Dharma and Secularism

What we see today is, the concept of secularism in interpreted differently by different groups to serve their own purpose. What is more tragic is, many ideological groups are using it as a tool to serve "un-secular" means or motives. Today we can say that "secularism" is the most abused and manipulated term in existence in the sociopolitical framework.

In its original form, secularism is understood as…

  1. Religious skepticism or indifference.
  2. The view that religious considerations should be excluded from civil affairs or public education.

This concept is based or born in contrast to the principle called "religion". Whereas, the concept of religion itself is based on the notion of faith as understood in Abrahamic traditions. This definition of religion is defined along the lines of Abrahamic thinking that is dogmatically conclusive, exclusionary and separative.

  • "conclusive", that is to say it is the one and only true religion;
  • "exclusionary", that is to say, those who don't follow it are excluded from salvation and
  • "separative", that is to say, in order to belong to it one must not belong to another.

These three notions of religion are not a universal idea and by and large do not express the reality of what are called Eastern religions. For instance, the conclusive and separative notion of religion implies that one can only be a member of one religion or another. In both Eastern and many indigenous societies, this does not hold true. In each of these three ways the notion of dharma, which is the original Indian concept, is very different from the notion of religion.

The problem today is the Eastern religions especially Hinduism is defined in the mirror of Abrahamic religions.

These three notions of religion – conclusive, exclusionary and separative, give Abrahamic religions a hard-edged identity. In Abrahamic religions there has been a strong emphasis on the separation of “believer” and “non-believer” and a religious imperative to move as many people from the latter category to the former. Truth has been conclusively and unquestionably revealed and captured in a book, and those that follow it are the only ones that are on the right path. Quite literally, this means that you are “with us or against us” – that the believers are right and represent the good who are “with God”; and all the others are misguided and are part of the darkness and deprived of any direct access to what is the ultimate good.

Contrary to this notion, the so-called religions of India are not "religions" but ways of cultivating Dharma! They are to recognize Dharma, the underlying universal truths, and to build our life and culture around them. Dharma works in the context of, everybody cannot travel on this path. Very few people become physicist or biologist who are searching for truth in their own fields. The rest just use the truth or knowledge discovered by the formers.

The Hindu system (in contrast to religion) is developed based on the truth discovered by rishis for centuries and is collected in many texts such as the Vedas or the Geeta or the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. For ordinary people, different paths are prescribed in the texts as well as by enlightened people like Buddha or Sankaracharya.

The fundamental principle in the worldview of the dharmic traditions is that while scriptures can be very helpful, Truth cannot be found by scripture alone but by a path of experiential realization and Self-discovery – and in that sense religion is not conclusive. It is also not separative and exclusive in the sense of dividing the world into believers and non-believers. The dharmic worldview is that there are many tribes throughout the world, and many teachers and teachings. Each tribe has good and bad people in a continuum; people that have a greater degree of access to truth and “goodness” are worthy of respect; and others less so. Since there is a continuum of “goodness” among individuals of each tribe, the need for converting other tribes to a particular conception of God as a religious imperative is not really there. A teacher can share his or her understanding of the truth; and means and ways for others to access this; but there is no underlying belief that only one such way exists.

Here are some important points on dharma:

1. Dharma is not a belief system or dogma.

2. Dharma is not a religion. Dharma is not based on religion, but a religion or social system can be based on Dhrama. E.g. All Bharatiya based traditions such as Hindu, Buddha, Jain, and Sikh is based on dharma as its foundation.

[We don't see infighting between Hindu, Buddha, Jain, and Sikh faiths because Dharma is placed above faith and the dharmic principles are respected]

3. The word Dharma is of Sanskrit origin which is used natively in all Indian languages from Hindi to Tamil in the south.

4. Dharma is a “non-partisan” in nature that traces its origin in Bharat (Sanatana Dharma) like we have the concept of “secularism” that traces its origin from Judeo-Christian religious encounter or roots.

5. In all western countries, Secularism means “separation of the Church and State” and “non-discrimination towards individual faiths”. It DOES NOT mean “equal respect for all religions”.

6. In India Secularism has been extended to mean “equal respect for all religions” based on Dhrama as its guiding principle. However this notion of “equal respect for all religions” is only practiced uphold by the Dhrama based tradition and non-adherence of “equal respect for all religions” by Christians and Muslims is causing religious intolerance and instability in present India.

[Religious tollerence does not mean “equal respect for all religions”. “equal respect for all religions” means you accept the legitimacy of other religions apart from yours — this is what Dharma stands for]

7. While ‘secular’ is interpreted as the opposite of ‘religion’ and ‘communal’, Dharma is neither secular in the sense of being anti-religious nor communal in the sense of favoring a particular sect. Dharma is not co-terminus with religion. Thus in a Dharmic society an atheist (non-religious) person cannot sideline a religious person and vise versa.

8. Since Dharma was never identified with a specific doctrine, the State was never doctrinaire. However, the State was always dharmic (non-secular, non-communal), because Dharma is all-encompassing and embraces all without discrimination.

9. Secularism does not address or solve the problem of religious exclusivity, separatism and religious intolerance that is evident today.

10. Religions like Christianity and Islam which indulge in religious exclusivity, divides humanity into believers and non-believers therefore there is an unremitting urge and propagation to convert the non-believers to their respective believe system. Dharma on the other hand does not divide humanity into believers and non-believers. Thus all traditions that inherit Dharma do not naturally seek conversion. There is no concept of “religious conversion” in the worldview of dharma.

11. In Dhrama, every individual is left free to explore his or her respective beliefs and practices without any need for conformity and conversion.

12. The doctrine of “religious conversion” which has its roots in Abrahamic religions put an end to individual freedom by restricting the individual to conform into a particular belief system, holy book, prophet and mode of worship and requires them to shun the others. Dharma on the other hand guarantees freedom at individual level to seek and explore what is best for them without any kind of restriction, whether it is on beliefs, holy book, prophet or mode of worship.

13. In Dharmic context, religious freedom will mean being indifferent to another’s faith. That means there is no reason to look upon another differently just because they are of another faith, a believer or an atheist. It also gives all due respect to another person’s faith irrespective to whether you agree or not. The person is left free to explore his or her religious life without being challenged to change his or her religion. Such exploration need not be confined to any one religion, and may freely embrace the entire religious and philosophical heritage of humanity.

14. Dharma gives no room for religious exclusivity and separatism, therefore the establishment of Dharma as the foundation of Indian constitution is opposed and resisted by all exclusive religions that separates humanity into believers and non-believers and seeks to convert all. Acceptance of Dharma means, end to religious exclusivity and separatism.

15. Every human being has the right to be free from being subject to the preaching of exclusive religious doctrines. Every person is free to participate in and learn from none, one or more ways to happiness and fulfillment without being asked to specify a religious identity or to convert from one to another.

16. Peaceful and tolerant society can only be achieved when all faiths and ideologies accepts and integrate Dharma as its foundation.

17. The duty of the State based on Dharma is best exemplified by the concept of Rajdharma, which is a sacred duty for which the ruler can sacrifice anything. Stories of the travails of Raja Harishchandra and the sufferings of Shri Rama reflect how seriously the monarch is expected to take his responsibilities and fulfill commitments.

18. Due to Dharma, the Hindu civilization has never, even when under murderous assault, indulged in pogroms on grounds of faith.

19. ‘Dharma’, in fact, transcended the narrow boundaries of religion. It offered limitless freedom of choice of methods as well as goals. It encourages free enquiry and never seeks to confine people into categories and denominations. It is this inherent tolerance and catholicity that enabled people, in the ancient times, to pursue faiths independent of their rulers and vice-versa. The rights and duties of the rulers and the citizens, though never codified were always respected. Each institution of the society, each individual, almost intuitively knew where to draw the line, where to define the limit. Tolerance is, therefore, integral to ‘Dharma’., plurality is inherent in it. This tolerance and plurality do not find space in the concept of religion.

The reality today is all Dharma based religions do not have conflict with each others and only when encountered with Islam and Christianity the conflict arise due to non-compliance to Dharma by these 2 religions. The Abrahamic religions in general, contains a lot of adharmic (anti-dharmic) elements that make it impossible for all dharmic tradition to coexists.

The secret to peace and prosperity is cannot be assured by “secularism” as it is based on the “religious” doctrine. It is only by adhering to Dharma that peace and prosperity will prevail. For this to be possible, all religions should adhere to DHARMA as its core principle.

In societies that practices secularism, religious intolerance cannot be eradicated. The result of India’s insistence on secularism at the expense of DHRAMA can be seen today. The Indian society is slowly being polarized under religious lines and if this process continues, even the Dharmic based religions will eventually forced to become exclusive and separative in their outlook and this will ultimately lead to intolerance and conflict.

The question that the Indian society should ask today is, are they working towards establishing a Dharma conscious society or in the process of disintegrating the Dharma conscious society (sociopolitical culture of the Indian nation). It is impractical to expect some to adhere unconditionally to DHRAMA and others don’t. The karmic law of cause and effect will eventually materialize and react to this very principle being pushed on the people and nation.

As the saying goes …

Dharmo Rakshati Rakshitaha
Dharma protects those who protect it!


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