Hariḥ Ōm and Namaste (customary greeting of Hindus). This being my first post on ‘State of Formation’, I would like to express my great pleasure in being amid this crowd of intellectuals and academicians. Interfaith dialogue is a must- evermore so in today’s world, filled with strife and violence in the name of religion. Unfortunately, I have often seen people hide behind the curtain of an interfaith dialogue to superimpose a false sense of “sameness” among all religions. That, to me, defeats the entire purpose of such a dialogue. There are stark differences in what every faith teaches; trying to hide these differences under the carpet to establish universal brotherhood is both dishonest and ineffective, and will only lead to passive issues. The more mature method is to accept differences, and respectfully, compassionately accommodate them. Furthermore, ‘Religious tolerance’ is an archaic expression that needs to be discarded. One only needs to “tolerate” something that one does not necessarily want around, but still has to keep out of obligation.
My limited expertise lies in the understanding of Hindu culture, and the Vedic view of the world. In a subsequent post, I will try to explain why ‘Vedic dharma’ cannot be called a “religion” in the real sense of the word. Today, however, I intend to elaborate upon what it means to be a ‘Hindu’, and also reveal how the Hindu culture is informed by the Vedic viewpoint, and how people of different faiths can still be called Hindus, even while following their own path.
– Prashant Parikh
Who is a Hindu?
‘Hindu’ was a term first used by Persians to denote the people living in the sub-continental peninsula, bordered by the river Sindhu (whose distortion gave rise to the term ‘Hindu’), the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean. The term ‘Hindu-ism’ was introduced by the British to identify the cultural practices native to the people of India. In that sense, Hinduism is an umbrella term. The Hindu culture is an amalgamation of practices, informed by the indigenous faiths, namely: the Vedic (Sanātana dharma), Jain, Buddhist and Sikh religions, hence it is a cultural classification and not a religious one. For instance, being a follower of the Vedas, I would identify myself as a Vaidika by faith, and a Hindu by culture.
The Hindu culture includes (but is not limited to) the traditional languages we speak, our dance forms, art forms, music, festivals, mannerisms, clothing, family structure, diet and so on. Wearing a turban is essentially as Hindu as applying a tīkā (dot) on one’s forehead, wearing a sāree or touching the feet of elders.
Even the Indian converts following the Abrahamic religions share a common past with the subcontinent, hence while practicing their own respective faiths they can still happily be connected to the Hindu culture. Technically speaking, every person living in India- regardless of their faith- would be correct in culturally identifying themselves as a Hindu.
What makes Hinduism so resilient?
Having stood the test of time, the Hindu civilization is the last of the great civilizations to still exist. The Greeks, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Mesopotamians, the Mayans and several other ancient civilizations (known and unknown) all died a cultural death. No trace of either their philosophy or practice exist in contemporary times, all we find are their archaic remnants in history books and UNESCO conservation sites. Hindus stood the onslaught of invasions from the Greeks, the Arabic nomads, the mongoloids, the Moghuls, the British, and today, the pseudo secular types who wish to do away with traditional norms in lieu of faulty post-modernist interpretations of an ancient culture.
The practices of our Āchāryas (teachers) have always been reasoned with logic, and tempered with Shraddhā (faith, pending understanding, in the words of God, Guru and Scripture). In addition, we have had a long standing tradition of debate, where ideas were sieved through brilliant minds, and the husks, discarded. These ideas trickled down through the generations, always meeting further refinement or elaboration. While the source scriptures have remained the same, the ideas have evolved, and incorporated themselves into cultural practice.
Why is the Hindu culture an integral part of every Indian’s life?
As Hindus/Indians, we instinctively touch a book or money to our head if we inadvertently lay a foot on it. This is out of respect for Lakshmi Mā (the symbolic manifestation of all forms of wealth), and Saraswati mā (the manifestation of knowledge). When we go to a temple and accept prasādam (food served to devotees after having first offered it to God) gratefully, it is symbolic of living by the attitude of graceful acceptance, i.e. prasāda buddhi, a concept taught by Krṣṇa Bhagavān (Lord Krishna) as part of karma yoga. As such, every cherished practice of ours can be traced back to ancient roots; this is what makes our culture so endearing and enduring. Violence may happen, and will continue to take place, temples may be destroyed, history can be re-written by rulers to undermine what we once were and who we are today, however, what can never be taken away is the Hindu spirit that lives on through the arrow of time.
The logic is simple. An idea cannot be destroyed, but only be replaced with a better one. The ones Hindus inherited have withstood incessant bombardment from all sides, and their longevity is proof of their worthiness and trans-generational wisdom. The Hindu culture is very porous and easily absorbs, accommodates followers of all faiths without exception. Every culture should strive for openness, and (I re-iterate) progress, by accommodating, not tolerating.