DIFFERENT MEANINGS OF RELIGION (DHARMA) IN HINDUISM.
By Swami Dwiroopanand. (Formerly Dr. H. K. Gandhi )
Religion is a behavioral (Acharan) science.
It teaches discipline, sense of gratitude towards parents and teachers, and elderly (Gurus), sense of responsibility, good manners, noble behaviors, attitude of love towards all human beings and life in general. Every individual needs such virtues for a healthy family life, achieving higher goals and peaceful, prosperous and progressive social living.
Hinduism is the oldest religion and culture in the world. It possesses voluminous literature on subjects of religion, spirituality and God. Religion is a social science teaching good behavior and moral codes to all classes of people at all age periods. This knowledge brings happiness in bilateral human relationships in any family, community or a country.
Need and Purpose of Religion (Dharma).
Today people understand Religion as a sectarian organized religion (Sampradaya). Sampradayas are started by some past souls of unique divine realization. Jesus, Mohammed, Moses were such divine souls in the West, and Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Mahavira in the East. Their message and preaching are preserved as holy books. They are propagated by average priests from generations to generations. Usually there is a Head Priest (Pope, Mahant) and a cadre of assistant priests (Rabies, Ministers, Sadhus). They collect donations from believers, build churches, mosques, temples etc.,. and run their rigid religious organizations. Thus a Sampraday is religion of a group of people, large or small, having fixed beliefs regarding God, ways of worship, marriage traditions and some moral codes. Such tribal religions rigidly preserve their social customs.
The meaning and definition of the word Dharma in Hinduism has undergone many changes during the growth of civilization. Debates of scholars were arranged by noble kings to define Religion (moral codes). Different meanings of the word Dharma in Hindu scriptures are described below.
Dharayati eeti Dharma.
The Sanskrit word Dharma roots from a verb "Dhru". It means 'to bear the weight of', 'to carry the burden of', 'to protect' 'to care for' etc.,.
Land bears the weight of all physical bodies. Hence land (earth) is called 'Dhara or Dharti' in Sanskrit. The soul or the spirit within us (Atman or Brahman) bears (holds) our lives. It is because of the presence of the soul that all human beings, plant kingdom and animal kingdom exist on Earth as single living units.
In all religions there are some commandments (do this) and taboos (don't do that). Some moral codes like truth and nonviolence are common in all religions. Some Dharma beliefs pervade in minds of all human beings in one way or other. The study of religious literature guides individuals, families and communities on right path. Without knowledge and daily practice of Dharma a person behaves like an animal or at times worse than animals. This could be expressed in a simple equation like this:-
man + Religion = A Civilized man.
The cause of some psychiatric problems and many psycho-somatic diseases is lack of correct understanding of Dharma. Dharma teaches men and women how to remain happy and become useful members in a family, society or a country. The correct word for Sanskrit word Dharma in English will be 'Duty' or 'duty consciousness'. For the English word
Religion, Sanskrit word Sampradaya will be the correct translation.
To understand different meanings of the word religion (Dharma) the ocean of India's scriptural heritage is classified as follows:- (Also look at two charts in First issue of GGDS for more details).
1. Worship of Qualities (Goonas) in Vedas.
2. Dharma of 4 Varna in Manu Smruti.
3. Ashram Dharmas in the Upanishads.
4. Dharma redefined in Darshans.
5. Organized religions Sampradayas in India.
6. Religion of Self. (SwaDharma - in Gita)
7. Saapeksha Dharma in family relations.
8. Idol and Guru worship in Hinduism.