Some aspects of Vedic Dharma and Culture
by SL Sharma ( Bangalore Arya Samaj )
An Arya is any person who believes in and worships the one true God, who lives according to the teachi…ngs of the Vedas, who follows the dictates of Dharma, and who strives to spread the Light of Truth to all people. Being an Arya is a spiritual and moral condition of an individual, and is in no way determined by external factors such as race or nationality. An Arya is a person who is, above all else, devoted to Truth.
An Arya worships and communes with the one true God daily through the performance of Sandhya and Agnihotra and lives according to the 10 Principles of Dharma (righteousness), namely: steadfastness (dritih), tolerance (kshamaa), contentment (damah), non-covetousness (asteyam), cleanliness (showcham), restraint of the senses (indriya nigrahah), practice (dheeh), knowledge (vidyaa), truth (satyam) and benevolence (akrodhah). An Arya does not consume meat, use intoxicants or recreational drugs of any kind, or indulge in sex outside of marriage.
God Soul And Nature
According to Vaidika Dharma, God (OM), the Soul (Purusha) and Nature (Prakriti) are the 3 Eternal Noumena, meaning that they have always existed and will forever continue to exist. Though later thinkers developed a number of varying metaphysical positions, the philosophy of the Vedas, the original Divine Revelation, clearly posits the beginningless existence of God, the Soul and Nature – an eternal truth that has come to be referred to as Traita or Traitavada, meaning the ‘Wisdom of the Three’.
However, though God, the Soul and Nature are three distinct entities, they are at no time completely separate from one another. The relationship between God and Creation is that between the Pervader and that which is pervaded, respectively. God fills and pervades every corner of existence, including the eternal Soul of man.
The relationship between God and man, therefore, is more intimate than any other relationship an individual shall ever experience. Indeed, God knows all our thoughts and desires, our hopes and dreams, our fears and worries. He is our Eternal Father, our Highest Master, our True Friend, Teacher and Guide in one.
The Ends of Noble Society
The Purusharthas are the goals of earthly life. It is towards these ends that any noble society strives. They are four in number:
1. Dharma or Duty: This is the state in which one’s actions, serving the good of all, are in accordance with one’s own nature. Thus, to practice Dharma is to establish congruence and harmony between one’s inner and outer life.
Swami Dayanand on Dharma: “The practice of equitable justice together with that of truthfulness in word, deed and thought and the like (virtues) – in a word, that which is in conformity with the Will of God, as embodied in the Vedas – even that I call Dharma (righteousness). But the practice of that which is not free from partiality and injustice as well as of untruthfulness in word, deed and thought, – in a word, that which is opposed to the Will of God, as embodied in the Vedas – even that I term Adharma (unrighteousness).” (Satyarth Prakash 726)
Dharma is the fundament of the Purusharthas, for without it, none of the others can be attained with righteousness. And a good attained without righteousness is paramount to a positive evil.
2. Artha or Wealth: This is the attainment of wealth in any form (material or spiritual) through righteous means and the avoidance of goods gained through ignoble means.
Swami Dayanand on Artha: “Righteously acquired wealth alone constitutes Artha, while that which is acquired by foul means is called Anarth.” (Satyarth Prakash 728)
3. Kaama or Enjoyment: This is the attainment of satisfaction of one’s noble and righteous desires and the pleasure derived thereof.
Swami Dayanand on Kaama: “The enjoyment of legitimate desires with the help of honestly-acquired wealth (Artha) constitutes Kaama.” (Satyarth Prakash 728)
4. Moksha or Salvation: This is the attainment of freedom from the bonds of ignorance and its result, pain.
Swami Dayanand on Moksha: “The emancipation of the soul from pain and suffering of every description and a subsequent career of freedom in the All-pervading God and His immense Creation for a fixed period of time and its resumption of earthly life after the expiration of that period constitute Moksha or salvation. The means of salvation are the worship of God, i.e., the practice of yoga, the performance of righteous deeds, the acquisition of true knowledge by the practice of Brahmacharya, the society of the wise and the learned, love of true knowledge, purity of thought, a life of activity and so on.” (Satyarth Prakash 727)
Just as Dharma is the foundation of the Purusharthas, so, too, is Moksha the pinnacle of the same. To attain Moksha is to reach life‘s ultimate goal, which goes beyond even the bounds of earthly life, and leads one into a state of unbroken communion (Upaasanaa) with God.
It is important to note that Vedic Wisdom does not entail a life of mendicancy or severity. As long as one follows the dictates of Dharma, one is encouraged to enjoy the good things of this earthly life. God, in His Infinite Wisdom, has seen it fit to grant us the ability to experience great happiness and pleasure while on this earth, and we are encouraged to seek it out through righteous means.
The 4 Phases of Life
Vedic Wisdom teaches that each individual goes through certain phases during the course of life, and that each of these phases should provide the opportunity to master the knowledge and skills required for making real progress toward the attainment of the Purusharthas. The systematic organization of these phases, known as Ashrama, foresees three main segments in the life of man.
1. Brahmacharya or Student Life: This is the stage of life in which the child receives a solid education in Vaidika Dharma, including the sciences and the arts. It entails living a celibate and simple life, free from the distractions of sensuality and materialism, hearing and studying the Vedas, and developing virtuous qualities such as discipline, purity in thought, word and deed, cleanliness, humility, etc.
Swami Dayanand on the purpose of Brahmacharya: “Brahmacharya (or the 1st stage of life) is meant for perfecting one’s body and acquiring knowledge and culture.” (Satyarth Prakash 159)
Brahmacharya is the foundation of the noble life, for it imparts the knowledge of one‘s proper place and function in society and in God‘s creation, as well as training in skills one will make use of in all the subsequent stages of life.
2. Grihastha or Household Life: This is the stage of life in which the individual learns and practices a profession suited to their nature, i.e., their natural gifts and talents. It is also the stage in which a person usually gets married and starts a family, and entails the careful observance of prescribed duties and Yajnas or ritual sacrifices.
Swami Dayanand on the purpose of Grihastha: “Grihastha (or the 2nd stage of life) is for the pursuit of useful occupation and professions, marriage, etc.” (Satyarth Prakash 159)
In many ways, Grihastha is the pillar of all the other phases of life, as Householders are the ones who support both children and the elderly on the one hand, as well as temples and priests on the other.
3. Vaanaprastha or Retired Life: This is the stage of life in which the individual, having fulfilled his duties to his children and his community, withdraws from his professional role in society, making way for the next generation, and turns his attention inward, devoting himself more fully to the practice of yoga and the search for divine wisdom.
Swami Dayanand on the purpose of Vaanaprastha: “Vaanaprastha (or the 3rd stage of life) is for meditation, concentration of the mind on abstruse subjects, the perfection of one’s character and the acquisition of divine knowledge.” (Satyarth Prakash 159)
For most people, this stage represents the culmination of all their efforts. They have the freedom to spend the remainder of their days absorbed in the contemplation and worship of God and in altruistic actions. However, for Braahmanas, there is one additional stage which can be taken as an option.
4. Sanyaasa or Renounced Life: This is the stage of life in which the individual renounces all ties to worldly existence, focusing all his energy upon the propagation of Vedic Wisdom and the teaching of the same to others.
Swami Dayanand on the purpose of Sanyaasa: “Sanyaasa (or the 4th stage of life) is meant for disseminating knowledge of the Veda and the Shaastras, practicing virtue and renouncing vice, preaching the gospel of truth and dispelling doubts and ignorance of the people. … Therefore, it behooves Sanyaasis to devote themselves assiduously to the preaching of Truth and enlightening the minds of the people who are in doubt, to the studies of the Vedas and the Shaastras and the propagation of the Vedic religion, thereby promote the good (physical, social, mental and spiritual) of the whole world.” (Satyarth Prakash 159)
Braahmanas may also go directly from Brahmacharya to Sanyaasa, as they are alone qualified through knowledge and piety to execute the duties of a true Sanyaasi, and as it is sometimes the case that they have little if anything left to learn from the stages of Grihastha and Vaanaprastha.
The Classes of Society
Vedic Wisdom teaches that every individual is unique in their constellation of strengths and weaknesses, making them suited for a particular type of work and a certain position in society. Vedic Society is divided into four classes or Varnas.
1. Shudras: These are the artisans and manual laborers. They are gifted with dexterity, endurance and great skill in producing manual works of all sorts which are necessary for the healthy functioning of any society. Shudras enjoy greater freedom of movement and employment than the other classes, as they are not required to be financially self-sufficient and are allowed to take on work from others as they choose.
2. Vaishyas: These are the farmers, merchants and business owners. It is their duty to make sure that society is supplied with all of the goods it requires for it‘s proper functioning. Though they often have more wealth than members of other classes, Vaishyas are faced with the responsibility of maintaining their businesses and taking care of their employees. However, a Vaishyas is gifted with business savvy and enjoys the challenges running a successful enterprise entails.
3. Kshatriyas: These are the soldiers, police officers and public administrators. It is their duty to ensure the safety and smooth running of society. Though granted political power, they have the responsibility of using that power wisely and fairly, making sure that justice and the rule of law prevails. Kshatriyas are gifted with great strength and determination in order to execute their duties as the protectors of society, and they are not infrequently called upon to make the greatest sacrifice – that of their own life for the good of society.
4. Braahmanas: These are the intellectuals, teachers and priests. It is their duty to ensure that society as a whole is headed in the right direction – towards the fulfillment of the Purusharthas. To do this, they are required to study and teach the Vedas, to perform sacrifices for the benefit of all, and to live a simple and frugal life, devoted to preaching the Truth.
It is absolutely vital to recognize that Varna is not based upon birth or heredity, but on the nature and merits of the individual. Swami Dayanand proclaims: “The Class and Order of an individual should be determined by his merits alone.” (Satyarth Prakash 728) The caste system as it is known in India today is a perversion of Varna, and should be denounced by all noble individuals as the source of grave social injustice.
The 16 Sacraments of Life
In the Vedic Tradition, there are sixteen religious ceremonies known as Sanskars or the Sacraments of Life. The Sanskars are performed for the physical, social, and spiritual development of the individual. These are:
1. Garbhadhana: Performed shortly after the conception of a child, to ensure a healthy beginning for the new life.
2. Punsavana: Performed during the second or third month of pregnancy, to ensure the healthy development of all the extremities and vital organs of the fetus.
3. Simantonnayana: Performed during the last phases of pregnancy, to ensure the correct functioning of all the sensory organs and to bring the development of the fetus to a successful close.
4. Jatakarma: Performed after the birth of the child, to welcome the newborn as a new member of society.
5. Namakarana: Performed on the 11th or 12th day after birth, to give the child the name he or she will forthwith be known by.
6. Niskramana: Performed when the child is 2 to 4 months old, to invoke God’s protection and blessings as the child leaves the home for the first time.
7. Annaprasana: Performed when the child is 4 to 6 months old, to celebrate the child’s first consumption of solid food.
8. Chudakarma: Performed when the child is 1 year old, to support the development of self-awareness and autonomy in the child.
9. Karnavedha: Performed when the child is 3 to 5 years old, to support the development of self-esteem and self-respect.
10. Upanayana: Performed when the child is 5 to 7 years old, to celebrate the entrance of the child into the institution of formal education and the investment with the sacred thread, signalling the beginning of Brahmacharya or Student Life. Also known as Yajnopaveet.
11. Vedarambha: Performed when the child is 5 to 7 years old, to solidify the commitment of the child to receiving a good education.
12. Samavartana: Performed upon the completion of studies, to welcome the young adult as a valued member of society, ready to embark on the next stage of life, known as Grihastha or Household Life.
13. Vivaha: The marriage ceremony (usually undertaken around 25 years of age), to celebrate the happy union of the individual with a spouse of their choice who is suited to their nature and ready to embark upon Household Life.
14. Vaanaprastha Ashram: Undertaken upon retiring from one’s chosen profession (usually between 50 and 75 years of age), to celebrate the completion of the duties of Household Life and the entrance into the phase of reflection and meditation known as Vaanaprastha Ashram.
15. Sanyaasa Ashram: Undertaken either after the completion of Brahmacharya (Student Life) or Vaanaprastha (Retired Life), to celebrate the renunciation of all worldly desires and absolute dedication to the service of mankind through spreading Vedic Wisdom.
16. Antyesti: Performed upon the death of the individual, when the body is consumed by fire and it’s constituent elements are returned to Nature. This is the last ceremony. Also known as Antyesti, Naramedha and Purusmedha.
The 5 Great Daily Duties
Aryas are enjoined to perform 5 duties on a daily basis. The performance of the 5 Great Daily Duties (Pancha Mahayajnas) ensures that the individual maintains a righteous relationship to all those he or she comes into contact with. These are:
1. Brahma Yajna: The contemplation of and communion with God (Sandhya) twice daily, morning and evening.
2. Deva Yajna: The burning of Samagree (odoriferous, nutritive, sweet, curative, and similar other substances) with Ghee (clarified butter) in the sacred fire, also called Homa, or the Agnihotra.
3. Pitri Yajna: The ministering to the comfort of the elders, the wise and the learned, as well as serving the same individuals with love and faith.
4. Balivaishva Yajna: The feeding and support of poor and destitute individuals, as well as that of wild animals.
5. Atithi Yajna: The discharge of hospitality to guests, especially towards individuals who are wise and learned, whose time of arrival and departure is unknown.
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