Hinduism – Not a Religion

The Western understanding of Hinduism has been flawed since they tried to interpret it, perhaps another casualty of translation. This has crept into various books and media so much so that even Hindus have become confused. Hinduism is derived from the word “Hindu” which was given by the invaders from the West to the inhabitants of Indus Valley Civilization. This word does not appear in any ancient Indian text. The correct term would be “Sanatan Dharma”. Sanatan in Sanskrit means eternal. Dharma mean the cosmic law. The eternal nature of reality. Hence, Hinduism is a Dharma. It is not a religion. However, when Western writers translated the word Dharma into English and other languages, they chose ‘religion’. The world has been misled about Hinduism since then. I would not blame those writers because where they came from, the concept of Dharma was alien to them. They belonged to Abrahamic religions and hence tried to see Hinduism through those lenses in order to try and make sense. Little did they know, they missed the boat on this.

So what is the difference? Well, first of all a religion is a structured framework of do’s and don’ts. It has a Deity or God who expects people to confirm to certain behaviors in order to achieve heaven which is the ultimate state of bliss. Usually there is a book involved that describes the framework and there is a methodology to their faith, beliefs and worship.

Sanatan Dharma on the other hand is not based on faith or belief. There is no framework everyone has to conform to. You could worship any God or not worship at all. There is no compulsion to go to a temple, you may fast or may not. There is no book that tells you what you need to do. People might say Hindus have the Vedas, Puranas, Ramayan, Mahabharat or The Bhagavad Gita etc. These are not religious books. They do not tell you who to worship, how to worship or when to worship. They are sort of a guiding principles for life. One may or may not follow them. Taking this further – You can be a highly devout person or you could be an ashiest, You can still be dharmic (follower of Sanatan Dharma).

It must be remembered that Buddha who was born to a Hindu King & he rejected all norms of Sanatan Dharma. So how did Hinduism react to this rejection?

Interestingly, Hindus made Buddha the ninth avatar (reincarnation) of their God Vishnu. This would never happen in a Sematic religion. They looked at his Karma and felt that he was the embodiment of the divine. Since Sanatan is not a religion, there is no concept of blasphemy . There is not even word in Sanskrit that means blasphemy. Sanatan Dharma empowers people to the extent that it even allows people to reject it without repercussions.

Sanatan Dharma does not have believers. The people in this tradition of thought seek Moksha (Salvation) – they are seekers. Each person has the ability to worship based on their temperament. They could worship Ganesh who has body of a man and head of an elephant, they can worship a monkey God or they can worship a bleeding man on a cross or they can worship a Goddess like Durga or Kali or they might not worship at all. They are all within the arms of Sanatan Dharma.

In Sanskrit if you follow the path of Dharma, you are Dharmic. What does that mean? How do you become dharmic? For this we have to turn to an ancient scripture called Manusmriti. It states the ten characteristic of dharma. Any person exhibiting them is said to be dharmic or following the dharma:

Patience; Forgiveness; Self-Control; Non-Stealing; Cleanliness; Control over organs; Intellect with kindness; Knowledge; Truthfulness and Anger Management.

Again, there is no prescribed methodology around worship or God. That is between the individual and the divine. You can be a Hindu merely by proclaiming you are one. There is no one who can dispute that or excommunicate you from Hinduism as its philosophy is of inclusion and it believes in Vedic tradition of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” meaning all living beings on the earth are a family.

अयं बन्धुरयंनेति गणना लघुचेतसाम्
उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ॥

The distinction “This is mine, and that is his” is made only by the narrow-minded . For those of noble conduct (i.e. who know the Supreme Truth) the entire world is one family.

This concept is re-iterated among several scriptures because Hinduism rejects the duality or multiplicity of existence. Everything is within the divine – the concept of Oneness.

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