The essential principles of Sanatan Dharma are easily summarised and remembered if we use the acronym HINDU DHARMA. These principles are as follows (adapted from the book “The Hindu Mind” by Bansi Pandit):
Harmony of Religions: Just as all rivers lead to the one ocean, as Hindus we believe that all religious pathways lead to the same eternal truth. Sanatan Dharma therefore teaches religious tolerance. Even within Hinduism, there are different approaches to reaching the Divine based on an individual’s own characteristics.
Incarnation: Hindus believe that the supreme consciousness manifests itself from time to time when unrighteousness is prevalent. The difference between an incarnation of God and other forms of creation is that an incarnation is always aware of his/her divine nature.
Non-aggression: Sanatan Dharma teaches the principles of non-aggression and compassion for all forms of creation. Though we defend ourselves if attacked, we should not be the perpetrators of violence.
Doctrine of Karma: Hindus believe in the law of Karma (action), reincarnation, and trans-migration of the soul. We are all trapped in the world as a result of performing actions with selfish motives and desires. We endure pain and suffering as a result of these actions. The way to freedom involves relinquishing these desires and performing actions without a sense of doership.
Unity of Existence: The one supreme consciousness underlies all forms of creation, and is the essence of all that there is. The entire creation is just a differentiated form of this one universal spirit.
Dharma: Dharma encompasses all forms of duty that an individual is supposed to perform. We must strive to carry out our responsibilities in all our capacities as parents, children, siblings, spouses, workers, and leaders. We must also repay our debts to God, the holy men, the ancestors, the society, and the lower forms of creation.
Humanism: Hinduism is a humanistic religion in which equality and social service serve as central principles to be upheld.
Atman: The atman or soul is the essential nature of each person. The soul is infinite, indestructible, indivisible and eternal.
Reality: The supreme reality (Brahman), which is the basis of everything, is both formless and with form, impersonal and personal, transcendent and immanent. The same reality is known by different names and with different forms based on the context of worship and the temperament of the devotee.
Moksha: The main goal of each Hindu is to achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and to realise his/her own nature. Liberation is achieved by giving up attachment and aversion and going beyond the mind and senses to realise that one’s essential nature is that of divinity.
Authority: Sanatan Dharma does not rely on a single text for scriptural teachings. The four Vedas (Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda) are considered the primary texts which were revealed to the ancient Rishis. Other scriptures such as the Dharma Shastras, the Puranas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharata were authored by individual saints and sages. Together, all Hindu scriptures form a rich knowledge-base of mythology, philosophy and rituals to assist the devotee in achieving self realisation.