DIFFERENT MEANINGS OF RELIGION (DHARMA) IN HINDUISM.
By Swami Dwiroopanand. (Formerly Dr. H. K. Gandhi )
1. Vedas are Scriptures of Knowledge:
(2500 BC or Earlier Periods-)
The word Dharma in the Vedas was used in sense of 'Qualities' (Goon-Dharma) of Natural objects like the sun, moon, water, land, air, rain, fire and so on. Goona means quality or property of an object. The Dharma of fire is to burn, the Dharma of the Sun is to give light and so on. To gain knowledge of such properties of natural objects is called education. This knowledge of all material objects is gained by five senses, which is necessary for any growing child. This led to different branches of human knowledge or Vedas. To gain such knowledge was called Ved Dharma.
The Vedas were developed by a prehistoric, nomadic Aryan tribe. The knowledge was intuitive and informative. It was based upon observations of natural objects and their forces and effects. Hymns and verses in poetry form were created and remembered (Smruti) by repeated hearing (Shruti). A special class of society - the Brahmin class was assigned this job. The gained knowledge was passed over to next generations by speaking (Vani) and hearing (Shruti). The Vedas are also called Shruties or Audio-knowledge. The alphabets of the Sanskrit for writing and its beautiful grammar took thousands of years after the creation of 3 Vedas. In Vedas during the years of growth of civilization, the worship of visible universal objects had started. The Sun (Surya), Moon (Chandra), Fire (Agni), Water (Varuna), Air (Vayu, Maruta) Land (Pruthvi, Dharati) and Rain (Indra) and many such objects were worshipped as Deity Gods and Goddesses.
Veda-Dharma means education of a child by parents and teachers. Knowledge is received by the child from parents in home and teachers in schools mainly by hearing in all civilized countries. It is duty (Dharma) of parents and teachers to give knowledge and Dharma of children to gain knowledge.
Teachers were supposed to give knowledge FREE to all curious students. The Kshatriya kings (the state) were supposed to protect and support schools (Rishi Ashramas) from attacks of uncivilized barbarians (Rakshasas). Such stories are described in the epics of Ramayan and
2. Varna Dharma of Manu Smruti and Samhitas. (About 2000 BC Period).
The Laws of the first Aryan King Manu are available in a scripture known as Manu-Smruti. The duties (Dharmas) of four Varnas (classes, castes) of society became known as 'Arya Dharma'. Smruti means memory. The sense of moral duty in doing their jobs with devotion and skills was expected. These laws were amended in later periods by fourteen Manus and some Brahmins.
As the earlier human communities learned the properties of the land, water, air, sun and fire as sources of heat, light and energy people staying in near by localities divided their specific jobs. Knowledge of plants, their food and medicinal values led to development of the art of agriculture, making bricks, utensils and tools. For cooperative living some socio-political codes (rules, laws) were needed. This lead to development of job oriented four classes (Varnas) of people. After the Vedas, during the Second Era (Yuga) this four class structure of society developed in India. Hereditary special privileges for Brahmins- the men of knowledge and Kshatriyas the rulers, developed during following centuries. Punishments for sinning women, farmers and business community (Vaishyas), and servants (Shudras) were dictated in Manu
The word Dharma now assumed a second meaning of "Obligatory duty" of a particular class of people (Varna Dharma). The four Varnas were job-oriented classes to start with, but in course of time they became rigid heritage preserving and birth-rights imparting social classes. Marriages were to be done in the same class and inter-class marriages were tabooed. (Study 2 Charts of Varna-Ashrama Dharma at the end of this essay).
3. The Upanishads. (Sanatan Dharma)
These Spiritual scriptures were created around 2000 BC. The word Upanishad means "Staying near by". Mothers, Fathers, Teachers and Guests were looked upon and respected as Gods staying near by.
After the period of Shruties and Smruties a 3rd era of civilization had started in India. In this era of Eternal Religion or Sanatan Dharma, nearly 240 Upanishads developed. The word Dharma now got linked to 4 Ashramas in life. The concept of Ashramas was a wonderful gift of the Upanishad Rishies. "Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha became 4 goals in life which were linked with 4 age quarters during the Upanishad period. One goal was to be achieved during one age quarter.The 4 goals must be achieved during a life span of 100 years.
Now religion became known as Varna-Ashrama Dharma.
Most Hindus and scholars of other religions today understand Hinduism as this rigid four class socio-religious structure.
The four Ashramas were known as:-
(a) Brahmcharya-Ashrama; Student age.
Brahmacharyam means celibacy. No sex activity during the student age is the correct guideline. This important vow was recommended during the student age, hence this important age quarter was called Brahmacharya-Ashrama. Goal indicated during this age period was Dharma, meaning duty to gain knowledge from teachers and the elderly (Gurus) and to learn good manners. During the student age moral duties (Dharma) towards family and state were taught to children along with school education.
Marriage and family life in a home during 25 to 50 years. Goal indicated was ARTHA. Word 'Artha' has two meanings, (1) money and (2) purpose of life. Earn money, become rich and support your family and community. Give welcome to home coming guests a guideline. This Ashrama was looked upon as the best age period of life.
The word means
"Go to forest". Goal suggested is KAMA. Kama means desires. Fulfill all desires and high ambitions during this age quarter. Retire partially family life but remain active in humanitarian and community works in backward rural areas is the commandment. No one can become desireless at any early age. It is a wrong preaching, it is not possible and not said in scriptures. In the Gita Lord says, "I am desires (high goals) which agree with Dharma. Dharmaaviruddho Bhuteshu Kamosmi Bharatarshabh.
(d) Sanyasa-Ashrama :
'Sanyasa' is the last Ashrama. The goal indicated is Moksha (liberty) or Nirvana (Eternal Bliss). Yoga study brings wonderful mental peace, and true liberty from tensions, worries and fears. Sanyasa was practiced after the age of 75 and later and not during younger student age as one sees many BalBrahmchaaries today. Renounce family attachments, bring an end to desires, resign from all material wealth, things and high positions achieved, and live a simple ascetic life. This age quarter is for contemplation of One God, explained in the last step of
Brahma-Samadhi in Yoga.