We continue to add to our E-Library of free PDF downloads. In addition to adding our recently published book Sanatana Dharma: The Eternal Religion, Swami Nirmalananda has also edited for modern readers another, more in-depth book on Sanatana Dharma called The World’s Eternal Religion, which we have also made available as a free download in our E-Library.
The World’s Eternal Religion was published by the Sri Bharat Dharma Mahamandal in 1920 (the year Yoganandaji came to America) with an Introduction written by Swami Dayananda.
Swami Nirmalananda says of these books, “In my opinion Sanatana Dharma–The Eternal Religion is the basic textbook of Sanatana Dharma and The World’s Eternal Religion is the advanced textbook. Both are invaluable for the serious student of dharma.”
Below is an excerpt from The World’s Eternal Religion.
Dharma: Universal Religion
Derivative meaning of Dharma
The word dharma is derived from the Sanskrit root dhri and means “that which upholds,” or “that by which the universe is upheld.”
The Mahabharata recognizes this etymological meaning of dharma and takes it as upholding all creation so that whatever has the character of upholding is dharma.
The power and utility of dharma are similarly described in the Narayana Upanishad, dharma being a source of support to all, and a remover of sins.
A far wider meaning is then given to the word dharma. That shakti–divine power; divine law; divine will–is dharma, which pervades the whole universe, and regulates its harmonious action, being the cause of the birth of the universe, its preservation, and its final dissolution or absorption into the Supreme.
Dharma as divine law
The divine will or law thus manifesting itself is similarly named as dharma.
We see the continuous working of the forces of attraction and repulsion in the universe. Dharma is the power that maintains an equilibrium of these two forces throughout the creation. Thus the sun attracts the earth, the earth travels round the sun, and the moon round the earth, and each is kept in position–all this is owing to the operation of dharma. It is because of dharma that a thing is what it is. If dharma were to cease working even for a single instant, everything would go to wrack and ruin–the earth would at once pull down the moon, and both collide with each other with a tremendous crash, the sun would force in towards itself the other planets and the lesser suns, and the whole fabric of the heavens would be shattered in a moment. Where would our beautiful world be but for this dharma? Astronomy teaches that each world-system has its own sun, planets and satellites, and so forth, each of which is kept in position by the balance of attraction and repulsion. The sun does not draw down and dislodge the earth, and thus destroy the latter. The bigger planets do not do the same towards the smaller ones, and thus smash the latter to atoms. What keeps the balance in the world-systems? It is dharma.
Material science holds that there are the forces of attraction and repulsion connected with molecules and atoms. It has been shown how dharma keeps the equilibrium between the two forces. The whole of nature (prakriti) from the very sun down to the minute atom is under dharma, already designated as divine power or divine law.
Relation of dharma to creation
This world of ours arose out of dharma. In the beginning of creation, there was the preponderance of the force of attraction. So, molecules attracted molecules, and the result was this perceptible world. And the final dissolution comes on by the preponderance of the force of repulsion–molecules would then continue repelling one another, and dispersing till all things disintegrated, and the result would be pralaya or universal destruction. There is a balance between the forces of attraction and repulsion in all embodied forms in the universe, and what maintains the balance is dharma.
Dharma as Evolution
The ancient Hindus were aware of the principle of evolution long, long before Darwin and others taught it in the West. The Hindus hold that the jiva, in its onward march towards its goal, travels steadily by degrees, now as a plant, then as an animal, through innumerable wombs or narrow gates of rebirth, till at last it takes its birth as man. It is dharma or divine law which has taken the jiva, most undeveloped and almost insentient in the beginning, to the stage of man, the fully conscious and developed being. And dharma will take him in course of time yet higher.
All jivas follow this strict course of evolution from the earliest conceivable material condition to the highest ordinary evolute in the form of the self-conscious and reflecting human being. The stages are these, leading from the gross to the intelligent being. Taking life as beginning to manifest itself is the vegetable kingdom, each evolved living being develops characteristics corresponding to its constituent elements. In vegetable life, there is preponderance of material food (anna), which in the set language of the rishis is the annamaya kosha, or food-sheath. Next comes the germ life (swedaja srishti), where the annamaya kosha is partially subordinated to the pranamaya kosha, or the sheath of the vital forces. This is followed by the egg-born life (andaja srishti), in which the manomaya kosha, or the mind-sheath, develops itself in superiority to the other two. Lastly comes the jarayuja srishti, or the sac-born beings, where the vijnanamaya kosha, or the sheath of intelligence, plays the prominent part. The ultimate form of the sac-born beings is man, the fully-developed jiva, in whom is brought into play the anandamaya kosha, or the sheath of ananda. It is at this stage of evolution that the feeling of joy distinctly manifests itself in the peculiar act of laughing never observed in any previous stage. Students of logic will be reminded of the convenient definition of man: ‘‘Man is a laughing animal.”
It is dharma that keeps up this rising chain of evolution, from which there is no escape. Who can resist this all-powerful divine dharma? Knowing the law, we can but work with it, we can help it to work smoothly, and it is sure to take us to our destination. Going against the law, we hinder our evolution. Dharma itself teaches us how to work smoothly and harmoniously with it, so as to ensure our progressive evolution.
All jivas, other than man, are completely under the power of prakriti (nature), and follow her laws automatically. These jivas are lovingly nurtured and brought up by her, as by a fond mother. Like dutiful children they, too, while in the lower stages of evolution, obey her commands instinctively in all actions, e.g., in eating and drinking, in sleep, in coition, and so forth.
Now, when the jiva becomes a man, the highest developed being on earth, he develops the power of reasoning and intellect, and particularly a free will, and gaining knowledge, acquires tremendous power for good or evil. He now aspires to gain mastery even over nature. Mark how man by his knowledge of nature’s laws utilizes her forces to serve his own ends! As a consequence of his vast powers, which give birth to pride in him, man dares even to violate the laws of nature. The result is that the gradual and steady evolution of such an individual is retarded, and down he must go to the lower stages. It is dharma alone which can lift him up again.
It might therefore be said that going with nature, and never against her, following her laws and evolving gradually, till at last we reach the purpose of our evolution, is dharma. And falling back into the lower stages of evolution by acting against nature and her laws is adharma.
Dharma in Man
The Bharatiyan rishis explain the term dharma in yet another way. They say that all created things have three gunas or principles–sattwa (or goodness, light, happiness, purity, etc.); rajas, (or activity), and tamas (evil, darkness, ignorance, inactivity). Those actions that suppress the principles of tamas and rajas, and promote the growth of the principle of sattwa, are dharma.
In the universe the principle of rajas manifests itself as the force of attraction, and tamas as that of repulsion. That which keeps the equilibrium of these two principles in the world, is dharma, as already pointed out.
In man, rajas manifests itself as raga or attachment and tamas as dwesha or aversion. Whenever there is a balance of these two in the human heart, sattwa in form of knowledge makes its appearance. All action that brings about this state is dharma.
The jiva, according to the principle of evolution, passes successively through the stages of the plant life, the germ-life, the-egg born life and the sac-born life, developing higher and higher consciousness and power, till it reaches the state of man, where its consciousness is fully developed into self-consciousness. It is therefore that no being other than man is responsible for his good and bad actions, or in other words, for punya and papa.
Those actions of man, whether of mind, body or speech, which increase knowledge that leads to the discrimination of dharma and adharma, have been called dharma in the Vedas.
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