Why is it essential to adhere to Righteousness?


1. Synonyms of Dharma

1.1 The Sanatan Dharma

A. Origin: In ‘सना आतनोति इति सनातन: ।’ sana (सना) means eternal and atanoti (आतनोति) means that which helps in acquiring; hence sanatan (सनातन) is that which bestows the eternal.

B. Meaning: ‘सनातनो नित्‍य नूतन: ।’ means that which remains ever new despite being permanent, eternal and timeless is sanatan. Only that which always manifests in a new form will last, e.g. one should expect a tree to die when no new shoots spring from it. In the Bhavarthadipika (Dnyaneshvari 1.71) Saint Dnyaneshvar says –

हें नित्‍य नूतन देखिजे । गीतातत्त्व ।।

     Meaning: If one contemplates (on the Gita) then each time one does so, this principle of the Gita appears new. (In other words each time one realises a different meaning.)

     The ‘s’ in the word ‘sanatan’ is the bija of the sun (Surya) principle which symbolises the absolute fire (tej) element.

1.2 The Vedic code of Righteousness (Veda Dharma)

The word veda (वेद) has been derived from vid (विद्‌) which means to know. Veda means knowledge, the concept of knowledge or the means to acquire it. Knowledge in this context refers to knowledge of the soul, the realisation of God or spiritual experiences.

1.3 The Aryan code of Righteousness (Arya Dharma)

This religion is called so because it was professed by the Aryans.

1.4 The Hindu Dharma

A. Origin and meaning

  • The holy text the Merutantra defines the word Hindu (हिंदु) as ‘हीनानि गुणानि दूषयति इति हिंदु । (hinani gunani dushayati iti hindu)’. ‘हीनानि गुणानि दूषयति’ means that which destroys (dushayati) the base and inferior (hin) raja and tama components (gun). Thus Hinduism is an attitude. It means a seeker. If one is a seeker enriched with the sattva component which destroys the raja and tama components then one is certainly a Hindu. Hence the Hindu religion in the real sense views all religions with equality.

  • The Arabs began to call the Aryans residing in the regions alongside the river Sindhu as Hindus.

B. History: ‘It may be deduced that the Hindu religion must have gradually arisen from the merging of the religions (Agam, knowledge of Tantra) prevalent in India before the arrival of the Aryans and the Vedic religion of the Aryans (Nigam). The prehistoric Indian religion was totally different from the Aryan Vedic religion and this Sindhu religion had a remarkable semblance to the Shaiva predominant Hindu religion. From the historical point of view of the Hindu religion, the period of the Vedic Aryans was quite similar to that of the Middle Ages. Despite that period being very significant the religious philosophy of that period did not leave an indelible and far reaching mark on the composition and nature of the historical Hindu religion. On the contrary it may be said that the Hindu religion arose as a reaction to the specific religious state generated by the Vedic religion. The Hindu religion did not however ignore the Vedic concepts or its code of conduct, but firmly expressed its faith in the Vedas. This faith in the Vedas proved beneficial to the Hindu religion in the post-Vedic period to effectively counteract the opposition of the so called atheist religious orders. Although the Vedic religion was successful in surpassing the religious sects of the pre-Vedic non-Aryans, it was not able to completely overshadow it, rather the Vedic religion had to imbibe certain special features of the other sects.

     The Upanishads are also referred to as the Vedanta. According to the period of time they indicate the culmination of the period of the Vedic literature. Similarly they also illustrate the high philosophical status of the Vedas. However the masses did not understand their great teachings on Brahman. The philosophy in the Upanishads was beyond the potential of the average individual. They did not teach the people Dharmacharan">Righteousness (Dharma). That is why during that period deterioration of the Vedic religion commenced.

     In the ensuing period a great philosophical revolution occurred and new religious attitudes came into existence. This situation encouraged the organisation of non-Vedic or atheist faiths and conduct, and gave rise to the Jain and Buddhist religious orders. Nevertheless to reinstate the Vedic philosophy and lifestyle and to restrict preaching of the atheist philosophies, Vedic masters made great efforts to regulate the lives of the masses based on the Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas) and the Kalpasutras. But this movement towards revival did not at any time assume the form of a social revolution.

     In India, since the ancient times along with the well established Vedic religion several other popular religious orders coexisted. The religious orders which had originated in the pre-Vedic period proved instrumental in the spread of the Vedic religion. Both, their deities as well as their codes of conduct were different. These popular religions of the masses soon got attracted towards the Vedic religion. Though they did not embrace the tenets and codes of conduct of the Vedic religion entirely they continued to repose their faith in the Vedas. As descent of the Vedic religion began those popular religions were endowed with the opportunity to establish their own existence. Those who favoured the Vedic religion also felt the need for assistance from these religious orders to combat the challenges posed by the atheist sects. Consequently several popular religions, their deities and codes of conduct united under the banner of Vedic faith and in this way the historical Hindu religion came into existence.

     The special features of the Hindu religion are as follows – popular deities such as Shiva, Vishnu, etc. replaced famous Vedic deities such as Indra, Varun, etc. Prior to this, the Upanishads had replaced the deities from the Sanhita period with the Supreme Brahman. The Hindu religion reinstated the deities with an individual personality possibly in retaliation to this process. The performance of sacrificial fires was replaced by ritualistic worship. The rigorous penance laden path of the Upanishads lapsed into obscurity and the Path of Devotion which was charged with spiritual emotion became popular. It is through devotion that ritualistic worship of deities and idol worship began. The impact of the Path of Action rather than renunciation of actions (karmasannyas) seems to be more on the new Hindu philosophy. The slogan of the new religions was that unity of people leads to stability and that sustenance and integration of society are sole objectives of Dharmacharan">Righteousness (Dharma).

     The important event which occurred during the regime of the Shunga dynasty with respect to growth of the Hindu religion is compositions of epics like the Mahabharat. These so-called “peoples’ Vedas” preached the Path of Devotion to the lowest strata of society. It was during this period that the Hindu religion split into different sects such as Shaiva, Vaishnav that is worshippers of Shiva, Vishnu, etc.

     The Bhagvadgita is considered the standard holy text of the Hindu religion and code of ethics (niti), while the Smrutis are holy texts which regulate the personal, family and social conduct of man. With the passage of time the code of Righteousness of the system of classes and stages of life (varnashramdharma) preached by the Manusmruti came to symbolise the entire Hindu religion.

     With the downfall of the Shunga dynasty uncertainty surrounded the Hindu religion. Communities such as the Yavan, Shak, Palhav, Kushan, etc. invaded India during that period. Apart from this, a major opponent of the Hindu religion known as the Mahayan Buddhist sect manifested itself. However in the fourth to fifth century A.D. the Gupta dynasty came to power and the Hindu religion in its classical form began to blossom once again.

     The chief religious literature produced during the reign of the Gupta dynasty are the Purans. The faiths and conduct of the Hindus during the Gupta period have been excellently illustrated in the Purans. During this period several religious sects propagating the concept of existence of only one God emerged. The history of the Hindu religion which followed is that of the different Hindu sects because thereafter the Hindu religion did not retain an independent identity for itself. Different sects can originate only in a religion devoid of clearly demarcated staunch opinion.

     Another important Hindu sect is that of followers of the Tantra (tantriks). The origin of this sect can be traced to the pre-Vedic era. However it was systematised in the 5th century A.D. People belonging to all the four classes (varna) as well as women were permitted into this sect. Because of its secretive codes of conduct and strict rules it became an occult sect. It was subdivided into three sub-sects – the Shaiva, Vaishnav and Shakta namely the worshippers of Shiva, Vishnu and the Divine Energy (Shakti) respectively.

     In this way during the reign of the Gupta dynasty the Hindu religion spread far and wide. All its sects displayed a tolerant attitude towards each other and also towards other religions. This new Hindu religion enriched with divine consciousness (chaitanya) played a pivotal role in fostering the growth of the Sanskrut language and Sanskrut literature. On the pretext of going on pilgrimages to different sacred places as described in popular holy texts, the followers of the Purans and those giving spiritual discourses (kirtans) spread the precepts of the Hindu religion far and wide throughout the country. Preaching of Hinduism in foreign countries had begun in the pre-Gupta period. Preachers had already gone as far as Burma, Yavadvip, Sumatra, etc. in the east and Greece, Misar, etc. in the west.

     In the thousand years which followed (700-1700 A.D.) the Hindu religion split into different sects and sub-sects. No matter how rigid a sect was, it strictly observed the attitude of not sacrificing Hinduism. These religious sects had not originated to spread specific doctrines but to set certain ideals about the existence of God (Ishvarvad) and to establish the various types of devotion. The Hindu religion could never distance itself from the concept ‘everything is God’ from the Upanishads. After the ninth and tenth centuries, only devotion began to be considered as the essential part of the Hindu religion. The first inspiration for sects professing devotion was from the Nayannar and Alvar sects from South India.

     The real growth of devotion unto Vishnu occurred in Central and North India. From the 13th to 17th century A.D. the two main schools of devotion were mainly unto two deities – ShriRam and ShriKrushna. The Bhagvat, Nimbark, Chaitanya and Pushtimarg, etc. are sects which emerged during this period. In the Shaiva sect (followers of Lord Shiva), sub-sects such as the Kapalik, Virshaiva, Lingayat, etc. came into being and established the Shaiva doctrines.

     Along with the evolution of Hindu sects and paths of spiritual practice the evolution of atheist Darshans too commenced. For instance the most important basic holy text from the Vedanta Darshans is Badarayan’s Vedantasutras. These Sutras were interpreted differently by various commentators and consequently different sub-Darshans were generated. The chief commentator of the Vedantasutras is Shankaracharya. However Ramanuj’s doctrine of qualified non-duality was more appealing than Shankaracharya’s philosophy of non-duality (keval advait). One reason for this could be that philosophical base was given by Ramanuj’s qualified non-duality philosophy to the Path of Devotion which had become quite popular. It is noteworthy that a proponent of the Path of Devotion, Ramanand, was from the Ramanuj sect. Nimbark, a contemporary of Ramanuj was the first master to bestow upon the Radha sect a philosophical status. Vallabhacharya has laid emphasis on the doctrine of God’s grace (Ishvaranugrahamat), that is the Path of Pushti. Madhvacharya who preceded Him however had already advocated a totally different concept that only the philosophy of duality was proven, in the official Prasthantrayi of the Vedanta.

     From the point of view of the Hindu religion the 18th century was like a speedbreaker. During that period there were no significant advances in either the sphere of literature or the doctrines. Grossly from the reign of the British in India the traditional Hindu religion had to face an entirely new problem. This was the consequence of influence of the western physical sciences and technology upon the Hindu intellectuals.

     There were three types of reactions to the influence of western knowledge among the educated in the Hindu society. Some considered that India’s traditional Hinduism was responsible for its downfall and hence it should be rejected. The second thought was that the faith and code of conduct of the Hindu religion should be protected. This section firmly professed the faith that this traditional Hindu religion will never be destroyed. They were of the opinion that the Spirituality of Indians will succeed in combating the western material philosophies which only lead to spiritual descent. The third group was that of a conflict between the Hindu traditions and western modern culture and is evident in the struggle undertaken to reinstate the Hindu religion. This attitude emerged from the firm faith that the Hindu religion can effectively meet the challenge posed by any philosophy in any yug (era). These reformers believed that they should transform the nature of the Hindu religion without making any alteration in its basic fabric and that it was possible to do so.

C. Theist and atheist: There must be some regulatory authority behind the entire functioning of the universe. This authority itself is God. He is the Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer of the universe and His special feature is divine consciousness or spiritual knowledge. According to Hindu religion the one who reposes faith in the existence of God is called a theist and the one who does not is an atheist.’ (2)

D. Who can be called a Hindu?

  • ‘The one who accepts the Vedas, Vedange (sciences related to the Vedas) and the Purans and their corresponding sects and who is born in a traditional Hindu family is a Hindu.

  • The one who wholeheartedly accepts the above definition as the authority is called a ‘Hindu by initiation (dikshahindu)’.

  • The one to whom both the above are not acceptable but who is born of Hindu parents is a ‘Janmarth’, meaning a Hindu by birth (Janmahindu).

    The first is certainly superior but in its absence a Hindu by initiation (dikshartha) is deemed to be superior from the point of view of worship. However in matters of marriage a Hindu by birth (Janmarth) should be chosen.’ (3)

E. Special feature

  • ‘The sole eternal goal of Spirituality in Hinduism is to realise the God principle in man, rather to bring about the manifestation of God in man. Whether it be the struggle to restructure the Indian economy or the great struggles for independence of the enslaved Indians, Indian Spirituality strives to achieve its eternal goal in both these struggles.’ – Shri Aurobindo (Vandemataram, 24th June 1908)

  • Freedom of thought was present in the Hindu religion from the very beginning. Charvak the atheist who had no faith in rebirth and God, was not at all harassed, on the contrary he was accorded the position of a sage! Siddharth Gautam who denied the very existence of God and severely criticised the prevailing custom of performing sacrificial fires (yadnya, yag) was considered to be God and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu! Mahavir who advocated a philosophy that there was no God was also glorified as God.

1.5 The divine religion

Since Righteousness (Dharma) was created by God it is called the divine religion.

1.6 The human religion

Man is eternal; hence Righteousness is also called the human religion. However here rather than the well-being of man alone that of the entire creation is envisaged.

2. Origin

Since times immemorial God has created the universe. At the same time He has generated Righteousness.

चात्रो धर्मो प्रयादिदेवात्‌ प्रवृत्त: ।
पश्चात्‌ अन्‍ये शेषभूताश्च धर्मा: । – महाभारत १२.६४.२१

Meaning: The Supreme God first created the code of Righteousness of rulers (rajadharma) and then incorporated other codes of Righteousness in it. – Mahabharat 12.64.21

3. Righteousness and its propounder

Sweetness is the quality of sugar. That which possesses the quality of sweetness is sugar. Righteousness and its propounder are inseparable. They are merged into one another. The relationship between God and Righteousness is akin to that between sugar and its sweetness which are inseparable. God is the righteous one. His quality itself is called Righteousness. A quote says ‘धर्मो नारायण स्‍मृत: ।’ meaning ‘Righteousness is Narayan (God)’. Since codes of Righteousness of God cannot be varied ultimately there is only one code of Righteousness and that is the Sanatan religion (Dharma).’ Hence history of Righteousness is the history of the search for God. Righteousness is the deduced form of the scriptures but God and Brahman are Those who illumine the scriptures.

4. Importance of righteousness

  • Just as there is no life without respiration so also life without Righteousness (Dharma) is not worth living as it amounts to mere existence like animals.

  • धर्मादर्थ: प्रभवति धर्मात्‍प्रभवते सुखम्‌ ।
    धर्मेण लभते सर्वं धर्मसारमिदं जगत्‌ ।। – महाभारत ३.९.३०

    Meaning: Righteousness bestows wealth as well as happiness. In fact everything can be acquired through Righteousness. This entire universe sustains itself on the foundation of Righteousness. – Mahabharat 3.9.30

  • सुखं न विना धर्मात्‌ तस्‍मात्‌ धर्मपरो भवेत्‌ ।
                                 – वाग्‍भटकृत अष्‍टांगहृदय, सुत्रस्‍थान २:१९

    Meaning: Happiness (and Bliss) cannot be acquired without becoming righteous; hence one should be devoutly righteous. – Ashtanghruday by Vagbhat, Sutrasthan 2:19

  • सुखस्‍य मूलं धर्म: । – योगवासिष्‍ठ

    Meaning: Righteous conduct is the root of happiness. – Yogavasishtha

  • धर्म: एव हतो हन्‍ति । धर्मो रक्षति रक्षित: ।

    Meaning: The one not observing Righteousness is destroyed while the one following it meticulously is protected by Righteousness (that is God) itself.

  • स्‍वल्‍पम्‌ अपि अस्‍य धर्मस्‍य त्रायतो महतो भयात्‌ । 
                                                 – श्रीमद्‌भगवद्‌गीता (२:४०)

    Meaning: Following Righteousness even to a small extent protects one from great danger. – Shrimadbhagvadgita (2.40)

  • धारणाव्‍दिव्‍दिषां चैव धर्मेणारञ्जयन्‍प्रजा: ।
    तस्‍माद्धारणमित्‍युक्‍तं स धर्म इति निश्चय: ।। – रामायण ७.५९

    Meaning: Righteousness restrains the enemy (unrighteousness) and in accordance with the law protects the subjects. This form of Righteousness is termed the sustainer (dharan). – Ramayan 7.49

  • अधर्म एव मूलं सर्व रोगाणाम्‌ ।

    Meaning: Unrighteousness is the root cause of all diseases [physical (adhi bhautik) and divine (adhi daivik), that is spiritual and psychological respectively].

  • आगमानां हि सर्वेषामाचार: श्रेष्‍ठ उच्‍चते ।
    आचारप्रभवो धर्मो धर्मादायु: विवर्धते ।। – महाभारत

    Meaning: Righteous conduct is deemed superior to all the sciences (vidya) because Righteousness (Dharma) depends on conduct. Righteous conduct prolongs the lifespan of man. – Mahabharat

  • The vow of Righteousness : ‘Righteousness has dominated man’s mind extensively for the last ten thousand years because it promises man that it will reveal the meaning of life and God and will also endow him with the ultimate benefaction.’ (4)

  • धर्म एको मनुष्‍याणां सहाय: पारलौकिक: ।। – महाभारत

    Meaning: Righteousness is the only companion of man after death, in the other worlds. – Mahabharat 13.111.17

  • प्रभवार्थाय भूतानां धर्मप्रवचनं कृतम्‌ ।
    य: स्‍यात्‍प्रभवसंयुक्‍त: स धर्म इति निश्चय: ।। – महाभारत १२.१०९.१०

    Meaning: Righteousness has been preached solely for the upliftment of embodied souls. A doctrine says that that which has the capacity to bring about upliftment is befitting to be called Righteousness. – Mahabharat 12.109.10

  • न जातु कामान्‍न भयान्‍न लोभात्‌ धर्म त्‍यजेज्‍जीवितस्‍यापि हेतो: ।
    नित्‍यो धर्म: सुखदु:खे त्‍वनित्‍ये नित्‍यो जीवो धातुरस्‍य त्‍वनित्‍य: ।। – महाभारत

    Meaning: One should not forsake one’s code of Righteousness out of desire, being overwhelmed by fear or greed or even when threatened with death as Righteousness is eternal whereas happiness and unhappiness are momentary. The embodied soul is eternal whereas the gross body is perishable. – Mahabharat

  • यतो धर्मस्‍ततो जय:  ।। – महाभारत १३.१६७.४१

    Meaning: Victory dwells where there is Righteousness. – Mahabharat 13.167.41

  • यत्र योगेश्वर: कृष्‍णो यत्र पार्थो धनुर्धर: ।
    तत्र श्रीर्विजयो भूतिर्धृवा नीतिर्मतिर्मम  ।। – महाभारत ६.४२.७८

    Meaning : (Sanjay tells Dhrutarashtra) I consider that there will be wealth, victory, immense opulence and morality only on the side which has Yogeshvar Krushna and the archer Arjun. [This is but natural as Krushna was an absolute incarnation (purnavtar) of God, rather God Himself (God incarnate).] – Mahabharat 6.42.78


‘Righteousness (Dharma)’, published by Sanatan Sanstha.

Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh. Publisher: Pandit Mahadevshastri Joshi, Secretary, Bharatiya Sanskrutikosh Mandal, 410 Shanivar Peth, Pune 411 030.
First edition: Vol. 3 to 10, Second edition: Vol. 1 and 2
[1]. Vol. 10, Pg. 347-350           [2]. Vol. 1, Pg. 581
[4]. Vol. 4, Pg. 579

[3]. Sadhubodh. Shri Gulabrav Maharaj Virachit Prashnottaratmak Suktiratnavali – Ashtamayashti. Publisher : Shri Dnyaneshvar Madhuradvait Sampradayik Mandal, Dahisath, Amravati., Pg. 164-165

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