The article, “Sanatana Dharma – More than a Religion (CLN, 2015)” stated that Sanatana Dharma is a code of ethical and moral conduct with universal appeal than just a religion. The Hindu seers propounded the Sanatana Dharma (Dharma) to emphasize that perfecting conduct and character are more important than mere belief in dogma or faith. Perfecting conduct begins only when we recognize that we need to search for our true inner potential. The search for true inner potential starts when we discard false beliefs that happiness arises only when one accumulates material wealth or exercises power over others. Lasting happiness is achieved when we live an ideal life of truth, purity, love, and renunciation.

Pursuing an ideal life, however, is not easy because a huge distance separates the basic state of an individual’s nature from its ideal state. Each individual is unique because of his temperament, knowledge, and darkness and light within him. These traits influence his beliefs and faith and also his ability to rise to a higher mental state. Additionally, the life of an individual is embedded in desires such as kama (pleasures) and artha (wealth and power) and these must be accepted as ‘expressions of the freedom of the self.’ It is unreasonable to expect an individual to renounce all of these at the moment in time. Renunciation would happen only gradually as one acquires knowledge and experience. Dharma, recognizing all of these limitations, designed the Varna ashrama or educating an individual in stages and providing guidance until he is ready for liberation.

Although Dharma placed great emphasis on individual development, it also stressed the duties and responsibilities of a society to its people. Through complex sets of institutions and practices, Dharma brought the individual and the society together. It says that, like an individual, the state must equally strive towards perfection. When all aspects of life – duties, responsibilities, ethics, morals, and social order – worked together harmoniously, Dharma says, it would lead to a stable and happy society.

Why did Dharma emphasize conduct more than faith or dogma? Because regardless of one’s faith or religious affiliation, the Truth remains the same. And, more than rituals and dogma, it is an enlightened mind that can recognize Truth. And, the mind would be enlightened only when one lives a life of moral and ethical conduct. None else would help as much. As Adi Sankara said (Viveka Choodamani, “Liberation cannot be achieved except by enlightenment of the mind. It can be achieved neither by Yoga (physical training), nor by Sankhya (speculative philosophy), nor by the practice of religious ceremonies, nor by mere learning.”

Dr. Ram S. Sriram