Chapter One: The Universal Ideal
The universal ideal is all about actualizing the divinity within you. There is no one prescribed way but a multitude of them. However, in the end, they all point for you to go inward.
All beliefs, on which religions stem from, in their diverse names and forms, are simply manifestations of one Supreme Reality. It is hard to understand that fact of underlying unity when all that mankind sees is religion being quarrelsome, divisive and dogmatic. Intellectuals from time immemorial have looked at religion as infringing on their right of free and open thinking. Historically, this cannot be disputed. Religious authorities have always used censorship through indoctrination of their specific teachings as a means of control over the masses. A famous example of such censorship is that of the physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher Galileo Galilei. His support of the heliocentric view of the world was considered heresy in 1633 by the Vatican. The Inquisition forced Galileo Galilei to recant his ideas and was put under house arrest. The world now knows that Galileo Galilei was right in his scientific ideas and is a perfect example of how religion can contradict reality.
Contradictions in religion are the result of mankind’s ignorance and inability to articulate the Supreme Truth. Religions simply touch upon that Supreme Truth without ever immersing itself into it and try to manifest that small encounter into ritualistic thought and actions. If religion was to go back to its pure source, the Supreme Consciousness, there would be no contradictions or mistakes. There would not even be the need to defend religion. Religion would no longer be religion in the conventional sense, it would become philosophy. It is only in philosophy that the free thinking process itself becomes conducive for eliminating any division in the matters of the spirit. Philosophy integrates through affirmation of the universal ideal of all-pervading divinity. It is the result of the uninhibited intellect, which is the closest faculty to the Supreme Consciousness (refer to The Total Field of Human Experience for more details). The doubting, analytical, and logical tendencies of the intellect, that so many religions try to suppress, is in actuality the very thing that needs to blossom in order to turn inward to realize the universal ideal.
This process of turning inwards maybe new to many but it has existed beyond the reach of memory, record and tradition. Those early seekers may not have had religion in today’s sense to be discontented with but understood that the constant flux of the physical world itself did not provide with absolute certainty joy and peace of mind. The world was seen as impermanent through the neti, neti, process. This process is simply translated as “not this, not this”, and is known as the process of negation. The early seekers used negation and concluded neti for the whole physical world. For them, there simply had to be an unchanging base from which a continually changing existence can be projected from. Since that permanence could not be found externally in the physical and material world, the early seekers turned inward. By turning inwards these seekers became subjective scientists. While the discoveries of the laws of nature remained in the hands of objective scientists, the subjective scientists began to probe the inner world of the spirit.
Through meditations by subjective scientists, the universal common denominator, the Supreme Consciousness, was revealed. That Supreme Consciousness, whose essence will be discussed in Chapter 3- The Nature of God, was understood as all pervading by the seers, “those that see”. With the Supreme Consciousness being all-pervading, the subjective scientists discovered the universal ideal: If the divine Supreme Consciousness permeates the universe, it permeates me and therefore I am the divine Supreme Consciousness.
It is from this declaration that the everlasting life principle of Sanatana Dharma radiates. Generally translated, Sanatana Dharma means “eternal essence”. This principle is beautifully expressed by Rene Guenon, father of the 20th century school of perennial philosophy:
“It dharma is, so to speak, the essential nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation to each particular circumstance. The same idea may be applied, not only to a single being, but also to an organized collectivity, to a species, to all the beings included in a cosmic cycle or state of existence, or even to the whole order of the Universe; it then, at one level or another, signifies conformity with the essential nature of beings… (from Guenon’s “Introduction to the Study of Hindu Doctrines”).”
In other words, all constituents of creation, whether looked at individually or as a whole have a divine essence that can be actualized through self-realization. Sanatana Dharma exists independent of what humans can perceive of it. Rejection or denial of the eternal life principle does not affect its presence and nor will it impose itself. It simply exists. Those who attain the highest through communion with the Supreme Consciousness have developed systems of philosophy on the eternal life principle. However, the gist can be understood through this general creed of Sanatana Dharma as follows:
I believe in the Supreme Consciousness, the Supreme Reality, the unity behind all diversity, the changeless Truth behind all appearances, at once imminent and transcendent in all the divine essence which permeates the universe.
I believe that the Supreme Consciousness manifests Itself as the creative and preserving power of the whole universe and unto Itself it returns. In short, the entire world of phenomenon rises, exists, dissolves and again re-rises in Itself.
I believe that this Supreme Consciousness assumes forms from time to time to bring the erring humanity back to the correct path. This form may be perceptible or imperceptible.
I believe that man is not this gross material body, nor yet the finer organ called mind or the intellect but is really something greater and more real than the apparent individual.
I believe that the soul is essentially divine and by nature, pure and perfect infinite in power and free. It was never created, nor will it ever die, but will pass from body to body on its journey to realization and perfection.
I believe in the Law of Karma– the law of causality in the spiritual world. I am the creator of my own destiny, that my present condition is due to my past thoughts, words, deeds, and conduct. My future state will depend directly on my past and present actions and thoughts.
I believe that the Srutis (Vedas) and the Smritis (Upanishads), the Sastras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras contain the eternal truths.
The subjective scientists as mentioned earlier did create an intricate systemization of the profound wisdom generated through their intense meditations upon the Supreme Consciousness. The sacred wisdom was divided into two broad categories, the Srutis and the Smritis. The Srutis are considered to be “Consciousness-revealed” and the Smritis are considered as “man-realized”- or better “recapitulated by man” on what he/she has already heard from the Srutis ,“that which is heard”. The Srutis deal with eternal principles and hold good for all time, while the Smritis deal with the practical application of those eternal principles according to changing times. In fact there is a Srutis content and a Smritis content in every religion. In Sanatana Dharma thought the world Sruti stands for Vedas.
The four Vedas Rig, Yajurs, Sama and Atharva form the Srutis. The word Veda comes from the root “vid”- to know. The Vedas is literally the book of knowledge- knowledge of the changeless and Supreme Reality.
The principle characteristics of each of the four Vedas and what they deal with in general are given below (Refer to Flow Chart 1.1: Classification of Vedic Wisdom):
Rig Veda– The Rig Veda mainly consists of hymns of praise and is believed to be the most precious collection of knowledge of the Aryans of the day. It is believed to be the “oldest book” known to man.
Yajur Veda– The Yajur Veda generally deals with the sacrificial formulae and contains the special instructions and directions for the carrying out of rituals and ceremonies.
Sama Veda– This is the most voluminous of the four Vedas. It deals with the melodies and contains the songs to be chanted at the sacrifices with their correct modulations and intonations. It is a purely liturgical collection.
Atharva Veda– This mainly deals with magic formulae and the tantras and other forms of esoteric knowledge. It deals with yantra, tantra and mantra. Yantra which is the machine namely the human body, mantra the formulae and tantra the technique of applying the formulae in the machine to get the maximum results.
Each of the four Vedas stated above, consists of three sections namely:
The Samhitas or the mantra portion- hymns in praise of the supreme lord and the presiding deities.
The Brahmanas or the ritualistic portion- the practical application of the mantras in the rituals and directions for the conduct of rituals and;
The Aranyakaas of the contemplative portion.
The first two form what is called the “the karma kanda” and the third us known as “the jnana kanda” of the Vedas.
The Upanishads generally form the end of the Aranyakaas– there are few exceptions to this rule also, as there are a few Upanishads which occur even in the Samhita portion of the Vedas– and hence the philosophy obtaining therein is generally called Vedanta-meaning the “end of the Vedas”. The word Vedanta can be explained in three ways:
Veda anta: the end of the Vedas, which can mean either the concluding portion of the Vedas or the end or the goal pointed out by the Vedas.
Vedaan tam: meaning the essence of the Vedas.
The philosophical truths revealed and established by and in the Vedas- especially in the concluding portions- the Upanishads.
While it is indisputable that the Upanishads contain the essence of the Vedic teachings, they are the foundation of which most of the later philosophies and religions of the east rest upon. There is no important form of Sanatana Dharmic thought- heterodox Buddhism included- which is not rooted in the Upanishads.
The word “Upanishad” is constituted of three syllables- Upa-ni-sad which together mean “near-below-sit”. This must denote the flow of knowledge from the higher to the lower level- from guru (teacher) to the disciples. The respectful attitude of the disciple who “sits, below, near” is implied in the title.
The Upanishads are computed at one thousand one hundred and seventy nine in number as shown below:
21 –Rig Veda
108- Yajur Veda
1000- Sama Veda
50- Atharva Veda
Tradition considers 108 of these as important and authoritative as mentioned in Mukthi Upanishad belonging to the Yajur Veda.
Of these eleven are considered to be the principal Upanishads and Archarya Sankara had written his commentaries on them.
The Upavedas form a class of writings subordinate to the Vedas. They are four in number, one attached to each Veda. They are:
Ayurveda: The science of health and longevity and consequently of medicine, attached to the Rig Veda. There are some who maintain this science is attached to Atharva Veda.
Dhanurveda: Military science attached to Yajur Veda.
Gandharvaveda: The art and science of music, attached to Sama Veda and;
Stapathya Sastra: The science of mechanics and constructions, attached to Atharva Veda.
A thorough study of these six branches of knowledge is considered essential for the understanding and assimilation of the techniques contained in the Vedas. (Refer to Flow Chart 1.2: Categories of Knowledge).
Next are the Veda Upangas or the six Darsaras. These are dealt with separately below, under philosophy (Refer to Flow Chart 1.1: Classification of Vedic Wisdom).
Next are the Smritis or the Dharma Sastras. Dharma Sastras are the works of individual sages, laying down the rules of conduct for a “Dharmic Life” (righteousness) to be observed by all during the entire span of life. Dharma Sastras of Manu is the most famous and authoritative and Manu Smriti forms the basis of Sanatana Dharmic law. While Manu Smriti is applicable to the entire Manwantara (a period of time reckoned on certain precise astronomical calculations-equivalent to 306,720,000 human terrestrial years) there are eighteen more Dharma Sastras written by different sages, said to be applicable to different periods of time written in the Manwantara.
The great seers and sages of the past in their profound wisdom knew very well that religion has to cater to every one, each in his or her level of mental and intellectual evolution from where he or she has to be picked up and put on the path leading to spiritual heights. So there are books written for classes as well as for the masses. While the Upanishads, Brahma Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita and the Dharma Sastra cater to advanced intellectuals. The Puranas and the Ithihasas (epics) are mainly directed to masses, who to begin with, need more of an emotional satisfaction from religion and philosophy, not that they do not contain anything for the intellectuals. They form harmonious food for the head and the heart at the same time, and as the seeker progresses he/she finds new and higher meanings in the same text which take them forward in their spiritual pursuits.
The Puranas and Ithihasas fall into this class of spiritual literature. While they prepare the seekers for an efficient, fruitful, ethical and dharmic life here, they show the way and lead them to the summum bonum of human birth and existence- identification and merging with the Great Beyond. They help to grow from Bhakti to Jhana and from there to Realization.
At this point, the basis from which Sanatana Dharmic ideology emerged has been introduced. Beginning with contemplation of the human experience, to then turning inward and realizing the universal ideal and finally culminating in the development of Sanatana Dharma, ones individual progress can be accelerated with the wisdom of learned masters. The next chapter discusses the multiple forces that make one’s worldly existence seem “real” and how to transcend the illusion.