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What Sanatan Dharma is not || Acharya Prashant, with 'Virat Hindustan Sangam' (2021)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

10 min
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Acharya Prashant: There couldn't have been a more important topic than the one we have at hand today: Sanatana Dharma and Vedanta.

So, there is Sanatana Dharma and Vedanta. Sanatana first: All that is, can be very neatly and clearly classified into three: the Timeless (Nitya) , the Eternal (Śaśvat) , and the Time-bound you could call that Vyavahārik, Pratibhāsik, Māyāvī, KālabaddhaI … anything.

Purely, only the Truth is Sanatana. Sanatana refers to the timeless, that which is beyond time. Not even that which does not change in the course of time, but beyond time. Only the Truth really is Sanatana.

And what is the Truth? As we said, that is beyond time.

How do we know what is beyond time? We first need to know what is within time. All that the mind can think of, conceptualize, imagine, speak of, is within the realm of time. So, the Sanatana is really beyond the mind's reach. It is beyond the capacity of words to describe. That is Sanatana.

Now, why is that Sanatana topical, meaningful, significant at all? Because, as we are, as the mind is, it is constantly in need of, in search of something that is beyond itself. Anything in the world, in the grasp of the mind, simply fails to quench the mind, bring it to rest, and bring it to contentment. We said the mind is constantly in flux, the mind is constantly seeking and searching. So, that is Śaśvat , that is eternal.

That brings us to the second part of the classification. The first part was: the Truth alone is Nitya and Sanatana. The second is: throughout the flow of time, there is a certain thing that is constant. This constancy is the fundamental human tendency; it is the fundamental Vṛtti that we have. So, in a loose way, we could even say that the existence itself is Sanatana. But that would not be very correct; only the Truth is Sanatana.

And then there is the content of the mind, which is all time-bound. It rises one moment; it falls the next moment.

Now, these three exist. We live, we experience, mostly that which is time-bound—attractions, repulsions, desires, likes, dislikes, happiness, sorrow, attainment, loss—we live in all that; all that is time-bound. Most people fail to see beyond things that are a product of time. We are so enamored by them, so captivated by them, so absorbed, so obsessed in our daily events, that it becomes very difficult to look beyond them.

So, the first thing, if one wants peace, which is the objective of Dharma, is to see what is constant. What is constant? Our restlessness is constant, our search is constant. And what are we searching for? We are searching for something that is beyond us. So, what then is Sanatana Dharma? Dharma asks: What to do? How to live? Who am I? And hence, what should I do?—That's Dharma. Sanatana Dharma implies your only job, your only task or responsibility, is to look for that which is beyond you. That is Sanatana Dharma. Nothing else should concern you. And hence, only these two entities really matter—the Truth, which is the destination of the seeker; and the seeking, which is a constant in the flow of time.

What keeps changing? The modes and methods of seeking, the colors keep changing, the scenes keep changing, and the sounds. The background remains constant.

It's as if we are asking for something without knowing what we are asking for. Therefore, we keep asking for it in a thousand unconscious ways. The first step in the Dharmik process is to recognize that irrespective of what we are doing, we are asking for just one thing. And the second step is to see that the one thing that we are asking for is not a thing within time. In fact, it is not a thing at all. That is Sanatana Dharma.

To understand that irrespective of the period of time we are living in, the mind has remained the same. Its fundamental tendency is unaltered, and its fundamental tendency is to seek liberation from itself. That is a constant.

Fifty-thousand years back, five-thousand years back, five-hundred years back, today, and five-hundred years into the future, the human tendency, the fundamental "I" tendency, the fundamental ‘‘ego’’, ‘’the mother ego’’ tendency, would always be asking for contentment and fullness, a closure, an ending, a final rest; a final rest in the Sanatana. So, that is Sanatana Dharma—doing only that which will take you beyond yourself, beyond time, beyond your dissatisfaction, discontentment, restlessness—That is Sanatana Dharma.

Therefore, what cannot be Sanatana Dharma? Anything that asks you to take a piece of time-bound concept as the Truth cannot be Sanatana. Anything, for example, any religion that starts with saying that you have to believe in such and such things if you want to be called a good follower of this religion, that cannot be Sanatana. Because beliefs are all within the mind, and that which is Nitya , Sanatana is beyond the mind.

Within the mind, there is obviously so much, an entire universe, but that's of no point because all that is within the mind, we have seen how it fails to satisfy the mind. So, if we come up with a belief and say that this belief is the truth and you believe in it, and you say that I surrender to it unconditionally, then that kind of thing just cannot be Sanatana.

Similarly, if one is simply following traditions in the name of Dharma, that cannot be Sanatana. Because traditions come and go; we have seen that. Rituals come and go; we have seen that. That is what separates Sanatana Dharma from so many other so-called religious streams. They might be religious, but they are not Sanatana. Because their allegiance, their devotion, their loyalty, is not towards something that is beyond the mind. They are trying to give a high place, a lot of value and respect to stuff that is very much within the mind. And when you do that, that might console you, that might even satisfy you for a while, that might help a small or large group of people to organize below the umbrella of a shared belief. But that kind of a thing is not timeless, let alone eternal. It is not Sanatana.

So, Sanatana Dharma, therefore, is very simple. It concerns itself only with two: one, that is beyond time; and the second, that which occupies all of time, irrespective of the point of time one is located, or situated, or present in; irrespective of age, or gender, or nationality, or economic status. There is something common in all of us, and that commonality is not really the Truth; it is rather the presence of that which is seeking the Truth.

Though we do not, in a very obvious way, in a very professed way, seek the Truth, we rather seek peace. It's just that we often do not know that there can be no peace without Truth. If you ask people what you want, they'll say, ‘We are stressed out, we need some relaxation, we want peace.’ Hardly anybody wants the Truth, though the fact is that you cannot have real peace without Truth. Peace that is not founded on Truth proves to be very harmful.

So, that is Sanatan Dharma: to constantly move towards that which will take you beyond yourself because within yourself there is no peace. That is Sanatan Dharma.

So, how is Sanatan Dharma related to Vedanta? Vedanta talks exactly of these two only and has no place for miscellaneous stuff. There is the mind and there is the Truth. The mind is referred to in myriad ways; the Truth too is sometimes called the Self, sometimes called Brahm, sometimes called Nitya . But it is very-very clear, irrespective of the breadth of Vedantic literature, that only these two are really present there.

Vedanta does not concern itself with community or identities of various kinds or rituals or practices which is very interesting, because the Vedic corpus starts with Anushṭhāna . Anushṭhāna meaning practice, ritual, karmakāṇḍa , a lot of that. That's how the Vedas start in the Mantra part, in the Saṃhitā part. And then as they journey through the Brahmans, the Āraṇyakas , and finally the Upanishads are reached, what you find is a total absence of prescribed action. There is no emphasis at all on do's and don'ts, on commandments, on worshiping in a certain way, on sacrifices, nothing. All of that is just gone by the time we come to the Upanishads. All that is left is a very relentless, very austere, very pure investigation into the Truth by the mind. Only these two entities remain—the Truth and the mind.

Mind stuff is discarded as trivial. So, Truth—Sanatan, Nitya , Timeless. Mind— Śaśvat , Eternal. And what is discarded is—mind stuff, Kālabaddha , Time-bound.

No heed, no respect is paid to what you think of, what your feelings are, what you are attached to, what you like, what you do not like, where you come from, how much money you have, how much knowledge you have, what's your gender, which community do you hail from—all these things are just kept aside. That is Vedanta.

Therefore, you would see that what we call as Sanatana Dharma is nothing but Vedanta itself. One cannot be Sanatani if one is not a Vedanti. Without Vedanta, there would be the Sanatana, obviously. The Sanatana is not dependent on anything, totally unconditional. But there would be no Sanatana Dharma.

The Sanatana is unconditional, but Dharma is for man to tread, and Vedanta suggests the Dharma that would carry man to Sanatana. So, Sanatana Dharma is de facto Vedanta itself. Vedanta—the summit of the Vedic literature, the very essence, the juice, the nectar of the Vedas. That is Sanatan Dharam.

I repeat, even as we talk on what Sanatana Dharma is, it is extremely important to realize, negate, and reject what Sanatana Dharma is not. Because unfortunately, in the Hindu fold, there is a lot going on in the name of Sanatana Dharma.

As someone who respects the Vedas, as someone who is absolutely in love with Vedanta, I clarify here that Vedanta does not concern itself with what we believe in. Culture, or civilization, or ways of thinking, or ways of life, or this or that—Vedanta absolutely dismisses them. It says only that is to be accepted or retained which helps you move into the Truth. All else is just a burden on the already fatigued mind, so, please drop it. That is Vedanta—pure and simple Sanatana Dharma.

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