Dharma is that which follows the order of the universe, and in doing so, makes the Dharmic way respect the laws of nature and yet transcend them. In doing so, Dharma liberates man from the burden of history, baggage of socio-cultural heritage, his/her thoughts and identities and expectations of faith and makes it a free-flowing and independent exploration, a quest towards Satya (Truth).
The underlying foundation of the unity in diversity seen in India lies in Dharma. Hinduism is a recently devised term for the set of Indic philosophies and schools of thoughts that are indigenous to the lands ‘to the east of the Sindhu (Indus river)’. The diversity of ideas, philosophies and sects that come together under this umbrella term has been the greatest strength of Dharma. Dharma is that which upholds the multiplicity of realities of existence with its inherent reflexive tendencies. In simpler language, it is that which promotes the natural order of the universe. The reflexivity arising out of consciousness and awareness are crucial in developing this self-organizing, self-similar order that we speak of. The fundamental mooring of Dharma lies in the unity, in essence, of all there is.
Scientists may call it a product of a postulated unified field or physical correlations (as may the Sunyavadins), while the Dharmic may refer to it as Brahman or Unity Consciousness. Even the diversification of phenomena and realities in our immediate environs, with all the inherent binaries and dualities seen in nature, are simply emergent. This is not an inaccessible, esoteric science but a fairly accessible and knowable reality.
In our modern age, we can see the perennial quest ‘to become’ and, at times, to find an external superlative to emulate. While in itself this is not problematic, since nature is itself ever evolving, the absoluteness, nay an unhealthy attachment, around these fleeting moments, emotions and realities that many of us place, is. Are we only defined by our identities, attributes, credentials or possessions? Are we defined by our doings and thoughts alone? Were we any less us when we were born or will we be as much us when we die? What we truly are is surely not defined by our activities and events around us. Just as the redness of the rose and the sweetness of Rasmalai are attributes but not the objects themselves, what we are cannot be defined by such an absolute identification with our attributes, identities or belongings that we have or acquire. If we are not this, what are we? As much as I would love to share realisations from my own spiritual journey here, following the steps of our Maharishis since times immemorial, I would like to keep this open-ended. I can only highlight what it is not – it is not the material and the worldly, it is not the identities or their intersectionality even, and it is not the sum total of your experiences alone either. In fact, if there was a set of empirical descriptions, characterisations and elements that are available, the Satya – the Truth is none of those! What it is, is what the Dharmic way is interested in, and in asking you to seek, not blindly believe anything – no religious text, maxims or spoken words, unless tempered in the fire of self-inquiry. You may ask: isn’t questioning or doubting the knowledge and revelations given to us by spiritual leaders usually the precursor to scepticism and atheistic tendencies? Dharma highlights that the spiritual may not be temporal and spatial, and therefore not empirical, but that does not make it inaccessible. Just like specific advanced experiments need appropriate equipments, spiritual truths can be accessed, albeit with appropriate techniques. And if at the end of employing them, you still do not believe, so be it.
Without biasing this exploration of the reader, one can say that Hindus believe in Satya – the Truth. Many see it as the one God, the one who creates, preserves and destroys all elements of the Universe, often in different manifestations and (lesser) gods, while others see it as purely a physicalist unification of phenomena. In Dharma, as in various religions and schools of thought around the world, the Truth is endowed with paradoxes: it is knowable and yet mysterious, transcendent and yet immanent, unchanging and yet dynamic. This Truth manifests as the impersonal and yet personal, the uncaring and yet loving. In fact, it manifests as neither being nor non-being. With regards to the conception of this Truth, this can be manifested or conceived in various ways: as a personal God (as in Sikhism, the Abrahamic religions and the theistic traditions of Hinduism), as an impersonal transcendent being (as in Brahman in some Hindu traditions, Tao in Chinese traditions, the Christian image of God as the Unmoved Mover, the Sikh One without Attributes and the Mahayana concept of Tathata), as being immanent in each person (as in the Hindu Atman, the Mahayana Bodhi or Tathagatagarbha and the Christian concept of the indwelling spirit), as the ultimate goal or the ‘blessed state’ (as in the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and the Jain ideal of Paramatman), as the common solidarity of many spiritual being which work with a single purpose (as in the Sioux Wakan, the Shinto Kami and Taoist deities), and as the eternal law and order (as in the Hindu Dharma and Rta, Buddhist Dhamma, Taoism’s Tao, Christianity’s Logos and Jewish Torah).
If we are all emanations of a unity, in essence, devoid of empirical constructs, obsessing with becoming anything in the material world is a movement away from our true Self. Our true self is not subject to fleeting material causes, albeit the impression and involvement of one with the material world makes it feel intense pain, anger, joy, surprise, fear and greed, based on what the stimuli are.
Moreover, isn’t demolishing the premise of any and every worldly activities a precursor to absolute non-activity in the world? As for the importance of worldly pursuits and activities, one cannot transcend the immediate without processing the immediate first. One cannot unshackle the bounds of Karma without living it out. This is the Dharmic way. Dharma is not a belief system or dogma, and is definitely not just limited to the system of religion and philosophy that has been practiced by Hindus, who have been identified in a geo-centred manner. In this age, if we live with a healthy dose of scepticism, rationality and a scientific temper, why must we not be balanced in spirituality? Not disbelieving the possibility and presence of absolute truth, and yet not believing everything told to us unless we experience it. The degree and nature of the belief formed by oneself, not based on what others say, can be variable for every individual. In the Dharmic way, there is the Saguna (endowed with attributes) and Nirguna (devoid of attributes) form of God; there is the Sakar (with form) and Nirakar (without form) aspect of God; more importantly there is an Astika (with faith) and Nastika (without faith) form of seeking Satya, the truth. Dharma is that which follows the order of the universe, and in doing so, makes the Dharmic way respect the laws of nature and yet transcend them. In doing so, Dharma liberates man from the burden of history, baggage of socio-cultural heritage, his/her thoughts and identities and expectations of faith and makes it a free-flowing and independent exploration, a quest towards Satya (Truth). It brings to the fore that sweetest of secrets that are embedded in the Upanishads, in the Vedantic way: decentralisation of the quest for truth and divinity to the individual, the seeker, the Atman.
This is particularly important due to the non-applicability of belief-sets across regions and ages. Every system of spirituality, philosophy, religion and thought arises in a certain time and context. Proto-Indo-European cultures and civilisations, from the Neolithic period, had some interesting elements in their faith. These gods are seen in derivative cultures as well. Of note and interest is the association of some of the gods with the social activities and norms of the age, including a pastoral god. This, however, evolved over time, as it must, with the essence still intact: that of Truth and certain universal values that are seen in doctrinal resonances across religions. Be it Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism or any other religion, there are elements of the faith that are age-specific and contextual and then there are elements that are fairly universal. I think the idea always has been to extract the essence of all these elements and evolve with time. That is what Dharma would say, and the best way to do it is by a personal exploration of the Truth, with humility, sincerity and honesty. One of the most important ideas in Hinduism is the idea that existence transcends the material. The individual is not just a gross body or even the finer body in the mind, but the event subtler and more fundamental – Atman. There may be differences regarding the relation between Atman and the Truth in different schools of philosophy, but there is no preference given to any one school. Dharma is ‘non-partisan’ in nature, and while modern secularism may just be about non-discrimination against particular religions, Dharma is about active and equal respect for all faiths, ideas, realities, identities and people. Dharma is not co-terminus with religion and transcends it, in being beyond the binaries of (modern) definitions of secular or communal, of this and that. It is both, and yet beyond. In a Dharmic society a non-religious person cannot sideline or be sidelined by a religious person, just as a person of one faith cannot sideline or be sidelined by anybody else from a different faith.
This is also why there cannot be any coercive or conceited ways to convert people in a Dharmic society. It is because of the fundamental place of Dharma in the modern Indian state that secularism in the modern times is so fundamental to the Indian constitution and so reflective of the thoughts and views of the Indian people as well as the conception of ‘India’ as a state. The paths for the Dharmic to reach these points of interest and realisation are manifold. We have six primary Darsana in Hinduism, and four primary forms of Yoga. We have various schools of thought and sects. Does that mean nothing unifies Hindus? Not quite! The Vedas are the basis of any Dharmic, Hindu tradition. Be it the agnostic, who is open to seeking and learning the natural form of God, without any pre-made conceptions of the same, to those oriented towards a personal God (Ishvara), Vedas form a beautiful basis for the same. The Vedas are considered the earliest literary record of the Indic civilisations, and among the most sacred books of India. They contain spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of our life and society. The philosophical maxims of the Vedas have formed the basis for most strands of Hindu thought. The most important thing is the secondary nature of the multiple gods that form the traditional Hindu pantheons, in various sects and strands of Hinduism: ‘The gods themselves are later than creation’. Due to the nature of the passing of Vedic knowledge – Śruti or the ‘spoken way’, the historicity of the Vedas is not conclusively established in modern historical terms. However, their elements and maxims are as relevant as they were in the times of yore, and lay an emphasis on the pursuit of Satya – the Truth.
Experience should underlie faith and faith should underlie all experiences. In the Hindu way, one is naturally led to utilise one’s own Swadharma (innate tendencies and capabilities), the grace of the Satya and one’s own efforts to define what one makes of oneself. The inclusivism and natural acceptance of all the different ways of realising Satya and God within Dharma make it most reflective of the Supreme Truth, due to the multiplicity of identities and realities within the same. Existence beyond being and non-being, a presence beyond polarities, being beyond binaries, is the way of the true Hindu. And Hindus have to stand united for a harmonious future of mankind, especially in this critical point in history.
This is the need of the hour.
About the Author
Mrittunjoy is a physicist, spiritual voice, philosopher, social thinker and activist, writer and poet.
He is currently a postdoctoral researcher in Physics under Nobel Laureate Prof. Brian Josephson.
He is a visible Dharmic voice, and has also worked on social causes such as competency-based education, with the Government of India, besides being active in science popularisation with Vigyan Prasar and Doordarshan.
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Last Updated Apr 6, 2020, 6:26 PM IST