“The Bhagavatam says: dharmam hi sakshad-bhagavat-pranitam—the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34 Purport)
Is it faith? Do we argue with others on this basis? My religion is better than yours. My religion says this. Your religion says that. How to reconcile amongst the different holy books? What is the correct term for the Divinity? In whom to place all trust? Why are we here? Where will we go after death? Is it all just a way to cope with those things that can’t be explained?
The two words in the Sanskrit term that describes genuine religion help to clear up the confusion. Both are necessary. That is to say the objects referenced by the words must exist in some form; otherwise the religion followed is flawed to some degree.
1. A way of life
Dharma. Not just faith. Not just some belief that can’t be explained. Dharma is the essence of something. It is the characteristic which makes the object. That characteristic does not necessarily have to be seen. For instance, I recognize a song by a particular band based on the sound. The compact disc can have whatever label printed on it, but it is the music which makes the distinction.
With the living being, it is not the outside that determines their existence. There is something on the inside animating. The quality of that living spark is the same in all beings. Large or small, young or old, moving or nonmoving, the spirit soul is what defines life.
That soul has a dharma. The Vedas, the oldest scriptural tradition in the world, originally passed down in aural form and henceforth preserved in the written word of the Sanskrit language, reveal that the soul’s dharma is service. That is to say no matter where you go, which kind of living being you find, there is some kind of service.
In the nonmoving species the ability to exercise that service is hindered to a larger degree than say in the animal species. This is the reason the human birth is considered most auspicious. There is the chance to live real religion. That is also dharma. More than righteousness, piety, the proper way to do things – dharma is a way of life.
It encompasses all aspects of living. From how to deal with heat and cold, the changing of seasons, gain and loss, association and separation, and most importantly, birth and death – dharma is applicable from start to finish. The circumstances are of no issue. Dharma is the same for every person, regardless of the language they speak or the tradition of spirituality passed down from the ancestors.
The Sanskrit word is sanatana. This means without a beginning. There is also no end. Taking the two words together, sanatana-dharma means the eternal way of living. The time aspect is important to understand since it incorporates the different changes that have occurred in the past, are occurring at present, and will occur in the future.
Sanatana-dharma is thus not limited to the present lifetime. The eternal religion will be applicable in the future, when there is a different body. That is the true meaning to death. The soul inside simply travels to a different place, where a different covering takes over. Prior to life in the womb of the mother, this same soul had a different body.
The eternal religion involving service can only be properly applied to someone else who is eternal. That is to say the imperishable spirit soul is constitutionally situated to serve the Supreme Soul, who has similar properties. The difference with that superior being is that there is never a distinction between body and spirit. God never becomes subject to reincarnation, karma, the laws of nature and so forth.
Sanatana-dharma is the only way to truly love, as there are no expectations. That love cannot be extinguished, only forgotten from time to time. That forgetfulness is what causes birth in the material world, and remembrance is what will bring the soul back to its original position, eternally situated in service at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In air, on land or in water faring,
Common trait all species sharing.
This as dharma is known,
Propensity to service shown.
That property lasting forever,
To be removed from spirit never.
Sanatana-dharma thus religion real,
More than just faith appeal.
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