FAQs – Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) for dummies

1. What does ‘Sanatana Dharma’ mean?
It can be translated as ‘The eternal way of life’ although the word ‘Dharma’ does not have an exact equivalent in English. More under FAQ no. 2…

2. What is the actual name of the Sanatana Dharma? Is it not Hinduism?
The Sanatana Dharma was not started by someone or named after any individual. It is a way of life which is in tune with nature and is also steadily evolving. It is a collection of practices based on the principle of undergoing various stages through many lifetimes in order to experience universal oneness and attain super-consciousness. It has no fixed belief system, a particular book with a code of conduct or heavenly messengers. It does not have any corporate hierarchy or mandatory weekly congregations. The Sanatana Dharma has been there since the time when no organised religions existed and as there was no other way of life, it did not require a name.

Over the years, people created organised religions as a tool to rule over people. The fear of hell and the greed for heaven was put into their minds with the help of priests appointed by rulers. People listened to what the priests said who in turn reported to the king. Their scriptures clearly say that kings are appointed by God and this ensures that people don’t revolt against the ruling elite (Romans 13:1-6). Invaders and proselytisers who spread their religions travelled to different continents and when they arrived from the North, they started to refer to the Indian sub continent as Hind or Hindustan, and its inhabitants as Hindus. The term is believed to have etymological roots in the name Sindh which is the name of the river. Although the use of the name ‘Indu’ was used to refer to the river Sindh or  Sindhu by Alexander in the year 325 BCE, the term ‘Hindus’ was first used by the British in the 18th Century CE for non-Abrahamic people living in India. Unfortunately most people are unaware of the fact that the term ‘Hindu’ has derogatory meanings in some languages spoken by invaders. There are quite a few scholars who have researched Persian and Urdu dictionaries in which they have found the term ‘Hindu’ to mean a robber or even a servant. The British frequently used this term to create differences among the Indian people so that their method of ‘divide and rule’ could be successful.

3. What kind of a religion is the Sanatana Dharma? Is is based on polytheism, monotheism or any other concept?
The Sanatana Dharma is neither polytheistic nor monotheistic. The basic principles of the Sanatana Dharma lean more towards Monism. It is the way of life with traditions practised by the Vedic people who worshipped natural forces such as Indra (rains), Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Varun (water), etc. It aims at elevating everyone to a higher level of consciousness which automatically ensures people permanent peace and happiness. The Vedic culture is the oldest one that exists until today. It teaches equality not only among humans but also among all living beings. It never taught belligerence nor practised proselytisation. The Vedic way of life is a complete spiritual philosophy and the core teaching of the Vedas is Universal oneness. Understanding the Supreme Truth of oneness and some basic study of the scriptures are sufficient for one to ‘become’ a Sanatana Dharmi. There are no conversion ceremonies or assemblies that a person must join in order to become one.

4. Who is God? Why do we have so many Gods and Goddesses?
The entire system, the Divine Principle or the Eternal Truth is God. The Supreme Truth can be visualised in whichever form a person chooses. The different Deities or Gods and Goddesses are manifestations of the one Supreme Formless Brahman.

SBG 11:15  Arjuna said:
I see all Deities and various other living entities assembled in Your Body O Bhagavan. I see Lord Brahma on the lotus flower as well as Lord Shiva, many great sages and divine serpents.

5. Which are the Sanatani scriptures that need to be read and followed?
Most organised religions have one, two or a set of main scriptures that are expected to be read and adhered to by their respective followers. However, as for the Sanatana Dharma, we could be talking of an entire Divine library. Details are given in the section Dharmic Scriptures which will soon be published. However reading the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, the Ishavasaya Upanishad and the Kat-hopanishad should greatly help people in understanding the Sanatana Dharma.

6. Who is the real “I”? Am I the Atman?
You are your Self. Your body and mind are not you. The Self in you is neither born nor does it die any time. It is indestructible. SBG 2:17 – 25

Instead of identifying oneself with the body, mind and intellect, one should do so with the divinity in them.

7. What is the difference between Atman and Prana (life force)?
“Atmana esha prano jaayate” means Prana (the life force of the breath of life) is born of the Self. The Atman is the Self or the Jivatma and Prana is the life force which electrifies the entire body, connects all the parts through the cardio vascular and nervous systems and links the mind with the body. When the Atman quits a body, the life force also departs, leaving the body behind to decay and become one with the elements.

8. Am I the Atman, Mind or Senses or a collection of all of them?
You are the Atman or the Self which is the Jivatma and a part of the Paramatma. Your Gunas, your senses and your mind are carried by your Self through different Janmas of lifetimes. The experiences you undergo and the knowledge you gain, move you closer to the Supreme Truth that you will certainly learn in some part of time.

9. What is the difference between Mind and Intellect? Which is more superior?
In the Kat-hopanishad, Yama explains great truths to young Nachiketa using the analogy of a chariot. He likens the mind to the reins that are used to control the horses of a chariot and the intellect or Buddhi to be the factor that holds the reins.
Kat-hopanishad 1:3:3 “Know the Self as the master of the chariot, the body as the chariot, the intelligence as the charioteer and the mind as the reins.”

It is obviously the intellect that is superior to the mind. The mind is an excellent and highly efficient tool but it always needs to be kept under control.

10. Who is the doer and who is the enjoyer?
People are neither ‘doers’ nor ‘enjoyers’. The feeling of doing and enjoying stems from the ego which is a mere illusion.

SBG 3:27 All actions are done by the three Gunas or the qualities of nature. But he whose mind is deluded by false ego and arrogance, thinks “I am the doer”.

SBG 5:08-09 A person of selfless action thinks, “I am not doing anything at all”, even while seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, dreaming, breathing, talking, giving up, accepting, opening, closing of the eyelids, believing that the senses rest in sense objects.

SBG 18:14 The five factors are, the body which is the seat of action; the ego that claims to be the doer; the mind and the various senses; the different functions performed by the being; and the Super Consciousness within as the fifth factor.

11. At whose command do we all perform actions?
The combination of the Gunas form the general nature, attitude, tendencies and character of a person. As said in SBG verse 15:08, when the Atman leaves a body, it takes along with it the mind and the senses of the person it had formed and enters a new body to become a new person. That is how the thoughts, nature, feelings and desires of a person continue to exist in the new person. It is the attitude based on the basic nature of a person that makes people perform actions.
SBG 3:36 Arjuna said:
What prompts a man to perform sinful deeds O descendant of Vrshni? Why does he commit such acts even without desiring to do them, as if he were forced to do them?
SBG 3:37 Shri Bhagavan said:
It is lust (for power or anything else), which is born out of the quality called Rajas Guna that leads to anger which in turn prompts a person to commit sin. It is all devouring and greatly sinful. You must know that this is the greatest enemy in the world.

A person who commits a crime or any violent act, does so because ‘something’ from within ‘tells’ them to do so and that ‘something’ is the drive that comes from their Gunas. Since many people fail to differentiate between their Self and their mind, they erroneously believe that they are their mind and that their ego is their own Self.

This wrong belief makes them easy victims of mass brainwashing through organised religions which make them go to the extent of even killing themselves, other humans and other beings.

Attaining spiritual wisdom helps people realise that their Self is divine and this knowledge alters their attitude and general nature. It helps them let go off their ego along with the feeling of ‘doership’. A person who renounces ‘doership’ or ownership of their deeds is free from the reactions caused by those actions. Click here for more on Karma, Karmayoga, ‘Doership’, Gunas & Selfless Action.

12. Does Karma work like “Every action has a reaction” i.e., does karma take effect immediately?
Every action certainly has a reaction but whether the reaction will take place straightaway, at a later time or even in a future lifetime cannot be predicted.

13. Why do bad things happen to good people and good things to bad people?
How do we know that ‘good’ things did not happen to good people in the past? Couldn’t people who are currently undergoing troubles also been in very comfortable situations earlier? Situations in life keep changing constantly. Nothing is permanent and whatever happens in life, is a learning experience. Difficult and challenging situations are not punishments as said in Abrahamic scriptures, because there is no one sitting in the clouds and sending out punishments to people who commit wrong deeds. Challenging experiences humble people and make them change their attitude which in turn, invites ‘good things’ in life.

14. Why do some people get over bad Karma quickly against some who keep struggling?
There is no clear answer to this question simply because it is too vague and general. It’s like asking why do some people fall sick and some don’t. The closest answer to this question is that when struggle continues for a longer period, it could mean that they still have some Karmic balancing or learning to do. Once that is done, things will start falling in place and their journey becomes smoother.

15. Many Karmas have happened before one got to know Krishna, about the Self and Dharmic philosophy – so who is to blame for this ignorance?
People go stages different levels in their Karmic journey. One lifetime is an extremely minute part of the entire journey. A person born into a wealthy family could have had very poor parents in the previous Janma or vice versa. However, it is true that it is the good past Karma of people that leads them into Dharmic surroundings and brings them in contact with Dharmic people.
SBG 6:43 There his previous divine consciousness is revived and he comes in contact with the knowledge acquired in his former body. He then works even harder in order to achieve perfection, O Arjuna.
SBG 6:44 With the divine consciousness from the previous birth, a person gets attracted to Yogic principles as they will come to him even if he does not go behind them. Such a person strives for yoga and is steadfast in Yogic principles.

Understanding that there is no cruel God up there who punishes people for their sins or is waiting to toss them into an eternal hellfire, is the first step towards clear and sane thinking which is what the Sanatana Dharma teaches. Once this point is clear, people will be able to comprehend that they can change unwanted patterns in their life if they changed their attitude by gaining spiritual knowledge of the Self using the amazingly divine Srimad Bhagavad Gita which, in non spiritual terms is the most perfect ‘mind management manual’ ever. It is due to sheer ignorance that people commit wrong deeds and amass negative Karma which they are forced to balance through many Janmas. However, once they hear about Krishna and His teachings, they are blessed with the great chance of in fact settling all their negative past Karma simply through Sharanagati before Him. SBG 18:66.

16. Can Krishna and Bhakti towards Him, alter our path decided by past Karmas?
Yes, absolutely! The first and foremost requirement is devotion. Bhagavan Krishna said:
SBG 18:55 It is only though love and devotion that a person can know Me truly. Knowing Me thus, he enters into Me at once.

True knowledge changes a person’s perception of life and the different situations they find themselves in. Understanding verse SBG 18:66,  should enough to show that shedding ego and completely surrendering before Krishna, are enough to set right the Karmic baggage that one carries around through different Janmas. (SBG 15:08)

SBG 4:23 In the case of a person who has neither attachments nor the feeling of ‘doership’ and has his mind completely established in Divine knowledge, his actions being done as a sacrifice unto Bhagavan Krishna, are freed from all Karmic reactions.

17. What does true surrendering mean? How do we test ourselves whether we have fully surrendered?
Begin with this Shloka:
SBG 2:07
कार्पण्यदोषोपहतस्वभावः पृच्छामि त्वां धर्मसंमूढचेताः |
यच्छ्रेयः स्यान्निश्चितं ब्रूहि तन्मे शिष्यस्तेऽहं शाधि मां त्वां प्रपन्नम् || २ ७ ||
kaarpanya dosho pahata svabhaavaha
prcchaami tvaam dharma sammud-ha chetaaha
yacchreyah syaan nischitam bruuhi tanme
shishyas te ‘ham shaadhi maam tvaam prapannam (SBG 2:07)
With my mind in a state of confusion regarding my duty and the feeling of helplessness because of weakness, I ask You to tell me what is good for me. I am Your disciple and I have surrendered my soul to You. Please teach me.

a. Read the Srimad Bhagavad Gita at least two times. (It takes about 3.5 to 4 hours to read all the 700 translated verses once)

b. If you feel that it would be easier for you to complete reading the SBG by attending Satsangs, you are wrong. First read the book yourself before listening to the interpretations of other people. Satsangs would be more interesting for you once you read the entire SBG because you will find it easier to relate to what your spiritual Guru is talking about.

c. Do your duty to the best of your ability and be prepared to wholeheartedly accept whatever the result of your work may be.

d. Whatever you do, do it as an offering unto Krishna.
SBG 9:27 Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give, whatever you practise as austerity, O Arjuna, do it for Me and as an offering unto Me.
SBG 9:28 By doing so, you will be freed from the bonds of action that result in good and in bad. By being free and with your mind guided by the principle of the Yoga of renunciation, you will attain Me.

e. Understand the basic principles of leading a Dharmic life.
SBG 5:03 A person who neither hates nor desires the results of his actions is known to be a Sanyasi or one who has renounced everything. Such a person is free from dualities and is therefore liberated from material bondage.

SBG 5:25 Those whose sins have been destroyed, whose minds are beyond dualities, who are always engaged in working for the welfare of all living beings, achieve liberation and absorption in the Supreme Bhagavan.

SBG 6:07 The one who has conquered the mind has already reached Superconsciousness. Such a person has crossed all dualities such as cold and heat; pleasure and pain; honour and dishonour; and is always balanced, peaceful and steadfast in devotion.

f. Develop ‘Prasadabuddhi’ 

g. Read SBG 18:66 a few times and understand the Divine Promise.

18. If we fully surrender before Krishna, can we be sure that He would take care of us? You always say ‘Nothing unbearable will ever happen’.
Never forget that ‘Surrendering fully’ also denotes having no conditions or expectations!
A natural law that a wonderful Guru of mine told me about is true – ‘Nothing unbearable ever will ever happen.’

19. Which God should I visit? Demigods or Krishna the superior and above?
It is up you! There is no compulsion nor are there any rules. The Sanatana Dharma is not a cult with a rule book. However, it would be important to remember that whichever deity you worship, is a form of the Supreme Being. The Sanatana Dharma is based on nondualism or universal oneness. It is only due to the lack of Dharmic understanding that many Sanatanis (Hindus), think that there are actually numerous individual Gods when there is only one Supreme Brahman of which all Deities, living beings and everything in the universe are manifestations. Ignorance of this core principle of the Sanatana Dharma leads people to believe that it is a polytheistic one when it is not even monotheistic but fundamentally more monistic and at the same time pluralistic. It might sound a bit a confusing initially, but when you read the Ishavasya Upanishad thoroughly, it will be easy to understand the ‘Complete Whole’ that we are all a part of.

20. What is the true process of Bhakti: idol/temple worship, reciting Mantras , which Mantra?
The ideal way would be to have a teacher and follow his or her method and later on improvise on them to suit your own personal time or other limitations.

The term ‘idol worship’ is a derogatory one used by abrahamics in order to portray Sanatana Dharmis in bad light who actually don’t worship idols but particular forms of the Supreme Being represented by Vigrahas which are statues or images. People worship the Supreme Brahman in a form of their choice and they show their respect and shower their love on the Vigraha which is something that they can see and touch. Unless a person has attained great mind control, it would be extremely difficult for them to keep their mind under control and from wandering away. Moreover, it is impossible to visualise something that does not have a physical form. Bhagavan Krishna explained this to Arjuna very clearly.
SBG 12:05 Those whose minds are set on an unmanifested and impersonal Absolute Power face difficulties in reaching the goal. This is because people always identify with the body and when there is no perceptible form, it is difficult to perceive.

21. Why do many Westerners, who are not linked to Dharmic philosophy continue to be good souls?
The Sanatana Dharma never claims to be the only path to righteous living or to attain salvation. It is a way of life that came into existence based on Divine knowledge that wise people handed down through generations. Those who live a righteous life, respect nature and do good are on the right path to Karmic evolution for which they do not need to have a Sanatana Dharmic name or identity.
SBG 5:05 A person who is devoted to the path of selfless action, has a pure mind or a purified soul, has his body and senses under control, is compassionate to all living beings and sees his Self in them, although engaged in work, is never in bondage.

22. What happens after death?
Never get into the theories propounded by people who do so in order to fool others and swindle them. The only way to find out what happens after death is to ask someone who has died which is not easy, if not possible, for ordinary people!

Bhagavan Krishna said as follows:
SBG 2:28 O Arjuna, nothing is known before birth and after death. The only period known is between birth and death. Therefore of what use is lamentation.
SBG 8:08 With the mind not moving towards any other thing, made steadfast by the method of habitual meditation, and constantly meditating, one certainly comes to Me, O Arjuna!
SBG 9:24 I am the enjoyer and the Bhagavan of all Sacrifices, but those who do not know Me in reality, fall into the world of mortals and revolve in the cycle of birth and death.

More FAQs to follow…

Please send your questions to tavamithram (at) gmail (dot) com

Jai Shri Krishna

Some misconceptions about the Sanatana Dharma