Let us try to understand the words ‘Dharma’ and ‘Sampradaayaa’ in their true meaning. These are words of the Sanskrit language and so their true meaning too should be understood as meant in that language.
“Dharyate anena iti dharmah”. That which supports is dharma. That which supports, maintains, nourishes, harmonises, brings together, and unites the inert and the sentient, the individual and the society, nation and the world is dharma. The very substratum of the entire creations is called dharma. The common factor, the essence of countless imaginable creation is dharma. The other names synonymous in meaning in the Vedas are Brahman, Atman, Paramatman etc. Therefore one of the names of Maha Vishnu in the Vishnusahasranaam (thousand names of Vishnu) is Dharma. The word Dharma has a wide range of meanings and hence called Parma (Supreme) Dharma. Let us now delve further into this word.
There are three aspects to life:- l)The experiencer of the world called the ‘jeeva’ or the individual, 2) the experienced world or jagat. The individual could not have created himself or another individual or the world. Neither did the world create itself or the individual. The finite cannot create the infinite, nor the inert the sentient. 3) Hence one has to postulate the creator of the two – the Iswara. The Jeeva Jagat Ishwara are in essence one. Their essential relation or substratum or the Truth behind them is called Param Dharma. These three, Jeeva- Jagat-Ishwara, also have a transactional relationship
The Ishwara is the creator, the world and thejeevas, the created. The jeeva is the enjoyer, the world the enjoyed. The individual is the part and finite, the Ishwara, the whole and the infinite. Knowledge of this transactional relationship is also called ‘Dharma’.
The individal performs actions in the world and reaps results thereof. So the Law of Action- Karma Siddhanta and it’s discussions is also ‘dharma’. By actions one gains various fields of experiences, material objects (job relations etc), or other world (heaven, hell etc) or various other bodies (plant, animal etc.). Hence this knowledge is also called Dharma.
An action is measured not only by the outer performance, but also by the intention behind it. If one serves a rich man with an intention of gaining wealth, it is not called selfless service. These intentions depend on the values of life that we possess. Hence discussion on values is also dharma. The universal values are also samanya or maanav dharma as they are common to humanity under all circumstances, in all places and at all times. It is what makes us humane. They are truth(satya), non-injury(ahimsa), self-control(brahmacharya), etc. The application of these may differaccording to circumstances but that does not detract their value or change them. For example, when, in order to save a man, his cancerous hand may have to be amputatted, it does not mean that the doctor has no value for non-injury.
For the harmonious life of the individual and society certain laws are made which are given out as do’d and dont’s. The knowledge of these laws, as the do’s and dont’s is also dharma. It is called Vidhi-nishedhatmak dharma.
Depending on the age, place, position, sex etc of the person, he has certain duties toperform. Non-performance of the same would cause harm to himself and others. For eg. the King’s duty is to rule with justice, protect his subjects etc. The students duty is to study, teh teachers’s to teach whole heartedly etc. The knowledge of these duties is also dharma (Vishesha dharma).
Furthermore, for gaining spiritual unfoldment, special actions are prescribed called sadhanas or upaasanaa. They are also dharma. For gaining special worldly or divine powere (siddhis), certain actions are indicated. They too are dharma. Rites and rituals too are dharma.
Hence we see the wide range of meaning encompassed by the word Dharma. The scriptures that talk of one or more aspects of dharma are called Dharma Shastras. The Vedas are the oldest dharma shastras and give knowledge of the entire dharma. The smritis ( Manu Smriti, (Geeta), Itihaas (Mahabharat, Ramamyana), Puranas (Bhagwat etc) also talk about the entire dharma.
Performance of one aspect of dharma cannot make us totally dharmic, for example daily visit to a temple is only one aspect of dharma as are values etc. Only a self realised man can be totally dharmic as all his actions spring from the realisation of Supreme Dharma, the Paramatman.
Supreme Dharma as already discussed, is the knowledge of the Truth or Substratum of the Jeeva – Jagat – Ishwara. One may call the truth by any name which indicates its true meaning. The Truth by its very nature is one. It must logically be free from time, space and causation, therefore birthless, deathless and eternal. Hence the Supreme Dharma is called Sanatana. It manifests with creation and gets absorbed at the time of dissolution eg the law of gravity manifests with the matter governed by the law and would go into unmanifest condition along with the said matter. Hence Sanatana Dharma is the only dharma of creation and all beings in it. This may sound fanatic but one should try and look on it with an unprejudiced mind. Sanatana Dharma is now callled Hindu Dharma. The word Hindu was given by the persians to the people who lived on the banks of the river Sindhu.
Now let us understand the word Sampradaaya. Sam + pra +daaya =Sampradaaya.
That which is well and clearly given is sampradaaya. A sampradaaya must mainly have the following characteristics:- a) It comes into being at a particular period of time due to various reasons., b) it is inspired or founded by an individual or a set of individuals, c)it follows certain scriptures inspired by or propounded by the individual, d) it follows a particular code of conduct.
A sampradaaya deals with one or many aspects of dharma. The one who establishes it may or may not belong to a sampradaaya eg. Jesus was a Jew. A sampradaaya is established due to a) the need of the time; eg Mohammed established Islam to bring a semblance of decency into the warring nomadic tribes, b) due to decadence of the moral values in the society eg. Christianity emerged when Roman society was steeped in indulgence and pleasures, c) as a reaction against another sampradaaya eg. the protestants were against the traditional Roman Catholic Church, d) so as to make the knowledge of dharma easily understandable and followable to even the common man eg. Swami Sahajananda started the Swaminarayana Sampradaaya which is easy to follow even by the illiterate.
Now we shall try to think about the two words – Dharma and Sampradaaya together. Dharma is one, Sampradaayas can be and are many. Dharma is not founded by an individual – it is beginningless. A sampradaaya is founded by an individual. It is born and therefore shall perish. (“jaatasya hi dhruvo mrtyuh”). That which is born shall perish- Geeta.
Dharma is eternal – Sanatana . From the above discussions it can be clearly realised that all of us have one common Eternal Dharma. Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, Christianity, Swaminarayana, Pushti Marg etc, are all sampradaayas and not dharma. They have one inspirer or founder eg Jesus, Mohammed etc. They follow a particular text eg the Bible, Koran etc. They follow a particular code of conduct eg Sunday Mass, Baptism, etc. Dharma by its very nature is “bin sampradaayaik’ ( secular). Dharma however has the capacity to accomodate countless sampradaayas. It is the very base of all of them. No sampradaaya has the capacity to encompass the entire dharma in all its aspects.
When we call a sampradaaya Dharma a lot of misunderstandings and conflicts arise. We call Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, Swaminarayan etc. Dharmas when they are in fact sampradaayas. Moreover when we call dharma as a sampradaaya we do great injustice to it. Sampradaayas arise from Dharma, exist in it and will get dissolved in it. So to say that the majority in India are Hindus is a wrong statement. All humanity shares this Dharma. To club various sampradaayas together and call them a majority is also unfair since the various followers maintain their separate identity eg, staunch Shaivites would not generally like to be identified with Vaishnavites. To give minority status to one sampradaaya eg Muslims and deny the same to another eg. Pushti Margis is an injustice to the other. In fact in Bharat (India), Muslims as a sampradaaya enjoy an overwhelming majority compared to most other sampradaayas except Christianity which is the second largest sampradaaya.
When a country’s laws are based on the tenets of Dharma it is called a Dharmik Raaj eg Ram Rajya. When a country’s laws are based on a sampradaaya or favour a sampradaaya, then it is called a Sampradaayaik Raja eg Saudi Arabia is a Muslim State. In a sampradaayaik raaj there is either intolerance and injustice shown towards another sampradaaya eg Serbs and Muslims or there is a total annihilation of another sampradaaya eg the Shaivites were either killed or driven out by the Muslims from Kashmir. A sampradaayaik raaj gives no scope for another sampradaaya to flourish under it’s wings. On the other hand in a Dharma Raaj all sampradaayas flourish and prosper e.g. Bharat has been the birth place of so many sampradaayas (Jainism, Buddhism etc), many have come from outside and flourished (Islam, Parsis, Christianity etc). Bharat has the maximum number of Muslims in any country. Only those which are anti-dharmic i.e those which preach anti-social, anti-national views cannot be tolerated in a truly dharmic raaj. For example at this time in our country over population is our problem and Pakistan stands threateningly on our head. Any sampradaaya that preaches to its followers to produce greater numbers just to gain majority or shows kinship towards Pakistan should be called anti – dharmic and all other sampradaayas must unite to change or eliminate such anti- national views.
Should Dharma enter politics? There is a trend amongst the so-called intellectuals that it should not. Dharma is that which integrates an individual, community or nation and provides a basis for harmonious living. Where there is no dharma, adharma (corruption, injustice crime etc) prevails. This is what we see in every field of activity( education, politics …) in our country and around the world. Yes, saampradaayik views should not enter into the politics of dharmik raaj. This would pollute the very concept of dharmik raaj eg. in India people of a particular sampradaaya get money from the government to go on pilgrimage and time off to conduct prayers, whilst the same is not given to another sampradaaya. No Pushti Margi gets money from the government to visit Shrinathji or holiday on ekadashi! This is pseudo – secularism which amounts to adharma.
Now let us think on the words ‘Philosophy’ and ‘Religion’ in the context of the word dharma. What is their relationship ? Is dharma the same as philosophy or religion? Is philosophy the same as religion? Or do they enjoy a part – whole relationship? Dharma has both philosophy and religion, and religion and philosophy do not have a part – whole relationship. Philosophy basically is the knowledge of the essential relation of the Jeeva – Jagat – Ishwara. It also encompasses the transactional relation, the Law of Karma, Theory of creation and Universal values. In our culture Philosophy is called ‘darshan’. Religion is the knowledge of the application of values, duties, code of conduct, do’s and don’ts, sadhanas, rites and rituals etc. These may or should change according to the time place and circumstances. Eg the concept of brahma muhurat (4a.m.) cannot be valid at the North Pole. One cannot afford or help society by having 4 wives and ten children in a country like Bharat. Each sampradaaya too has a philosophy and a religion. Some are predominantly philosophical, others predominantly religious. Some others lay equal emphasis on both in their basic teachings. Philosophy provides the vision to view the Jeeva – Jagat – Ishwara and religion teaches us the way to live life. When philosophy alone is given predominance by its propounders the samnpraaday becomes impractical. The followers merely talk big but their behaviour leaves much to be desired. If religion alone is given dominance then such a sampradaaya produces religious fanatics, narrow minded and blind believers. If however with a philosophic view one lives a religious life one can become truly dharmic.
Now we enquire – if dharma includes philosophy and religion, do we really need sampradaaya? Why create differences to know the one? This has already been touched upon. In the vast scope of dharma the common man gets confused and is unable to make the right choices for his individual progress nor does he have the vision of his role in the complex world around him. The masses need to be guided with simple, healthy views and rules to help their progress. Eg. since the Hindu was given a choice of going to the temple, yogasanas, puja, dhyana, japa, etc as their daily early morning routine , in sheer indifference or confusion they chose none , or sometimes not according to their temperament. They deprived themselves of the great spiritual benefit of these sadhanas and in the process almost lost their rich heritage. Hence a sampradaaya does guide an individual or society towards progress and unity.
But as Vivekananda said – ‘It is good to be born in a sampradaaya but not to die in one”.
One must finally uplift oneself towards that Truth beyond sampradaaya which is called Param Dharma.