Book: Hindu Dharma, Written by Swami Chandrashekarendra
In the old days the kitchen fireplace was fuelled with dried wood, cow
dung and so on. On rainy days it was difficult to light it. But if only
sparks were produced they could be fanned into a flame so as to set the
wood or cow dung on fire. Our sanatana dharma has not entirely
perished. A few sparks of it are present in the life of a small number
great men still living in our midst. It is my ardent wish to keep
them with a view to propagating our ancient religion in its true
Our reformers want to do away with varna dharma so as to make
Hinduism no different from other faiths.
In this context, I must ask you: What is religion? Religion is like a
therapeutic system meant to cure the ills contracted by the self. The
physician alone knows about the disease afflicting the patient and how
is to be treated. Our sanatana dharma is the medicine prescribed by our
sages and creators of the dharmasastras who never sought anything for
themselves and who, in their utter selflessness, were concerned only
about the good of mankind.
In other countries other physicians have prescribed medicines in the
of their own religious systems. Would your doctor like to be told that
should treat you in the same way as another doctor treats his patient?
There are several systems of medicine. In one there is a strict diet
regimen, in another there is not much strictness about the patient's
In one system the medicines administered taste sweet; in another they
taste bitter. To be restored to health we have to follow strictly any
method of treatment, not insist on a combination of the various
Other religions lay down only such duties as are common to all their
followers. In the Vedic religion there are two types of dharma, the one
being common to all and the other to individual varnas. The duties
common to all Hindus, the universal code of conduct, have the name of
"samanya dharma". Non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness, control of
senses, non-acquisitiveness (one must not possess material goods in
excess of what is needed for one's bare requirements, not even a straw
must one own in excess), devotion to Isvara, trust in one's parents,
for all creatures - these form part of the samanya dharma. Then each
varna has its own special code of conduct or "visesa dharma" determined
by its hereditary vocation.
If the special duties (visesa dharma) of the various varnas were made
common to all (that is made part of the samanya dharma) a situation
would arise in which no one would observe any dharma. To illustrate, I
shall give you an example. Abstaining from meat was laid down as a
common dharma in Buddhism. But what do we see today in countries
where that religion has a wide following? There almost all buddhists eat
meat. In contrast to this is what obtains in our religion. Our seers and
authors of the dharmasastras had a profound understanding of human
nature. They made abstention from meat applicable to a limited number
of people. But others follow the example of these few, on days of
on special occasions like the death anniversaries of their parents, on
sacred to the gods.
The religions that flourished once upon a time in other
that had one common code of conduct for all its adherents -
have become extinct. In Europe the Hellenic religion is gone. So too in
West Asia the prehistoric Hebrew faiths no longer exist. And in the East
only a residue remains of Confucianism, Shintoism, etc. Religions like
Buddhism, Christianity and Islam too have but one code of conduct for
their adherents. Their followers in various countries now find less and
inner satisfaction. The number of people who have lost faith in their
religion is on the increase in all these lands. They become either
or turn to the yoga, bhakti or jnana schools of Hinduism.
It is difficult to say how long people will continue to owe allegiance
religions that arose in various countries during historical times. I say
not because I happen to be a representative of Hindus nor is it my wish
speak in demeaning terms about other religions. My wish is indeed that
people following different religions ought to remain in their respective
folds and find spiritual fulfilment in them. I do not invite others to
embrace my faith. In fact I believe that to do so is contrary to the
tenets of my religion. Nothing occurs in this world as an accident.
with different levels of maturity are born in different religions: so it
ordained by the Lord. I believe that a man grows inwardly by practising
the tenets of the religion of his birth.
I speak about what I feel to be the worthy features of Hinduism-
that are not found in other religions - it is neither to speak ill of
nor to invite their followers to our side. Non-Hindus attack these
aspects of our religion without taking the trouble of understanding them
and some Hindus themselves are influenced by their views. That is why I
am constrained to speak about the distinctive doctrines of our religion.
Acceptance of concepts like karma, the Lord's incarnations, etc. will in
way weaken their [of non-Hindus] attachment to the basic beliefs of
own religions. What is the fundamental concept of any religion, its
principle? It is faith in the Lord and devotion to him. For others to
these special concepts of Hinduism sympathetically does not mean that
their faith in God or devotion to him will be affected in any way.
I say all this not because I think that other religions are in any
because I have reason to be happy if indeed they are. I echoed the views
of distinguished students of religion like Toynbee, Paul Brunton and
Kostler. I merely repeated their view that lack of faith in religion -
atheism - is growing day by day everywhere and that all religions are
struggling for their survival.
This trend is seen to be on the rise in our own country. But foreigners
who have made a study of religious beliefs all over the world are
unanimous in their view that in comparison with other countries things
are better here. "The religious urge has not yet reached a lamentable
state in your country, " They tell us, Sadhakas, seekers, keep coming to
India in large numbers. A little thought should show without a shadow of
doubt that if religious feeling is on the decline and atheism on the
India it is due to the fact that we have become increasingly lax in
observing varna dharma and have come to believe that all Hindus should
be made into one without any distinction of caste.
When a religion divides its followers in many ways, we think that there
will be no unity or integrity among them. It also seems to us that such
religion will fall apart as a result of internal squabbles. Since the
Alexander, India has been invaded by wave after wave of foreigners
belonging to other faiths. Considering the divisions in our religion and
series of foreign invasions, Hinduism should have ended up in smoke. But
what we actually see is different. Religions which have no distinctions
caste and which prescribed the same duties and rites for all their
followers have disappeared in the flow of time. Similar systems still
surviving today are faced with danger, as is attested to by the
intellectuals amongst their own followers. But Hinduism with its many
divisions is still breathing. We must try to understand the secret of
survival without being carried away by emotions.
We have practised varna dharma for millennia and it has continued to be
a living force. What is its secret? Or think of this. It is the special
Brahmins to preserve the mantras. But have they ever been in a majority?
No. Have they enjoyed the power of arms? No. Have they had at least
money power, the advantage gained from wealth? The answer again is
"No". (Brahmins acquiring the habit of accumulating money is a recent
phenomenon. It is of course quite undesirable). How or why did other
castes accept the divisions laid down in the sastras created by the
Brahmins who did not have the strength derived either from money or
A great man like the Buddha or the Jina arose to proclaim: "We do not
need the Vedas, nor do we need the sacrifices prescribed by them. Let us
have one uniform dharma for all people. We do not need Sanskrit either.
Let us write our new sastras in Pali or some other Prakrt, in a language
understood by the common people. "It is true that some people were
persuaded to embrace these new religions, Buddhism and Jainism, but
the attraction of these faiths was momentary and the two gradually
declined. The old Vedic religion emerged again with new vigour.
A great man has sung thus: "It is needed a wonder that life remains in
body with its nine apertures (nava-dvara or nine gates). If it departs
no matter to be wondered at. “Likewise, it would not have been a matter
for surprise if Hinduism had perished with all its constant exposure to
attack from outside. It is indeed a miracle that it is not dead.
If some faiths in India itself and outside have declined and if our
alone has survived for ten thousand years, does it not mean that it has
something that is lacking in others? This something is the varna system.
Our present-day reformers argue that the varna division is responsible
the disintegration of our society. The fact is it is precisely this
varna dharma, that has sustained it and kept it intact. It follows that
dharma has features that are superior in character to concepts like
equality, features that are vital to the very well-being of people. Our
society is divided on the basis of it, but it must be noted that this
has helped our religion to preserve itself successfully against all