The thing that sets the Hindu religion apart from all the other religions is that it enables freedom in its followers. The Abrahamic religions and even Buddhism and Jainism have a set of laws, commandments, or disciplines that they prescribe to their followers. Christianity and Judaism have their commandments; Islam has Shariyat; Buddhism has the famous eightfold path and Jainism has the five vows. But Hinduism does not believe in providing a cheat sheet for life. It rather complicates the process, so that people can indulge, do some research, and find the right path for themselves. As I have mentioned in the earlier blogs, the Hindu religion is not a religion of laws but a religion of knowledge and sciences. So, let's discuss what Hinduism has to say in aspects of laws or guidelines for a person’s lifestyle.
In Sanatana Dharma, all the conclusions are derived from the natural laws, so that we can align ourselves to the universe and make the struggle of life easy and efficient. Regarding developing guidelines for the daily activities, the Hindu religion derives conclusions from the natural law of diversity. We know that nature at its very core prescribes variety and so we believe that the laws of a lifestyle or a profession should be a subjective choice rather than a prescribed set. But some guidelines can help a person figure out the best way of finding a suitable path for themselves. These guidelines too are based on some natural laws.
Properties of Nature
The most basic of these laws are the three basic properties of nature. All the people in the world and their actions, in turn, are guided by the three properties of Satva (Property of Truth), Rajas (Property of Ambition), and Tamas (Property of Inactivity). The action influenced by these properties are as follows:
Satva (Property of Truth) – Curiosity; Seeking knowledge; Studying the universal laws; Devotion to the supreme God without a material motive; Performing penances and living an austere and disciplined life; Studying the sciences like physics, chemistry, biology, etc.; and the arts like literature, music, politics, economics, etc.; Spreading the knowledge via teaching and preaching and other similar actions.
Rajas (Property of Ambition) – Ruling and governing a piece of land; Creating and implementing laws of justice for the common people; Studying the sciences and the arts with a material motive of development and progress for the civilization; Promotion of development and war against injustice; Accumulating wealth and providing economic stability and security.
Tamas (Property of Inactivity) – Leisure; Contentment; Faith and belief in the system; Loyalty to the power; Disregard for discipline and austerity; Creating change and creativity.
Every person is guided by all the three properties, perspiring in some or other action. A person can't be free of any one of these properties as they are basic, and are embedded not only in life, but the very matter of the body i.e. they are integrated to the building blocks of matter or the five elements of Ether, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. Also, these properties do not work in a perfect balance all the time and thus create diversity and the uniqueness of an individual’s nature. The excess of any of these properties though not unnatural to an individual, becomes negative for the society resulting in sin, aggregated by causing disturbance to others and non-cooperation towards the concept of civilization.
For example, an excess of Satva can lead curiosity to a limit where a person loses faith in the supreme being and ultimately becomes an atheist. Or a person can become a slave to austerity and purity to a limit that he/she can consider the other properties inferior and useless and thus disrespect other people. Similarly, an excess of Rajas can lead to a vain ambition trying to conquer the entire world, and implementing laws that could ruin the diversity. Also, a person can become egoistic or narcissistic considering himself/herself a God or can become greedy in accumulating wealth for self and leave others in peril. An excess of Tamas can lead to laziness and non-contribution to the works of society. Also, a person driven by Tamas can start valuing the power and the system to a limit that he/she loses loyalty to the supreme God. The disregard for discipline and excessive creativity can result in anarchy and propagating false or fictional beliefs and ideas.
Varna Ashrama in the Hindu Religion
These properties though possible are extremely difficult to be manipulated in a short period like a single life. So, for the sake of a smooth and non-resisting system, the Hindu religion creates Varna Ashram (Caste Disciplines) where a person dominated by a certain property can perform suitable actions and help appropriately by contributing to the diversity. There are four basic Varna Ashrams (Caste disciplines) to be observed:
Brahman – They are the people dominated by the property of truth and having the other two properties in a good balance. They should be the most respected people in society and indulge in the professions of research, teaching, and preaching. They should not waste time maintaining a property or accumulating wealth, but the society should take care of their welfare leaving them to spend time in the works of welfare for the society in turn.
Kshatriya – They are the people dominated by the property of ambition with truth as second and inactivity at third. They should be the rulers of society and should be educated with all the knowledge that the Brahmans gather and take care of the entire society treating it like one big family.
Vaishya – They are the people dominated by the properties of ambition and inactivity alike. They should indulge in the works of trade and commerce. The Kshatriya class must govern their actions strictly in a way that their greed does create inequality and biases and thus does not harm society. The Brahmans should restrict the knowledge to this class so that they do not develop catastrophic systems of manipulation, monopoly, overexploitation, etc.
Shudra – They are the people dominated by the property of inactivity with ambition at a second and truth at the third. They should be service providers for society by creating a patriotic and loyal system. They should work in the areas of engineering and building the infrastructure, facilitating trade and commerce, etc. Brahmans should restrict the knowledge to this class to prevent engineering of destructive weapons and non-environment friendly technology. Kshatriya should restrict the availability of resources to this class to prevent anarchy and nation-breaking rebellions.
Pillars and Laws of Dharma
The ultimate goal for an individual is to balance the properties so that he/she may lead a life of efficiency even if it takes several births or generations of an individual. How one can accomplish this is by two sets of rules. The first set of rules describes the purpose of one’s actions. By balancing our actions with the motives of Kama (Materialism), Artha (Resources), Dharma (Laws of rights and duties), and Moksha (Liberation from the cycles of imbalance by meditating on the supreme purpose and God), we can try to create a rule for our lives which satisfies all the conditions of doing good and making sacrifices for the society and at the same time enjoying the pleasures of life and keeping excessive pain at a distance.
The other set of rules teaches us the methods with which we can achieve this balance. They are the four disciplines of Tap (Penance, Strict Discipline and Austerity), Pavitrata (Purity and Celibacy), Daya (Pity, Forgiveness, and Charity), and Satya (Truth). They are famously known as the four legs of the cow/ox which is Dharma. The Hindu religion describes time cycles in the form of Yuga going in a circular motion of repeating Satya-Yug (1,728,000 Years), Treta-Yuga (1,296,000 Years), Dwapara-Yuga (864,000 Years), and Kali-Yug (432,000 Years). Satya-Yuga has all the four pillars of Dharma, Treta has the last three, Dwapara, the last two and Kali, the last one. We live in the age of Kaliyug at present and so majorly, the world has lost the disciplines of Tap, Pavitrata, and Daya. We can at least strive to keep the truth alive and work forward, towards the other pillars. But false beliefs and systems destroy the truth making the civilization inefficient and downgraded, struggling for individual and basic needs. Similarly, Madya (Intoxication of either a substance or of pride and ego) destroys Daya (Pity, Forgiveness and Charity), Aasakti (Addiction to an object or a habit) destroys Pavitrata (Purity), and Garva (Pride in quality or an action) destroys Tap (Penance and Austerity).
So, by accepting our truth in the form of our presiding properties of nature and the Varna we belong in, we can figure out our strengths and weaknesses. Then, we can contribute efficiently to society-building and thus help ourselves in leading an appropriate and satisfying life. Lastly, we can remove other ill natures of Madya, Aasakti, and Garva to perfect our lives. Based on these principles, a true Hindu should decide the type of life or the set of rules he/she wants to follow and help in making a stable society, with good people and a healthy environment.