Just before you go to offer your taxi driver a quarter pounder with cheese, just hear me out while I put things in simple English.
My dad comes from the holiest city in India, Banaras, an important sight for all Hindus. I have grown up following various customs and traditions, watching Ramayan cassettes on repeat and adhering to a beef free diet, in Australia, of all countries! Sausage sizzles are about as common here as dal and roti in India.
So after following all these traditions, learning about the various epics and their meanings and constantly making people feel bad when I tell them I cannot eat beef, all of a sudden I don’t have a religion?
I’m guessing the typical reaction would be: “but isn’t there like a billion of them in India?”
Yeah, there are a billion Hindus in India. But guess what, none of them practice Hinduism.
The term Hinduism has only been coined in recent times since the British Colonial rule in India. The term Hindu in essence is a geographical reference to someone who was born to the land that stretches over the entire Indian subcontinent.
What I am basically telling you is that all 1.25 billion people of India, as well as the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh are essentially Hindu. Their ancestral heritage all stems from the geographical land of the Hindus.
Don’t worry, I was shocked too. Like many others who have grown up with Indian culture and practices, I was blindly following the customs and traditions passed down to me, thinking I was practicing Hinduism.
So, if its not Hinduism, then what is it?
This is a little more difficult to answer, but I’ll give it my best attempt.
I’m going to do this by using the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Each are intrinsically the same (I’ve definitely upset someone here).
Meaning, each have a holy doctrine (Bible, Torah, and Quran), a unified vision of a higher being or God, as well as a designated place of worship. See I told you they’re the same.
Back to my point – If you look at so called Hindu practices, none of these three elements are consistent.
Yeah, of course there are many holy scriptures in the concept of Hindu like the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayan, Vedas, and Upanishads, but none act as a constitution, or the supreme doctrine of faith.
It is essentially each to their own.
You are a Hindu whether you worship a man, a woman, a monkey, a cow, or even a tree. Even if you worship nothing you are still a Hindu. Simply put, there is no belief system to the Hindu way of life. You can choose to believe in God or not believe in God and you are still Hindu. Every person has the ability to pick their own path to salvation.
I personally like the fact that there is no concrete idea of God amongst Hindus. We may carry on the beliefs of our families and ancestors, but we have complete freedom to make meaning of God in the way we want to.
Many religions say “God created us.” Having reflected on this topic for sometime now, as a Hindu, I believe that God is of our own making. It is not the ultimate, but the stepping stone towards achieving something meaningful in life.
We only have a short time on this earth. Making meaning is the only way we can grow, discover more about ourselves, and become better people. I am thankful to have been brought up in a deeply vibrant culture where individuality, interpretation and freedom reign supreme.