Etymology of HinduismWhile Westerns are able to understand religions like Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, etc. they are unable to get a grip on what exactly do we mean by Hinduism. Attempting to explain Hinduism is often like trying to capture the mist and extract the essence. The whole subject of Hinduism opens such conflicting view points that, at the end of it, we are left no wiser than when we started. In fact there are as many definitions of Hinduism as there are Hindus that you care to interact with. Because of this there are those frustrated some who declare that Hinduism is not a religion.
Then there are others who say it is Sanatana Dharma. And still there are others who call it ‘a way of life’ making a passing reference to a 1995 Supreme Court judgment. All this serves to bring out one thing – that Hindus are free to think what they like, pray the way they like and even not believe in a god, if that is how they prefer to believe. However, every Hindu is likely to bristle at the thought if a Christian or a Muslim, for instance suggest that by the last definition they too are covered under that umbrella definition. And of course, many a Christian/ Muslim/ Jew/ Parsee may also feel upset at that suggestion.
However we are likely to end nowhere, if we end up discussing and mixing up various views without considering each one. The purpose of this paper is to understand Hinduism and its impact on governance of India i.e. Bharat. One of the better ways to understand the origins of a word, they say, is, Etymology. Also etymology can help us examine how the meaning of a word has changed over time to get a better grip on the word – especially seemingly as nebulous as Hinduism.
The ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi, which translates as “the people of the Indus” and it helps us to understand the origin of the word ‘India’. The term Hindu is an Old Persian term and originates from the Sanskrit term Sindhu, which was the historical local term for the Indus River. “Hindustan” thus was originally a Persian word, used by Muslim Rulers, that meant “Land of the Hindus” and came into use around 13 century. Around this same period of history the term “Hindu” was used to distinguish ‘Vedic People’ from Yavanas (Greeks) and Mlecchas (barbarians/ non-vedic people – i.e. those outside the caste system) and hence a term of citizenship.
There is no doubt that the religious term Hindu Dharma is derived from Hindustan in order to describe varied and confusing forms of religious worship. The latter, while it appeared similar ,simultaneously made a mark of religious distinction (as against the religion of Muslims) that stemmed from the worship of multifarious deities which were unique to the people who lived in the land of Hindustan. The term “Hindu Dharma”, or Hinduism in short, was thus introduced into the English language around the 19th century to denote the all encompassing religious, philosophical, and cultural traditions native to India . The term Hindu was used for a person who practiced such a cultural tradition which changed the secular tone of the term to a distinctly religious one.
Is it a Way of Life?There are many, who prefer to dismiss the entire debate about ‘who is a Hindu’ or ‘what is Hinduism’ with a perfunctory ‘Its a way of life’!. No one can deny that Hinduism with its permissive culture does permit many paths to the divine. While one may wish to declare their dedication to a particular god it is not necessary or incumbent for others to follow that particular path, even within the same family. This probably comes from the hoary past, to gloss over those differences as minor, which at one time in the distant past Hindu kings actually fought wars of domination with others should they belong to rival sects.
Still, it raises a question, if Hindu way of life is just a path along with a freedom to chose the path for salvation or moksha, then why do Hindus and the Indian constitution find the paths shown by foreign religions as unacceptable and not qualify for the Hindu tag?
Hindus proudly proclaim their avowed belief in “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम), an article of faith that the world is one family. According to this ‘ways of life’ formula of ensuring social harmony and balance, the ‘ways of life’ from from other parts of the world should help qualify them into the fold of Hinduism and thus ensure greater harmony and balance. As an example, the way of life of the Aboriginals of Australia or the various tribes of African are quite well documented and should help them qualify with seal of ‘the world is one family’. And extension of such logic why keep the ways of life as prescribed in Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other world religions away from the one religion that is willing to cover them with blanket seal of approval called – वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम ‘the world is one family’. Such a thought may find acceptance among the broad minded Hindu but would the adherents of Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, etc, find ready acceptance to being classified as sects of a umbrella religion of Hinduism? Highly unlikely, one would conclude.
Hence to say, Hinduism, is a way of life, is a self contradictory position and non-reconcilable and should be rejected.
Definition as per Indian ConstitutionBy mid 20th century, the Indian Constitution, very quietly and interestingly made a distinct attempt to define the term Hindu. The founding fathers of the Indian Constitution probably did this in an attempt to retain the diverse cultural variety rather than in an attempt to define or defend secularism. Hence explanation II of Article 25 (2) (b) of Right to Freedom of Religion the Indian Constitution amply clarified that “…the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.”
In fixing this explanation, the Constituent Assembly makes it amply clear that the term Hindu no longer refers to citizenship of India i.e. Bharat (भारत) and is firmly welded to mean religious identity of a person and Hinduism the related term to mean Hindu religion of a Hindu. Hence to make it amply clear:
Every Hindu is a Bharatiya and no longer can we ever say that every Bharatiya is a Hindu!
However this constitutional definition of Hindu had an unintended outcome of combining certain distinct religious identities into the collective umbrella of Hinduism. Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism are now no more independent religions in their own right but just sects governed by the various Hindu laws of India. They have no identity except as given to a distinct sect. There is no denying that such clubbing has made many an adherents of these sects cringe. It is therefore not surprising to find many from these faiths refuse to accept that they are Hindus.
The geographical term for India is Bharat and is the official name for the country. Hindustan is no longer the recognized name of India according to the Constitution of India. The term Bharat comes from the heroic and famous mythological figure Bharata (भरत), a legendary emperor of ancient India, who singularly brought down the Ganges (गंगा) river to flow through nearly the entire breath of India. In selecting Bharata the framers, of the Indian Constitution, seem to have sought to shift the focus from Indus (from which India derived its name and post independence became part of Pakistan) to the most holy river Ganges, located in the heart of the land and thus subtly cementing this idea within the Indian mind.
● Our country is called ‘India’ in English and ‘Bharat’ in native language.
● Our citizens of India are called ‘Indians’ in English and ‘Bharatiya’ (भारतिय) in native language though majority wrongly still use the foreign term ‘Hindu’.
● Our religion is called ‘Hinduism’ in both English and native language though there are efforts to use ‘Sanatan Dharma’ as an alternate term which seeks to divorce the etymology from which Hinduism was originally derived.
Characteristics of HinduismWhen we examined the definition of Hindu/ Hinduism as defined in the Constitution it becomes increasingly clear that one silver thread that runs was to exclude ‘religions that were understood as not of Indian in origin’ such as Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, etc. It is clear that framers of the constitution did not wish to impose a ‘negative’ definition. It is quite another matter they finally did resort to such a definition in formulating the Hindus Succession Act .
May be it would have been easy and it may have required to create a separate schedule listing every religion not of Indian origin. However the rate at which various cults form and attempting to identify which origin they come from, one can only imagine the kind of anomalies and confusion it could soon cause. Hence, though we have a ‘working but vague definition’ of Hindu and by extension Hinduism it is still needs to clarify a list sects or ‘-ism’ that qualify to be part of this religion. Let us therefore consider these and in no particular order are:
● Traditional Sects – primarily confined to Shaivism and Vaishnavism forms of worship but would include many others sub-cults which worship minor gods like Ganesh, Ambe, Lakshmi, Ram, Krishna, Durga, etc. All these forms of worship are often clubbed under the broad term Sanatana Dharma and all that it stands for (will be discussed in greater detail in the next section). The other major traditional sects are Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism and these are already listed.
● Vedic Sects – typically Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj form of worship that are wholly dependent of the original Vedic texts. These sects are similar to the Abrahmic religion insofar as they direct worship to a singular god (normally represented as Om – ॐ). These forms of worship keep from the later gods of Vishnu, Shiva, etc as these gods make an appearance few millennium later during the age of the Puranas.
Hindutva, a word coined by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his 1923 pamphlet Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?, is often wrongly presented as an alternate term to denote Hinduism or the Hindu religion. But as Mr Savarkar made it clear, he saw Hindutva as movements advocating Hindu nationalism – in other words, as patriotic movements confined to people of the Hindu race and hence exclusive to it.
● Indigenous Animist religions – usually followed by tribal (adivasi) of Political India as their worship is in the form of nature worship of trees, stones, lakes, rivers. But this form of worship is now slowly dying as the majority religion has slowly but surely incorporated many of the local deities in their pantheon of gods.
● Atheism – there are those who without hesitation classify themselves as Hindu, only because they are born of Indian parents, yet refuse to buy into a concept of any higher deity irrespective of origin.
Normally, when pressed, on the matter of defining Hinduism, do not be surprised to find an odd Hindu make the following two statements in the same breath:
● There is no Hindu religion. There is no Hindu. And,
● though diverse, the uniting factor is the religion of Hindus.
This is the typical Hindu dualistic and schizophrenic response to a simple question “Who is a Hindu or what is Hinduism?” This should prompt us to look at Hinduism from a completely different angle . The angle of characteristics helps us define Hinduism even better.
In my view these characteristics, in decreasing order of importance, are:
● Birth – It is extremely important that at least one of the parents (ideally father, though in matriarchal Hindu societies it could be the mother too) should be Indian origin. The reason is that the religion of the parent and the varna/ jati of the child are linked as blood to the body.
● Caste – Nowadays Hindu do not readily or openly acknowledge we are a deeply fractured society. Not just superficially by language or religion, which may be apparent in choice of dress, speech and religion but deeply by caste (varana – वर्ण) and sub-castes (jaati – जाती). After 4000+ of living life defined in Manusmriti (मनुस्मृति) or Laws of Manu its just culturally impossible for a Hindu not to know which of the four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras or Dalit) or jaati to which he/ she belongs. Without this knowledge a Hindu could be easily classified as belonging to the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe
● No defined Scripture – most Hindus may find it acceptable to state Gita as a singular text that is qualified for being declared holy scripture. It is indeed used in law courts and other occasions to be the book of choice to take an oath. However this is not a hard and fast rule for there are those who consider Vedas, Ramayana, and Mahabharata to be of equal if not higher in scale of holiness. Then there are those from others sects like Sikhism who would refuse to consider any other than their Guru Granth Sahib as holy & sacred.
● Non Proselytizing Nature – Though sects like Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism may make efforts to add to their group by way of proselytizing and conversion, the Sanatana Dharma and its sub-sects have no reliable scriptural sanction for conversion nor would it make sense for them to do so. Doing it would raise an important dilemma viz: When converting a non-Hindu to Hinduism, who decides which caste he/ she should be convert into? No one can really be a Hindu and not have a caste denomination! Such caste-less Hindus are equivalent to being an untouchable – an order lower than a Shudra in the varna scheme of things. Just imagine, a recent Hindu convert discovers the awful reality that he is now at a lowest social order, even lower than that of a Shudra? He now has the unenviable task of climbing up the Hindu social ladder which can only gained by series of births-rebirths!
● Apostasy – Since there are no singular scripture, or singular form of worship, or even a singular god, Hinduism is devoid of the concepts of apostasy, heresy and blasphemy.
Morality of DharmaThere are many who attempt to use the concept of Sanatana Dharma to define Hinduism. While it appears reasonable and even acceptable to do that but it leads to some very basic and fundamental problems:
● As noted earlier Sanatana Dharma is just one among the may sects of Hinduism. While one can concede that, purely by geographical spread and strength, it has the maximum adherents, yet it still remains only a ‘sect’ in Hinduism. A sect that has largely been divided, and often deeply, by language, thought, varna and jaati.
● Secondly, Dharma in Sanatana Dharma, never meant religion. Interestingly and not surprisingly, we do not any term that means religion in the Sanskrit language. The alternate term of Dharma that has been used actually means duty or at best the law which “upholds, supports or maintains the regulatory order of the universe”, Dharma has the Sanskrit root ‘dhri’, which means “that without which nothing can stand” or “that which maintains the stability and harmony of the universe.” Traditionally Hinduism has Dharma at its core which is understood as law of nature; prescribed duty; social and personal duties; moral code; civil law; and code of conduct.
In the understanding of Dharma we must remember that this concept of law of nature; prescribed duty; social and personal duties; moral code; civil law; code of conduct are not the same as the golden rules. Dharma was and still is a complex set of codes. Each code is meant to uphold a certain dignity of relationship in the traditional Hindu society. Dharma was meant to ensure that the social structure and the four stages of life were not violated:
● Social life as structured by varna-jaati system can be loosely understood as division by profession/ work, and
● The life cycle of man is organized into four stages (ashrama – आश्रम) known as – Brahmacharya (student life), Grihastha (householder life), Vanaprastha (retired life), Sannyasa (renounced life).
The combination of caste structure and four stages of life brought in a certain complexity in managing/ upholding Dharmic contradictions that, only a Hindu mindset seeks to constantly reconcile and a Western mind ill comprehend. In the not so distant past, and on occasion today, Hindus often readily accept practices that in the modern age, be termed inhumane, like:
● Caste system (वर्ण प्रथा);
– Low and even non-acceptance of inter-caste marriages as occasionally evidenced by violence against low caste families if such a thing place
– Matrimonial advertisement which are categorized and published by caste
● Sati system (सती प्रथा) and acceptance and adoption of the purdah system from Islam;
● Dowry system (दहेज प्रथा);
● Untouchablity (छुआछूत);
– Purity of caste demanded specified distances are maintained between upper and lower castes and failure to do was punishable by whipping and even death
– Segregation of the population by caste in villages
– Lower castes were often barred from using wells used by higher castes
– Lower castes were forbidden from entering temples.
– Dalit being asked to clean toilets or to eat separately
These and many other practices were considered consistent with the practices of Sanatana Dharma and were not recognized as immoral or against humanity till the British sought to ‘corrupt’ our culture with their western moral values. But now the tide has changed and there are laws that deal with such instances and protect such classes of people.
Dharma of Western MoralityEven though geographic India (over the millennium, for it was never a political unity till the British unified it under one administrative unit about 150 years ago and left it in its current diminished state 67 odd years ago) was generally under some foreign rule or the other and rarely fully with Indians of local origin as can be seen from the following examples:
● Sakas (200 BCE – 400 CE originating in Scythians, covering central Eurasian steppes to Mongolia),
● Yavana (180 BC–AD 10 originated around the area of Greece & Turkey),
● Kushans (approx 30 BCE – 375 CE Bactria region covering the areas of Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan),
● Muslim rule (approx 1260 CE & later Turkic origin which included among others Azerbaijanis, Kazakhs, Turkmens and Uyghurs)
With the passage of time, the Hindu community efficiently absorbed and assimilated peoples of foreign rule, namely Sakas, Yavanas and Kushans that today the sub-continent has no memory of these foreigners ever having lived in India. However, this was not entirely true of the Muslim rule and subsequently British rule. May be in the historical framework, time was short however Indians today only have a romantic notion of their lives Islamic Rule and Hindus, as they were called, only remember things like Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Mughlai food and music like Ghazal, Qawwali and Kathak as a living memory of those times. Yet never in the entire duration of conquering foreign empires did their rulers do much for the local populations in order to create a politically unified form of local administration in the manner in which the British did.
We may begrudge them, berate them and lay all blame on them for our current ills, but we need to undeniably accept that the British laid the foundation of modern India by establishing communications network that helped create a unified local administration. They did this by investing heavily in railways, motor-able highways, post and telegraph but also encouraged the natives to participate in the administration of the governance by encouraging universal education across all strata of society. The British while happy with new found wealth and power also realized that the difficult task of governing over a people fed for generations on the conflicting yet rigid laws of Dharma. It would have appeared near impossible, despite helpful upper caste advisors eager to take advantage of a new set of rules eager for guidance. It did not make sense to use laws which were alien to their own sense of fair judgment, being used to a more secular form of government. It did not take much time for them to impose British sensibilities in their governance philosophy and for the first time society was being wrought by far reaching changes in the name of modernization and governance:
● Defined laws were introduced that covered civil aspects of society which, while just, were highly inconsistent with Hindu social structure – e.g. they raised marriage age for girls at 18 and boys at 21, introduced widow remarriage, etc.
● Dispensed justice in law courts at local level by humans who had no divine right as was during the feudalistic age
● Social norms (the dharmic system) was being dismantled and broken e.g. encouraging universal education, preventing female infanticide, abolished the ancient practice of making ineligible those handicapped to inherit property
No doubt such breakdown in social order was a crime unpardonable by higher castes Hindus and Muslim Nawabs who for the first time found common cause and experienced an urgent need to prevent social breakdown in Dharma and hence sought independence from British Raj. However, many were educated in British schools, and a new morality that was implanted in their minds was beginning to subtly recognize the inhumane aspect of conforming to Dharma. Hence agitations supporting the efforts of the British to improve the moral quotient of the Hindus made many a high caste to lead this change, e.g.:
● Raja Ram Mohan Roy successfully agitated for abolition of Sati and was against polygamy
● Mahatma Jyotirao Govindrao Phule and his wife Savitribai were pioneers of women’s education, widow upliftment and removal of untouchability
● Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar successfully agitated for widow remarriage and was for the banning of child marriage
● Kandukuri Veereshalingam encouraged education for women
Then there are those who believed that, like the Muslim Dynasties before them, the British came to convert India to Christianity. Though both Islam and Christianity are proselytizing religions there was a fundamental difference in the approaches by the respective rulers in India. While Muslim invaders entered India primarily to achieve a religious goal of converting the natives to Islam even as their secondary goal was to harvest the nation of its human resources by indulging in slave trade, replenishing the harems of their countrymen, looting the wealth, as well as trading in commodities like spice, cotton, etc. Hence the Islamic state actively sponsored the death of those who refused Islam and imposed jiziya tax on those who could afford to pay to avoid conversion. This was internally consistent with its religious philosophy (Quran 9:29) and the spread of Islam in other regions.
However, British along with the Spanish, Dutch, French and Portuguese came to India for the specific purpose of trade. This was because the Ottoman empire held tight control on the spice trade having captured Mediterranean lands and these countries were seeking alternate trade routes in order to obtain spices cheaply from India. Contrary to popular opinion The East India Company did not trade in slaves and though it accounted for half of the world’s trade, particularly trade in basic commodities that included cotton, silk, indigo dye, salt, saltpetre, tea and opium. Also the British were the first big slave-trading nation to abandon slave trade in 1807 and an Act for the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Colonies was passed by 28 August 1833.
On reaching India, the British found that centuries of Hindu-Muslim wars had made both weak and corrupt, even willing to trade their kingdoms in support for guns and ammunition to defeat their rival kingdoms. A classic example is how the Battle of Plassey had Bengal fall into their awaiting laps without much of a battle. By an Act of the British Parliament the East India Company handed over India to the British Empire in 1858.
Though there are records of scores of Christian missionaries coming to India, there are no records of Indians being converted en-mass at the point of the either the gun or the sword. Though their sense of equality, desire to impart free/ cheap education and willingness to intermingle with the downtrodden may have won them many converts; the support of the British Empire to subsidize these effort appears missing.
The Dharma of EqualityInterestingly, it was emperor Jalal-ud-din-Muḥammad Akbar (“Akbar the Great”) who first experimented with secularism during the heydays of Mughal rule. Akbar keenly wanted to see people of all faith living under the umbrella of peace . This need led to him espousing the institution of Din-i-Ilahi (“Religion of God”) and “Sulh-e-Kul” (universal peace or peace with all). In fact, not only did he tolerate non-Muslims, unheard of by any Islamic king till then, he also encouraged debate on philosophical and religious issues between leaders of different religions. By 1568 he repealed the hated Jizya tax on non-Muslims. The policy of “Sulh-e-Kul” became a part of general imperial administrative policy. These laudable experiments soon died along with its patron.
The British did not formally introduce secularism to India as it was still an experiment on trial in late 18th century in France. Hence it had not reached a point of maturity to have had any influence in political India. Even though many of the members of the Constituent Assembly were Western educated and had a good grip on constitutional law (as practiced in countries like Britain, France and even US) they did not consider it important to include secularism as an important principal in the preamble of the constitution and limited their consideration only to “SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC”.
Probably in their view, the very fact that India is pluralistic (a fact emphasized by the blatant desire of Mohammad Jinnah to create a state whose prime objective was the protection of Islam and its adherents successfully) meant the state was strongly secular and felt that there was no need for theocracy to carry forward the secular agenda. The founding fathers probably felt that Hindu society is so intrinsically highly pluralistic, which, in their view, meant that Hinduism was and will remain per se naturally secular. While their view, generous at best and short minded at worst, was soon rectified by Indira Gandhi in 1976 when the Parliament passed the 42nd amendment to the Constitution which introduced two words “SOCIALIST SECULAR”. Its my personal view this apparent and prophetic change was more likely a response to prevent disintegration of the country on account of theocratic forces getting on the rise as seen during the Khalistani movement which reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, flourishing in the traditional homeland of the Sikh religion.
Secularism was no more than an extension of another Hindu Philosophy – सर्व धर्म सम्भवः (Sarva Dharma Sambhava), which literally meant that all religions truths are equal to or harmonious with each other. If the self evident truth that all religions was harmonious and co-equal was so readily understood then all religious leaders would be in agreement about god, the path to god and the principles of good human relations. The failure to recall history and the failed experience of “Sulh-e-Kul” could have been sufficient and fair warning to our political leadership that Sarva Dharma Sambhava was no more than old wine in a new bottle and doomed to failure.
By confusing secularism as ‘equal treatment to all religions’ instead of ‘SEPARATION OF THE INFLUENCE OF RELIGION FROM MATTER OF GOVERNANCE’ the Indian Government only sought to create laws or perpetuate old ones that ensured continuing differences between citizens in matters involving marriage, property, inheritance, adoption and divorce purely on account of religious belief/ affiliation. The exception is Goa where a uniform civil code is in place which has a common law covering matters related to marriage, property, inheritance, adoption and divorce.
The age old laws of Santana Dharma were not just ossified but impervious for too long to be able to change. This accounts for the deeply communal nature of Indians and their current inability to effect change. It is far too deeply ingrained in our society and our psyche. Consider two ways in which our nature reflects in current society:
► We are divided by caste, religion and regional affiliation. We do not call ourselves Indians or Bharatiya. We persist in call ourselves Hindus – a Persian term that identifies our religion rather than citizenship. Even today, Hindu right wing parties are unable/ unwilling to accept the Sanskrit term Bharat (भारत) and Bharatiya (भारतिय) to define their nation and nationalistic pride and would prefer to retain the old Islamic terms by which the slave-trading masters called them.
► We seek brides and grooms along religious and regional lines. One just need to look up any matrimonial column in any newspaper or website to believe me.
► We refuse to fast if the doctor advises us but do not fail to keep whole day fasts should a Brahmin tell us it will lead to calm some angry god or correct a planetary disorientation.
Also consider the way Nirvachan Sadan (Election Commission of India) refuses to uphold the Constitution by continuing to recognize whose electoral parties that are violative of Indian Constitution even as they conspicuously promote non-secular ideals:
► We blatantly accept and promote political parties that seek to encourage religious agenda/ identity e.g. Bharatiya Janata Party, Shiromani Akali Dal, Indian Union Muslim League, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, etc. even though the constitution demands of us to separate religion from governance.
► We tolerate parties that push for a caste based agenda like Pattali Makkal Katchi, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, etc. even though the constitution has clearly demanded abolition of caste in a time-bound manner.
► We have parties that seek to create chauvinistic an xenophobic climate as they push a regional agenda often at the cost of an inclusive Bharatiya mindset e.g. Shiv Sena, Maharastra Navnirman Sena, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Mizo National Front, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telugu Desam Party, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, etc even though the constitution seeks unity.
No doubt then we are a communal nation, that is our Dharma and it defines us. There is nothing to be ashamed or angry about. The sooner we accept the reality of our split personality the faster we can change to improve our nation.
Reclaiming our Secular Dharma
At a basic and fundamental level, it is clear that Sanatana Dharma does not understand or accept change. Dharma is not so much about change or finding the means to adapt as much about maintaining the status quo. Dharma is all about respecting wisdom on the basis of age. Dharma prevents us from ask difficult questions from those higher in status – whether by age, skill, knowledge, wealth, etc. Dharma seeks to deny social and moral progress as can be seen from the statements of moral right wing leaders, who are the first to take a stand on any Dharmic value.
Therefore Dharma does not appear to have sufficient moral fiber within it to become the basis of social change or improvement. In order to create any law (based on moral principles) that requires humans to conform we can either do it on the basis of divinity i.e. unquestioned rule of god (theocracy) or use the secular golden principles of human relationships namely:
● One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself;
and its converse
● One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
These principals were known across human civilization from ancient Greeks & Egyptians in the West to Indians and Chinese in the East. Even age old religions such as the Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity right up to modern faiths of Humanism and Scientology use the Golden Rules to formulate guidelines for their followers.
The closest Santana Dharma ever came to accepting these secular principals is found in Shanti-Parva 167:9 of the Mahabharata when the wise minister Vidura advises Yuddhishthira:
तस्माद्धर्मप्रधानेन भवितव्यं यतात्मना ।
तथा च सर्वभूतेषु वर्तितव्यं यथात्मनि ॥
In simple English “By self-control and by making dharma (i.e.right conduct) your main focus, TREAT OTHERS AS YOU TREAT YOURSELF.
Sadly these wise words were neither understood then, nor followed, nor preached by the followers and practitioners of Manu. Hence we have for many millennia forgotten that it is from this moral code – treat others as one would like others to treat oneself – that we can secure for ourselves the ideals that the Constitution desires, namely:
JUSTICE (social, economic and political),
LIBERTY (of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship),
EQUALITY (of status and of opportunity) and
FRATERNITY (assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation).