Sanatana dharma literally means eternal way of life or eternal ethic. This is not restricted by the constraints of space and time. However, in variegated applications of the same, specific spatiotemporal frames are adopted. Though the word 'dharma' has no proper equivalent in languages other than Sanskrit, its spirit can somehow be communicated through English words such as global ethic, righteousness, way of life, culture, etc. However, all these words put together may mean the sustained implications of dharma. The word 'sanatana' symbolizes eternity. Unfortunately, it has been branded as dated, dogmatic, biased, and framed. But the word sanatana, both from the viewpoints of linguistics and holistic cultural studies means unbiased, non-dogmatic and universal spirit.
Before going into the study of sanatana dharma ('Indian Culture' would be a judicious approximation), we shall start a scientific inquiry of values, for no study will be proper without a thorough scientific outlook. Above all, belief or any faith of any kind should not be left unchallenged unless it is screened through the spirit of scientific understanding and total experience. If not, all the strenuous pursuits of us will go futile.
Existence of the Atma (Self) or Consciousness
Our perception of the world, both spiritual and materialistic is the product of ourselves because the whole process of understanding depends on our mental and physical faculties. Therefore, every inquiry of us in any field of our choice invariably presumes the self-evident existence of ourselves and proceeds further. None can question one's own existence. If so, even such questions will be the product of his or her own existence. Hence, our existence, irrespective of its kind is eternal as far as we are concerned. Though our experiences in the wakeful state or even in the dream state are entirely different from place to place, time to time, person to person, thing to thing and thought to thought, in sound sleep all of us have one experience of absolute forgetfulness, of course, a highly refreshing and blissful state indeed!
Here none of the differences pertaining to natural or man-made divisions such as gender, race, age, nationality, economic-social-cultural diversities, etc are felt. Only in the states of wakefulness and dream we have the baggage of “ourselves.” It is well evident that in the wakeful state, both the sense organs and the mind are active while in that of the dream, it is only the mind that works. But in the state of sound sleep, neither the sense organs nor the mind are in action. However, there is no paucity of joy. Nothing is wanting and nothing is haunting. It is in a way, a state of complete saturation. People who talk much about equality and oneness should start their analysis from this point. Even for our inquiry, this should become the real benchmark for, no study will become meaningful without such common or universal basis to compare and contrast with any other experience. Indian spirituality as expounded in the Upanishads starts its self-inquiry with this analysis. Such introspection is called 'avasthatrayamimamsa' in Sanskrit (अवस्थात्रयमीमांसा).