“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.63)
इति ते ज्ञानम् आख्यातं
गुह्याद् गुह्यतरं मया
यथेच्छसि तथा कुरु
iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ
guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā
yathecchasi tathā kuru
1. Hold up a book
“This book is everything. It is the word of the Almighty, passed down from high above. Hold onto it. Study it. Hear from it. Revere it. Let not this book be disparaged or criticized. Take it as your everything. If you are ever in trouble, turn to a page and take comfort from the story or lesson. Everything that this book says is true; be skeptical at your own peril.”
2. Assign Divine status to a particular person
“He is the savior. He is our lord forever. He came to take away our sins. He did everything for you, but what have you done for him? Just turn your life over to him. Everything will be forgiven. Just see the miracles he was able to pull off. Healing the sick. Walking on water. Delivering a sermon for the ages. He is everything; don’t look the other way. Blessed are you for coming to the light.”
3. Denounce anyone who does not share the same point of view
“That person you describe is nice; I will not argue there. But I never hear them talk about God. They never mention that book or that savior. It is like they are against the principles of righteousness. They are a sinner, through and through. Anyone who does not accept is condemned; of this there is no doubt. Do not risk eternal damnation in the hellish realm. This is your only chance; if you screw up you don’t get a mulligan. No chance at salvation after the fact.”
It really is that simple, and any person can follow these steps to form their own religion and accompanying religious society. It would thus make sense that there are competing entries in the supposed competition. It would also make sense that the category assigned from the outside is “faith.”
That is to say people are considered to be following a particular faith, instead of the actual truth. They are investing in a hope and a prayer. This isn’t always a criticism, as the people outside of these religions don’t have any better answers for explaining the origins of the universe and the proper outlook moving forward.
The Vedic tradition is different in that there is never sole reliance on faith. There is the Sanskrit word shraddha, which essentially means the same thing, but that kind of faith is only one aspect to the entire culture. The closest equivalent to the term “faith” or “religion”, as they are understood in common conversation, is sanatana-dharma.
The root meaning is, “the eternal way of living.” Dharma is what defines the individual, and dharma as a set of rules and regulations is a way to achieve the defining characteristic. Sanatana indicates that the dharma for the individual is without beginning and without end.
This means that while there may be specific books referenced, personalities to worship, and reactions corresponding to the level of allegiance or lack thereof, dharma is never tied to a specific time period. It is not rooted entirely in a book, precisely because eternity cannot be fit into a single published work.
One of the more popular presentations of dharma is Bhagavad-gita. This is a standalone text, although it is originally contained in a much larger presentation known as Mahabharata. The Sanskrit verses are what matter, as they have been sung since the beginning of time, as explained by the teacher.
इमं विवस्वते योगं
प्रोक्तवान् अहम् अव्ययम्
विवस्वान् मनवे प्राह
मनुर् इक्ष्वाकवे ’ब्रवीत्
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ’bravīt
“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)
Bhagavad-gita is Shri Krishna explaining dharma to Arjuna. Krishna is supposed to be Bhagavan, which is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The wisdom from Bhagavad-gita is timeless; it is applicable to any person, living in any area, and speaking any language.
Arjuna is the attentive and inquisitive disciple. He accepts the wisdom directly. We should take careful note that he is never compelled to follow through on the instruction. Krishna asks Arjuna to deliberate fully on everything heard. Make a wise and rational choice. Don’t depend on faith alone.
Every individual always has this choice. They can never be fully condemned precisely because God is always with them, in the plenary expansion known as Supersoul. Genuine religion is always one and it can never be concocted. There may be variety and nuance to the presentation based on the time and circumstance, but the ultimate purpose is always the same. Come closer to God the person, be devoted to Him, and remain free of the miseries associated with a detached existence.
Not difficult at all,
For new religion to call.
First a book and savior taking,
And sinners those against making.
But real dharma always one,
From the original person has come.
Wisdom from authority accept,
Then choose to follow or reject.
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