There have been two traditions in the Indian civilization. The ancient one, is known as the sanatana tradition, the sanatana dharma, the eternal dharma of humanity. It is the most ancient of the spiritual traditions of the world, and the foundation of the yogic tradition as well. The other is identified as the yuga dharma, or the dharma which belongs to a particular age and time and then it is revised, altered and changed. Under this come the different systems of belief which are identified as different schools of thought of Hinduism, such as Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, Jainism, and so on. They are all considered different sects.
In the age of the avataras in Satya Yuga, in the age of Rama in Treta Yuga, in the age of Krishna in Dwapara Yuga, and at the beginning of Kali Yuga, there was only one idea of spirituality. That idea was being good and virtuous, and following all the dharmas in life, fulfilling all the obligations and commitments in life. That was the life that people lived, without adhering to any specific form of belief.
This lifestyle developed into what is known as the vedic lifestyle in this part of the world. The vedic culture did not propagate worship of one, did not identify one omnipotent God as the main figurehead of humanity. Rather, it appreciated the presence of life in every aspect of creation. Just as life is present in your body, in the same manner life is present in plants, in minerals, in nature. The greenness of the leaves indicates the life of the leaf. The taste of water represents the life in water. The heat of fire represents the life in fire. The sentience in you represents the life in you. In this manner, the ancient seers experienced life in every aspect of creation. For them, no aspect of creation was to be neglected, not even the dirt from the broom, as it was part of nature. There was respect for everything and everyone around. There was cooperation with everything and everyone. Everybody worked as one unit to achieve the aspirations of their life, which was the experience of luminosity and peace, prakashatva and shanti. Prakashatva, luminosity, is the sattwa nature, and shanti is peace from the turmoil of the environment in life. These were the two aspirations of human civilization in the early days.
All the efforts that were made were to improve one's lifestyle by cultivating the good, the beautiful, the auspicious and the pleasant, and eradicating the evil, the restrictive and the destructive. That is how people lived in the past. This culture was a spiritual culture. It was not a material culture. There was an awareness of one's own aspirations in life. There was an awareness that 'I need to discover my peace and luminosity' and everybody worked for that. Just as today people work for finance and other resources to survive, in those days people used to work for discovering purity and peace in life. That is sanatana dharma, the eternal dharma that people in this part of the world have followed.
If someone says to you that yoga is part of the Hindu religion, please say to them, 'Sorry sir, you are wrong. You are slightly deviated from the facts. Yoga is not part of Hinduism. Yoga is part of sanatana dharma.' Sanatana dharma is what allows the opening of the human faculties, the development and expression of the human qualities, which is also the basis of yoga.
Swami Sivananda also said that integration of the faculties of head, heart and hands is yoga. He did not say that attainment of God is yoga. He said that integration of the faculties of head, heart and hands is yoga. Anything that happens after that is a bonus. If you are able to meditate, it is a bonus. If you are able to become quiet and peaceful, it is a bonus. If you are able to become creative, it is a bonus. What you need to do is to cultivate the faculties of head, heart and hands.
A blind man may desire to see the sun, yet it is only a desire. Similarly, you want to be realized, it is only your desire. That is not your need. The need of the blind person is to acquire eyesight, not to see the sun. Once the blind person acquires the eyesight, he can look at the entire creation, not only the sun. In the same manner, your need is not self-realization. That is only an ambition, an idea, a thought. Your need is to improve the life which you are living for the seventy or eighty years that you are here. This improvement can take place with the cultivation of the faculties of the intellect, of emotions, and of performance. When they become positive and pious, then you are living the sanatana dharma.
With positivity in your life, your spiritual growth takes place sequentially, systematically and progressively. This is the sanatana culture which speaks of connecting with the goodness within and the goodness all around. This culture was lived by the rishis and yogis of the ancient days. They have inspired the spiritual tradition with the purpose of again experiencing, reviving and realizing the sanatana culture in our life. You can belong to any religious denomination, but you can still experience the sanatana dharma awakening within you, for that is a qualitative and transformative process to discover your own strengths and abilities which are creative and uplifting.
What is of utmost importance in any spiritual effort is attainment of purity. This purity is twofold: external and internal. The vedic and yogic traditions speak of two shuddhis, bahya and antar. External purity relates to the body, environment, household. Internal purity is of thoughts, emotions and psyche. There is the external purification connected to the body, attaining a balance between the three doshas: vata, pitta and kapha, wind, bile and mucus. When these three are disturbed then the body experiences disease; the ease of the body is disturbed.
Then there is purification relating to the environment where you are, the place where you live should be clean, properly ventilated and hygienic. You see this in the ashram. It is clean because we follow the niyama of yoga, the yogic discipline of shuchi. Cleanliness of the body and the environment is of utmost importance and the first stage of purification.
The second stage of purification is internal. This relates to removal of the masks that are put on the mind and the spirit, which are known as vikaras.
According to mythology, Narayana comes down from time to time to establish dharma. This dharma is not morality, ethics, ritual, or faith and belief in God. Dharma is attainment of purity and removal of vikara. For that, God has to appear as an avatara from time to time. The purpose of establishing dharma is to remove the distortions that exist in a personality, in society, in the environment. The distortions, vikaras, at all these levels are removed when you practise dharma. The vikaras in thought create negative thinking, vikaras in behaviour create negative action and behaviour harming other people.
Narayana or Vishnu comes to remove these vikaras from society, from individual life, from family life, from social life, from national life, from global life. That is the purpose of an avatara. The purpose of an avatara is not to come and destroy people. The purpose of an avatara is to remove the vikaras that have formed in the minds of people, that have formed over intentions, over dharma and nyaya, the appropriate and the just. When these vikaras are eliminated, dharma is again established. Therefore, the elimination of vikaras is known as elimination of evil tendencies. With the removal of evil tendencies, happiness comes into society. People become happy, and follow the path of natural justice. Sanatana dharma is the path of discovering the natural dharma and natural nyaya which uplift an individual in all dimensions.
—11 September 2015, Paduka Darshan, Munger