This book was printed nearly one hundred years ago in Varanasi (Benares) for use as a textbook by the students of the Central Hindu College–now known as the Benares Hindu University. Its original title was Sanatana Dharma, An Advanced Text Book of Hindu Religion and Ethics. I bought a copy during one of my pilgrimages to India, but only read it through recently, almost fifty years later. I had been planning for some time to write a book outlining the principles of Sanatana Dharma on a much briefer level, but I decided to lay aside my plan and prepare an edition of this book for publication by our Atma Jyoti Ashram.
In one of my writings I have told how shortly after my return to America from my first pilgrimage to India I was riding through the streets of western Los Angeles with a beginning yogi. At one point he said to me, “I don’t want to spend a lot of time on it, but could you explain Hindu religion to me in five minutes or so?” It is no exaggeration when I say I was stunned. Sanatana Dharma in five minutes? I would have been appalled if he had said only five hours! The ignorant and worthless–because it was ineffectual–religion in which I was raised could certainly have been outlined in five minutes, but not the Eternal Truth I had found in India.
Sanatana Dharma is vast and requires a life-long study and a life-long process of self-evolution, for it is the vision of those incalculably great and perfected yogi-sages, the ancient rishis of India, whose consciousness could hold Infinity as easily and naturally as an ordinary person can hold a myrobalan (amalaki) fruit in his hand. (The amalaki fruit in the hand is a simile used by sages such as Adi Shankaracharya to express the natural and easeful state of total realization possessed by the yogi siddhas.) It is complex, consisting of a vast number of sacred texts that impart profound knowledge, and requires an extensive Sanskrit vocabulary, as the Glossary indicates.
For the aspiring yogi a lifetime study of Sanatana Dharma is a necessity because he must work and think continually in the context of Sanatana Dharma of which yoga is an inseparable part. True, yoga is not a matter of intellectuality and mere philosophy, but Truth is as infinite as the Reality to which we aspire when we pray:
Lead me from the unreal to the Real,
Lead me from darkness to the Light.
Lead me from death to Immortality.
Paramhansa Yogananda said, “Stupid people cannot find God.” And neither can ignorant, uninformed people be yogis, since the truly worthy yogi is of necessity a Sanatana Dharmi–a conscious adherent and practicer of Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma is not just a religion, it is the encompassing of the Infinite Reality in both its relative and absolute aspects.
It may seem odd that so much is given in the final part regarding the individual dharmi’s relationships with others. But true dharma is primarily intended for personal growth, including the dharmi’s own intellectual and emotional responses to others. “Thy neighbor as thyself” was a principle brought into the West two millennia ago from India by the Nath Yogi, Sri Isha Nath–Jesus the Christ. (See The Christ of India.)
Brilliant and complex as this book may be, it is just a wave in the Vidyasagar–the Ocean of Wisdom–that is Sanatana Dharma. And the wise immerse themselves perpetually in that ocean. Come and explore that ocean with the countless sages of India that have realized their oneness with It.
I have dedicated this printing to one of America’s finest scholars, philosophers and educators, Dr. Judith Tyberg, whose guru, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, named her Jyotipriya–Lover of Light. She was herself an alumnus of the Benares Hindu University and founder of the East-West Cultural Center in Hollywood. It was she who taught me my first steps in Sanatana Dharma as a living system of wisdom leading to enlightenment.
I have written and included a brief commentary on the relevant sections of the Manu Smriti since it is so frequently cited in Sanatana Dharma as a supreme authority.
Swami Nirmalananda Giri