(Sanātan Dharma, Mānav Dharma or Hinduism)
Arun J. Mehta
श्री गणेशाय नमः
(Sanātan Dharma, Mānav Dharma or Hinduism)
Arun J. Mehta
Dr. B. V. K. Sastry
International Vedic Hindu University, Florida, USA.
Distributed free to anyone who is genuinely interested in reading about Vedic Dharma.
Why write a book on ‘Vedic Dharma’?
“It is already becoming clear that a chapter that has a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race…At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation is the ancient Hindu way. Here we have the attitude and spirit that can make it possible for the human race to grow together into a single family.”
Arnold Joseph Toynbee (1889-1975)
For some time I have been sending short e-mails to my friends and relatives about our culture. Now I would like to share this with wider audience through this booklet.
I am not an expert in this field and am grateful to Dr. B. V. K. Sastry of International Vedic Hindu University, Florida, USA for very helpful suggestions. He went over the draft for accuracy. I also appreciate comments and suggestions by my wife, Lila Mehta and daughter Angana Shroff. I have tried to present this material in language simple enough so that a busy high school or university student can understand.
In Vedic tradition knowledge is given free to all deserving students interested in learning. There is nothing original in this booklet. Hence there are no copy rights.
All Sanskrut words are in italics. Plural version of Sanskrut words e.g. Vedas, is written with – before ‘s’, like Veda-s. Ā & ā are pronounced as ‘bark’. European spelling of Sanskrut words are written in parenthesis as (Sanskrit). Attempt is made to spell Sanskrut words as they are spoken in Sanskrut.
Table of Contents
2. ‘Vedic’ ‘Sanātan’ or ‘Mānav’ Dharma
3. Origin of word ‘Hindu’
5. Essence of our Culture
6. Goals or Purpose in Life
7. Our Basic Beliefs
8. Important Values
9. How can we preserve our cultural heritage?
11. Four Stages of Life
12. Four Pillars of the Society
13. Four Paths
14. Different Methods Prescribed for Personal Evolution
15. Three Gunās
17. Viveka Buddhi
18. Yathā Yogyam Tathā Kuru
19. App. I – Some Interesting Quotes about India
20. App. II – Great Reformers of India – A Timeline
The word “Dharma” has no equivalent word in English. It takes many English words to describe Dharma. The word ‘religion’ is commonly used but a religion is a specific system of institutionalized faith or worship. “Sanātan Dharma” or “Mānav Dharma” is not a religion but a way of life. Everything we do in life, including eating and sleeping, is done according to dharma.
The word Dharma is derived from the root word “Dhri” which means to hold together or support in Sanskrut. Dharma supports or holds together everyone and everything. Dharma is also described as ‘duty’ – one’s duty towards herself, her family, community, country, and the world. Knowledge about Dharma – what is right and wrong – will help guide us through our lives. This knowledge should be taught when a child is very young and not at the end of life, during retirement or on deathbed. It is too late to know how to lead a life when we have gone through most of it.
Dharma is the universal code of behavior towards all living creatures and nonliving things. It is in the best interest of all and includes all the virtues like truth, nobility, justice, nonviolence, compassion, faith, duty, modesty, steadfastness, control over senses, loyalty, honesty, etc. Dharma is also absence of negative tendencies like selfishness, lust, greed, envy, anger, arrogance, etc. A life according to Dharma is necessary for success in meditation. Dharma sustains and supports life in general, and helps to hold the community together.
2. ‘Vedic’, ‘Sanātan’ or ‘Mānav’ Dharma
Sanātan and Mānav are two Sanskrut words used for our Dharma.
‘Sanātan = Eternal. A Dharma that has been there from the beginning or one that has no beginning or end.
Dharma = Code of Ethics, Code of Behavior, Religion, virtues, beliefs, moral obligations, traditions, righteous actions that sustain and support life, and hold community together.
Sanātan Dharma = Dharma or code of ethics which has always existed.
Mānav = Man (includes woman).
Mānav Dharma = Religion or Code of Ethics, or Code of Behavior for the Mankind.
Dharma has two parts – 1. Sāmānya Dharma – duties that are common to all people.
2. Vishesha Dharma – is special duties of husband, wife, child, student, teacher, farmer, business person, king, soldier, etc.
All these duties are described in ancient Indian literature.
What happens when “Dharma” is not followed? There are many examples in history of societies and civilizations that have fallen apart. Even today we can see so many individuals, communities, countries wasting their resources after unethical projects and leading their families & people to disaster.
3. Origin of word ‘Hindu’
The word ‘Hindu’ is not found in the Veda-s, the ancient scriptures of India. People living along the river Sindhu were called ‘Hindus’ by foreign invaders who probably had trouble pronouncing the letter ‘S’. River Sindhu flows from Himalaya mountain in the North and through North Western part of what was India. Most of the foreign invaders came to India from the North-West. The religion followed by these people was called “Hinduism” by the foreigners. This is similar to how the aboriginal people of North America were called ‘Indians’ by Europeans who were looking for ‘India’ and when they first arrived in America thought they were in India.
The original people of India were called Āryan-s or the ‘noble ones’ and the country was ‘Āryavarta’. The Āryan-s did not come from anywhere but had lived there for millennia and had developed a well advanced civilization. Other names for their religion were – Sanātan Dharma (eternal religion), Vaidika Dharma (religion of the Vedas), Ārya Dharma (religion of the Ãryans), or Mānav Dharma (religion of mankind). The name of the country ‘India’ was also coined by foreigners. The Indian names for India are ‘Āryavarta’ (the land of Āryan-s) or ‘Bhāratvarsha’ (the land of king Bharat).
a. “The Essence of Hinduism” by M. K. Gandhi. Compiled and edited by V. B. Kher. Pub. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1987.
Culture has been defined in different ways. In “Foundations of Indian Culture”, K. M. Munshi has defined culture as:
“It is a characteristic way of life inspired by fundamental values expressed through art, religion, literature, social institutions and behaviour”.
It may also include education, scientific and technological advances, customs of the people, and the way in which people interact with each other and live in a society.
He mentions that the ‘Indian’ culture is one of the very few cultures that has continuously survived for quite a few millennia inspite of multiple invasions, brutal occupations by foreigners, and systematic attempts to destroy it. Very little of the original Egyptian, Babylonian, Syrian, Persian, Incas, or Mayan culture is visible now.
How did it survive in India? It was the unique system of dividing the society into four classes with assigned duties for education, defence, trade, and service (Varnāshram); maintainance of family traditions; and a system of ‘Gurukula’ schools that helped maintain the knowledge and culture in India. Initially this (Varnāshram) was not a rigid system but depended on the capability of the individual. As time went by this system became very rigid.
Knowledge of one’s cultural heritage is important for one’s self-esteem. When people loose their self-esteem and self- respect, they do not do well in life. It is very important for the welfare of our future generations that they learn the positive aspects of our culture and heritage.
a. “Foundations of Indian Culture” by K. M. Munshi. Pub. Bharatiys Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, 1988.
5. Essence of our Culture
We can not possibly learn and pass on to our children all that can be included in our ‘culture’. All of us may not agree what is essential and what is not. The choice lies with the individual.
Our culture shows us how to live our life whether we are in India or North America or any where else. It is therefore important to teach our children and grandchildren at the earliest age about their culture and heritage before their brains are filled with negative ideas about our ‘culture’. Second reason for preserving cultural heritage is for the children to grow up having positive self-esteem, a good feeling about thmselves. If children know that they are coming from a good, strong, and stable background they will have the confidence to handle any situation and do well in life. If children learn at an early age that their culture, heritage, ancestors, were of inferior quality or that ‘they will burn in hell for eternity’ because of their religion then they are likely to have many problems.
“if all the Upanishads and all other scriptures happened all of a sudden to be reduced to ashes, and if only the first verse in the ‘Ishopanishad’ were left intact in the memories of Hindus, Hinduism will live for ever”
M. K. Gandhi, Harijan, 30-1-1937, p. 403-4.
“ॐ Ishãvãsya-idam sarvam yat-kincha jagatyãm jagat
Tena tyaktena bhunjithã mã grudah kasyasviddhanam”
God lives in all this, the universe.
Enjoy what He gives you. Do not steal wealth of others.
This shlolaka was composed more than 6,000 years ago. For all the scriptures, full credit was given to the Lord and were called it His revelation.
The Essence of Hinduism by M. K. Gandhi
Isãvãsya Upanishad by Swami Chinmayananda
Sri Isopanishad by Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupãda
The first part of the first shloka of ‘Ishopanishada’ tells us that ‘God lives in everything’ (in this universe). If we accept that there is an ‘energy’ that forms the basis of all that exists in the universe, a ‘force’ that keeps us alive, something that can not be described nor can it be experienced by our senses (touch, smell, sight, hearing, and taste), ‘which’ can be addressed by any name or imagined to take up any form, and ‘that’ which has no beginning or an end (definition of God) THEN:
The Vedic values, Yama-s and Niyama-s will be easier to understand and accept.
|1. Satya (Truth)||1. Mati (Discriminative intelligence)|
|2. Ahimsa (Nonviolence)||2. Tapa (Disciplined effort)|
|3. Brahmacharya (mastery over all senses)||3. Santosha (Contentment)|
|4. Asteya (Nonstealing)||4. Svādhyāya (Listening to and study of scriptures)|
|5. Mitāhara (Moderation in appetite)||5. Dāna (Charity)|
|6. Dhriti (Steadfast)||6. Japa (Repetition of Mantra)|
|7. Dayā (Compassion)||7. Āstikya (Faith)|
|8. Arjava (Honesty)||8. Ishwarapuja (Worship)|
|9. Kshamā (Forgiveness)||9. Vrata (Vows)|
|10. Shaucha (Cleanliness of body and mind)||10. Hri (Remorse)|
6. Goals or Purpose in Life
“Our plans miscarry because they have no aims. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.’
Our shāstra-s mention four goals in life:
- Kāma (desire) – fulfilling desires to satisfy senses e.g. thirst, hunger, sex, etc. These are common to all in the animal kingdom.
- Artha (wealth) – earning money to buy food, shelter, etc. This goal is considered higher than Kāma because it is not found in animal kingdom.
- Dharma – Kāma and Artha are achieved according to Dharma. It is higher than both of them.
- Moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death or merging of Ātmā (soul) with Paramātmā (God). This is the highest goal in life. All activities in the fields of Kāma and Artha give temporary pleasure. Moksha is permanent bliss. According to Vedanta all human beings and even animals can achieve this goal. One does not have to pray to a specific ‘God’ or belong to a specific religious sect.
Pranavah dhanuhu sharah hee ātmā
Pranava (mantra ॐ) is the bow, ātmā is the arrow
Brahma tat lakshyam uchyate
Brahman (God, Paramātmā) is the target (goal)
(With) steady (hand and focused mind) hit (the target)
Shara-vat tanmayah bhavet.
And like the arrow (ātmā) become one with the target (Brahman).
- “The Essentials of Hinduism” by Swami Bhaskarananda
- “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism” by Linda Johnsen
- “Mudakopnisad” translation and commentary by Swami Chinmayananda.
7. Our Basic Beliefs
Hindus believe in many things – from one all pervading God to many Gods and even no God. All views are accepted. Everyone has the freedom to choose and nobody is permanently denied Moksha (salvation). Following beliefs are some of the important ones:
a. Ātmā (Self, soul, Jivātmā) and Paramātmā (Brahman, God)
The force or energy that keeps us alive is called Ātmā. Our body becomes life-less when it leaves our body. This energy can not be damaged or destroyed. It is the same in all living things. Paramātmā is the ocean of life-force from which all Ātmā-s originate. After a process of evolution, all Āatmā-s merge with Paramātmā (God). God can be worshiped in any form they wish to give Him or Her, any name he / she wants to call Her / Him / It. All prayers are heard by one and the same Supreme Reality (God).
Literal meaning of Karma is action. However, Karma in scriptures includes the intentions behind the action, the means used in performing the action and the consequences of that action (Karma-phala). The ‘action’ is good if the intention is unselfish and methods used are nonviolent. We do not have any control over what follows the ‘action’ (the consequences). Every act or even a thought has similar consequences. We have choice only over our intentions and the means used to perform any action. ‘Good’ thoughts and ‘good’ actions have ‘good’ consequences. If we do something for others with good intentions and without expecting anything in return for ourselves, good things will eventually happen to us. It is essential that we analyze our intentions continuously, do our best, work hard, perceiver, and leave the results to Him.
c. Punarjanma (Rebirth)
“Vāsānsi jirnāni yathā vihāya
Just as we discard old clothes
Navāni gruhnāti naroparāni
Man takes new (clothes)
Tathā sharirāni vihāya jirnāni
In the same way (we) discard old bodies
Anyāni samyāti navāni dehi.
(And we) obtain new bodies.
Bhagawad Gitā, II. 22.
We believe that the soul leaves the body at the time of death and takes up another body (reincarnates). We are all evolving spiritually and take many births until all our desires are fulfilled and karma-s resolved. Then our ātmā (soul) merges with Paramātmā (Brahman, God) and attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death (Moksha). Everyone, even animals, is entitled to moksha.
If at the time of death we have any unfulfilled desire or unresolved karma then we take birth in a new body. We are born in a family and under circumstances according to our unresolved karmas and unfulfilled desires. This gives us the opportunity to progress spiritually.
8. Important Values
Satya (truth), Ahimsa (nonviolence), and Brahmacharya (discipline, self-control) are some of the important values for people who follow Mānav Dharma.
Satyen labhyah tapasā hee eshah
Samyak-gnānena brahmacharyena nityam
(The Self) is attained through constant practice of truth, self-discipline, and (life according to) the right knowledge (the highest wisdom, Dharma)
Antah-sharire jyotirmayah hee shubhrah
Yam pashhyanti yatayah kshina-doshaha.
(A person,) who has reduced all his faults (impurities) to the minimum (and purified himself), sees the luminous Self within himself.
Mundakopnishad, III.i.5 in commentary by Swami Chinmayananda
1. Satya (Truth)
The official seal of India says:
Satyam eva jayate.
Truth (Satya) only prevails.
There are three meanings of the word ‘truth’:
a. The dictionary meaning of truth is ‘what is real’.
b. Second meaning of truth is ‘when our speech and actions are the same as our thoughts’.
c. In Veda-s ‘Truth’ means what is real today, what was the same yesterday, a hundred years ago, and even a billion years ago, what will be the same tomorrow, a hundred years from today, and even a billion years from now. In other words, some thing that does not change over time. That ‘Truth’ is changeless, beginningless, endless, Paramātmā (God, the Supreme Power).
The first two (a & b) are to be practiced. The third one is a goal to be achieved. Different meanings of ‘Truth’ can cause confusion.
Satyam bruyāt, priyam bruyāt, na bruyāt satyam, apriyam.
Priyam cha nānutrum bruyād, esha dharmah sanātanah.
Speak the truth. Say (use) pleasant (words). Do not tell the truth in unpleasant words.
Do not say pleasant but untrue (words). This is the Sanātana Dharma.
Manu Smruti, IV.138
Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. If we believe in ‘Ishā vāsya idam sarvam’ (God lives in all), how can we cheat anyone who has God within him by telling untruth?
2. Ahimsā (nonviolence)
‘Ahimsā paramo dharma’
Nonviolence is the supreme dharma.
If we believe in ‘Ishā vāsya idam sarvam’ (God lives in all), how can we hurt anyone?
Nonviolence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.
Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931), American inventor
The practice of ahimsā includes not harming anyone in our thoughts, by words, or by our actions. We can see all over the world that once the cycle of violence is started it is very difficult to control. Ahimsā and universal love go together. However, the greatest practitioner of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi, said that:
“My creed of non-violence is an extremely active force. It has no room for cowardice or even weakness. There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward. I have, therefore, said more than once…..that if we do not know how to defend ourselves, our women and our places of worship by the force of sufferings, i.e., non-violence, we must, if we are men, be at least able to defend all these by fighting.”
Mahatma Gandhi, Young India, 16 June 1927
‘Ahimsā paramo dharma, dharma himsā cha.’
Nonviolence is the supreme dharma, violence according to (the rules of) dharma (is a duty) too.
3. Brahmacharya (self-discipline)
Brahmacharya means search for Brahman or moving towards Brahman, the changeless, beginning less, endless, God. It can also mean moving around in the field of Brahman or behavior of some one who wants to attain Brahman.
Brahmacharya is learnt during first 25 years of life and practiced all through the life. The main goal during this stage of life is to learn. To achieve this we give up all the comforts and pleasures of life and concentrate only on our studies. This training is like a ride in a hot air balloon. To go up you need to get rid of all unnecessary baggage and just carry what is absolutely necessary. The student learns to control all his/her senses (taste, smell, touch, vision and hearing).
It does not mean that later on in life, we do not enjoy good food or relationship between husband and wife but we try not to become slaves of these enjoyments and forget our duties or the ultimate goal in life. The adults are expected to control all their senses because of their training during Brahmacharyāshram and set a good example for their children.
“Brahmacharya…means not suppression of one or more senses but complete mastery over them all…..Conquest means using them as my slaves.”
Mahatma Gandhi in Bapu’s Letters to Mira: p.257
In computer jargon, it is ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If we put in wrong data, the computer will give us wrong results. We cannot expect anything good to come out of our mouths and in our actions if we put a lot of ‘garbage’ in to our minds through our eyes and ears (watching certain movies, listening to certain music, or reading trashy books, etc).
“Brahmacharya…..is purity not merely of body but of both speech and thought also.”
Mahatma Gandhi in Harijan: February 29, 1936
9. How can we preserve our cultural heritage?
“Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
a. Learn, Practice, and Teach. We, adults, have to set a good example by learning about our heritage and culture and put it in practice.
b. Enroll children in Balvihar classes (Sunday schools that teach our languages, heritage, and culture).
c. Pray or recite shloka-s in the early morning, evening and before meals.
d. Read Indian classics like Rāmāyana, Mahābharat, Bhagawad Gitā, etc. to children.
e. Speak and teach one Indian language.
f. There are many CDs of devotional music available. Expose children to these at home or while driving to school or on trips. Teach children to sing classical or devotional Indian music.
g. Bhāratnātyam dance is based on our heritage. Encourage children to learn Bhāratnātyam.
h. Perform simple Puja at home and explain the meaning of the ceremony. Celebrate festivals and observe various Samskāra-s. Visit a local temple.
i. Select healthy recipes, cook and eat nutritious Indian food. Most of our spices in moderation and our dishes are being accepted as healthy alternatives to Western diet.
j. Raise children with love and open lines of communication. Treat little children like God with lots of love until they are four or five years old. Get them to help in household chores from age three and as long as they are living with you, and when they are 16 years old treat them like a friend.
The word Vedānta is derived from the Sanskrut root word vid, which means to know or learn. Veda means (sacred) knowledge. There are four Veda-s: Roog, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva. The knowledge of Veda-s is timeless. The end (anta) portion of Veda-s is called Vedānta (Ved + anta). Vedānta is also called Upanishad-s.
Veda-s were revealed to rooshi-s during meditation thousands of years ago. The Upanishad-s are declarations of the highest spiritual truths and a guide for ‘How to live your life’. Most of us ask our children to read Bhagawad Gitā when we are on the deathbed. It is like reading the instruction manual for a super computer when we are ready to throw it in a junk yard. Bhagawad Gitā is the cream of the Upanishad-s. Pearls of wisdom are also found in Rāmāyan, Mahābhārat, Bhāgavat Purān, etc.
1. “Sreemad Bhagawad Geeta” by Swami Chinmayananda. Pub. Central Chinmaya Mission Trust.
2. “The Bhagavad Gita” by Eknath Easwaran. Pub. Niligiri Press.
3. “The Teaching of the Gita” by M. K. Gandhi. Pub. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.
4. “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Hinduism” by Linda Johnsen. Pub. Alpha.
11. Four Stages of Life
Fortunately, for us our wise sages of ancient times had come up with a master plan for the whole life so that people will not loose sight of what they were supposed to do through different stages of life. There was no reason to have midlife crisis on 40th or 50th birthday or when children leave home for University. Life was divided in four stages or Āshram-s and definite duties ascribed to each stage.
The first stage of life is called Brahmacharyāshram. It is up to the age of 25 years. The main goal of this stage is to gain knowledge and practice self-discipline (Tapa). Everyone devotes her/his time and energies to studying. In the olden days, young children (boys and girls) used to live with their Guru or teacher. The guru and his wife would look after them, feed them, and teach them – treat them same as their own children. The students had to memorize all the knowledge taught by the guru and recite it when asked. There were no books, no fancy libraries, TV, or computers with CD-ROM and internet. This period was devoted to learning scriptures, literature, arts, math, and sciences.
Duties of a Student
The students respected their guru and gurupatni (guru’s wife) and followed all their instructions. The guru, his family, and all the students lived a very simple life without any complaints. The students helped in various chores including feeding and cleaning guru’s cows. They all worked hard, ate simple food, lived a very simple life, and concentrated on their studies. Even princes and sons of rich people were treated the same as other students. They gave up pleasures of all sense organs (taste, touch, smell, etc.). There was great emphasis on developing noble character (becoming an Āryan). This helped the student lead a life of self-discipline. There was no time to think about boy friend or girl friend, or worry about ‘who will go with me on the Prom night’.
Duties of a Teacher
The guru’s responsibility was to guide his students with love, kindness and affection 1000 times more than a father. He had the patience to remove all doubts even if he had to answer the same question a hundred times. The teacher lived by the highest moral, ethical, cultural, and spiritual values and the students learnt these by listening, observation, and practicing them in their own life. In Vedantic tradition the teacher did not ask for any money for his services. The king and voluntary contributions by the wealthy in the community supported the guru.
Today some studies go on well beyond the age of 25 years, e.g. Medicine. If you decide to enter the next stage of life – Gruhasthāshram – before finishing your studies, then you may have to think about all the consequences. One needs to consider his/her individual circumstances and decide. If you look around you may see 18 or 20 year olds getting married. Talk to them and see how difficult it becomes to study. Rarely a supportive husband or wife can make a lot of difference. Usually people are distracted from their studies because of increased responsibilities of family life.
The graduation speech by the guru outlines the duties of the next stage of life Gruhasthāshram (the householder).
Atha yat tapo dānam ārjavam ahimsā,
Satyavachanam iti tā asya dakshinā.
Chāndogya Upanishada, 3.17.4
The practice of disciplined effort, charity, ethical behavior, nonviolence, speaking the truth (by the graduates is the best) guru dakshina (payment to teachers).
Another graduation speech from Taittiriya Upanishad, I.9 is as follows:
Practice what is right. (Live according to Dharma.) Study the scriptures and teach them too.
Live up to the ideals learnt in Gurukula (boarding school). Let the speech and actions be the same as the ideals accepted by the mind & intellect.
Personal sacrifice and disciplined effort are required of the householder.
The householder has complete control over his senses.
He works for peace and prosperity of the family and the community.
Fire signifies knowledge. Fire in the kitchen is necessary for preparing food. The householder works so that there is food in the house and knowledge in the family and community.
Daily puja (worship) is performed by the family as a reminder of the Dharma.
Guests are welcomed with warmth and treated generously.
Take care of the needs of the community, country, and the world.
Bringing children up is a major time consuming duty of the husband & wife.
In the olden days when world population was not a problem, having children was one of the duties too.
Protection of women, the weak, the elderly, and the country is also the duty of able-bodied adults.
1. Discourses on Taittiriya Upanishad by Swami Chinmayananda
After the age of 25, men and women get married, have children and earn money to support the family and the community. This stage of life is called “Gruhasthāshram”. It is a time for selfless service (Yagna). Needs of the family are taken care of first and then it is extended to friends, community, and the country. The husband and wife are expected to love and respect each other. Their major responsibility is to bring up children who have noble (Āryan) characteristics and who in turn will become good citizens.
Yatra Nāryastu pujyante ramante tatra devatāhā
Yatraitāstu na pujyante sarvāstatrāphalāhā kriyāha
Gods rejoice where women are respected.
Nothing succeeds where women are not respected.
Manu Smruti, 3.56
Wealth is acquired and spent according to Dharma. Support of children, elderly, and the community is also the duty of people in this stage of life. Teachers are given the greatest respect and supported by generous contributions. Dāna (charity) is given to deserving poor. Any free time is spent in keeping up Abhyāsa (study) of scriptures and Satsanga (good company).
The next stage of life is “Vānprasthāshram”. This starts at the age of 50 years and goes up to 75. Main goal of this stage is Svādhyāya or serious study of scriptures and preparing for the ultimate goal in life – which is union (Yog) with God or Brahman. One begins to devote more time for community service – again without expecting anything (money, position, or power) in return for your services. Gradually all unnecessary material things and activities are reduced, life is simplified, and most time is devoted to sevā or service of community.
The last stage of life is called “Sanyāsāshram” – when we give up all desires and live like a homeless monk. Any one can enter this stage at any time in life – like Gautam Budha did during Gruhasthāshram. He left his wife, son, palace, and kingdom to find the real meaning of life. Sanyāsi-s live under a tree on the outskirts of a town or in a temple, or in a jungle, and meditate. They do not participate in activities of the family or society. The main goal is to practice Tyāga or renunciation.
12. Four Pillars of the Society – the Caste System
The ancient society in India was divided in to four groups according to their capabilities, aptitudes, education, personal effort (sādhanā), and function they performed in the society. These were the four pillars in four corners of a building supporting a roof overhead. All four groups were all equally important and none was respected more than the other. People were able to move freely amongst the groups. Everyone was expected to live according to the dharma of their category.
This system was called Varnāshram. Varna in Sanskrut means to describe. It may also mean color, form, or quality – attributes that describe something. When used for humans it may mean the person’s physical and mental ability and the function performed in the society. Since there were four categories, this system of classification is also called Chatur (four) Varna.
Brāhmana-kshatriya-visham shudrānām cha Parantap
Karmāni pravibhaktani svabhāva-prabhaivah gunaihi
O Parantap (Arjun), the responsibilities (duties) of brāhmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras are distributed according to qualities they are born with.
Bhagavad Gitā, XVIII.41
Shamah, damah, tapah, shaucham, kshāntihi, ārjavam, eva cha
Gnānam, vignānam, āstikyam, brahmakarma svabhāvajam
Those with calmness, self control, disciplined effort, purity of mind and body, forgiveness, righteousness, knowledge, supreme knowledge (about Brahman), and faith in God are fit for the duties of a brāhman (brāhmin).
Bhagavad Gitā, XVIII.42
1. Brāhmana-s (Brahmins)
Brāhmans were the intellectuals who became teachers and preachers. They learn the scriptures and other arts and sciences, spent their lives running residential schools and performing religious ceremonies (yagna). Preservation of Vedic traditions and knowledge was their duty. Brāhmana-s were very spiritual and lived a simple life following the highest moral and ethical principles to set good example for the rest of the society. They were supported by the king, the wealthy, and the parents of students. There was no demand for any fees for their services. Some selected few would seat in the court of the king to advise him on moral and ethical issues.
Shauryam, tejah, dhrutihi, dākshyam yuddhe cha api apalāyanam
Dānam, ishvaryabhāvah cha kshātram karma svabhāvjam
Kshatriyas are brave, (have) powerful personality, (can) make firm decisions, (have) ability to fight in war, (do) not withdraw from battle field, generous, and of royal behavior.
Bhagavad Gitā, XVIII.43
Kshatriyas were physically strong, well trained in the art of warfare, and use of weapons. One of them would become the king. In the days of king Bharat, the ruler was selected on the basis of his knowledge and capabilities. The king’s primary responsibility was to protect the population, provide for necessities of life like food and water, schools, roads, etc. Other Kshatriyas would be in the army.
3 &4. Vaishya-s & Shudra-s
Krushi-gaurakshya-vanijyam vaishya-karma svabhāvajam
Parichayrātmakam karma shudrasyāpi svabhāvjam
Agriculture, taking care of cows, and trade are the responsibilities of
Service is the duty of Shudra-s.
Bhagavad Gitā, XVIII.44
The third category was Vaishya-s who were farmers, businessmen, and other trades people. The financial welfare of the society depended on them.
The fourth division was called Shudra-s. They did all the hard jobs requiring unskilled labor and some very unpleasant ones. They disposed off dead animals and removed garbage. Gradually they became the untouchables because of the type of work they did and domination by other castes. Many reformers have tried to improve their lot and now it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste in India. One of the presidents of India was a Shudra.
13. Four Paths
“Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity within by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work (Karma yog), or worship (Bhakti yog), or psychic control (Raj yog), or philosophy (Gnān yog) – by one, or more, or all of these – and be free. This is the whole religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”
The main goal of life is to experience the divinity within. To achieve this union or Yog with the supreme, four major paths are prescribed. We have the choice depending on our physical, mental, intellectual, and spiritual development, aptitude, opportunities in life, etc. One can follow any one or a combination of more than one ways to achieve our goal. Ultimately all paths end up in the same place. The Yama-s & Niyama-s (values) are common to all the paths.
The four paths are:
- Bhakti Yog – path of devotion
- Karma Yog – path of action
- 3. Gnāna Yog – path of knowledge
- 4. Rāj Yog – path of Meditation
One may meditate in the morning, go to work in the afternoon, stop over for a bhajan session in the evening, and read scriptures before going to bed, all in one day.
1. Bhakti Yog
Is the path of love and devotion for a personal God. Mind and emotions play predominant role in bhakti. This is the path of total surrender to God. God can be imagined as a mother, father, friend, child, wife, or husband. Mirabai gave up her family, a life of luxury, and got completely immersed in devotion to Shri Krushna as if He was her husband. In the end she was prepared to take poison rather than give up her devotion to Krushna.
Nine varieties of devotional activities are described in Bhāgavat Purāna:
- Shravana – listening to scriptures, bhajans, etc.
- Kirtana – singing bhajans, shlokas, etc.
- Smarana – remembering and recalling holy names e.g. Vishnusahastranām (thousand names of God)
- Pāda sevana – service at the feet of God in a temple
- Archanā – ritual puja
- Vandanā – complete surrender (prostration) in front of a murti
- Dāsya – being a servant of God
- Sākhya – intimate friendship with God.
- Ātma–nivedana – total and continuous surrender to God or Samādhi merging with God.
2. Karma Yog
The literal meaning of karma is action. Scriptural meaning of Karma also includes what precedes the action (intentions behind the action), the act – how it is performed and what means are used; and what follows the action (consequences of that action). Every thought, word, and act has ripple effect. All good thoughts, words, and actions have good outcomes. This is the law of Karma. We may not get the result that we were expecting or at the time when we were expecting it. That is beyond our control. The only control we have is on our thoughts, speech, and action – not on the result. Karma (action) becomes Karma Yog when the action is performed without any desire for selfish gain, the action is performed according to Dharma, without anxiety for the result, and all credit for the outcome is give to Paramātmā in all humility.
The most frequently quoted shloka on Karma Yog from Bhagavad Gitā says:
Karmānyeva adhikārah mā phaleshu kadāchana
Mā karma-phala-hetur-bhuhu mā te sangah astu akarmani
Action is (your) only right. (You) may not get the fruits (results that you expected or when you expected).
Do not work for the fruits of action. Do not keep company of inaction (not doing anything is not an option)
Bhagavad Gitā Chap. II.47
Other shloka-s on Karma Yog are:
Yah tu indriyāni manasā niyamya ārbhate, Arjun
Karmendriyaihi karmayogam asaktah vishishyate
Whoever initiates actions after controlling all his sense organs with his mind (getting over his likes and dislikes) and without (selfish) attachment (to results), succeeds.
Bhagavad Gitā, III.7
Niyatam kuru karma tvamkarma jyāyo hee akarmanah
Sharirayātrā api cha te na prasiddhyet akarmanah
Perform (your) prescribed duty. Action is better than inaction.
Even maintenance of (physical) body is not possible without action.
Bhagavad Gitā, III.8
Evaluate every action. Consider the intentions behind the action and the means used in performing the action. The ‘action’ is good if the intention is unselfish and methods used do not harm others. We have a choice in selection of our thoughts and actions. We do not have any control over what follows the ‘action’ (the consequences). Every act or even thought has similar consequences. ‘Good’ thoughts and ‘good’ actions have ‘good’ consequences. If we do something for others with good intentions and without expecting anything in return, good things will happen to us. We do not have any control over when or what the consequences will be. It is essential that we analyze our intentions continuously. Do our best, work hard, perceiver, and leave the results to Him.
“In regard to every action one must know the result expected to follow, the means there to, and the capacity for it. He who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfillment of the task before him, is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.”
Atho khalvāhuhu kāmamaya evāyam purusha eeti sa yathākrāmo bhavati tatkraturbhavati tatkarma kurutepatkarma kurute tad-abhisampadhyate.
Bruhadāranyaka IV. 4.5
Our strong desire is the basis for our decisions and driving force behind our actions. We get results according to our actions. Thus our desires and actions determine our destiny.
Karma yog is a way of life. It purifies the mind by removing ‘vāsanā-s’ (strong, deep desires) and helps improve concentration in meditation.
3. Gnāna (knowledge) Yog
Is the path of intellectual inquiry. The root word gna means ‘to know’. Gnāna means knowledge. Vignāna is used for special knowledge – something more than ordinary knowledge. In scriptures Vignāna is used for the spiritual wisdom or knowledge about Brahman (God).
Like all other paths the person following this path has to practice all the Yamas & Niyamas (moral values) first. Taking this path of Gnāna Yog without the moral values can be very misleading and dangerous.
We can deny the existence of everything and everyone but we can not deny the existence of our own self. The intellectual inquiry starts with the question about “Who am I?”, “Am I my body, mind, or intellect?”, “What is consciousness?”, “What makes me aware of the world around me?”, etc.
There are three steps in acquiring this special knowledge:
- Shravana – listening to a guru and reading scriptures.
- Manana – contemplation on what guru and scriptures have taught and on questions like “What is the ‘Truth’?’, “Why am I here?”, “What is the ultimate goal in life?”, “How should I lead my life?”, “What is ‘soul’?”, “What happens after death?”, etc. The knowledge gained from this self-analysis may ultimately lead to ‘Self-realization’.
- Nididhyāsana – the contemplation on above questions leads to deeper and deeper understanding of mind, ego, and the divine reality (Brahman). Ultimately it may lead to the destruction of individual ego and union with the Brahman (the universal force).
4. Rāj Yog
is also known as Astānga Yog or Kriya Yog. The goal of Rāj Yoga is to destroy the ego and develop intense concentration. Patanjali has described eight steps in this yog which include:
- Yamas (restrains) – are nonviolence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), control over all senses (brahmacharya), not taking anything that belongs to others (aparigraha).
- Niyamas (rules or practices) – are cleanliness of body and mind (soucha), contentment (santosha), disciplined effort (tapa), study of scriptures (svādhyāya), search for God or surrender to God as the top priority (Ishwara Pranidhāna).
The first two steps (yamas & niyamas) are common requirements for all paths – Bhakti, Karma, Gnāna, & Raj yog.
- Āsanas – yoga postures that are now being taught all over the world is a part of this yog.
- Prānāyāma – control of breathing by various exercises and techniques.
- Pratyāhāra – is control of senses or reducing input from all sense organs and thoughts about external objects.
- Dhārana – is preliminary stage of meditation when the mind is trained to withdraw from all senses and concentrate on an idea or object you want to attain. Intense concentration is achieved for a short period of time.
- Dhyāna – is second stage. The mind is still aware of its separate existence from the object of meditation (Brahman).
- Samādhi – is the final goal of meditation in Rāj Yog. In the final state of meditation the individual looses her individual ego and feels one with Brahman (God).
Bhagavad Gitā, VI.10-25, VIII.28
14. Different Methods Prescribed for Personal Evolution
If we look at our traditions we can find many ways by which we can transform our lives and evolve. Our choice depends on our aptitude, knowledge, background, circumstances, etc. We can select one or more of the following:
1. Āshrama-s (stages of life) – Performing duties prescribed for each stage of life. Āshramas teach us:
- Tapa (disciplined effort) in Brahmacharyāshram – first 25 years of life.
- Yagna (selfless service) in Gruhasthāshram – age 25 to 50.
- Abhyāsa more detailed study of scriptures in Vānaprasthāshram – 50 to 75 years.
- Sanyāsa (tyāga or renunciation of all attachments to worldly things & people) in Sanyāsāshram – last stage of life.
2. Four Paths – following one or combination of two or more paths
I. Bhakti Yog – Path of Devotion
II. Karma Yog – Path of Action
III. Gnāna Yog – Path of Knowledge
IV. Rāj Yog – Path of Meditation
3. Gunā-s – (basic characteristics of each individual) trying to evolve from tamas to rajas to sattva.
4. Sanskāra-s – there are some forty milestones throughout our life that we can celebrate. They remind us of our duties as we progress from conception to death.
5. Deva-s (deities) – each of our deity has some characteristics that we can emulate. Depending on our weakness we can select appropriate deity. For example if we need strength we can worship Hanumanji or Durgamātā and work towards the goal of getting strong and brave.
6. Festivals – there is a meaning or reason for celebrating a festival. Learning about this can show us a path to further evolution.
7. Rituals – There are lessons behind each pujā or kathā.
8. Abhyāsa – study of Bhagavad Gitā, Rāmāyana, etc. and learning from them.
9. Satsanga – keeping good company and learning from each other.
10. Japa – repetition of a mantra or holy name.
11. Dhyāna – Meditation
l2. Yātrā – visiting holy places. Holy places have an effect of making us more spiritual.
13. Vrata – is resolution. Some resolve to ‘not eat salt’, or ‘fast’ or ‘not speak’ on certain days. This practice improves our will power.
15. Three Gunā-s
There are three main characteristics or qualities (guna-s) to describe all our thoughts, speech, and actions. They are called Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas. There are no equivalent English words. They may be very roughly translated as good (Deva, god-like), passionate (Rākshasa), and bad (Asura). They are like three primary colors – when they are mixed in different proportions they can make all the other colors. The three gunā-s exist in all of us in different proportions and create millions of different individual and unique personalities.
The other meaning of guna is rope, a rope that binds our ātmā down to our body, mind, intellect, and our sense of ego. The spirit (ātmā), the unlimited power, begins to feel the pain and limitations of the physical body because of this bondage with guna-s.
Knowledge about gunā-s help us to analyze our own personality, determine our own weaknesses, and take corrective action so that each individual characteristic changes from tāmasic to rājsic to sātvic guna. This can be a road map for our evolutionary path to Self-realization or Moksha. All of us are capable of improving ourselves. All of us have all three gunā-s in different proportions in our thoughts, speech, and actions. No one is perfect and everyone is changing all the time.
Bhagavad Gitā, Chap. XIV.5-20, 22-24; Chap. XVII.8-22.
Water buffalo, who spends most of its time soaking in mud, is a good example for this category. There is a lot of inertia, little interest in any activity, no ambition, dull and sleepy all the time. All of us are tāmasic when we are born, spending all the time in sleeping, eating, and excreting.
People with this tendency are ignorant of spiritual knowledge or higher values. This is described as total darkness (in the mind). They arrive at wrong decisions in life because of this ignorance (avidyā) and disorganized thinking. Tāmasic vrutti (tendency) includes laziness, carelessness, fear, hostility towards all, and uncaring attitude. It also includes criminal thoughts of breaking laws or rules and violent actions. The color for tamas is black.
A rājasic person has lots of selfish desires for acquiring worldly goods, ambition for wealth, power, and lot of energy for activities. He is always busy trying to earn money, buy things, hoard and protect his possessions, and enjoy. She has very strong likes and dislikes, and a strong sense of ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’ (ego). He is also prone to some negative qualities like anger, arrogance, greed, jealousy, and passion. He may employ unethical means to achieve his goals. Her mood fluctuates and has hard time deciding. He is not focused, worries a lot, and gets agitated. The color for rajas is red.
A sāttvic person has great desire for spiritual knowledge, has love in heart for everyone, kindness, compassion, and faith in God. She has clear goals, knows what is right and wrong, and what her duty is. He works hard to help others without expecting anything in return. There is great control over all speech and actions. There is absence of all negative characteristics like anger, greed, arrogance, jealousy, selfish desires, etc. She is described as ‘pure’ & ‘luminous’. A sāttvic person is anxious for peace and happiness for all and desire for true knowledge and wisdom. This desire, however noble, still creates attachment. For Moksha one has to go beyond this attachment of sattva to happiness & knowledge.
Evolve from Tamas to Rajas to Sattva
All of us are working under one of the guna which is predominant and others are dormant. Vedic Dharma suggests that we evaluate ourselves (not others), find our weaknesses, make necessary changes, and evolve from tamas to rajas and then to sattva in all our activities. This gives us a road map of the path for personal evolution.
- The first step is to realize the need for change.
- Then we make a decision (sankalpa) to change and find ways about how to change. Initially we try to change everyone other than ourselves. That does not work. Then we decide to change ourselves.
- Next step is to observe our daily activities, even our thoughts objectively, as if we are somebody else. Find one or two characteristics which are of tāmasic variety and work on them to change to rājasic to sāttvic.
Activities according to Gunā-s
1. Long term goals:
Tāmasic – Long term goals are to sleep, eat, & destroy others.
Rājasic – Long term goals are for personal pleasure, prestige, power, & wealth.
Sāttvic – Long term goals are for unity, love, & welfare of all
2. Attachment to:
Tāmasic – has false beliefs and delusion.
Rājasic – is attached to action and desire to acquire worldly objects.
Sāttvic – would like happiness & ‘True’ knowledge for all.
Tāmasic – performs actions without due thought about the results, or how actions are carried out. He denies all responsibility and may get involved in criminal or violent activities to harm others or himself. He has no humility and often procrastinates.
Bhagawad Gitā, XVIII.25, 28
Rājasic – performs activities with arrogance, pomp & show; for selfish reasons to gain personal possessions, prestige, power, wealth. These activities create anxieties, agitation, bitterness, conflict, & anger. Later they may lead to sorrow & depression.
Bhagawad Gitā, XVIII.24, 27
Sāttvic – actions are performed without likes & dislikes for the action or the people involved, or insistence on a particular result. Activities are carried out according to dharma and for peace and welfare of all. Sāttvic person remains calm in success or failure.
Bhagawad Gitā, XVIII.23, 26
4. Food ( Bhagawad Gitā XVII.7-10)
Type of food
Tāmasic – person eats stale, tasteless, decomposed, or polluted food.
Rājasic – prefers spicy, bitter, sour, salty, or very hot food.
Sāttvic – person eats nutritious food that increases life and strength and promotes purity of thoughts.
Feelings of the cook
Tāmasic – cook has negative feelings of anger, hate, etc.
Rājasic – thinks about ‘What will I get out of this activity?
Sāttvic – cook has love in her heart and wants to share the food with all
Tāmasic – person eats in bar filled with smoke
Rājasic – person likes fancy restaurant
Sāttvic – person prefers to eat at home or in temple
Tāmasic – consumes a lot of food
Rājasic – eats a lot only if he likes the food
Sāttvic – person will eat just enough to maintain healthy body
Tāmasic – eats at irregular hours or eats lying down
Rājasic – eats while working or walking
Sāttvic – eats quietly, slowly, regularly
Tāmasic – individual takes recreational drugs and drinks alcoholic beverages
Rājasic – drinks excitable caffeinated beverages
Sāttvic – prefers water, fruit juice, etc.
Tāmasic – person sleeps during the day or while at work
Rājasic – has difficulty sleeping and has excitable dreams
Sāttvic – enjoys restful, sound sleep
Tāmasic – individual talks without thinking, tells lies, complains about everything, criticizes, and uses obscene language
Rājasic – talks about ‘I, me, & mine’ all the time
Sāttvic – person thinks & then tells the truth (satyam) in pleasant words (priyam), and what is beneficial to all (hitam). Her speech is encouraging, uplifting.
7. Buddhi (intellect):
Tāmasic – thinks that which is morally and ethically ‘right’ is ‘wrong’ & what is ‘wrong’ is ‘right’.
Rājasic – is confused about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. He cannot decide what to do when there moral dilemma.
Sāttvic – person knows ‘right’ from ‘wrong’, what is according to dharma, and what is good for all and brings long-term security.
Bhagawad Gitā XVIII.30-32
8. Pleasure is derived from:
Tāmasic – person feels happy after getting up late in the morning, after getting intoxicating drinks, doing harm to others, and destruction of property.
Rājasic – individual feels happy during activities that give pleasure derived from sense gratification. Activity feels like fun in the beginning but ends up in grief later (Preyas).
Sāttvic – person is involved in activities that are good for all. This may be difficult in the beginning but brings long lasting pleasure & peace to all (Shreyas).
Bhagawad Gitā XVIII.37-39
9. Keeps company of:
Tāmasic – people prefer the company of criminals
Rājasic – individuals keep company of people who will help him achieve his selfish goals to become rich & famous.
Sāttvic – keep company of good people (satsang) who live according to Dharma
10. Reading, listening to music, watching movies
Tāmasic – like trashy, vulgar, and violent entertainment.
Rājasic – prefers exciting literature and movies
Sāttvic – read, listen, and watch value based entertainment
11. Rituals (Yagna):
Tāmasic – performs religious ceremony without faith and knowledge about meaning of mantras or rituals, to gain power over others, harm others, get strength or wealth to destroy others, to torture their own body, and without giving dakshinā (gift to Brahmin).
Rājasic – individual performs rituals to gain personal prestige, profit, or power. Dakshinā is given to Brahmana-s to show off wealth.
Sāttvic – person performs obligatory rituals with proper understanding of the meaning of mantras, without expecting any personal gain, and resolve to put them in practice. Generous dakshinā is given with love and respect.
12. Charity (Dāna):
Tāmasic – individual does not believe in giving any charity or it is given to unworthy cause or without love and respect.
Rājasic – person regrets when he has to give dāna or gives to gain something in return.
Sāttvic – gives willingly, with faith, to the right cause, as a sense of duty, and without expectation of getting anything in return.
Bhagawad Gitā XVII.20-22
Tāmasic – person does not have any understanding of the ‘Truth’ (God).
Rājasic – individual can not discriminate ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. He feels that all life forms as separate from each other and different from himself. Other life forms are created for his pleasure.
Sāttvic – person feels the same ‘Paramātmā’ (life force) living in the whole universe that is same for all.
Bhagawad Gitā XVIII.20-22
14. Three characters (brothers) from Rāmāyana
Tāmasic – character is Kumbhakarna who sleeps for six months, eats for six months and fights against Rāma
Rājasic – brother is Rāvana. He was very intelligent, knowledgeable, strong, and brave but had weakness for Sita who was married to Rāma.
Sāttvic – brother is Vibhishana. He left Rāvana and joined forces with Rāma to fight with his brother Rāvana who had abducted Sita.
15. Tapa (Disciplined effort):
Tāmasic – individual performs tapa with the goal of doing harm to others or for torturing his self.
Rājasic – person performs tapa for gaining respect, power, or wealth.
Sāttvic – person performs tapa to worship devas with faith and unselfish motive.
Bhagawad Gitā XVII.14-16
Tāmasic – individual is lethargic and vengeful
Rājasic – is restless and ambitious
Sāttvic – is calm and focused
17. Tyāga (renunciation of fruits of action)
Tāmasic – person does not carry out his duties out of ignorance or laziness
Rājasic – individual does not perform his duties because of fear of outcome of the action or if the task is unpleasant or difficult.
Sāttvic – persons do all their duties without expecting anything in return.
Bhagawad Gitā XVIII.9-10.
Tāmasic – worship ghosts.
Rājasic – Yaksha-s and Rākshasa-s
Sāttvic – worship Devā-s
Bhagawad Gitā XVII.4
Life is a sacred journey. So each milestone is celebrated through sacred ceremony. Family and friends get together, lending support, advice and encouragement. Samskāra-s are sacraments or holy rites that guide us and remind us about our responsibilities in life, inspire family togetherness and invoke God’s blessings. There are 40 Sanskāra-s for different milestones in life from the rite of conception to the last rites.
Some of the important Sanskāra-s are:
Simantonayana is performed between the sixth and eighth month of pregnancy. Family takes special care of expectant mother during pregnancy since physical and mental development of the fetus is dependant on mother’s health. Simant ceremony is performed to invoke God’s grace for a healthy baby and to remind the family to take good care of the expectant mother. The mother is advised to eat fresh, wholesome, nutritious food, read inspiring books, listen to good music and have good, positive thoughts. She is encouraged to avoid negative feelings of anger, hatred, jealousy, violence. What she eats, drinks, thinks, watches, hears, reads, affect the baby very much.
When the baby is between 6 – 11 days old, the father whispers the baby’s name in the right ear. Baby’s aunt (father’s sister) has the honor to cradle the baby and announce the baby’s name. Family and friends give gifts to the baby. The aunt receives special gifts from baby’s parents for this ceremony. Personal names have meanings or special significance. The child is named after a mythological hero or a God’s name. The selection of a name for a child is very important because the child will emulate the characteristics of the mythological hero or heroine he/she is named after. The hero or heroine becomes an inspiration for the rest of his/her life. Every child should know the meaning of his/her name and the legend behind it. People living outside of India should select names that are easy to pronounce for the local people.
The sacred thread ceremony is also known as Yagnopaveet. The sacred thread has three strands to remind the child of his/her responsibilities towards the Guru, parents, and the community or nation. This ceremony is performed at the age 7 or 8 years when the child is ready to learn the scriptures (Vedas) and the child is introduced to Brahmacharyāshram. He is given a sacred thread, and taught Gāyatri Mantra.
Ceremony teaches the responsibility towards husband, wife, children, community, and the country. The groom holds hand of the bride and makes a promise that his wife will be the queen of his home and goddess of his prosperity. He also promises to be firm like a rock in his love and affection for her. It is very important to learn about the vows and Sapta padi (seven steps) ceremony before getting married.
Is the last samskāra, a farewell to the departed ātmā.
17. Viveka Buddhi
Is the ability to discriminate between good and bad, merit and demerit, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical. It also helps us distinguish between the Self (Ātmā, indestructible, or permanent) and the non-Self (perishable). No book or teacher can tell us ‘what to do’ under all circumstances and hence we need to develop our own ‘Vivek Buddhi’. Some time teachers and books may give us conflicting advice. That is the time when our own viveka buddhi helps.
The interaction between body, mind, and intellect are compared with prince Arjun sitting in a chariot with five horses driven by Shri Krushna. The horses are our five senses. If we do not have any control over our senses, we can be driven off a cliff. The reins controlling the senses (horses) is our mind. The reins are in the hands of Shri Krushna or our viveka buddhi or conscience. He guides the senses through our mind. We all can develop this vivek buddhi. It takes in to consideration past experiences and a long-term view of possible outcomes of any action. What looks like a pleasant (preyas) and easy path may not be in the best interest of all (shreyas).
Some of the factors that interfere with vivek buddhi are:
- Strong likes and dislikes for people and things.
- Negative feelings like fear, anger, hate, jealousy, selfish desires, and arrogance.
- Inability to see the ‘big’ picture or the final goal.
How to develop ‘vivek buddhi’? (Bhagawad Gitā, II.62, 63; III.40 – 43).
- Have a vision – where do you want to be at the end of the journey.
- Give up personal likes & dislikes. (Bhagawad Gitā, II.68,69; III.34)
- Know your duties for your stage and station in life.
- Perform actions for the welfare of all (Bhagawad Gitā III.19, 20), according to dharma, and with an attitude of service
- Accept results as a ‘prasād’ (blessings from God), give credit to and dedicate them to the Lord (Bhagawad Gitā, IX.27).
- Analyze – why, how, what next, etc.
18. Yathā Yogyam Tathā Kuru
In the end do what you think is appropriate.
Uddharet ātmanā ātmānam na ātmānam avasādyet
Ātmā eva hee ātmanah bandhu ātmā eva ripuhu ātmanah
You can lift yourself up and you can degrade yourself.
You only are your (true) friend and you are your enemy.
Bhagawad Gitā, VI.5
Last advice by Shri Krushna in Bhagawad Gitā to Arjun was:
“Vimrushya etat asheshana yathā icchasi tathā kuru”
Think (about) all that (I have said) and then do as you please. The choice is yours.
Bhagawad Gitā, XVIII.63
“Do not accept what I have said because it has been so said in the past;
Do not accept it because it has been handed down by tradition;
Do not accept it thinking it may be so;
Do not accept it because it is in Holy Scriptures;
Do not accept it because it can be proven by inference;
Do not accept it thinking it is worldly wisdom;
Do not accept it because it seems to be plausible;
Do not accept it because it is said by a famous or holy monk;
But if you find that it appeals to your sense of discrimination and conscience as being conducive to the benefit and happiness of all; then accept it and live up to it.”
Best wishes for a very fruitful and enlightening journey.
ॐ Shantihi Shantihi Shantihi.
Appendix I. Some Interesting Quotes about India
“In India I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities but not being fixed in them, possessing everything but possessed by nothing.”
Appolonius Tyanaeus, Greek thinker and traveler 1st Century CE
“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the greatest teachings of the Vedas, there is no touch of sectarianism. It is of all ages, climes and nationalities and the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge.”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
American naturalist, philosopher and writer
“India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”
Will Durant, American Historian (1885 – 1981)
“The ancient civilization of India differs from those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece, in that its traditions have been preserved without breakdown to present day.”
Arthur Basham, Australian Historian
“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”
Mark Twain, American author
“India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border.”
Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA:
Appendix II. Great Reformers of India – A Timeline
Veda-s are timeless scriptures that were revealed to Rooshi-s (sages) and passed on from one generation to the next by repetition and memorizing. Great Rooshi-s did not leave their names or claimed copyright. Research scholars have developed new chronologies based on position of stars as described in Veda-s and Purana-s. For example, a Roog Vedic verse describes winter solstice at Aries that correlates to around 6500 BCE (8,500 years ago). Scholars, from East and West, now believe the Roog Veda people who called themselves Āryan were indigenous to India, and there never was an Āryan invasion.
There is evidence of travel, trade, and exchange of knowledge between China, Persia, South East Asian, Eastern Mediterranean countries and India since prehistoric times.
5000 BCE – Well planned cities developed along Sindhu and Saraswati rivers
3100 BCE – Mahābhārat war – Dharma is taught by Shri Krushna to Arjun and recorded by Ved Vyās as Bhagawad Gitā. People were performing rituals to obtain wealth and power for themselves. Some pandits were wasting time on philosophical and religious discussions. Bhagawad Gitā emphasizes ‘selfless service’ for the benefit of the society and ‘performance of one’s own duty without expecting anything in return’. It becomes a handbook on how to live one’s life.
2600 – 2000 BCE – Sindu-Saraswati river civilization reaches its peak.
2000 BCE – Saraswati river dries up and people migrate.
600 BCE – A unified Bhāratiya culture has developed. Sushruta develops complex surgical techniques like reconstruction of nose.
599 to 527 BCE – Mahāvir Swami is born in a Hindu family. He emphasized Ahimsā, Moksha, and Bhrahmacharya to address weaknesses in the society such as violence and sensuous pleasure oriented activities.
563 to 483 BCE – Gautam Buddha is born in a Hindu family. He also addressed weaknesses in the society like violence, reliance on rituals to gain wealth & power, endless intellectual discussions on religious practices, etc. and suggested ‘eight fold path’ consisting of right thought, right speech, right action etc.
321 BCE – Maurya dynasty rules over whole of India. Great advances in the fields of art, science, economy, music, dance, architecture, astronomy, etc. are achieved.
200 BCE – Tiruvalluvar writes ‘Tirukural’ – a treatise on ethics.
320 CE – Gupta dynasty rules over all of India.
800 CE – Shri Ādi Shankarāchārya revives Hinduism.
1469 CE – Guru Nānak is born in a Hindu family. Hindus were divided by caste etc. and were being persecuted by Muslims. He taught equality of all and his followers later advocated carrying Kirpan for self-defence.
1869 to 1948 – Mahātma Gāndhi – for the first time in the history of the world mighty British and other European empires are destroyed by civil disobedience movement based on truth and nonviolence and started by Mahatma Gandhi. He lived according to the teachings of Bhagawad Gitā.
a. “A History of India and Hindu Dharma”, Hinduism Today, December 1994.
b. Chronological Framework of Indian Protohistory-The Lower Limit by Dr. S.B. Roy, published in The Journal of the Baroda Oriental Institute, March-June 1983.
c. “Gods, Sages and Kings by David Frawley Ph.D.
d. “A Historical Atlas of South Asia” by Prof. Joseph E. Schwartzberg, Prof. Shiva G. Bajpai PhD., and Dr. Raj B. Mathur, Dept. of Asian Studies at California State University.