Towards An Indic Resurgence Based on Sanatan Dharma
The political and cultural narratives in India are changing — the signs and indications are everywhere. While the leftist-liberal narratives struggle to retain relevance in an emerging new India, the resurgent Indic sentiments are rapidly gaining in strength and spread. The Modi years will be remembered as a watershed in India’s struggle for national identity 
But, however positive and reassuring the signs may be, there is still a long way to go; we are just about turning the corner.
It is now that all who represent the Indic/Indian nationalist worldview need to come together, gather their energies and resources, and get to work. We need a focused plan of action and quick, effective execution.
The Philosophical Framework
No social or political movement can succeed without philosophical underpinnings. No cultural or political narrative can be built and sustained without a fundamental worldview, values and principles. In other words, a darshan and a dharma.
The philosophical framework for India was, and will always be, Sanatan Dharma.
In Sri Aurobindo’s categorical words — When therefore it is said that India shall rise, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall rise. When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great… It is for the dharma and by the dharma that India exists.
I say that it is the Sanatan Dharma which for us is nationalism. This Hindu nation was born with the Sanatan Dharma, with it it moves and with it it grows. When the Sanatan Dharma declines, then the nation declines, and if the Sanatan Dharma were capable of perishing, with the Sanatan Dharma it would perish. The Sanatan Dharma, that is nationalism.
India’s struggle for national identity is, in a fundamental sense, India’s struggle for Hindu dharma, her sovereign law of being. India must recover that essential Hindu character, her Hindutva , and stand unapologetically as a Hindu Rashtra to fulfill her true role amongst the nations of the world. Without her Hindutva, she will remain weak and vulnerable.
Hindutva is a much misunderstood and maligned term in today’s political landscape. This needs to be corrected. Hindutva is the essence of being Hindu. And that essence cannot be understood unless one understands the philosophical basis and rationale of Hinduism, Sanatan Dharma.
The idea of the Hindu Rashtra, based on the foundations of Sanatan Dharma, does not in any way violate the idea of secularism, as the Leftist-Liberals mistakenly believe and propagate. This mistaken and pernicious belief arises from the simple fact that they neither understand Hinduism or the Sanatan Dharma, nor do they care to.
Sanatan Dharma, which is the philosophical and spiritual basis of Hinduism, is secular by its very nature. All belief systems, faiths, philosophies and schools of thought are included in the universal sweep of the Sanatan Dharma. Nothing that is human is outside the scope of Sanatan Dharma. Even the asura and his evil find a rightful place in the cosmic scheme of things.
The immediate question for us is how to bring Sanatan Dharma back to the national centre stage without creating an imbalance of political forces. If we were to keep politics entirely out of the play, a Hindu Rashtra based on Sanatan Dharma would not be a challenge at all. It is politics that has polarized India and not culture or religion; and therefore we need to de-polarize India by de-politicizing Dharma.
The one sure way of de-politicizing dharma is to strengthen dharma. It is by strengthening dharma that India will stand tall and firm as a truly secular nation where all religions and cultures will be regarded equally as the play of the One Divine. It is by strengthening dharma that juvenile notions of intolerant Gods, infallible scriptures, chosen prophets and peoples can be demolished. Falsehoods or half-truths in any form, even in their varied religious garbs, cannot be destroyed by battle or resistance; they can be destroyed by simply reducing them to complete irrelevance. This is what dharma does: as it grows in strength, it reduces falsehood or half-truths to irrelevance.
One doesn’t need to snatch a stuffed toy out of a child’s hands: one allows the child to discover something more real and the stuffed toy simply becomes irrelevant.
Therefore the need to strengthen dharma. There is no other option. Preaching dharma will not get us anywhere. Dharma must be lived for it to become an effective force. Knowledge of dharma must be transformed into dharma embodied and lived. There is no worshipping or following of dharma: there is only the living of dharma. Dharma is not faith: it is lived knowledge, it is Truth in action, ritam. It is to this that India must awaken.Then alone can she aspire to be a rashtra standing firm on the rock of dharma.
What would be the immediate action points to bring back Sanatan Dharma to the national centre stage, to make it India’s driving narrative?
The first and most indispensable step would be to live the dharma in our minds, hearts and bodies. Without this, nothing else is possible. The great teachers of dharma used to call this sadhana – a concentrated personal discipline transforming knowledge into life. Individual after individual needs to do this. As the numbers grow, the dharma will grow in the subtle atmosphere of the nation; it will grow quietly and surely into a groundswell, sweeping aside all opposition and dissolving all obstacles.
To do this, we will need to take three giant strides:
- Recover the dharma out of the past and bring it alive in the present so that it can actively shape the future;
- Dedicate the rest of our lives to the living of this dharma that we systematically recover and make powerfully active in our lives again;
- Create external structures and support systems to live the dharma collectively — i.e. socially, culturally, intellectually and spiritually.
Recovering The Dharma
In Swami Vivekananda’s words:
Children of India, I am here to speak to you today about some practical things, and my object in reminding you about the glories of the past is simply this. Many times have I been told that looking into the past only degenerates and leads to nothing, and that we should look to the future. That is true. But out of the past is built the future. Look back, therefore, as far as you can, drink deep of the eternal fountains that are behind, and after that, look forward, march forward and make India brighter, greater, much higher than she ever was. Our ancestors were great. We must first recall that. We must learn the elements of our being, the blood that courses in our veins; we must have faith in that blood and what it did in the past; and out of that faith and consciousness of past greatness, we must build an India yet greater than what she has been.
Juxtaposing this with Sri Aurobindo’s words:
…why should not India then be the first power in the world? Who else has the undisputed right to extend spiritual sway over the world? This was Swami Vivekananda’s plan of campaign. India can once more be made conscious of her greatness by an overmastering sense of the greatness of her spirituality. This sense of greatness is the main feeder of all patriotism. This only can put an end to all self-depreciation and generate a burning desire to recover the lost ground.
And we have a crystal clear plan of action for each of us who aspires to recover and live the dharma within ourselves — recover the depths and the heights that we have lost over the generations, assimilate more deeply our past, our heritage and our culture, and bring it to life in the present, and make of it a force to mould our future. This will happen when we, as Indians, begin to awaken in our own depths the force and light of the knowledge and tapasya that lives timelessly in the soul of our nation as the Sanatan Dharma.
This will demand tremendous and sustained personal commitment and effort.
The next step of the action plan will be dissemination of the dharma, simplifying, explaining and communicating the Sanatan Dharma to all those who are prepared in mind and spirit for the dharma. The Sanatan Dharma is widely regarded as too esoteric, philosophical or mystical to be understood or followed by the masses. This may well be true as Sanatan Dharma is undoubtedly profound and subtle. For this reason, the dharma has historically remained confined to a cultural and intellectual elite, leading to an unfortunate over-Brahmanization through the ages, which in turn led to the reformative reaction of Buddha-dharma.
This we need to correct immediately and vigorously.
First of all, we will need to create a think tank, a nucleus of high calibre intellectuals and practitioners (sadhaks) of the dharma who can be its best exemplars and mentors. The selection will have to be done diligently, without any political or cultural prejudice. People with unquestionable judgment and character must be brought together. There will be no easy way to do this. However challenging this might prove to be, no compromise should be allowed. The highest standards and probity will need to be maintained.
To this nucleus or think tank will fall the task of explaining and disseminating Sanatan Dharma without diluting or distorting it. This group must understand not only the philosophy of the dharma but the practical psychology of implementing it, allowing neither populism nor elitism. The dharma must be seen as a comprehensively pragmatic and practical way of living.
Instruments of Dissemination
- Literature in various formats for popularizing the basics of the Sanatan Dharma.
- Workshops based on Sanatan themes and ideas for the young, from high school to university; seminars and workshops for young professionals and teachers. Specific workshops for teachers on how to convey Sanatan Dharma to students in various contexts. Teachers will be critical in this task. An intensive course may easily be devised for teachers who are willing to undertake this work.
- Multimedia formats like cinema, television, online platforms and YouTube channels to be extensively used for dissemination and communication of the dharma. There are several very creative people already working on this, and they must be brought together on one platform.
- Social media will have to be used extensively and intensively; focused and disciplined dissemination through social media will be critical to delivery. If we must target the young, we must master the idiom of the social media. However, those who will manage the social media must be diligently selected, trained and supported. Webinars, quick chats, focused interviews and Ted-X kind of focused talks must be continuously streamed across the nation.
- Information Technology will have to be used extensively; the world is right now in the process of moving even more decisively into IT. We will need to innovate and devise new and stimulating ways of “getting the message across”.
We must bear in mind these very important points while we prepare our strategy for action:
- The youth will be critical to our work. India is a young country, with 50% of its population under the age of 35. Youth need direction, orientation, guidance. They are particularly vulnerable and impressionable and can be influenced by any narrative convincing enough. The Sanatan narrative must get through to them.
- We don’t have all the time in the world. We have to get through to the young, but we have to do this within a definite timeframe which will have to be rigorously adhered to.
- When it comes to the youth, we will need the “right packaging”. It is important to get the idiom right. The youth respond to “young” language, they will not respond to philosophical or academic language; they will not respond to the preacher or the professor. They will respond to smart young people who talk their language and address their issues. Can we “package” the truths and concepts of Sanatan Dharma in contemporary post-modern language shorn of heavy ideology and entirely free of ritualism?
- The term “Sanatan Dharma” itself may need to be replaced by something more contemporary and relevant. This will need careful thinking before the movement is carried into the public domain. The word “Dharma”, however effective for us, carries old cultural and religious connotations for the youth and we have to be ready to acknowledge that. Several of our own intellectual and cultural identities and attachments may need to be sacrificed. The terminology is not important here, communication is. Can the basic terminology of the Dharma be made more scientific and contemporary so that we can evoke a vital response from the young?
Consider how Buddhism has become so popular in the West, and among the young — some of the Buddhist teachers have been able to effectively package their dharma in crisp, sharply defined and evocative language that appeals as much to the modern intellect as to the emotions.
What we will need to evoke is the higher intelligence, the buddhi, as well as the vital (pranamaya, the energetic-emotional being). The vital without the buddhi can very easily lead to aggressiveness and lumpenization; the buddhi without the vital can as easily lead to intellectualization and ineffectual ivory-towerism. We have experienced both these extremes in contemporary India and must be careful to avoid both.
A University for Sanatan Dharma, A Prototype
For the most effective strengthening and spread of Sanatan Dharma, the most important instrument will need to be education – ongoing research and study in Sanatan Dharma and human consciousness, and continuous development of thought and knowledge.
Establishing a University should be the first priority once the process of dissemination is underway. This University, a prototype of dharmic , education, will be a modern-day equivalent of the Upanishadic gurukula, and must be world class, second to none in terms of faculty, students, and content. Establishing a full-scale brick and mortar university obviously takes time; but we must bear in mind that education is shifting rapidly towards digitization. The gurukula-Univeristy of the future, even when situated in physical space, will offer mostly online courses. This will be even more of a trend post-Covid-19. Only some intensive courses that would need the presence of the Masters will need to be given in physical spaces.
Sri Aurobindo, while describing the work that must be done for a renewal of India’s civilizational spirit, stated :
The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendor, depth and fullness is India’s first, most essential work; the flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge is the second; an original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavor to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualized society is the third and most difficult. Its success on these three lines will be the measure of its help to the future of humanity.
There are three components that he emphasizes here :
- The recovery of the old spiritual knowledge and experience in all its splendor, depth and fullness;
- The flowing of this spirituality into new forms of philosophy, literature, art, science and critical knowledge;
- An original dealing with modern problems in the light of Indian spirit and the endeavor to formulate a greater synthesis of a spiritualized society.
These components must also be the curricular framework for the University – the recovery of India’s spiritual knowledge and experience and their flowing out in various forms, and their application in the modern world. There is no university in the world today that comes anywhere close to this ideal. In terms of building an India of the future, there can be no better framework. Based on this framework, the University will have a clearly defined agenda:
- To promote world class research in Sanatan Dharma, human consciousness and evolutionary spirituality and Yoga in contemporary contexts, national and international;
- To provide an environment and platform for the study and dissemination of Sanatan Dharma worldwide, which must include websites, social media, multimedia and cinema, online and print publications;
- To become a national and global hub for Sanatan Dharma and evolutionary spirituality and Yoga;
- To create a research and study centre for integral healthcare based on Yoga and Ayurveda, besides being a centre for providing such healthcare to the public;
- To establish schools for study and research in various disciplines like management and leadership, economics, science, integral and Indic psychology, environment and ecology, history and politics based on a dharmic and consciousness worldview.
Besides courses, most of which would be running online, there will have to be allied activities that will reinforce the basic agenda of the University:
- Wide scale organization of off-site camps, boot camps, seminars and workshops for the youth, across schools and universities, wherever people are open and willing.
- Creating a stimulating, challenging and robust program for direct intervention amongst the youth. This program needs to be evolved and implemented by enlightened thinkers and very effective communicators. Scholars, philosophers, social and religious thinkers, scientists, business and corporate representatives need to be included in this endeavor so that the program that evolves is rich, varied, multi-disciplinary and versatile.
- The University will need to maintain close and sustained coordination with schools and other universities to ensure buy-in for this program. Such a program cannot be competitive, it needs must be collaborative.
- In parallel with the program for the youth, there will need to be an equally challenging and robust program to disseminate the dharma amongst professionals, scientists, corporate executives, business leaders and media across the nation. This will need to be super reach-out program, involving various facilitators and learners across the national spectrum.
- The University will need to reach out to several possible stakeholders: writers, philosophers, thinkers and social influencers, religious teachers and mentors, political activists and leaders and media personnel who can influence large sections of society. We will need to gather on one platform all possible influencers and champions of the dharmic cause.
In reaching out to a wider population, we will inevitably meet several people already entrenched in their beliefs and ideologies, often even opposed or hostile to Sanatan thought. We must not turn away from them for none can be left out. There must always be space for debate and dialogue. A truly secular and democratic society must be tolerant of dissent and debate, must be respectful of all world views, all thoughts and beliefs, and must allow disagreement.
Rigidity of belief and thought, intolerance and supremacist attitudes can have no place or relevance in a dharmic society. Dharmic discourse and narrative must be free of political and cultural prejudice. Dharma may inspire and lead politics but can never serve politics or political ends.
Generating Wealth Force
Dharma and artha are the two of the four purusharthas enjoined by Sanatan Dharma. To support dharma, we will need artha, wealth. We will need to gather all like-minded and like-spirited individuals and create a wealth force to sustain dharma. This can and must be done.
The Instruments of the Wealth Force
Dharmansha can be a powerful instrument for creating the wealth force. Dharmansh implies a regular contribution of a percentage of one’s income and wealth for the work of dharma. Even if each of us were to contribute one to five percent of our income to the dharmic work, we would gather sufficient funds to move ahead with the work. Such a thing is regularly done by the Muslims and the Christians. The Christians call this tithe, the contribution of a tenth of one’s income for religious works.
Business and corporate leaders aligned to the dharma can create a powerful network of financial resources and talents and create a corpus for funding the work of dharma. They can also create multiple business opportunities through such a networking and generate wealth for all businesses involved in this network. This network can then contribute directly to the work of dharma. This would be similar to the Islamic halal economy that generates trillions of dollars for Islam.
Crowd sourcing could be yet another instrument to generate wealth. There would be enough individuals and groups to contribute to a movement for dharma. All that would be needed is a clear direction and a transparent plan of action. The power of a committed crowd can be extraordinary. We only need to reach out and communicate.
Reiteration of Salient Points:
- The message of Sanatan Dharma must get across to the young if we wish to win this battle of civilization. But we must ensure that our agenda is not hijacked by aggressive and reductionist “preachers” who are only too happy reducing Sanatan Dharma or Hinduism to rituals and rules.
- Sanatan Dharma represents a highly integrated and integral way of being which is at once subtle and complex: it cannot be allowed to be reduced to a set of simplistic rules and rituals and made into another orthodox religion. The moment Sanatan Dharma is reduced to orthodox practiced religion or rituals, it will be brought into the same space as other world religions. This we must not allow. Sanatan dharma is life itself, it is integral and evolutionary, and must be seen and known as such.
- Hinduism and Sanatan Dharma involve very profound symbolism. We must be able to explain the symbolism without oversimplifying or demystifying it. This will require careful intellectual navigation.
One important reason why the intellectual elite has been wary of Sanatan Dharma and Hinduism is the sheer difficulty in explaining complex and profound spiritual and mystical symbolism to the masses. Simplification should not mean dumbing down.
- This work for Sanatan Dharma is vast and profound, and cannot be done by any one individual or group; everyone must come together in a vast Yajna, a Sacrifice to the Dharma. Everyone is necessary, and all must put forth their highest and best. This work must be collaborative and unitive — the stakes are high and time is running out.
What Sanatan Dharma Is Not
- Sanatan Dharma is not a religion; it has no established clergy, no central authority, no final arbiter in interpretation or application of the Dharma; no single scripture, no theology.
- “Dharma” does not mean religion; the word is derived from the Sanskrit root, dhri, which means to hold or bind (to stabilize, sustain). Dharma therefore refers to anything that holds or binds together (cohere), stabilizes and sustains; it is widely accepted as a principle of coherence without which a thing or being would collapse into chaos. This makes it subtle and quite beyond the range of the religious mind.
- It has nothing to do with rites and rituals. Whatever rituals do exist in the day to day living of Sanatan Dharma is highly symbolic in nature. For instance, in the practice of Yajna (ritual sacrifice), the yajna or the sacrifice itself is symbolic and metaphorical, so is the Agni or fire, so are the oblations and the ingredients, so indeed is the priest.
- It is not a set of mandatory or prescribed rules for ethical and religious behavior. Dharma posits no absolute right or wrong, everything is relative and contextual. The sense of right and wrong must arise only from one’s inmost being or must be guided by one’s higher intelligence, the buddhi. Therefore, in the Sanatan tradition, the most important practice is to awaken and rigorously cultivate one’s inmost being (atma) and one’s highest intelligence (buddhi) of which spiritual discrimination (viveka) is an essential part.
- Sanatan Dharma does not tell you what to eat or not to eat, what to wear or not to wear, how to live and how to behave. It is not a set of do’s and don’ts. For the Sanatan Dharma, the only thing of spiritual, social and moral significance is the development of one’s consciousness. Height and depth of consciousness is incomparably more significant than a set of moral and social rules and laws.
- Sanatan Dharma is not the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads, nor the Mahabharata or the Ramayana, nor even the Puranas; these texts do not define or limit the dharma. However, these texts align the buddhi to the dharma, make the dharma more accessible to the mind and vital behaviour of humanity. A deep understanding of the Vedas, the Gita and the Upanishads, for example, can be of immense importance to one who wishes to live the dharmic life, but they are not the only sources or guides.
The ultimate source of the dharma, and the only infallible guide, is the eternal Wisdom within one’s inmost being, the secret Veda indwelling in every conscious being . This is the only grand scripture and temple of the Sanatan Dharma. Therefore the finding of the atma is the only fundamental and indispensable practice of Sanatan Dharma — all else is of secondary or peripheral interest.
1The “Modi years” (2014—to date) is not just a political marker but a socio-cultural one. In a historic context, India’s political and social course correction from pseudo-secularism and liberalism to pro-rightist nationalism will be attributed to Prime Minister Modi’s personal initiative in driving the BJP agenda to its rapid and decisive conclusion. The process, as I write this, is still on.
4Sri Aurobindo: “As the supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every man, so its supreme Guide and Teacher is the inner Guide, the World Teacher, jagad-guru, secret within us. (The Synthesis of Yoga)
The author believes that Sri Aurobindo’s integral Yoga is arguably the most definitive and systematic expression of the Sanatan Dharma known to human beings.