Dharma is to follow the laws of nature, and religion is a manmade set of beliefs. Dharma binds people together, whereas religion may serve to divide people. The way religion is commonly practiced has been responsible for many wars. Hindu dharma was originally called dharma only. Then it started to be called sanaatan dharma, which means “a religion which has been present since the inception of humanity and follows the laws of nature”.
ManuSmriti defines Dharma and also goes in to the qualities of someone who practices Dharma.
“Dharma ave hato hanti, dharmo rakshati rakshitah
Tasmaddharmo na hantavyo, maa no dharmo hato' vadheet” - Manu Smriti 8.15
This means, if any one kills dharma, the dharma kills the person. On the other hand, if the Dharma is protected, Dharma protects the person.
Manusmriti also goes over the ideal qualities some of a person who practices dharma.
"Dhritih kshama damo'steyam shaucham-indriya nigrahah
Dheer-vidyaa satyam-akrodho dashakam dharma lakshanam" (Manu Smriti, Ch.VI-92)
Meaning: "Patience, forgiveness, self-control, non-stealing, cleanliness and purity, restraint over the senses, wisdom, knowledge, truth and calmness are the ten attributes of dharm" These are not only the attributes of dharm but also of humanism and are the cornerstones for bringing about world peace.
“Veda smriti sadaachaarah, svasya cha priyamaatmanah
Etachhaturvidham praahu, saakshaaddhamsya lakshanam”(Manu Smriti 2.12 )
Three basic aspects of Hinduism
1. Belief in God,
2. Rituals/ceremonies and
3. Ethics and morals
One can be called religious only by proper code of conduct along with belief in God as defined further.
Five Pillars of Hindu Dharma
a. Parmeshwar or belief in God,
b. Prarthana or prayer,
c. Punarjanma or rebirth,
d. Purusharth or law of action
e. Praanidaya or compassion and kindness for all living beings.
Three Eternal Entities
According to Vedas, there are three eternal entities in this universe, God, Soul and Nature. These entities are never created or are born, never end or disappear have been there forever and will always be there. This concept in philosophical terms is called Tretwad or concept of three entities. By knowing the real form and concept of these, Jeewatma or a human being can reach to the state of complete Aanand (permanent happiness), peace and Moksha or salvation. The qualities or these entities are as follows.
a. Nature or Prakriti : Only one quality, which is its existence or “sat” or satya or truth. No one can deny its existence. But there is no consciousness or Aanand or Bliss in it. It is therefore not to be worshiped.
b. Jeewatma (soul): It is true or Sat and also is conscious. Even soul does not have the quality of eternal bliss or Aanand. Soul or Jeewatma can be only at one place at a time, its knowledge and power are limited. Soul is free to act and is responsible for the results or fruits of its action. Soul is always looking for eternal happiness or Aanand. According to Nyaya Darshan, Vaisheshik Darshan and Satyarthprakash, the qualities of soul are:
Desires, greed, effort, happiness, unhappiness, knowledge, vital breath with body activity breathing, opening and closing of eyes etc. When a person dies and soul leaves the body, these actions and qualities are gone.
Concept of 3 bodies, physical, psychic and causal
The psychic body consists of 5 pranas, 5 sensory organs, 5 bhutas or elements, mind and buddhi. (Total 17 elements)
These elements stay with the soul after death. The sanchit karma stay with this as well. There is something called Antah karn chatushtaya, which is a part of psychic body. There 4 parts are; mind, intellect, chitta and ahankar. All the sanskars stay in chitta. The ahankar is the recognition of the existence of self.
The causal body is the state in which a soul essentially comes in its original pure form. This state is same for all those souls who can achieve the Turiya Avastha . It is the reason or karan for a particular rebirth or moksha.
c. God or Eeshwar has all the qualities. Which means it is true; it exists, is a conscious being and has the quality of eternal bliss. God is all pervading, all knowing and all-powerful, which means it does not need any one else’s help doing all what God does. God is therefore “Sacchidanand”. Soul or Jeewatma does and should be doing Prayer or Stuti, Prarthna and Upasana and try to experience God and get some of the attributes of God and achieve peace and happiness. Word Devata is distinct from God. Anyone who is giving is Devata. Foremost are parents and other well-wishing elders, teacher and atithi or guests? We Hindus consider Earth, Sun, Moon, Ocean, River; Cow etc are Devatas because they give us something’s.
The following hymn from Rigved and Mundakopanishad makes this concept clear.
“Dwaa suparnaa sayujaa sakhaaya, samaanam vriksham parishasvajaate,
Tayoranyah pippalam swaadvatya' nashnananyo' abhichaakasheeti -- Rigveda 164.4.20 ,Mundako Upanishad 3.11”
Simple meaning of this hymn is that there are two birds sitting on a tree, there are friends and always live together. One of these tastes and eats the fruits of the tree and the other is just a witness to everything. The concept here is that the tree is the nature or Prakriti, the bird that is eating the fruits is Jeewatma or human and the bird that is the witness is the God or Eeshwar. Same concept has been further explained in the Shwetashwatar Upanishad - 1.12
“Bhoktaa bhogyam preritaaram cha matvaa sarvam proktam trividham brahama-metat ”
The meaning is that Jeewatma is Bhokta or does action and enjoys, nature is what is enjoyed and God gives the inspiration and does not get involved in action.
First mantra of the 40th chapter of Yajurveda or the Eshopanishad makes this concept very clear.
“Eeshavaasyamidam sarvam, yatkincha jagatyaanjagat,
Ten tyakten bhunjeeta, ma gridhah kasyas-sitdhanam”
The meaning is that the Supreme Being is pervading is all that exists in this universe. Enjoy all that is given to you by lord with the feeling or renunciation and don’t desire or covet any one else’s possessions or wealth by unfair means.
To finalize therefore, God is the master of all universe, creates, sustains dissolves and recreates it, Jeewatma enjoys the nature. All are eternal although the shape or form of these entities keeps changing. All are separate from each other.
God and Soul are never the same although they are always together because lord or God is pervading all that exists as detailed above. Most complete definition of God is in the 8th Mantra o Eshopanishad. No human no matter how good he/she is, can be God. In Geeta and Ramayan as well at several places this concept has been portrayed.