Dharma is that which upholds the order of the cosmos, of the society; that which upholds the multiplicity of realities; that which safeguards the reflexive tendencies of every element in the universe, coming from either self-interactions or interactions with other elements. The Dharmic traditions, when applied to society, give us a holistic picture of ways of conduct and ordering. One of the most important aspects of the order and truth of nature and society is the idea of sustainability. That which is sustainable is best for existence and the order of the Universe. Let us see how the Dharmic tradition naturally gives rise to the sustainable development goals from within its corpus of ideas and texts and beliefs.

A point to note here is that though I base this on certain Vedic texts and ideas, the ideas of Anekantvada in Jainism, the eight-fold path in Buddhism, the best practices within Christianity and ideas within Islam agree on a number of points raised here. Differences may arise in things like the representation and deification of elements of nature or the conception of the godhead (and lack of it, in Sunyata in Buddhism), but the essence and application of these principles comes from a place of universal values and ideas. Dharma happens to be a term from Sanskrit and intimately linked with Sanatana Dharma or Hinduism as we call it today, but through this article I would like to break free from the shackles of religiosity in appreciating the universalism in the concepts and sense of unity that Dharma embodies. 

Sustenance

Dharma looks closely at the sustenance and welfare of individuals, albeit with a focus on sustainability. Let us look closely at some of these ideas.

Poverty and Income Equality
Satya Dharma is all about ending poverty in all spheres of life. This includes social discrimination and lack of education and healthcare. When it comes to material wealth and poverty, the famous lines from the Rig Veda Mandala 10, Hymn 117, Verse 5 comes to mind:

पर्णीयादिन नाधमानाय तव्यान दराघीयांसमनुपश्येत पन्थाम |
ओ हि वर्तन्ते रथ्येव चक्रान्यम-अन्यमुप तिष्ठन्त रायः ||

which means

Let the rich satisfy the poor implorer,
and bend his eye upon a longer pathway.
Riches come now to one, now to another,
and like the wheels of cars are ever rolling.

The Shatapatha Brahmana (11.1.6.24) links social prosperity and dharma by stating that prosperity enables people to follow Dharma in their lives. In times of distress, of destitution, of drought, of poverty, everything suffers including relations between human beings and the human ability to live according to dharma, since survival is the greatest need of the hour then. Hence there is a great need to ensure that one of the four Purushartha (objectives) of life is Artha — capital and prosperity, alongwith Dharma, Kama (desire) and Moksha (salvation). Each of the Purushartha is dependent on the other and hence ending poverty is fundamental to the idea of attainment of Dharma.

The Vedic tradition calls for income equality within and among countries. Measures should be taken so as to developing countries get the benefit of international trade. Positive reinforcement measures should be put in place for members of society who belong to economically backward families. In the Dharmic tradition, one calls for building a culture of giving and natural redistribution, out of one’s own volition. This model, though benevolent, does not tackle the natural aversion of certain human beings from doing so. Financial independence and initiatives like those involving micro-credit should be promoted to make communities independent and resilient in their handling of finances and resources. Two very important things in the Dharmic traditions are those of contentment and sacrifice and charity. While the latter is noble and helpful, the former is easier said than done. We must take the dual approach of seeking people to move towards a model of contentment along with external facilitators like the provision of basic amenities and facilities at free or economical prices. Both have to go hand-in-hand to bring a feeling of equality, over and above the realisation of equality in every way, in human society, in the short and long terms. Equality of opportunities at the very basic, fundamental level is a very important aspect of a harmonious and prosperous society.

Employment and Economic Growth

Ensure that there is sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. This is one of the most important points since the Dharmic tradition believes in Karmayoga and despises and denounces lack of work. Modern welfare states often provide able-bodied men facilities without seeking that they contribute to society with a respectable employment. Some would argue that they may not get respectable employment. I agree, and feel that welfare states should remain for weaker sections of society like orphans, abandoned elders, etc (as should support to developing countries such as in the form of the Enhanced Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to Least Developed Countriesas a tool for achieving sustainable economic development).

But the governments should ensure that everyone who can work must work. This could initially done with a token contribution for gaining access to various facilities in society, before moving to a culture that naturally promotes the idea of work and the dignity in labour. The Vedas praise labour in various areas, be it agriculture (Rig Veda 1.117.21, 8.22.6, 4.57.4, 10.104.4 and 10.101.3), weaving and tailoring (Rig Veda 10.26, 10.53.6, 6.9.2 and 6.9.3), artistry and technical work (Rig Veda 4.36.1), while other verse that speak highly of skilled labor are Rigveda 10.39.14, 10.53.10, 1.20.2, 2.41.5, 7.3.7, 7.15.14 and 10.53.8, Atharvaved 14.1.53, 14.2.22, 14.2.23, 14.2.24, 14.2.67 and 15.2.65. Commerce (Rigveda 5.45.6 and 1.112.11), the work of a boatman (Rigveda 10.53.8, Yajurved 21.3, Yajurved 21.7, Atharvaved 5.4.4, 3.6.7), the work of a barber (Atharvaved 8.2.19), the work of a goldsmith and a gardener (in different sections of Rigveda 8.47.15), the work of an ironsmith and smelter (Rigveda 5.9.5) and metallurgy (Yajurved 28.13) is also spoken of highly.

Innovation, entrepreneurship and infrastructure building must go along with help provided to small-scale business that should be encouraged to go glocal (global in outlook, local in realization) with management and technical support given wherever required.

Chanakya’s Arthashastra is a seminal piece in the Dharmic society that talks of economics. Chanakya spoke of conducting international trade according to the principles of comparative advantages: imports are as important as exports when promoting national economic growth. When he granted advices to the king, Chanakya pleaded for the encouraging of imports because they can offer the kingdom goods that can’t be found on the national territory. He also argued for strict regulation of business activities so that monopolies are undermined and domestic economies are protected from potential adversaries.

Regulation was not quite Chanakya’s (Dharmic) cup of tea!

The reason I say this is that excessive regulation infringes on the liberty of the individual and the possibilities of the market forces. Since being Dharmic is to ensure the multiplicity of such possibilities without compromising on the welfare and interests of the elements of society, Chanakya’s way is not Dharmic through and through.

Instead of an enforced regulation, governments should see the reasons for market failure and why important effects of a free market transaction is not captured by the decisions made by the buyers and sellers. They should seek to address it by exploiting and not disrupting the market-based economic ecosystem. Calibrating such regulations mainly to address market failures can ensure that the interventions by the government achieve the intended goals while minimizing adverse consequences. Regulations also need to have a proper social cost-social benefit analysis. That is the Dharmic way. Given the importance of Satya in the Dharmic tradition, it is also important to base this regulation on the best available scientific and technical information, possibly with public input too. A Dharmic economy is the one that uses the Swadharma and liberty of the individual to ensure the welfare and relation reality of all, without compromising on the rule of law or remedial steps to ensure the same.

No Hunger
End hunger and obesity. Going by the inherent duality of nature, we must approach this problem with an eye on the two extremes and try to balance it out. Here, I would like to add dimensions to the conception of hunger to the previous point of poverty and capital. In the Vedic texts, the idea of Artha goes beyond just capital. As a concept, it has multiple meanings, all of which imply `means of life’. It implies activities and resources that enable one to be in a state one wants to be in, a state that is aligned with the higher aims of Dharma. On the other end is excess, which needs to be restricted too. It is important that inequality does not keep on increasing but this must not be enforced beyond a point, in an ideal society. Rather a culture of sacrifice and charity needs to be instilled so that people give themselves to the needy.

There is a concept in Shadurmi (literally ‘six waves’) in Vedic thought that refers to the six emotional and physical feelings, which are – kshudhā (‘pangs of hunger’ or ‘appetite’), pipāsā (‘thirst’), śhoka (‘sorrow’ and ‘suffering’), jarā (‘old age’), moha (‘temptation’ and ‘infatuation’, ‘delusion’), and mrtyu (‘death’). Here hunger is taken as a naturally abiding feeling, and is connected to the prana, as is thirst, and therefore intrinsically connected to subsistence at a physical, mental and even spiritual level.

In Rig Veda Mandala 1 Hymn 187, the glory of food is spoken of:

पितुं नु सतोषं महो धर्माणं तविषीम | 
यस्य तरितो वयोजसा वर्त्रं विपर्वमर्दयत || 
सवादो पितो मधो पितो वयं तवा वव्र्महे | 
अस्माकमविता भव || 
उप नः पितवा चर शिवः शिवाभिरूतिभिः | 
मयोभुरद्विषेण्यः सखा सुशेवो अद्वयाः || 
तव तये पितो रस रजांस्यनु विष्ठिताः | 
दिवि वाता इव शरिताः || 
तव तये पितो ददतस्तव सवादिष्ठ ते पितो | 
पर सवाद्मानो रसानां तुविग्रीवा इवेरते || 
तवे पितो महानां देवानां मनो हिताम | 
अकारि चारु केतुना तवाहिमवसावधीत || 
यददो पितो अजगन विवस्व पर्वतानाम | 

अत्रा चिन नो मधो पितो.अरं भक्षाय गम्याः || 
यदपामोषधीनां परिंशमारिशामहे | 
वातपे पीवैद भव || 
यत ते सोम गवाशिरो यवाशिरो भजामहे |
वातापे … || 
करम्भ ओषधे भव पीवो वर्क्क उदारथिः | 
वातापे … || 
तं तवा वयं पितो वचोभिर्गावो न हव्या सुषूदिम | 
देवेभ्यस्त्वा सधमादमस्मभ्यं तवा सधमादम ||

which translates to

Now will I glorify Food that upholds great strength,
By whose invigorating power Trita rent Vrtra limb from limb.
O pleasant Food, O Food of meath, thee have we chosen for our own,
So be our kind protector thou.
Come hitherward to us, O Food, auspicious with auspicious help,
Health-bringing, not unkind, a dear and guileless friend.
These juices which, O Food, are thine throughout the regions are diffused.
like winds they have their place in heaven.
These gifts of thine, O Food, O Food most sweet to taste,
These savours of thy juices work like creatures that have mighty necks.
 In thee, O Food, is set the spirit of great Gods.
Under thy flag brave deeds were done he slew the Dragon with thy help.
If thou be gone unto the splendour of the clouds,
Even from thence, O Food of meath, prepared for our enjoyment, come.
Whatever morsel we consume from waters or from plants of earth,
O Soma, wax thou fat thereby.
What Soma, we enjoy from thee in milky food or barley-brew,
Vatapi, grow thou fat thereby.
O Vegetable, Cake of meal, he wholesome, firm, and strengthening: 
Vatapi, grow thou fat thereby.
O Food, from thee as such have we drawn forth with lauds,
like cows, our sacrificial gifts,
From thee who banquetest with Gods, from thee who banquetest with us.

Health and Welfare
The Vedic tradition promotes healthy lives and promote welfare of all at all ages. This not only includes quality basic healthcare for all, free of cost, but also awareness-building of healthcare and welfare, besides welfare of animals and plants. In the Sushruta Sutrasthana, chapter 15, it is said

समादोषः समाअग्निश्च समाधातुमलक्रियाः|
प्रसन्न आत्मेइन्द्रियमनाः स्वस्थ ईतिअभिधॆयते||

which translates to the idea that balanced doshaas (biological energies such as vata, pitta and kapha that are said to govern all physical and mental processes and provide every living being with an individual blueprint for health and fulfillment), balanced digestive fire, balanced body dhatu (elements of the body such as plasma – Rasa, blood – Rakta, muscle – Mamsa, fat – Meda, bone – Asthi, bone marrow and nerve – Majja and reproductive fluid – Shukra), elimination of waste from the body (with the removal of the Mala – the waste, which are Purisa – faeces, Mutra – urine and Sweda – sweat), balanced senses (indriya, such as those of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch), a balanced mind and a contented soul, together constitute normal health. Absence or reduction of any of these elements or functions or states stated above can be termed as ‘disorder’, which can become a disease. The Vedic traditions have always sought the balance of all these elements, functions and states, and hence calls for the maintenance of health in a holistic manner, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

The word Dharma comes from a term that means `to uphold, to sustain’. At the individual level this is not possible without being healthy. At the community level, it refers to the need for cleanliness and hygiene in society. The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali describe Shaucha (literally meaning purity, cleanliness and clearness) as-

शौचात्स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः ||
सत्त्वशुद्धिसौमनस्यैकाग्र्येन्द्रियजयात्मदर्शनयोग्यत्वानि च||

which means that Shaucha is that from which there arises dispassion towards one’s body and detachment towards contact with other people and beings. Shaucha gives rise to contentment, purity of mind, focus, conquest of the senses and competency to attain self-realization.

Pollution needs to be checked and technology actively developed for the same. Some may ask whether any act of pollution is also not a natural activity of a part of the greater Truth. No. Firstly, it is not `natural’ and secondly, it is too much of a pressure for other aspects of that Truth (ecosystems in nature, for instance) to cope and adapt to. One has come millenia since then and it is our duty to continue the good work of these seers in maintaining this temple that is our body.

Of the four Vedas, the medical topics have been dealt primarily in the Atharvaveda, while the Ṛigveda contains a lesser extent of verses of health conditions and medical aspects. The Oṣadhi-śukta is the first documentary evidence of the study of plants for pharmocological use and botanical study. Various sages like Jamadagni, Kaṇva, Āngirasas and Kaśyapa were well known for their expertise in recognizing and discovering new herbs for remedial purposes.

Knowledge and Education

The Dharmic tradition speaks of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for everyone. In the Rig Veda, Mandala 1 Hymn 3 Verse 12, it says:

महो अर्णः सरस्वती पर चेतयति केतुना | 
धियो विश्वा वि राजति ||

which translates to

Sarasvati, the mighty flood,–she with be light illuminates,

She brightens every pious thought.

Sarasvati is the goddess of learning and here the light being mentioned is the illumination of knowledge. The Vedic seers highlight the importance of piety in one’s thoughts and the importance and power of knowledge. It is interesting to note the duality of the reference to Sarasvati as both the river, with the poetic usage of the term ‘flood’, and the Goddess of speech and knowledge here. This glorification of the deity of knowledge is also seen in Rig Veda Mandala 2 Hymn 41 Verse 16-18

अम्बितमे नदीतमे देवितमे सरस्वति | 
अप्रशस्ता इव समसि परशस्तिमम्ब नस कर्धि || 
तवे विश्वा सरस्वति शरितायूंषि देव्याम | 
शुनहोत्रेषु मत्स्व परजां देवि दिदिड्ढि नः || 
इमा बरह्म सरस्वति जुषस्व वाजिनीवति |
या ते मन्म गर्त्समदा रतावरि परिया देवेषु जुह्वति || 

which translates to

Best Mother, best of Rivers, best of Goddesses, 

Sarasvati, We are, as ’twere, 
of no repute and dear Mother, give thou us renown.
In thee, Sarasvati, divine, all generations have their stay.
Be, glad with Sunahotra’s sons:

O Goddess grant us progeny.
Enriched with sacrifice, 
accept Sarasvati, these prayers of ours,

Thoughts which GrtSamadas beloved of Gods bring, 
Holy One, to thee.

The Taittiriya Aranyak (8.1.1) further expands on the nuances and importance of knowledge and education, saying: May [Brahman] protect us both. May [He] bestow upon us the fruit of knowledge. May we obtain energy to acquire knowledge. May what we study reveal the truth. May we cherish no evil feeling towards each other. The importance of knowledge in the Dharmic tradition can be gauged from the fact that ‘Veda’ itself means ‘to know’.

In the modern world, basic comprehensive education needs to be provided to all students irrespective of social identities and communities they belong to. Quality of education should be improved and talents of students must be identified and must inform their choice of careers. According to the Rig-Veda, education is something which makes a man self-reliant and selfless, which effectively liberates and makes one aware of universal truths and ideas.

Society

Dharma looks closely at realities of society and states ways of working with them. 

Consumerism

The Vedic traditions do not stand for greed and senseless consumerism and seek to ensure sustainable production patterns. The Bhagavad Gita, in Chapter 16 Shloka 21, says

त्रिविधं नरकस्येदं द्वारं नाशनमात्मनः।

कामः क्रोधस्तथा लोभस्तस्मादेतत्त्रयं त्यजेत्।।

which is referring to lust, anger and greed as the threefold gateway to Naraka (hell), ruinous to the Self. Therefore one should abandon these three. Today, we find greed being a major part of the problems affecting the world. Nowadays families have two cars when one would suffice, even after knowing that roads are getting increasingly crowded and more cars can only add to the energy and pollution crisis. This is just one of many instances of senseless and insensitive consumerism. This is in no way a jab at capitalism or market forces but rather the natural tendencies of man. As per the Dharmic tradition, if one looks at the transience of human life, one must weigh what comes of embellishing that, important as it is, against the greater good of society, nature and our planet. All this comes from greed and avarice, and without check, much like anger and lust, this primal instinct can be devastating. The famous R’s: Recycle, Reuse, Reduce and Refuse should be remembered and eco-friendly production patterns must be promoted.

Consumerism arises, at times, from the desire to seek happiness from material things. Consumerism also could be a social ego-booster, when the number of cars or property pegs one’s status in contemporary times, in certain parts of the world. The Dharmic traditions says that there is a need to reflect on one’s practices and find contentment within and not without, as the Bhagavat Purana 7.15.16 says

संतुष्टस्य निरिहस्य स्वात्मारामस्य यत्सुखं |
कुतस्तत्कामलोभेन धावतो ‘र्थेहया दिशाः ||

which means that the happiness obtained by him who is contended and who seeks joy within himself is many times more than the happiness of that person who, under the influence of desires and greed, runs in all the four directions and obtains a lot of wealth.

 

Gender Equality

Ensure that there is gender equality and empower all members of society with varied sexes and sexual orientations. In the Rig Veda, Mandala 10 Hymn 125 Verses 3-8, the idea of the feminine to be the supreme principle behind all of cosmos is asserted

    अहं राष्ट्री संगमनी वसूनां चिकितुषी परथमायज्ञियानाम |

    तां मा देवा वयदधुः पुरुत्राभूरिस्थात्रां भूर्यावेशयन्तीम ||

    मया सो अन्नमत्ति यो विपश्यति यः पराणिति य ईंश्र्णोत्युक्तम |

    अमन्तवो मां त उप कषियन्ति शरुधिश्रुत शरद्धिवं ते वदामि ||

    अहमेव सवयमिदं वदामि जुष्टं देवेभिरुतमानुषेभिः |

    यं कामये तं-तमुग्रं कर्णोमि तम्ब्रह्माणं तं रषिं तं सुमेधाम ||

    अहं रुद्राय धनुरा तनोमि बरह्मद्विषे शरवे हन्तवाु |

    अहं जनाय समदं कर्णोम्यहं दयावाप्र्थिवी आविवेश ||

    अहं सुवे पितरमस्य मूर्धन मम योनिरप्स्वन्तः समुद्रे |

    ततो वि तिष्ठे भुवनानु विश्वोतामूं दयांवर्ष्मणोप सप्र्शामि ||

    अहमेव वात इव पर वाम्यारभमाणा भुवनानि विश्वा |

    परो दिवा पर एना पर्थिव्यैतावती महिना सं बभूव ||

which translates to

    I am the Queen, the gatherer-up of treasures,

    most thoughtful, first of those who merit worship.

    Thus Gods have established me in many places

    with many homes to enter and abide in.

    Through me alone all eat the food that feeds them,

    -each man who sees, breathes, hears the word outspoken

    They know it not, but yet they dwell beside me.

    Hear, one and all, the truth as I declare it.

    I, verily, myself announce and utter the word that

    Gods and men alike shall welcome.

    I make the man I love exceeding mighty,

    make him a sage, a Rsi, and a Brahman.

    I bend the bow for Rudra that his arrow may strike

    and slay the hater of devotion.

    I rouse and order battle for the people,

    and I have penetrated Earth and Heaven.

    On the world’s summit I bring forth the Father:

    my home is in the waters, in the ocean.

    Thence I extend o’er all existing creatures,

    and touch even yonder heaven with my forehead.

    I breathe a strong breath like the wind and tempest,

    the while I hold together all existence.

    Beyond this wide earth and beyond the heavens

    I have become so mighty in my grandeur.

In the Upanishads and Puranic texts, there are cases of both women empowerment and discrimination. Given that the divine Feminine, in her various forms, be it as Adi Shakti or Prakriti, has such an important place in Sanatana Dharma, there should be no doubt about the esteemed place women have in it. There have been famous seers in the Dharmic tradition such as Gargi and Maitreyi who have been women. A natural order would have men and women equally empowered to create a synergy as they move ahead. That is key to human society and its progress. Also, members of society with other sexual orientations and sexes need to be accepted as they are and their views and interests must be respected. 

The Vedas do not refer explicitly to homosexuality, but Rigveda says Vikruti Evam Prakriti  (perversity/diversity is what nature is all about) and therefore what seems unnatural is also natural. In other texts, it has not been as approving of this, but if it has to be Dharmic and the LGBTQ+ identity truly represents the existence of an individual, that must be respected. The second part, ninth chapter of the Kamasutra, along with Sushruta Samhita 3.2.42–43, the Kritivasa Ramayana and Narada Smriti, discuss the LGBTQ+ identity at some length.

Human Settlements  

Ensure that all human settlements are inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. In the Rig Veda, in one of the Atri hymns (5.72.2ab), the Gods Mitra and Varuna are said to, by their very foundation (`Dharmana’), give peaceful settlements that endure (`dhruvaksema’). Thus the relation between Dharma and sustainable human settlements has been outlined in the earliest of scriptures in Sanatana Dharma, over and above the discourse on the various Gods. In contemporary times, new settlements in various places should consider the resources, existing population and human resource index of an area. Ideally there should be no restriction on movement and settlement, given the availability of residence and acceptance by a community in the place where relocation is sought. However, given actual constraints, one must try to create affordable housing solutions for all sections of society within countries at various places, so that people do not move in large masses towards areas with good housing and resources, which can only encumber the resources of that region. Optimisation of land is an absolute must since land is a limited asset in the world. One must ensure that even with families, the settlement is resilient. Measures like family planning and expansion based on available resources need to be supported. Social and natural spaces must be created with green-zones in every settlement.

Infrastructure Building, Innovation and Altruism

Ensure the building of resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation and altruism. Since manufacturing is a major source of employment, this should be supported. This must go hand-in-hand with innovation and infrastructure-building. An important Dharmic component is the collaboration that this sector should have with the intellectuals, scientists and engineers, besides administrators and workers, as in the conception of Varnashrama (a point to remember here is that this is fundamentally different from the more rigid and divisive Jati-based caste system).

Innovation has been in the DNA of the Dharmic way of life simply because nature itself is evolving and Dharma is that which maintains the order of society in conformity with that of the cosmos. Therefore, the creative principle and the encouragement of innovation is very much a part of Dharma. This has been reflected in the discoveries and inventions in Dharmic societies over the millenia: be it seen today in the iron pillar in Mehrauli (Delhi) or crucible steel in south India as early as around 300 BC, early use of buttons in clothing or the charkha for spinning thread or yarn from fibre. It is because Dharma is aspirational in its conception, due to the inherent creative principle underlying man and nature, that these happened within the Dharmic model of society. Unfortunately, in the middle ages, this was lesser due to the political upheavels and other social disturbances.  

Talking of society and innovation and commerce, Dharma always speaks of a spirit of altruism must also be instilled in industrial powerhouses so that they can contribute to society in the form of initiatives such as those under corporate social responsibility.

Inclusive Societies, Reduced Inequalities and Pluralism

The Dharmic tradition calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provision of access to justice for all and building of effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for administration and dispensation of justice at all levels. Dharma, by nature, underlies the call for a practical integral humanism. In ancient Indian Society, Law and Dharma were not distinct. In ancient texts such as Dharma Sastras, Smrities and Arthasastra, the concept of justice was equated to Dharma. Rules of Dharma have never been alterable according to the whims and fancies of politicians, monarchs, administrators and policy-makers, and it was always made clear that it was essential that the exercise of political power must be in conformity with Dharma — an essential aspect of governance in the Dharmic traditions. 

Besides the duties of Indra and by association of the ruling class of that age, one of the earliest textual references to the Dharmic conduct of ruling and of politics is found in the Satapatha Brahmana, Kanda III, Adhyaya 4, Brahmana 2, where the tale of the Tanunapatra is described. It refers to the mythological time when the gods such as Vayu, Agni and Indra were fighting amongst themselves, and this led to them being weak and vulnerable to the infiltration of the asura-rakshasa. They decided to unite under the leadership of one – Indra, under a covenant of truth. This mythological story behoves reflection on the true nature of power and how it arises from a social contract to the constituents and relies on Satya – both in the form of absolute and relative truths. 

People often mistake the Varnashrama system with the jati – based segregation that translated into the caste system. The Varna system depended on the Swadharma of the individual; the innate tendencies, along with Karma or work and perseverance. It was an organic organization of society. Some mistake the poetic symbolism in the Purusa Sukta of the Rig Veda as a hierarchical construct while it always has been one of utilitarianism and how different parts of the body need to work together coherently. Hinduism has been inherently so pluralistic that even Carvakas, who are materialists and atheists, are part of the Hindu family. This is due to the fundamental conception of Dharma and the tolerance it has within. There are many ways to reach Brahman, to live life and to undertake occupations, and all are equally allowed and appreciated in the Dharmic way. In today’s bid for positive affirmation, what is often disregarded is the unique existence and life of each individual, which is why intersectionality of identities and concerns must be understood and addressed, in a truly Dharmic system. 

To make society truly inclusive and safe, in contemporary times, reducing violent crime, trafficking, forced labour, and child abuse are much needed, as are stronger legal systems. Power should be decentralised to regional and state units with empowered legislature, judiciary and executive branches. Federalisation and decentralization of power is a key step towards true democracy and is what the Dharmic way propounds, to the extent of decentralizing power to the individual, if practically possible! This not only helps with administration that closely understands the unique problems of the area but also dispenses with solutions quicker than other alternatives. The voice of the civil society must also be reinforced and given a place in the political, socio-economic and cultural domains.

Global Partnerships

Ensure the strengthening of the means of implementation and revitalisation of the global partnership for sustainable development. International cooperation is important in the Dharmic tradition. `Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ or ‘All World is our Family’ is an important message in Sanatan Dharma. Cooperation at the international level is important since most of the issues that these questions of sustainability deal with are on the global scale. Developing multi-stakeholder partnerships to share knowledge, expertise, technology, and financial support is seen as very important to the overall success of these rules of sustainability. These rules of sustainability build on the traditional Dharmic elements of holistic development of the individual and society and adapt to our times and problems.

Nature

Satya Dharma considers humans to be a part of the greater One, the godhead that pervades not only society but also nature.

Elements of Nature

The Dharmic tradition seeks the availability and sustainable management of water and air and sanitation for all. In the Vedas, all components of Nature are said to be interrelated and interdependent. All elements of Nature and origins of natural resources and life-forms (including plants and trees) are given due respect in the Vedic hymns as manifestations and reflections of the divine creation — thus emphasizing the significance of each. The Rig Veda glorifies deities like Varuna, Indra, Maruts, Mitra and Aditya, who are responsible for maintaining a balance in the functioning of all entities of Nature whether they be lakes, mountains, the skies or earth, the woods or the waters. One is reminded of the famous lines from the Shuklayajurveda 36:18

दृते द्रिन्घ मा मित्रस्य चक्षुषा
मा सर्वाणि भूतानि समिक्षन्तम्
मित्रस्याहं चक्षुषा सर्वाणि भूतानि समीक्षे
मित्रस्य चक्षुषा समीक्षामहे

which means may all beings look on me with the eyes of a friend and may I look on all beings with the eyes of a friend; may we look on one another with the eyes of friendship.

Water and air are the basic requirements of any living being, and ensuring that drinking water and clean air is available to all humans is a must. The Rig Veda has an entire hymn (Mandala 10 Hymn 9) on water

आपो हि षठा मयोभुवस्ता न ऊर्जे दधातन |
महेरणाय चक्षसे ||
यो वः शिवतमो रसस्तस्य भजयतेह नः |
उशतीरिवमातरः ||
तस्मा अरं गमाम वो यस्य कषयाय जिन्वथ |
आपोजनयथा च नः ||
शं नो देवीरभिष्टय आपो भवन्तु पीतये |
शं योरभि सरवन्तु नः ||
ईशाना वार्याणां कषयन्तीश्चर्षणीनाम |
अपोयाचामि भेषजम ||
अप्सु मे सोमो अब्रवीदन्तर्विश्वानि भेषजा |
अग्निं चविश्वशम्भुवम ||
आपः पर्णीत भेषजां वरूथं तन्वे मम |
जयोक चसूर्यं दर्शे ||
इदमापः पर वहत यत किं च दुरितं मयि |
यद वाहमभिदुद्रोह यद व शेप उतान्र्तम ||
आपो अद्यान्वचारिषं रसेन समगस्महि |
पयस्वानग्ना गहि तं मा सं सर्ज वर्चसा ||

which translates to

YE, Waters, are beneficent: so help ye us to energy
That we may look on great delight.
Give us a portion of the sap, the most auspicious that ye have,
Like mothers in their longing love.
To you we gladly come for him to whose abode ye send us on;
And, Waters, give us procreant strength.
The Waters. be to us for drink, Goddesses for our aid and bliss:
Let them stream to us health and strength.
1 beg the Floods to give us balm, these Queens who rule o’er precious things,
And have supreme control of men.
Within the Waters-Soma thus hath told me-dwell all balms that heal,
And Agni, he who blesseth all.
O Waters, teem with medicine to keep my body safe from harm,
So that I long may see the Sun.
Whatever sin is found in me, whatever evil I have wrought,
If I have lied or falsely sworn, Waters, remove it far from me.
The Waters I this day have sought, and to their moisture have we come:
O Agni, rich in milk, come thou, and with thy splendour cover me.

Similar is the position given to air, the human breath and the winds in the deity Vayu, in the Rig Veda and other Vedic and Upanishadic texts. If either water-bodies or the air in a city has a high (and harmful) amount of certain pollutants, every effort must be taken to correct the same. Also, even though open defecation is a major health problem, the contribution to nature in terms of manure that human faeces can be should be considered, potentially in a hybrid model, as in the case of the revolutionary idea put forth by the EAWAG: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology.

Trees and plants have a great importance to keep the environment in balance and the Dharmic traditions prioritize this to the extent of deifying it. The Vṛkṣāyurveda says that planting a tree is equally beneficial as having ten son. Tulsi, Peepal and Vatavṛkṣa have great importance in the Dharmic tradition, and these plants and trees have been found to have immense ecological and even medicinal value, as per modern science. In the Maitrāyani Samhitā, the earth has been described as Devajayani (adorable by deities) and Aushadhinam Mulam (the source of all kinds of medicinal plants). So in ancient texts of the Dharmic tradition, sages suggested punishment for him who cuts down such valuable trees. Yajnas were often conducted in the Vedic age for purification of the environment. The Dharmic way is inherently an ecologically conscious way. The animistic traditions of the Hindu faith, for instance, with the avataras of Vishnu being various kinds of beings over the yugas was to highlight the divinity in those life forms.

In Dharmic traditions, we are said to have a debt to our surrounding environs and to nature (भूत ऋण, besides the देव ऋण – debt to deities, ऋषि ऋण – debt to sages and seers, पितृ ऋण – debt to ancestors and नारी ऋण – debt to humanity), since they play an important role in our evolution as individual. Therefore, Dharma highlights the need for responsible production and usage of energy, preferably renewable energy (since it maintains the equilibrium of nature), promotes conservation practices, inherently safeguards against climate change and calls for the safekeeping of biodiversity.

Sustainable Energy

Dharma talks of our debt to our environment and our planet, and intimately tied into this is the need to ensure access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all. This is particularly important since the dual purposes of effectively carrying out the tasks of individual lives and in society, along with a sense of responsibility towards nature, is safe-kept in this idea. A massive move to renewable energy is required in contemporary times, given realities of climate change and global warming. Be it solar, hydro or nuclear energy, the pressures on nature from using fossil fuels must be reduced. More efforts should be made to come up with novel technology and methods to do so.

Climate Change

Dharmic tradition call for ensuring that action is taken to combat climate change. In Dharmic traditions, we are said to have a debt to our surrounding environs and to nature, since they play an important role in our evolution as individual. Corporates and governments, alike, must be encouraged to adopt practises that can reduce the climate change crisis. Even though it relates to malpractices of individual industries at times, a more comprehensive program needs to be put forth and a partnership between governmental and private entities is conducive to this form glocal (global+local, or national+regional in case of a country) approach to the problem. Every industry or government should have a strategy cell that can analyse which production techniques and patterns can lead to lesser harm to the environment, and this study can be used actively by all industrial and commercial projects. A point to note here is that since every region and industry will have idiosyncratic characteristics, the independence of these cells means that the solutions given will be customized to the industry and region, as is expected and needed.

Conservation Practises

Ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. In the Dharmic traditions, such bodies are elevated to the status of `Gods’ for the simple reason that their sustenance and welfare is an absolute must for mankind to thrive. Following from the previous point of indebtedness to environs, it is important to investigate the safekeeping of marine life and bodies. Plastic garbage, oil spills and harmful effluents all affect these bodies. Technology, innovation and careful strategy must be used to optimally use these marine bodies, without harming them. One can use innovative solutions like the use of enzymes for degrading plastic bottles.

Terrestrial Ecosystems, Forests and Biodiversity

Ensure the protection, restoration and promotion of sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainable management of forests, combating of desertification, and halting and reversal of land degradation and halting of biodiversity loss. The seers of the Rig Veda speak on behalf of earth for its principle of replenishment “You give me and I give you”. They look at every entity of Nature with the eyes of a friend and sympathiser when they say, “Mitrasyaaham chakshushaa sarvaani bhootaani sameekshe.” In contemporary times, we must define targets for preserving biodiversity of forest, desert, and mountain eco-systems, as a percentage of total land mass. Achieving a `land degradation-neutral world’ can be reached by restoring degraded forests and land lost to drought and flood. Natural corridors near industrial, commercial and urban corridors and pockets must be promoted. The flora and fauna are fundamentally important to a forest ecosystem, and hence harm to these must be punishable under law in a strict way. 

Universalism and Universality

One of the key ideas of Sanatan Dharma is that of `consciousness’, the idea of reflexive tendencies. Of the correlation between evolution and adaptations based on the need of the hour, if need be. This element of Dharma is encapsulated in the way in which some of these universal rules of Dharma must evolve with time, as must the rules and laws of any potent and yet sensitive body of theology, politics or philosophy. Dharma has this idea inbuilt in its message of universality and unity.

In today’s age, this can only be realized by international bodies such as the United Nations, which can analyse the realities of the world and decide on short- and long-term strategies to tackle these. The important point here is to safekeep the Dharmic tradition of duality where even though there is a guideline for what to do and possibly how to do it, there must be space and freedom to devise and customize solutions to local problems and factors. This tendency of local adaptation, after all, is the basis of evolution in nature itself. Since the scope of these revisions is so wide, the only thing to always remember is the fundamental definition of Dharma, mentioned above, and must be ascertained with the use of reasoning and a position of compassion and social unity. In terms of spirituality and theology, Dharmic traditions leads us to approach the question of Godhead and universality from a position of empathy and compassion and the simple question posed to the tendency of the `other-ing’ of sections of humankind based on the fact that they do not belong to your religion or order.

Which God-head would ever deprive any of his/her children to such discrimination, and that too based on what are primarily human customs of rituals and belief-systems. Sanatana Dharma talks about various schools of philosophy and beliefs and the use of whichever suits one best to reach the Truth. There is even a nastika school of thought within Sanatana Dharma. This very liberal and tolerant nature of Sanatana Dharma has made it survive largely intact in its spirit for over three millenia now.

In Conclusion

Dharma is the code of conduct and society that every era and every civilization has created for themselves, based on central ideas and understandings of the world and the cosmos. Dharma is that which equilibrates and helps one on the path of sustainable and responsible development and existence. Besides the ethos or samskara that evolve over time, the underlined aspects of Dharma that relate to sustainable development, universally, is of importance and is what makes the Dharmic tradition not only a philosophical construct but a social and cultural one too. As much as it is important to be cognizant of this, it is also not to be worn on one’s sleeves, particularly in things like politics in contemporary times. Dharma must be internalized and appreciated and evolved responsibly, if need be, and help in attaining true happiness.