“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
इमं विवस्वते योगं
प्रोक्तवान् अहम् अव्ययम्
विवस्वान् मनवे प्राह
मनुर् इक्ष्वाकवे ’ब्रवीत्
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ’bravīt
Vedic culture does not fall into any “ism.” Though the terms Hinduism and Vaishnavism are used in identification, for distinguishing those practicing a specific timeless art from those who aren’t, at the origin is a way of life. Sanatana-dharma is a culture that encompasses every aspect of living, from birth to death, youth to old age, female to male, laborer to wise scholar.
Studying how the culture is different from commonly subscribed to faiths helps to get a clearer understanding.
1. Not one book
This group has their particular text. They hold it in the highest esteem. Though perhaps today the language is different, with many translations coming since the time of the original publication, there is strong reliance for guidance, wisdom, and understanding.
Vedic culture does not have one book. A person could surely study Bhagavad-gita for an entire lifetime and have a sufficient foundation for making life sapaha [successful], for reaching the highest objective of a living person, purushartha.
Yet the same could be accomplished holding on to the Shrimad Bhagavatam. The Vishnu Purana covers a similar subject matter. The Ramayana appears to be different, but in fact the principles are identical; only presented in another way.
The reason for the many books is that the Almighty Himself is not limited to a single manifestation. If He were, then that would disqualify Him from Divine status. As infinite as time itself are the glories of the Supreme Person, who is addressed as Bhagavan because of His amazing attributes, exhibited in varying degrees based on the time and circumstance.
2. Not one founder
It would make sense that the single book of importance has an associated founder. Often described as a prophet, this person appeared in the world at a specific time to deliver the fallen. Followers subsequent to that time refer to that person as the “savior.” They are everything. Their word is final.
With santana-dharma, there is the system of parampara. Many people appearing in a chain of disciplic succession, with each link just as capable as the adjacent one, either forward or backward. The exact language spoken may not be the same. The focus may be on a specific aspect of the science of self-realization, but the objective is always one.
The person to bring the realization to others is known as guru. This is the spiritual master. In the Bhagavad-gita they are described as a tattva-darshi, or someone who has realized the truth.
तद् विद्धि प्रणिपातेन
उपदेक्ष्यन्ति ते ज्ञानं
tad viddhi praṇipātena
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
The guru hopes to train the disciple in such a way that the chain continues. This means that I have the potential to enter into the greatest association, despite my many faults. The living beings are Divine inside, but they are always different from the origin in this important way. He never has to realize anything, where we have the vulnerability to illusion in a world of birth and death.
3. Not one time period
It could be argued that those in Vedic culture follow the one Krishna and His most important teachings collected together in what is known as the Bhagavad-gita. Hence one founder and one book, with the time period being the battle of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago.
Yet in that discussion with the disciple Arjuna, Krishna explains that the same science was taught at the beginning of the creation, to the sun-god. That was the beginning of the disciplic succession, specific to this universe. The number of realms cannot be properly counted, as the material nature originates in Shri Krishna. His energy is as infinite as He is.
Someone who was not fortunate enough to hear Bhagavad-gita during Krishna’s time still had a chance at liberation. Because of parampara, the highest wisdom was available previous to Krishna’s time on earth, and it continues to be around today. The acharyas help to spread the influence, to bring others into the light, so that they can live their lives in the proper way, always remaining conscious of the best well-wishing friend of every living entity. They prove that God can come to life, so to speak, even right now, in the very location where someone resides. The magic occurs through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
From me never to hear,
That only one path clear.
That reading this book a must,
And that in others not to trust.
Sanatana-dharma always to shine,
Backwards and forwards in time.
Bhagavad-gita or Shrimad Bhagavatam prefer,
To parampara’s advice refer.
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