|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 417 ]
Sanathana dharma literally means "eternal law." When we speak of truth in yoga, it is precisely this eternal, cosmic order that we speak of -- that which exists irrespective of any particular personal beliefs. It refers to the eternal, imperishable values, such as satyam (truth), shivam (goodness), sundaram (beauty) -- the root values or immortal attributes of nature from which all other values in any given society have sprung. It is only in harmonizing ourselves with these qualities, in living a virtuous life in harmony with Nature, that ultimate peace and santosham (contentment) can be gained.
A life lived in opposition to sanathana dharma is a life lived in frustration, frequent disappointments, confusions, anxieties and ultimately pain and suffering. As Swami Gitananda used to tell his students, "You cannot break the law. You will only break yourself over the law!"
Yet the foolish human ego often wants to deny the existence of any Cosmic Truth and relentlessly tries to defy it, leading to pain and frustration without fail. This is a peculiar tendency of human nature, but readily understood by realizing that the innate predisposition of the ego is self-preservation. It will fight with every means available to avoid its own destruction.
The ego's very existence is based upon the concept of duality, of a sense of a separate self -- a self which exists as a sensorial entity, whose very existence is supported by the interaction of the senses with the objects of the external world. And this interaction, as we have come to see several times already, is the root cause of all pain and suffering.
Thus, man, the separate, thinking, feeling entity that he has come to perceive himself as, continually attempts to break the 'laws of dharma'. The results are unhappiness, sickness, accidents, mental depression and disorders, and all manner of disease and discontent. When one adheres to the dharma rai, the law of dharma, the inverse is true. One finds peace, joy, contentment, balance, energy, health and happiness.
As we have learned earlier, the root cause of this propensity to break the law of dharma is avidya, or ignorance. One may claim that they were unaware of the 'law', that their ingrained, destructive tendencies are not their own fault, that they have grown up and have lived in a time and in a society which taught them vastly different ideals, ones which are based on lack of understanding of the truth, or sanathana dharma.
One may claim that their ignorance is not of their own conscious choice, but a product of their own unfortunate circumstances. Yet even in human jurisprudence, ignorance of the law is not excuse; so too with the Cosmic Order. One is bound by its truths, whether one knows them or not. That is why the study of the higher life is an absolute imperative. Until one understands the Cosmic Laws, one cannot avoid breaking them and paying the price.
Knowledge of sanathana dharma, the Universal Truths, is the bedrock of yoga, and the groundwork upon which the psychology of yoga builds its principles for health and happiness. The study of yoga is itself the study of sanathana dharma—the removal of the darkness of ignorance with the light of awakened consciousness.
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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