Mahabharata (Hinduism) – What is Sanatana Dharma Philosophy?
Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Loosely translated, Ahimsa means Non-violence, paramo means topmost, ultimate, or supreme, and dharma means duty. Thus, the entire phrase means that non-violence is the topmost duty to the extent that it supersedes all other duties. For someone who holds this true, it means that there is no selective application of ahimsa…it must be applied in every case and in all matters. This universal sense leads to an unconditional and unilateral abandonment of violent resistance, under any and all circumstances (as in the philosophy of Buddhists and Jains).
Ahimsa is only loosely translated as non-violence. Unlike the English word ‘non-violence’ (which is absolute in its meaning), ahimsa means non-violence in a relative sense. There are times when violence can also be considered ahimsa if that violence is used to stop greater violence. For example, a king should always raise his rod of chastisement to keep peace and order in his country. He will fail in the discharge of his duty if he does not punish the wicked, and his country will be in a state of utter chaos. To hang a murderer is Ahimsa for a king. To kill a man who is taking away the lives of many is Ahimsa. A real Sannyasin, however, should not defend himself even when his life is in danger. A Sannyasin is one who doesn’t associate with his body, instead identifying himself with the Atman. .
The statement, taken in full context and meaning within Sanatana Dharma as is applicable to most people is
Ahimsa paramo dharmaha,
dharma himsa tathaiva cha.
» Non-violence is the greatest principle of cosmic order,
so too is all righteous violence in service to cosmic order.
अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
Sanatana Dharma Philosophy
“The Protector of the Eternal Religion”
|अहिंसा परमो धर्मः
धर्म हिंसा तथीव च
|Ahimsa Paramo Dharma
Dharma himsa tathaiva cha
|Non-violence is the ultimate dharma. So too is violence in service of Dharma.|
The phrase “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” is mentioned several times in the Mahabharata. These instances are explained below:
The following extract is narrated by Sauti Muni talking about Rishi Sahasrapat telling Rishi Ruru about the characteristics of a brahamana.
|अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः सर्वप्राणभृतां समृतः
तस्मात पराणभृतः सर्वान न हिंस्याथ बराह्मणः कव चित
|ahimsā paramo dharmah sarvaprāmabhrth smrtah
tasmāt prānabhrtah sarvān na himsyād brāhmanah
|बराह्मणः सौम्य एवेह जायतेति परा शरुतिः
वेथवेथाङ्गवित तात सर्वभूताभय परथः
|brāhmanah saumya eveha jāyateti parā śrutih
vedavedāngavit tāta sarvabhūtābhaya pradah
|अहिंसा सत्यवचनं कषमा चेति विनिश्चितम
बराह्मणस्य परॊ धर्मॊ वेथानां धरणाथ अपि
|ahimsā satyavacanam ksamā ceti viniścitam
brāhmanasya paro dharmo vedānām dharanād api
|कषत्रियस्य तु यॊ धर्मः स नेहेष्यति वै तव
थण्डधारणम उग्रत्वं परजानां परिपालनम
|ksatriyasya tu yo dharmah sa nehesyati vai tava
dandadhāranam ugratvam prajānām paripālanam
|तथ इथं कषत्रियस्यासीत कर्म||tad idam ksatriyasyāsīt karma|
|Verily the highest virtue of man is sparing the life of others. Therefore a Brahmana should never take the life of any creature.
A Brahmana should be versed in the Vedas and Vedangas, and should inspire all creatures with belief in God.
He should be benevolent to all creatures, truthful, and forgiving, even as it is his paramount duty to retain the Vedas in his memory.
The duties of the Kshatriya are not thine. To be stern, to wield the sceptre and to rule the subjects properly are the duties of the Kshatriya.
In summary, he states that a brahmana should never take the life of any creature however, a kshatriya may do so as it may be required to ensure proper rule of law and order.
In the Vana Parva, Markandya Muni is narrating the discussion between a brahamana named Kausika and a poultry-monger named Dharmavyadha who lived in Mithila. The Kausika asks the fowler ‘How shall I know what is virtuous conduct.’ In answering, Dharmavyadha states that
|काललॊभ गरहाकीर्णां पञ्चेन्थ्रिय जलां नथीम
नावं धृतिमयीं कृत्वा जन्म थुर्गाणि संतर
करमेण संचितॊ धर्मॊ बुथ्धियॊगमयॊ महान
शिष्टाचारे भवेत साधू रागः शुक्लेव वाससि
|kālalobha grahākīrṇāṃ pañcendriya jalāṃ nadīm
nāvaṃ dhṛtimayīṃ kṛtvā janma durgāṇi saṃtara
krameṇa saṃcito dharmo buddhiyogamayo mahān
śiṣṭācāre bhavet sādhū rāgaḥ śukleva vāsasi
|Among holy men, virtue is differentiated in three ways–that great virtue which is inculcated in the Vedas, the other which is inculcated in the dharma shastra, and virtuous conduct And virtuous conduct is indicated by acquisition of knowledge, pilgrimage to sacred places, truthfulness, forbearance, purity and straight-forwardness|
|अहिंसा सत्यवचनं सर्वभूतहितं परम
अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मः स च सत्ये परतिष्ठितः
सत्ये कृत्वा परतिष्ठां तु परवर्तन्ते परवृत्तयः
|ahimsā satyavacanam sarvabhūtahitam param
ahimsā paramo dharmah sa ca satye pratisthitah
satye krtvā pratisthām tu pravartante pravrttayah
|Virtuous men are always kind to all creatures, and well-disposed towards regenerate men. They abstain from doing injury to any creature, and are never rude in speech. Those good men who know well the consequences of the fruition of their good and evil deeds, are commended by virtuous men.|
This particular quotation uses ahimsa in the sense of not doing injury to any creature and states that it is applied to ‘holy men’ who are typically defined to be ascetics and sometimes as brahamanas.
In the Anusasana Parva, Yudhisthira is asked by Lord Krishna to ask Bhishma any questions he may have as this will be his last opportunity to do so. Yudhisthira states that Bhishma has told him that ‘ahimsa paramo dharma’ and is asking about it in the context of conducting sraddha in which meat is offered.
|अहिंसा परमॊ धर्म इत्य उक्तं बहुशस तवया
शराथ्धेषु च भवान आह पितॄन आमिष काङ्क्षिणः
|ahimsā paramo dharma ity uktam bahuśas tvayā
śrāddhesu ca bhavān āha pitrn āmisa kānksinah
|Thou hast told it many times that abstention from injury is the highest religion. In Sraddhas, however, that are performed in honour of the Pitris, persons for their own good should make offerings of diverse kinds of meat.|
Yudhisthira asks how can killing be avoided if meat is to be offered in offering sraddha in honor of ancestors?
Bhishma answers by stating that absention from eating meat is a great sacrifice and provides many benefits. He goes on to state that
|परजानां हितकामेन तव अगस्त्येन महात्मना
आरण्याः सर्वथैवत्याः परॊक्षितास तपसा मृगाः
करिया हय एवं न हीयन्ते पितृथैवतसंश्रिताः
परीयन्ते पितरश चैव नयायतॊ मांसतर्पिताः
|prajānāṃ hitakāmena tv agastyena mahātmanā
āraṇyāḥ sarvadaivatyāḥ prokṣitās tapasā mṛgāḥ
kriyā hy evaṃ na hīyante pitṛdaivatasaṃśritāḥ
prīyante pitaraś caiva nyāyato māṃsatarpitāḥ
|Desirous of benefiting all men, the high-souled Agastya, by the aid of his penances, dedicated, once for all, all wild animals of the deer species to the deities. Hence, there is no longer any necessity of sanctifying those animals for offering them to the deities and the Pitris.|
After hearing his answer in full, Yudhisthira repeats his question “…O grandsire, what is flesh, of what substances it is, the merits that attach to abstention from it, and what the demerits are that attach to the eating of flesh.”
Bhishma again answers and concludes with “Hence, a person of cleansed soul should be compassionate to all living creatures…”
|अहिंसा परमॊ धर्मस तदाहिंसा परॊ थमः
अहिंसा परमं थानम अहिंसा परमस तपः
अहिंसा परमॊ यज्ञस तदाहिस्मा परं बलम
अहिंसा परमं मित्रम अहिंसा परमं सुखम
अहिंसा परमं सत्यम अहिंसा परमं शरुतम
सर्वयज्ञेषु वा थानं सर्वतीर्देषु चाप्लुतम
सर्वथानफलं वापि नैतत तुल्यम अहिंसया
अहिंस्रस्य तपॊ ऽकषय्यम अहिंस्रॊ यजते सथा
अहिंस्रः सर्वभूतानां यदा माता यदा पिता
एतत फलम अहिंसाया भूयश च कुरुपुंगव
न हि शक्या गुणा वक्तुम इह वर्षशतैर अपि
|ahimsā paramo dharmas tathāhimsā paro damah
ahimsā paramam dānam ahimsā paramas tapah
ahimsā paramo yajñas tathāhismā param balam
ahimsā paramam mitram ahimsā paramam sukham
ahimsā paramam satyam ahimsā paramam śrutam
sarvayajñesu vā dānam sarvatīrthesu cāplutam
sarvadānaphalam vāpi naitat tulyam ahimsayā
ahimsrasya tapo ‘ksayyam ahimsro yajate sadā
ahimsrah sarvabhūtānām yathā mātā yathā pitā
etat phalam ahimsāyā bhūyaś ca kurupumgava
na hi śakyā gunā vaktum iha varsaśatair api
|Abstention from cruelty is the highest Religion. Abstention from cruelty is the highest self-control. Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift. Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice. Abstention from cruelty is the highest puissance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest friend. Abstention from cruelty is the highest happiness. Abstention from cruelty is the highest truth. Abstention from cruelty is the highest Sruti. Gifts made in all sacrifices, ablutions performed in all sacred waters, and the merit that one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures,–all these do not come up to abstention from cruelty (in point of the merit that attaches to it). The penances of a man that abstains from cruelty are inexhaustible. The man that abstains from cruelty is regarded as always performing sacrifices. The man that abstains from cruelty is the father and mother of all creatures. Even these, O chief of Kuru’s race, are some of the merits of abstention from cruelty. Altogether, the merits that attach to it are so many that they are incapable of being exhausted even if one were to speak for a hundred years.”|
Here ahimsa is translated as abstention from cruelty in relation to killing for the sake of eating the flesh of the killed animal for personal pleasure. In essence, Bhishma is stating that it is very beneficial to be vegetarian because thereby there is no cruelty to animals.
In today’s age, it also implies that organic dairy products should be consumed instead of ‘regular’ dairy products : when the standards for animal care are low, the resulting food may be non-organic. For example, drinking milk from cows that are injected with growth hormones would be in violation of ahimsa, because it interferes with nature.
“Ahimsa paramo dharma” is not mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita as is frequently cited. The word Ahimsa is mentioned four times in the Gita.
|अथ चेत्त्वमिमं धर्म्यं संग्रामं न करिष्यसि
ततः स्वधर्मं कीर्तिं च हित्वा पापमवाप्स्यसि 
|atha cet tvam imaṃ dhārmyaṃ saṅgrāmaṃ na kariṣyasi
tataḥ svadharmaṃ kīrtiṃ ca hitvā pāpam avāpsyasi
|If, however, you do not fight this religious war, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter. |
Had the Lord said ‘Ahimsa paramo dharma’ than the war would have ended before it began because he would have effectively been stating that there is no need to fight because the greater dharma is non-violence.
“Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” can only be practiced by Sannyasins who tread the path of Nivritti Marga. It cannot be strictly practiced by householders. If someone enters the house and molests a lady, a householder cannot keep quiet. Similarly, in a war, a soldier cannot put down his weapons. In either case, practicing ahimsa would be adharma, not dharma. Similarly, a king must protect his subjects even if it requires violence to punish criminals or going to war with neighboring kingdoms if they attack.
Lord Krishna states:
|परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम्
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
|To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.|
The Lord clearly states that ahimsa, while highly regarded, is not the highest dharma for everyone and certainly not for Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
The Sanskrit word Dharma has no direct translation into English. Among other things, it can be thought of as righteousness in thought, word, and action. It comes from the root Dhr, which means to uphold, sustain, or uplift. Thus another interpretation of the word in English would be ‘the collection of natural and universal laws that uphold, sustain, or uplift.’ Ie. law of being; law of nature; individual nature; prescribed duty; social and personal duties; moral code; civil law; code of conduct; morality; way of life; practice; observance; justice; righteousness; religion; religiosity; harmony.
By Swami Harshananda
Adharma literally means ‘unrighteousness’.
Among the pairs of words used often in the scriptures, the pair ‘dharma– adharma’ is perhaps the most recurrent. Since the etymological definition of ‘dharma’ is ‘that which supports and sustains,’ all that attempts to destroy or oppose or reverse this process of supporting and sustaining comes within the purview of the word ‘adharma.’ If dharma is the straight path that leads to abhyudaya (well-being and prosperity) and niśśreyasa (spiritual perfection), adharma is the crooked path that leads away from both.
Dharma indicates actions and duties, ritualistic or otherwise, which are confirmed with the teachings of the śāstra and ācārya and is not antagonistic to sampradāya. While adharma stands for all the errors of omission and commission.
In practice however, the word is more frequently used in the sense of unrighteous deeds and conduct resulting in sin. For instance, telling lies, stealing, cheating, adultery and committing such other forbidden acts and crimes are adharma. Dereliction of duty and not discharging the responsibilities one is entrusted with, are adharma. Performing such acts as they are not prescribed for a person e.g., a brāhmaṇa taking to arms or agriculture even though there is no urgency or emergency—is also considered adharma.
The personified adharma is said to be a prajāpati son of Brahmā, have hiṅsā (violence) as his wife, anṛta (falsehood) to his son, and nikṛti (deceit) as his daughter. Māyā (delusion), bhaya (fear), vedanā (torment), naraka (hell), duhkha (sorrow) and mṛtyu (death) are the other off-springs in this lineage. Though the details of such lists may vary, the purport is clear :
“Adharma is at the root of all our fears, troubles and sufferings.”
In Jaina metaphysics, adharma is considered to be a dravya (substance) responsible for restful state and immobility of things.
Sanatana Dharma is is the original name of what is now popularly called Hinduism or Hindu Dharma. The terms Hindu and Hinduism are said to be a more recent development, while the more accurate term is Sanatana Dharma. It is a code of ethics, a way of living through which one may achieve moksha (enlightenment, liberation). It is the world’s most ancient culture and the socio, spiritual, and religious tradition of almost one billion of the earth’s inhabitants. Sanatana Dharma represents much more than just a religion; rather, it provides its followers with an entire worldview, way of life and with a coherent and rational view of reality.
See Hindu Dharma.
Sanatana Dharma is by its very essence a term that is devoid of sectarian leanings or ideological divisions. This is evident by the very term itself. The two words, “Sanatana Dharma”, come from the ancient Sanskrit language. “Sanatana” is a Sanskrit word that denotes that which which is Anadi (beginningless), Anantha (endless) and does not cease to be, that which is eternal and everlasting. With its rich connotations, Dharma is not translatable to any other language. Dharma is from dhri, meaning to hold together, to sustain. Its approximate meaning is “Natural Law,” or those principles of reality which are inherent in the very nature and design of the universe. Thus the term Sanatana Dharma can be roughly translated to mean “the natural, ancient and eternal way.”
When translated to English, Sanatana refer to Eternal, Perennial, Never Beginning nor Ending, Abiding, Universal, Ever-present, Unceasing, Natural, and Enduring while Dharma refers to Harmony, The Way, Righteousness, Compassion, Natural Law, Truth, Teachings, Tradition, Philosophy, Order, Universal, Flow, Religion, Wisdom, Divine Conformity, Cosmic Norm, Blueprint, Inherent Nature, Law of Being, and Duty.
What is Sanatana Dharma?
Sanatana Dharma do not denote to a creed like Christianity or Islam, but represents a code of conduct and a value system that has spiritual freedom as its core. Any pathway or spiritual vision that accepts the spiritual freedom of others may be considered part of Sanatana Dharma.
|Lord Sri Krishna Avatar of Lord Vishnu is teaching his disciples the ways of Sanatana Dharma.|
First and foremost, Sanatana Dharma is anadi (without beginning) and also a-paurusheya (without a human founder). It is defined by the quest for cosmic truth, just as the quest for physical truth defines science. Its earliest record is the Rigveda, which is the record of ancient sages who by whatever means tried to learn the truth about the universe, in relations to Man’s place in relation to the cosmos. They saw nature — including all living and non-living things — as part of the same cosmic equation, and as pervaded by a higher consciousness. This search has no historical beginning; nor does it have a historical founder. This is not to say that the Rigveda always existed as a literary work. It means that we cannot point to a particular time or person in history and say: “Before this man spoke, what is in the Rigveda did not exist.”
The Nature of Sanatana Dharma
By its nature, Sanatana Dharma is…
- God-centered rather than prophet-centered.
- Experience based rather than belief based.
- Beyond any historical date of founding.
- The process of growth, which comes from the seed.
- Inherent in, and inclusive of all.
- In the world, while above the world.
- Both immanent and transcendent.
- The whole and the parts.
- Loving of all and excluding of none.
- Sanatana Dharma recognizes that the greater portion of human religious aspiration has always been unknown, undefined, and outside of any institutionalized belief.
- The universal flow of Dharma, regardless of what name you call it, whether Dharma or some other name, has eternally existed. It has been before any of the great teachers were born. It is not better than, or alternative to, but is inclusive of all. Dharma is that out of which our earth and humanity itself emerged. Dharma not only is, but always was, and always will be. To live in alignment with, and to know the true nature of that Sanatana Dharma is one of the ways of describing the higher goal of life.
- Sanatana Dharma thereby gives reverence to individual spiritual experience over any formal religious doctrine. Wherever the Universal Truth is manifest, there is Sanatana Dharma — whether it is in a field of religion, art or science, or in the life of a person or community. Wherever the Universal Truth is not recognized, or is scaled down and limited to a particular group, book or person, even if done so in the name of God, there Sanatana Dharma ceases to function, whatever the activity is called.
- Sanatana Dharma comprises of spiritual laws which govern the human existence. Sanatana Dharma is to human life what natural laws are to the physical phenomena. Just as the phenomena of gravitation existed before it was discovered, the spiritual laws of life are eternal laws which existed before they were discovered by the ancient rishis (sages) for the present age during the Vedic period. Sanatana Dharma declares that something cannot come out of nothing and, therefore, the universe itself is the manifestation of the Divine being.
- Since Sanatana Dharma is referring to those ways of being which are in concert with the Absolute, and are therefore axiomatic laws, this term is not referring to something which is open to alteration. Just as the laws of gravity, mathematics or logic are not open to sectarian debate or relative opinion (gravity, for example, is an inherent law of nature regardless of whether one believes in the law of gravity or not), similarly the subtle laws of God transcend all partisan concerns.
- The world is made up of three tendencies called gunas: sattvic, rajasic, and tamasic. Sattvic tendencies are those that are pure, clean, good, wholesome, calming, and peaceful. Rajasic tendencies are those that are active, moving, indecisive, and forceful. Tamasic tendencies are those that are inert, lazy, dull, and dark. If it were not for these three tendencies, we would not exist. Everything is a mixture of them. Even a saint, who is primarily sattvic, has some level of rajas and tamas in him/her, however small.
- Sanatan Dharma makes use of yoga as the means to attain moksha (God-realization). Yoga has been poorly translated to mean “union”. It does mean “union”, but that is a poor definition because it encompasses so much more. Yoga is the union with Brahman (Absolute God). Yoga is also the means to achieving union with Brahman. Therefore, the word yoga is not merely a statement of union, but it encompasses the actual experience of liberation.