Am I still a Hindu?

What makes me a Hindu in daily life and in practice beyond ethnicity, legality, philosophy?

Am I still a Hindu?

I envy Shashi Tharoor, not for his prolix vocabulary, but for his confidence, that he is a Hindu. I have much ambiguity regarding that — Vishada, but then I also believe such Vishada is good.

What does it mean to be a Hindu?

Easy answers would be to use ethnicity or race – anyone born in the subcontinent. Or the neti neti of the Indian constitution, i.e. who is not a Christian, who is not a Muslim etc. Philosophically it is more complex, but I can think of three postulates which will have considerable consensus among all traditions,

• A Hindu believes in the subjective validity of all paths and beliefs. A Hindu will never disparage another person’s belief as false. He/She may believe his/her own god as superior etc. but in the spirit of “Nahi Ninda”, will not mock, abuse, bribe, force, obligate people to deny their existing beliefs and believe in a particular god. (Ninda — abuse, is not allowed; Kandana — Criticism, is encouraged)

• A Hindu believes that all four goals — Artha (worldly success and prosperity), Kama (passions and desires), Dharma (ethics, morals, virtues) and Moksha (liberation, enlightenment), are concurrently valid pursuits of life. And that enlightenment is found where there is achieved a dynamic balance between them, HERE and NOW.

• A Hindu believes in Karma and PunarJanma (rebirth). That the consequences of one’s actions and choices form the possibilities of that person’s future. This operates across corporeal lives and is not hampered by physical death.

And to contrast

• Not exclusive and not ‘one size fits all’, like the Abrahamic religions

• Enlightenment HERE and NOW, as against the afterlife of the Abrahamic religions.

• Ethical management of desire, actions, and expectations, as against the erasing of desires and nihilism of Shramanic traditions.

• Cause and effect across corporeal death, as against the unquestionable will of the Abrahamic God OR the unexplainable random chance/ biological accidents of the atheists

So if it is claimed of someone, ‘By education an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, & a Hindu only by accident of birth’, or if someone claims that their being Hindu is just an accident, then they need not worry, they are not a Hindu.

Hinduism or rather all Dharmic traditions including Buddhism and Jainism are very diverse in nature, but one of the things on which there is consensus is that our births are not an accident but the result of our karma in the previous ones. So being a Hindu is not a random biological accident, it is not the will of a whimsical god, but something chosen — the result of accumulated choices made across many lifetimes and should be chosen again and again in every action, in this birth as well.

Yet these are philosophical explanations and not easily understood, hence so many claimants of being an accidental Hindu. So what does it mean to live as a Hindu, on a day to day basis?

(1) Do I remain a Hindu if I do not know Sanskrit or am not fluent in Indic languages if I am unfamiliar with the Shastras, Puranas, Bhakti literature — vast treasures of which exists in every Indian language?

But Hinduism is not about language.

(2) Do I remain a Hindu, if I live outside Bharatha, not immersing myself in the sacred geography of Kshetras, Peetas, Adhistanas where the divine Leela of Devatas, Avataras and Mahatmas have happened?

But Hinduism is not about physical locations.

(3) Do I remain a Hindu, when wearing a panchakacha, veshti, dhoti, saree etc.. is it limited only to festivals and occasions?

But Hinduism is not about attire.

(4) Do I remain a Hindu, if samskaras such as going to the temple or doing a puja are limited to just marriages, deaths, festivals, birthdays and anniversaries?

But Hinduism is not about rituals.

(5) Do I remain a Hindu, if I don’t wear the tilaka, the tripundara/urdhva pundara or sindoor, except during the occasional puja to reluctantly satisfy the elders in the family?

But Hinduism is not about accessories.

(6) Do I remain a Hindu, if I ignore the Rnas. 

  • To Pitrus: my ancestors, by not following, fostering and transmitting the customs, the traditions which are the heritage of the family.
  • To Rishis: by not learning, furthering and transmitting, at least one specialised field of knowledge, which they had originated;
  • To Devas: by not caring, sustaining and nurturing other species, polluting the bounty of nature and the world?

But Hinduism is flexible, it enjoins no mandatory duties.

(7) Do I remain a Hindu, when I no more conduct my life based on the stars and the seasons – my routine not based on the sun, the moon, the wind, and tides? Is my life out of tune and not in harmony with nature?

But Hinduism is not about being a Luddite.

(8) Do I remain a Hindu, when I do not care to know the source, the true cost and the impacts of the things I consume with my senses, but just feed my passions without Yama, Niyama, Aparigraha?

But Yoga supposedly is not Hindu, and these things are not Yoga. Only postures and fancy pants are Yoga.

(9) Do I remain a Hindu, if I don’t defend dharma in every sphere of my life — personal, professional, social, cultural, political. Dharma, which currently is the theodiversity in danger, assailed by monopolistic ideologies of Islam, Christianity, varieties of communism and even inconsiderate individualism posing as liberalism, which holds nothing should be of value — not family, not faith, not fatherland?

But Hinduism is inclusive, ahimsa paramo dharma, so to resist such ideologies are not required.

I could go on and on with the list, none on its own defines Hinduism but as I discard them one by one, do I still remain a Hindu? How many trees have to be felled, before the forest is no more a forest? How many of these external expressions can I afford to discard, until my claim to be Hindu is a hollow one?

Hindu Dharma indeed gives a lot of freedom to choose and to define a dharma, to enable our seeking. But merely having the freedoms, ensuring that we don’t accept any practices, habit, ritual etc, in the name of that freedom, means nothing. It is only when that freedom is committed to taking up some purpose which benefits ourselves and others — some purpose beyond our own existence and enjoyment. Then alone, is that freedom of any use. Freedom for the sake of freedom is no freedom at all. Freedom to aspire and to achieve, that is true freedom. And when it comes to those aspirations and achievements, we ourselves will accept certain conditions and restrictions of freedom, some we will inherit, we will trade pieces of it for the benefits of the collective- family, faith, fatherland.

I need not do any of the things listed above and could still claim to be a Hindu, but my claim is then an empty claim. It would be like collecting more and more books (freedoms) for a library, but never reading a single book, just because I have the freedom, to read or not read.

I could do all of the above and more, but if I don’t use them to enable the philosophical seeking, then also it is an empty claim. That is like reading every book in the library, but never venturing out of it to actually apply it. Or insisting that every book has to be read before one could try anything.

There was a point where Hindus were exceedingly enamoured with the rituals, the external expressions, social stratifications and lost the philosophical purpose. Then came the Bhakti movement and great philosophers, who chastised that foolishness and turned the Hindu mind towards the underlying purpose.

I think now, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, I see myself and others, becoming pseudo-philosophical poseurs, claiming to be ‘spiritual but not religious’, wearing the armour of words given by the gurus — like Duryodhana who wore Drona’s armour, the unearned armour did not protect him long and therefore will not protect us long either, from our apathy and avidya. Praxis (the process by which a theory, lesson, or skill is enacted, practiced, embodied, or realized) and philosophy, are mutually reinforcing twain, one without the other will only cause deformity, paralysis, and ruin.

So I am jealous of Shashi Tharoor, for the more I read, learn, live, think and act in the context of Dharma, more I am aware of my lacking in practice and praxis.

I question myself, Am I still a Hindu?

About Author: Raghu Bhaskaran

Raghunandhan (Raghu) Bhaskaran is a Bharathi and like many today, he for long, ignored his heritage and was focused towards Artha, to the exclusion of the other Purusharthas and is yet another IT consultant. But now he is increasingly a seeker of what it means to be a Hindu, a follower of Dharma in every sphere of life - personal, social, cultural and political. Towards this, he uses writing as a sadhana, to attain clarity and shares his learning with others, learns from others. He considers himself as the 'Mongoose of Mahabharatha', from the Ashwamedha Parva. Serendipity has led him to some yagna-salas, the works/company of some wonderful people - from heritage, family, friends, teachers and even on social media. He rolls around in the crumbs of their wisdom and some stick to him. And he shines in parts, from those borrowed crumbs of knowledge.

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