India is an ancient civilization. In fact, it is the only civilization that has survived unbroken, and essentially unchanged, for nearly five thousand years. Much more than a nation, as understood in our modern geopolitical sense, India is a civilization arisen from a wide and profound quest for the deepest truths of human existence.
Most civilizations in history have centered their existence around economic growth and geopolitical expansion. The Indian civilization has always been centered around the human quest for Truth, Knowledge and Immortality — satyam, jnanam, amritam.
No other civilization we know of has pursued such a quest for Knowledge and Immortality with such relentless zeal. The Indian psyche, in its most essential sense, has been historically preoccupied with the philosophical and spiritual quest for Truth. In the early formative years of the Indian civilization and what may be called the Indian spiritual philosophy (darshan), the Indian mind had intuitively grasped that all existence is one indivisible continuous reality manifesting in all form and movement — the seed of the great philosophical system of Advaita Vedanta.
Vedanta continues to this day an unbroken and unmodified psycho-spiritual tradition of self-enquiry and self-realization. The sciences, the mathematics, the arts, the poetry and literature, the mythology and the several religions that spread across the spectrum of Indian civilization all blossomed, in one way or another, from the seed of advaita Vedanta.
Vedanta is also the base for Sanatan Dharma, the eternal Law of being, which is the core of what is widely known as the Hindu religion. Sanatan is eternal and universal — not subject to time, circumstances and change, nor limited to a particular geography, society or ideology; and dharma is the binding Law, the principle of being, without which a thing or a being would cease to exist as an independent or autonomous entity.
Sanatan Dharma is not religion in the popular sense of the word. It is not a philosophical or ethical system to be “practiced”, though several philosophical and ethical systems have arisen from Sanatan Dharma. In itself and in its purity, Sanatan Dharma is the quest for the perfect Truth of being, Satyam, and its perfect manifestation and expression in living, Ritam. Satyam and Ritam therefore constitute the true basis and practice of Sanatan Dharma. And it must be noted that Satyam and Ritam are not philosophical, cultural or ethical concepts but truths to be realized and lived in the most mundane and practical sense.
The realization of Satyam, Truth of being, and Ritam, Truth in becoming, are the twin foundations of Sanatan Dharma and Sanatan life. Without these, there can be no Sanatan Dharma or Sanatan life. This is a fundamental condition.
Therefore, the realization of Truth (of being and in becoming) is the primary business of Sanatan Dharma, and all that can be thought and said of Sanatan Dharma must be in accordance with this, and must always refer back to this.
In this sense, Sanatan Dharma cannot possibly belong to a particular culture or community. It is in this sense that Sanatan Dharma may be regarded as the base of Hinduism but not Hinduism itself. And equally, in this sense, Sanatan Dharma may be regarded as the true basis of any human religion.
If we were to translate the original language in which Sanatan Dharma was first articulated into the English language, for instance, we would find no trace of any religious or cultural narrative in Sanatan Dharma at all. The phrase Sanatan Dharma itself would translate into Eternal Law or Principle. Taken out of its traditional Sanskritic settings, Sanatan Dharma could be perfectly expressed in completely secular and scientific language and understood in any human context.
Sanatan thought is free of the idea of a single or only God or a single and definitive Scripture. In fact, there is not even the idea of God as the primary or ultimate being. Being itself is primary and ultimate and does not need a “God” to complete it. If one searches for a name of a Supreme God in Sanatan philosophy, one will find none. What one will find is the Sanskrit phrase Sat-Chit-Anand (usually written as a single word Satchidananda or Sacchidananda) as the ultimate description of Reality. Sat means Existence, Truth, or Reality; Chit refers to consciousness; Ananda means bliss, or the bliss of perfect fulfillment.
This ‘perfect fulfillment’, is the flowering of the realization of oneself as Satchidananda, and is the peak realization of Sanatan Dharma, out of which all life and living, all values and rules, all relations and standards of conduct arise naturally and seamlessly. There is therefore no divine reality or truth out there, outside of oneself. All truth and reality, human or divine, is within. There are no heavens beyond: the within is the only heaven.
There is no one scripture or teaching that tells one how to come to this fulfillment. There are many ways to come to it and none of the ways can be prescribed or described. Each one who wishes to come to this realization must find his or her own way. There is no priestly class or specific group of people appointed to lead the seeker towards this realization. There are facilitators, teachers, guides for sure, but the realization itself is accessible to any one who really wants it. With or without teachers and guides.
This is the beauty of what we describe as the Sanatan dharma.
धार्यते इति धर्म
That which upholds is Dharma