas, theological postulates, and fixed theology. It does not have an universally acceptable central authority like a papal head, governing ecclesiastic body, or an overarching church, chapel, or congregational system. There are no binding religious forms obligatory on all adherents, nor a single administration or discipline. Hinduism accommodates all beliefs, even non-beliefs - allowing for forms of atheism and agnosticism, and permits a wide array of spiritual experiences and religious adventures. Social laws also vary among different castes, communities, and regions.

This inherent flexibility and diversity present a unique challenge, particularly for those from cultures accustomed to neatly packaged belief systems. Other religions often offer a "nice little compact" package, providing clear doctrines and structures. In contrast, Hinduism defies this kind of categorization. We live in a "digital" thinking environment where clarity and precision are highly valued. This poses a problem in crisply ‘defining’ the Hindu Religion. The Hindu system, however, is anything but digital. It is more about "subjective" experience than "objective" definition.

When asked to fit the Hindu philosophy into a "digital format," I can only provide a few aspects or "digits" of the religion. This approach is akin to asking for the DNA of a human to fully understand what it means to be human. A person is much more than a mere collection of DNA strands; similarly, Hinduism is much more than a collection of doctrines or practices. 

Hinduism's richness lies in its acceptance of diverse paths to spirituality and its recognition of the multiplicity of human experiences. This makes it challenging to distill into a single, unified doctrine or system. The religion's emphasis on personal spiritual journeys over strict adherence to a fixed set of beliefs is what sets it apart and what makes it difficult for those seeking clear-cut definitions to fully grasp. This complexity and depth are not shortcomings but rather the strengths that offer a profound and inclusive approach to spirituality.

Having expressed my concerns and frustrations over this matter, I will now attempt to outline the "general thread" that runs through what is commonly referred to as the "Hindu" religion. However, I prefer to call it "Bharat Dharma," as this name more accurately represents our "system of religions." and it then frees me of the hangover of current diverse and confused mess of understanding the word ‘Hindu’.

Bharat Dharma is not a set of beliefs and traditions. It is life itself. It is not a religion that has to be not so much to be believed but to be lived. It is called Bharat Dharma because it originated in Bharat. But it is a UNIVERSAL DHARMA. It applies to the whole of humanity. Bharat Dharma embraces all. The objective of Bharat Dharma is to triumph over falsehood and break all the limiting beliefs. By understanding these core beliefs, one can better grasp the essence of Bharat Dharma, which unites a vast array of practices and philosophies under a common spiritual framework.

The belief in the highest consciousness in Bharat Dharma posits that everything originates from this supreme state, exists within it unknowingly, and will ultimately become aware of it, moving towards perfection, eternity, and infinity. Self-preparation involves growth through development and experience.

Hinduism encompasses every facet of life, integrating all aspects into a unified spiritual and religious experience. Nothing in life is considered secular or separate from the divine. The entirety of life is seen as an expression of the divine, thus infusing every action and experience with spiritual significance.

Does Bharat Dharma include other religions like Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism? The answer is both yes and no. These religions are part of Bharat Dharma to the extent that they align with its basic tenets. In many ways, they actually do. Therefore, Christians, Muslims, Parsis, and others can proudly consider themselves as belonging to Bharat Dharma. There is no issue of having "dual citizenship" in two religions because these two "labels" relate to different concepts—one to religion in the conventional sense (e.g., Christianity, Islam) and the other to a "Philosophy of Life." 

These two aspects blend seamlessly into each other rather than running parallel or in conflict. Bharat Dharma's inclusive nature allows it to encompass diverse beliefs and practices, integrating them into a broader philosophical framework without undermining their unique identities.

At the same time, the following aspects of any religion are NOT part of Bharat Dharma:

1. Exclusivity of Divine Access: Bharat Dharma does not support the belief that only followers of a specific religion have access to the Divine, or that those of other religions are outside the grace of the Divine.

2. Religious Intolerance: It rejects intolerance towards people of other faiths, promoting a spirit of acceptance and understanding.

3. Zeal for Conversion: Bharat Dharma opposes the aggressive drive to convert people of other faiths to one’s own religion, whether by force, deception, or through the guise of charity, fame, employment, or other benefits.

4. Religious Violence: It condemns the use of violence against people of other religions in the name of one’s own faith.

5. Disrespect for Other Practices: Expressing disrespect towards the religious practices of other faiths is not in line with the principles of Bharat Dharma.

6. Disrespect for Motherland: Most importantly, Bharat Dharma emphasizes the highest respect and esteem for our motherland.

Bharat Dharma encompasses a broad and inclusive spiritual philosophy, promoting respect, tolerance, and harmonious coexistence among all religions. It encourages understanding and integration, allowing diverse beliefs to coexist within its framework without conflict. This approach contrasts sharply with exclusivist and intolerant practices, emphasizing the unity of all spiritual paths and the sacredness of the land.

Throughout history, India has welcomed people of all faiths, enriching Bharat Dharma rather than posing a threat to it. The intrinsic essence of Bharat Dharma includes a profound understanding of the Aryan people. Contrary to popular misconception, Aryans are not nomadic invaders from the north. As articulated by Sri Aurobindo, the Aryan represents those who fearlessly strive for divine ascent, transcending limitations and embracing vastness and greatness with courage and determination. This ethos encapsulates the fundamental tenet of Bharat Dharma.

The outline provided above offers a broad understanding of Bharat Dharma. However, when delving into the details, variations emerge among different sects, schools, communities, races, and regions. Nevertheless, there exists a general unity of spirit, core principles, and spiritual temperament, enabling Bharat Dharma to foster immense cohesion and a strong sense of oneness within its vast diversity.

Central to Bharat Dharma is the belief in the accessibility of the Highest Consciousness—a living spiritual Truth, an Entity, a Power, a Presence—accessible to all according to their capacity. This Truth can be realized in myriad ways and is attainable both in this life and beyond. It is not merely a philosophical concept but a guiding principle meant to permeate every aspect of thought, life, and action in daily living.

In essence, Bharat Dharma embodies a holistic approach to spirituality, emphasizing inclusivity, experiential realization, and the integration of divine truths into everyday existence.

Bharat Dharma is a continuous pursuit of Truth in one’s own way. There are million or billion ways to reach the highest Truth - each man his own. 

Bharat Dharma is founded on the core belief of वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् (अयं निजः परो वेति गणना लघुचेतसाम्। उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्॥महा उपनिषद VI.71-73 - the earth is one family. It is a concept that all individuals are collectively responsible towards each other and their shared future. 

Another foundational belief is encapsulated in the phrase एकम सत विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति from the Rigveda. This means "Truth is one, the wise speak of it in many ways."

Another core belief of Bharat Dharma is enshrined in अहम् ब्रम्हास्मि - शुक्ल यजुर्वेद (यजुर्वेद) के बृहदारण्यक उपनिषद. It essentially means each soul is God in the making. 

Swami Vivekananda has said in his speech in the World Parliament of Religions in the year 1893 “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”

Above is only a broad concept of Bharat Dharma. We can not ‘define’ Bharat Dharma in a very precise term. We can only give its general conceptual lines. We can even say that Bharat Dharma is a dynamic and evolving pursuit of Truth, akin to numerous streams merging into a mighty river, eventually flowing into the Sea—the Ultimate Truth, Brahman.

One fascinating aspect of Bharat Dharma and its followers in Bharat is that it is deeply embedded in the very essence of its people. Many may not be able to articulate it precisely or may not even be consciously aware of it in their daily lives, yet they inherently adhere to its principles. This profound connection to Bharat Dharma is rooted in the land of Bharat itself, having evolved over thousands of years.

The concepts of Bharat Dharma are vividly expressed and manifested through various cultural festivals, religious practices, social conduct, and the general lifestyle of its people. It is like the blossoming of a seed, with the core principles of Bharat Dharma unfolding through the lives of Bharat and her people. These outward manifestations are deeply rooted in the fundamental concepts of Bharat Dharma.

To an untrained Western mind, India may appear to be a chaotic tapestry of religious practices, cultural traditions, codes of conduct, numerous festivities, and a multitude of gods. However, beneath this perceived 'chaos' lies an ever-flowing stream of profound, unifying belief in the ultimate reality and the meaning of life. This belief has been coursing through antiquity, guiding a collective search for the ultimate truth. Humanity is slowly progressing towards its divine potential through this timeless journey.

This is Bharat Dharma.



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