Koottala Gramam
  How old is Sanatana Dharma


Here's an article on Hinduism which was sent by a friend. Please circulate if it is found apt.
k.kashyap iyer
Q. How old is Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism)?
A. There are several closely allied opinions on this subject. Scholars of South Asian religions are - at the very least - of the opinion that Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) represents one of the oldest religious traditions known to humanity. Many of these scholars go as far as to say that it is probably the oldest. Hindus would certainly agree with this latter view. The oldest writings known to humanity are the Vedas, the revealed scriptures of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), and date back to perhaps 3800 B.C.E. This is when they were first put into writing; they are known to have been transmitted orally from generation to generation for an extensive period of time previous to even this.
Hindus themselves hold the view that this spiritual tradition, known in the ancient, sacred language of Sanskrit as "Sanatana Dharma," is an eternal and ever-present (even if not ever-visible) way of life. Moreover, it is a way of life and world-view that is trans-geographical: traces of Sanatana Dharma are to be found in many of the ancient cultures of the world. No one actually knows when Sanatana Dharma was first started. Both practitioners of Hinduism, as well as all academic scholars of Hinduism, agree that there was no one specific time in known history when the religion was founded. Additionally, there was no one individual - a prophet, saint or priest - who can be claimed as the founder of the religion. As far as Hindus themselves are concerned, Sanatana Dharma was never actually founded. It is an eternal spiritual culture that is as old as the Earth herself. Moreover, it is the sustainer of the Earth. This is indicated by the meanings of the two words that constitute the very name of this culture: sanatana means “eternal” and dharma means “natural law."
Q. What’s the difference between being a Hindu and being Indian? Are they the same thing?
A. No. One is a religion, the other an ethnicity. Very simply, just like Catholicism is a religion, while being Irish is a nationality, in the exact same way, Hinduism is a religion, while being Indian is a nationality. Not every ethnic Indian is necessarily a Hindu. One will find Indians who are Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jewish or even atheists. Conversely, not every practicing Hindu is necessarily of Indian ancestry. There are American Hindus, African Hindus, British Hindus, Russian Hindus, Japanese Hindus, Mexican Hindus. The followers of Hinduism are represented by almost every race, nationality and ethnic group in the world. Sanatana Dharma is a philosophy, a world-view and a way of life that is open to, and welcoming of, all people without discrimination.
Q. How many followers of Sanatana Dharma are there in the world?
A. There are close to one billion Hindus in the world. The majority of these practioners live in South Asia - India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc. Approximately 85% of the population of India is Hindu. However, Hindus can be found living happily in almost every country on earth. There are about 2 million Hindus, for example, living in the U.S. Of American Hindus, about 1 million are of Indian descent. The other million are non-Indian American Hindus.
Q. Do Hindus follow a set of scriptures?
A. Absolutely! In fact the very definition of a Hindu is one who accepts the teachings and guidance of the revealed scriptures of Sanatana Dharma. The sacred scriptures of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is known as the Veda. The word “Veda” itself comes from the Sanskrit verb root "vid" and literally means “to know." The Vedic literature is the most ancient writing in world history and is composed of a vast library of texts devoted to a wide array of subjects including: philosophy, arts, medicine, ancient sciences and sacred stories (divya-katha). Of all these many ancient and intriguing writings, the most famous in the West is probably the Bhagavad Gita. Sincere followers of Sanatana Dharma use the immense wisdom of these sacred texts as guides to successful living.
Myth: Hindus Worship Cows.
Fact: Actually, Hindus respect all forms of life. Indeed, one of the major tenets of Sanatana Dharma is known as ahimsa, or non-violence. Rather than just being limited to the human population, the Hindu concept of non-violence extends itself to all the living beings who inhabit God’s creation, whether they be humans or animals. For this reason, Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) teaches the positive lifestyle of vegetarianism. Cows serve a symbolic function in our tradition. In the same way that a fish symbolizes the highest belief of the Christian faith, the cow is simply representative of the life-affirming teachings of Dharma. Cows represent the sacredness of motherhood and the abundance of God’s creation. As a symbol, Hindus respect cows and try to protect them from harm; we don’t worship them!
Myth: Hindus are idol worshipers.
Fact: Hindus are not idol worshipers. Hindus employ sacred imagery in their worship as focus points to concentrate on during meditation. This practice is similar to how Catholics venerate statues of saints, Protestants pray at the cross and Muslims pray toward the Kaaba. Hindus are certainly intelligent to understand that the Unlimited ultimately cannot be fully expressed in a statue. Simultaneously, however, if God truly is omnipresent and omnipotent, then He certainly has the ability to make Himself present in a sacred image if He so chooses. Moreover, if God is truly merciful and good, then He would want to choose to make Himself as accessible to His devotees as possible. It is with this understanding in mind that Hindus engage in the ancient science of archa-seva, or deity worship. The practice of employing sacred imagery is a very powerful tool for showing our devotion to God and for making spiritual practice. This fact is actually acknowledged and practiced by most of the world’s religions. Hindus are, therefore, not “idol worshipers!"
Myth: Hindus are polytheistic. They worship many gods, not the same, one supreme God of the Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Fact: Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is not a polytheistic religion. For all Hindus, there is only one supreme God. This God is the exact same Supreme Lord - the ontological source and foundation of all subjective and objective reality - Whom the major religions of the West worship. In the same way that Christians, Jews and Muslims (and for that matter, all religions) believe in a multitude of divine beings known as angels, Hindus believe that our universe is alive with beneficent beings, called devas in the ancient Sanskrit language. These devas, however, are all servants of the one Supreme Lord. While Hindus respect these devas, and even propitiate them in times of need, Hindus also readily acknowledge that these devas, too, have their origin and sustenance in the one Supreme Lord. Hindus are thus monotheists, worshipers of one supreme God, in every sense of the word. Hindus are not polytheists.
Myth: Hinduism tends to be very “mystical;" it is not a world-view that stresses reason and philosophy.
Fact: Actually, Sanatana Dharma represents a very systematic and deeply rational world-view. The history of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) includes some of the most intellectually challenging philosophers, thinkers and scholars known to humanity. Whether speaking of metaphysics, epistemology, ontology, ethics, aesthetics, psychology, logic or propositional analysis, there is no idea, concept or world-view that has not been debated and explored by traditional Hindu philosophical texts. Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) is a religion that is based upon the two complimentary tools of rationality and practical experience.
Myth: Hindus all sleep on beds of nails.
Fact: Um...no.
How Can I Become a Follower of Sanatana Dharma? 
 Glad you asked! You may actually be one already...and just don't know it.
There are approximately two-million followers of Sanatana Dharma currently residing in the United States. About half of those (1 million) are of South Asian (Indian) ethnic heritage. The other million are non-Indian Americans who accept and practice the teachings of Sanatana Dharma. Unfortunately, most of these 1 million non-Indian Americans follow the practices of Sanatana Dharma, believe in many of the most important teachings of Sanatana Dharma, even have gurus (spiritual teachers) and Sanskrit names, but despite all these facts, many do not necessarily consciously identify themselves with Sanatana Dharma.
It is our hope that Dharma Central will especially prove to be a helpful resource for many of these "HIDDEN HINDUS" to better understand, appreciate and consciously practice the wonderful spiritual tradition that they are following. Here is a test to know if you are already a follower of Sanatana Dharma, and are possibly just not consciously aware of it:
Do you practice any form of Yoga?
Are you a vegetarian?
Do you read the Bhagavad Gita, or other Hindu literature often?
Do you practice meditation?
Do you believe in the process of karma and reincarnation?
If your answers to at least four of the above is Yes!, then congratulations!; you are already following Sanatana Dharma. If you would like to know more about how you can practice this path more thoroughly and meaningfully, there are a wide variety of routes you can take to increase your knowledge of this ancient tradition:
Visit a local Hindu temple. There are Hindu temples in every major city (and many "minor" cities) in the world. Feel free to discuss your desire to learn more about Sanatana Dharma with a temple representative.
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