Sanatana Dharma or the Universal Law is the foundation on which the Hindu way of life is based. This comprehensive guide looks at the essence and meaning of what Sanatana Dharma stands for, and offers various resources to delve deeper into this ancient science.

Today, Hinduism is said to be one of the world's oldest religions. But the word Hindu is a bit of a misnomer. Hindu is a geographical term rather than a religious one. It was originally used within the Persian Empire (modern-day Iran and parts of Afghanistan) to describe the land and people who lived on the other side of the mighty Indus or Sindhu river. The Greeks who followed Alexander in his conquests borrowed the term from the Persians. Since Alexander and his army's experience of India was limited to the Sindhu river, they applied the term to those who lived along the river's banks, in what is today Punjab. So Hinduism is more of a geographical and cultural identity, rather than a religious one.

The spiritual process that is commonly termed Hinduism is actually Sanatana Dharma, which means "the universal religion". In the scriptures, Sanatana Dharma is the eternal religion, the primordial tradition that unfolded with the birth of the universe. A universal religion does not imply that there is only one religion for everyone. Rather it implies that each individual has the choice to pick and craft his own spiritual process to connect with the divine. Yogi and mystic, Sadhguru describes Sanatana Dharma thus: "There are seven billion people, so we can have seven billion religions. What is the problem? Only because it is organized, what should have been a beautiful process has become an ugly process of fanaticism."

Indians do not generally worship one deity. They worship several, and each individual has his own favorites. Shiva, Vishnu, Parvati, Krishna or Durga, each individual could worship all or a few or even none of these deities. Sanatana Dharma embraces all forms of worship - monotheism, polytheism and even atheism - because in India, a deity or god is seen as a possibility towards the ultimate goal of moksha. A devotee may identify a particular deity as a representation of the divine, but ultimately, the deity is a stepping stone to liberation from the process of repeated life and death.

Thus, again as Sadhguru says, "Every individual is free to see what he can relate to best at a certain time in his life. He can create a God of his own and give himself to that process because it is not about God, but about bringing a certain quality in you to make you worshipful and reverential towards life."

Thus, God in Sanatana Dharma is a flexible entity. God could be the impersonal Brahman, the cosmic all-pervading force, or God could be a personal connect for the devotee, almost a friend, and even in some cases, a husband! This allows every individual to connect to the divine in a way that is aprropriate for their spiritual growth.

Sanatana Dharma is not a historical religion. It is a religion without any historic founders. In the West, Hinduism is thought of as ancient and unchanging. Sanatana Dharma is certainly ancient, but it is forever evolving and manifesting new possibilities according to the needs of the individuals and society of the day. There is of course, a central core, a spine that roots this whole system. Historical religions base their doctrines and dogmas on the revelations of their prophets. Sanatana Dharma is not a revelation. It deals with eternal spiritual truths. It is a method that allows any human being to utilize it and evolve themselves to a higher level of consciousness. This is an eternal foundation, based on a comprehensive perception of the mechanics of life. This is an understanding that within every human being, there is a desire to go beyond all limitations and boundaries. This breaking of all limitations is traditionally referred to as moksha, mukti or nirvana. Every aspect of Sanatana Dharma is born out of this understanding of the human being. Thus, it is a beautiful, dynamic yet stable process for the evolution of the individual.

So integral is Sanatana Dharma to India that it is impossible to separate the spiritual process from the everyday life of an Indian. It is embedded in every aspect of life - from the moment of waking up, to the moment of falling asleep, and the process of sleeping itself! It is a part of an Indian's life from birth to death and beyond. Whether it is the way Indians sit to eat (traditionally at least), to what they should when they wake up, from what should be done for a new-born child and the mother to what should be done with the corpse and the grieving relatives, everything is set out within Sanatana Dharma, not as dogma but as a process for the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of the human being.

For example, Indians have traditionally stressed the importance of using copper vessels to store drinking water. This has always been considered an auspicious way of doing things. It is tempting to pass this off as a superstition. However, the medical community has been studying copper and has found the element copper has some powerful properties in terms of anti-bacterial activity and hygiene. When bacteria or viruses land on a surface made of copper, the charged particles or ions, that are an essential part of copper (and responsible for its electrical conductivity), are released from the copper surface and penetrate into the germs, binding to their enzymes and proteins. This essentially leads to the bacteria and viruses quite literally "short-circuiting" themselves. Hospitals are now installing copper door handles, table surfaces and other such items in an attempt to reduce hospital-acquired infections. Preliminary tests showed that copper surfaces kill off 97% of bacteria responsible for such infections, resulting in a 40% reduction in the chance of getting infected. Examples like this reinforce many of the traditional practices inherent in the Hindu way of life.