Hinduism is a Dharma, Not a Religion

Why Hinduism is a Religion of Freedom

Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Bali
Patchareeporn Sakoolchai / Getty Images

Westerners think of Hinduism as a "religion," but this is perhaps not the best translation. More precisely, Hinduism is better thought of as a "Dharma."​

The word religion literally means "that which leads one to God." The word Dharma, on the other hand, is derived from the root Sanskrit word "dhri" which means "to hold together, " and thus has a wider meaning than the word ​religion. And there is no truly equivalent word for Dharma in either English or in any other language, for that matter.

Because Hinduism does not "lead to God" but rather seeks union, in this sense, Hinduism is not a religion, but rather a dharma. Those who profess the Hindu Dharma and seek to follow it, are guided by spiritual, social and moral rules, actions, knowledge, and duties which are responsible for holding the human race together.

Hindu Dharma is also known by the names Sanatana Dharma and Vaidik Dharma. "Sanatana" means eternal and all-pervading and "Vaidik Dharma" means the Dharma based on the Vedas. In simple terms, one can say that Dharma means a code of conduct, i.e. doing the right thing, in thought, word, and deed, having always in mind that behind all our deeds there is a Supreme Being. This is the teaching of the Vedas, which are the original source of our Dharma--“Vedo-Khilo Dharma Moolam.”

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the great philosopher, statesman and former President of India has described what is Dharma in these words:

"Dharma is that which binds society together. That which divides society, breaks it up into parts and makes people fight one another is Adharma (non-religion). Dharma is nothing more than the realization of the Supreme and acting in every small act of your life with that Supreme present in your mind. If you are able to do so, you are performing Dharma. If other interests pervade you, and you try to translate your mind into other regions, even though you may think you are a believer, you will not become a true believer. The real believer in God has his heart always lifted to Dharma".

According to Swami Sivananda, 

"Hinduism allows absolute freedom to the rational mind of man. It never demands any undue restraint upon the freedom of human reason, the freedom of thought, feeling and will of man. Hinduism is a religion of freedom, allowing the widest margin of freedom in matters of faith and worship. It allows absolute freedom of human reason and heart with regard to such questions as to the nature of God, soul, form of worship, creation, and the goal of life. It does not force anybody to accept particular dogmas or forms of worship. It allows everybody to reflect, investigate, enquire and cogitate.”

Hence all manner of religious faiths, various forms of worship or spiritual practices, diverse rituals and customs have found their place, side by side, within Hinduism, and are cultured and developed in harmony with one another. Hinduism, unlike other religions, does not dogmatically assert that the final emancipation or liberation is possible only through its means and not through any other. It is only a means to an end, and in this philosophy, all means that ultimately lead to the final goal are accepted 

The religious hospitality of Hinduism is legendary. Hinduism is fundamentally liberal and catholic in its openness to variety. It pays respect to all religious traditions, accepting and honoring truth from wherever it may come and in whatever garb it is presented.

"Yato Dhrmah Tato Jayah"--Where Dharma exists victory is guaranteed.