What is Hindu Dharma?
One of the major living religious traditions of the world, Hinduism is also recognized as the most
ancient. It is different from most others because it was not started by any single individual, seer or
prophet, and its origins cannot be traced to a particular period of human history.
It is not based on one single book or a set of dogmas; on the contrary, it allows a great deal of
freedom of thought, faith and worship. Hinduism is not a single religious faith system because it
does not insist on any fixed set of doctrines. There are a variety of religious sects or traditions in
Hinduism. However, in spite of this diversity, there is a unity among all the doctrines and schools
of thought because their basic principles are based on the 'eternal laws of nature' which can be
rightly defined as Sanatana (eternal) Dharma (laws of nature). The knowledge of the universe and
the laws contained in the Vedas and in the subsequent scriptures is considered to be applicable at
all times and places. As these laws bind the universe and its components together, it is called
'Dharma', i.e. that which keeps all together.
'Dharma' is one of the most intractable terms used in the Hindu philosophy and is derived from
the root 'dhru', meaning to uphold, sustain or support. Hindu Dharma comprises a medium, an
instrument or an integrated scheme of life by which one is prevented from falling down and is
uplifted spiritually. It is thus a way of life or a value system. The word 'Religion' is used for the
lack of a better synonym for 'Dharma' in English language.
Hinduism describes Dharma as the natural universal laws whose observance enables humans to
be contented and happy, and to save himself from degradation and suffering. Dharma is the moral
law combined with spiritual discipline that guides one's life. Hindus consider Dharma the very
foundation of life. Atharva Veda describes Dharma symbolically: Prithivim Dharmana dhritam,
that is, "this world is upheld by Dharma".
Anything that helps human being to reach god is Dharma and anything that hinders human being
from reaching god is Adharma. For instance, in the epic poem Maha Bharata, the Pandavas
represent Dharma in life and the Kauravas represent Adharma. According to the Bhagavat
Purana, righteous living or life on a dharmic path has four aspects: austerity (tap), purity (shauch),
compassion (daya) and truthfulness (satya); and adharmic or unrighteous life has three vices:
pride (ahankar), contact (sang), and intoxication (madya).
Manusmriti written by the ancient sage Manu prescribes ten essential rules for the observance of
Dharma: Patience (dhriti), forgiveness (kshama), piety or self control (dama), honesty (asteya),
sanctity (shauch), control of senses (indraiya-nigrah), reason (dhi), knowledge or learning
(vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absence of anger (krodha). Manu further writes, "Nonviolence,
truth, non-coveting, purity of body and mind, control of senses are the essence of Dharma".
Therefore dharmic laws govern not only the individual but all in society.
The purpose of Dharma is not only to attain a union of the soul with the supreme reality; it also
suggests a code of conduct that is intended to secure both worldly joys and supreme happiness.
Hinduism is the religion that suggests methods for the attainment of the highest ideal and eternal
bliss here and now on earth and not somewhere in heaven.
In essence Hinduism is a way of life and culture in which several religious practices are
harmoniously blended and bound by the common bond of 'Dharma'. In the words of a Hindu
scholar and writer, Ram Swarup, "it is the name of one religion or one truth lived at hundred
points in hundred ways by people of different capacities and preparedness. Unity of Hinduism is
not external and geographical; it is deep, subtle, spiritual; it has multiple expressions; it lives in
them all; it also exceeds them."
The word 'Hindu'
History is mostly guessing; the rest is prejudice. - Will Durant
The word 'Hindu' has its origin in Sanskrit literature. In the Rig Veda, Bharat is referred to as the
country of 'Sapta Sindhu', i.e. the country of seven great rivers. The word 'Sindhu' refers to rivers
and sea and not merely to the specific river called 'Sindhu'. In Vedic Sanskrit, according to
ancient dictionaries, 'sa' was pronounced as 'ha'. Thus 'Sapta Sindhu' was pronounced as 'Hapta
Hindu'. This is how the word 'Hindu' came in to being. The ancient Persians also referred to
Bharat as 'Hapta Hind', as recorded in their ancient classic 'Bem Riyadh'. That is why some
scholars came to believe that the word 'Hindu' had its origin in Persia. The Greeks, who invaded
Bharat under Alexander, dropped 'H' and used the name Indoos or Indus, which later led to the
formation of the word 'India'.