India is an ancient center of spirituality and Dharma. In the past, wise and enlightened people lived life of Dharma. They had realized that although innumerable reasons for suffering and misery can be found, the real cause of pain and unhappiness lies deep within us. Then they also discovered that the only way to eradicate misery was to follow the path of Dharma – Dharma and misery can’t co-exist. Even now people of India have an inclination towards spirituality and Indian languages have phrases revolving around Dharma wisdom.
But then times changed and over the centuries people forgot what Dharma meant. In the India of 2000 years ago, there were two distinct traditions. One emphasized following the path of Dharma and the other focused sectarian rites, rituals, ceremonies, external appearance and so on. As times passed, the latter got more prominence and Dharma slowly disappeared.
It is a great pity that today people have totally forgotten pure Dharma. The original meaning of Dharma, as it was in the ancient India, has been totally lost. The practice of Dharma slowly disappeared and India lost bulk of its ancient literature and scriptures. But fortunately, they were preserved and still being preserved in the neighboring countries like Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
People of India made another horrible mistake when they ended up equating the profound Dharma with narrow religion or sectarianism. Hence in ignorance they started talking of Hindu Dharma, Muslim Dharma, Parsee Dharma, Jain Dharma and so on. But when translated they wrongly became Hindu religion, Muslim religion, Parsee religion, Jain religion….This is a great unfortunate situation because pure Dharma is a universal thing for all humanity, not sectarian which is limited to a particular community.
Religions are no more than different systems of faith, worship and rites and rituals – or set of dogmas, in nutshell. Every religion revolves around a super powerful all knowing unseen God whose wisdom is revealed to people through a “messenger” or his “Son” or someone of that kind.and it is written in a “Holy Book”. The followers of the religion are expected to accept everything written the holy book and interpreted by the clergy, without question and without ever applying the rational mind. It is a servile and shut-brain surrender.
Religions are divisive; they divide humanity into the ‘privileged’ believers and lowly non-believers who must be coerced or forced to believe in the Book and their Only God. Thus, for Muslims Allah is the ultimate Godlike authority and Christians have the God to pray and worship. You can’t be a Muslim if you don’t believe in Allah and its messenger and can’t be a Christian if you can’t believe in its God and his chosen Son Jesus. In fact, a religious person has to accept the whole “Package” blindly with a shut mind. No Choice!!.
The Christian West realize this handicap which turned the priest class into virtual rulers of the society – through dictates in the name of religions. Non believers and people having a different opinion became targets of their oppression and atrocities. Thus, in order to allow freedom of speech the concept of “Secularism” had to be coined where the State treats all its subjects equally regardless of beliefs and faiths.
Coming back to Dharma – it has nothing to do with imposing beliefs or rituals on people. Dharma does not demand blind faith; it encourages free inquiry, critical thinking and free and rational mind. Dharma encourages people to exercise their own reasoning and judge for themselves if a thing is right or wrong. Dharma is universal and unites people; it is for the whole humanity.
So, what is Dharma?
Dharma is not a ‘belief system’; it is a profound natural reality that deals with the right conduct. It is an art of living a meaningful life. One meaning of Dharma was rit, meaning the law of nature. In this sense, Dharma means nature or characteristic of things. For example, the nature of fire is to burn and the nature of ice is to cool. Whoever comes in contact with the fire gets burnt; likewise in contact with ice he feels the coolness. It is the nature or characteristic (or Dharma) of all beings to face illness, old age and finally death. It applies to all beings, regardless of what they believe and don’t believe!
The great spiritual scientists of the yore – the Rishis, Sages, Saints, Gurus, Arahants and Buddhas – strived hard to discover and understand the universal laws of nature (Dharma). Based on their their personal experience they offered various paths to lead a meaningful and pious life according to the laws of nature (collectively called Dharma). Thus, we have in India different philosophies of life followed by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and numerous other communities. They are all different paths to practice Dharma. They are focused on virtuous living; none prescribes hating communities that have different philosophies of life or “converting” them into their philosophy.
In fact, over centuries the arrival of Christians and Muslims – either to escape persecution in their own lands or to spread their religious beliefs or to “convert” people – has badly disturbed the Indian way of Dharma based life. They brought with them the ideas of “conversion” and discrimination of people with different belief systems. These are totally alien concepts for the society where lifestyle is rooted in principles of universal Dharma.