Is Hinduism a religion?

This question was asked on Quora and the questioner had added:

“RSS and BJP say everyone living in India is a Hindu. Then who are actual Hindus? Is Hinduism really a religion?”

I have expanded my original answer:

Whether Hinduism is a religion depends on how religion is defined. Most people probably would say that religion is:

about believing in an invisible Supreme Being, which is the cause of our existence,

about methods and rituals to worship it,

about living according to its laws or will.

In this case, Hinduism is definitely a religion. In fact, it is the Mother of all religions, because the Indian Vedas had postulated already in very ancient times the existence of such a Supreme Being. They called it Brahman (from big, expanding) and declared it cannot be imagined by the human mind, but the best description is Sat-Chit-Ananda (= it is true, knows itself and is blissful). It is all-pervading and therefore the essence (Latin: esse = to be) of everything, including us.

So why does the question arise whether Hinduism is a religion?

To find out, we need to look at those religions where nobody has a doubt that these are religions. The term ‘religion’ was first used for the Catholic Church and later for Islam, too, and nobody has a doubt that these two are the main religions in today’s world.

These two religions also are about the 3 points mentioned above. Yet there are significant differences.

The Supreme Being (called God or Allah respectively) is not the essence in all, but is a separate entity with certain personal traits. One most important trait is that He is jealous of other gods and wants the whole of humanity to worship only Him. Both religions give out a dire warning: those who do not accept this truth will burn eternally in hell.

How do these religions know that this is the truth? Because they claim that the Supreme Being himself has revealed this truth to one person (in the case of Christianity to Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago and in the case of Islam to Prophet Mohammed some 1400 years ago).

Here is where another definition of religion comes in – a “belief-system”. It needs blind, unverifiable belief in what the ‘founder’ of the religion has said and which is written down in a book.

If we look at history, the Church for which the term religion (Latin: to bind) was first used, did not allow its followers to leave the Church. Christianity had blasphemy laws with terrible punishment enforced by state laws, before Christian countries became secular only a couple of centuries ago. Many Islamic countries even today have blasphemy laws and Muslims are not allowed to leave Islam.

Now if religion means to bind, it can be safely assumed it meant that the followers were bound to the doctrine of the respective belief system. The followers had to ‘religiously’ stick to the doctrine.

Here Hinduism is clearly not a religion, because Hindus are not bound to any doctrine. Hinduism does not have one historical person as founder and does not require blind belief in what this founder said about the Supreme and how to live one’s life.

But Hindus also worship the Supreme in many different ways and forms, maybe even more ardently than the followers of other religions. So does this not make Hindus followers of a religion?

It does not. To realise that there is a supreme power and intelligence at the base of this universe and our person, is simply common sense and philosophy (Greek: love for wisdom). Even atheists have to acknowledge a supreme power. They call it nature. Fact is, we are neither in charge of our bodies and minds nor in charge of the universe.

The next step is logical: can we find out what this great power and intelligence is? The ancient Indian rishis did just this. They conducted an enquiry and inner observation and exploration into the truth, especially into the truth of what they really are. They discovered the existence of blissful oneness as the essence in themselves and in all – Sat-chit-ananda.

However, Satchitananda is hidden below thoughts and emotions, and it is not easy to still the mind. Shri Krishna compared in the Bhagavad Gita stilling the mind as difficult as stilling the wind. The aspirant needs detachment from egotistical desires and a lot of practise. And above all, he must WANT to realise the truth and thereby become free of wrong perception. Yet if someone is sincere in his aspiration, the ancient, divinely inspired Indian texts, give plenty of valuable advice – from murti pooja (the misunderstood, much maligned ‘idol-worship’), via hatha, jnana, bhakti and karma yoga, right to mediation on the formless Brahman. Divine Grace, too, favours the sincere seeker because the all-pervading truth is alive, and not some dead, theoretical construct.

That means to know the truth, religion is not necessary. In fact, it may be a hindrance, because religions do not even attempt to go beyond the mind and therefore miss discovering the absolute truth. There were several Christian and Muslim mystics who accidentally discovered their oneness with the Supreme and were hounded and even killed by the authorities of their respective religion.

So is RSS and BJP correct if they say that all those living in India are Hindus?

Both terms have the same root and a geographical connotation. Hindus/ Indians were those who lived beyond the Sindhu. Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha claims there is a shloka in Barhaspatya Samhita which calls the land between the Himalaya and Indusarovara (which has meanwhile disappeared under the sea) as Hindusthan. Dr. Subramanian Swamy says that the Chinese call Indians ‘Hindi’. So RSS and BJP have a point.

So why do Indian Christians and Muslims have no objection to be called Indians but resent to be called Hindus? Why are they so allergic to a mere “H”? The reason may be that the missionaries called the Indian tradition Hindu-ism, not Indian-ism, and did their best to make it look as the worst of all religions, yet assured their own flock that their respective religion alone has the ‘full truth’. The missionaries were successful in creating a wrong impression about the Indian tradition, but truth can never be hidden for long. In our times, when blind belief is more and more questioned, many Indians again discover the value of their tradition, and westerners, who started doubting their own belief system, also turn to India in their quest for fulfilment in life.

They probably would not say that they have found a better ‘religion’. They simply have found clarity about truth which is such relief compared to the distortion of truth and the hypocrisy about a “God” who loves only certain people and sends the rest to hell.

By Maria Wirth

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23 comments

  1. HINDUISM WILL NOT SURVIVE UNDER PRESENT CONDITIONS UNLESS HINDUS HAVE THEIR OWN NATION TO SUPPORT AND DEFEND . NEW BORN CULTURE LIKE ISLAM ARE VERY DEADLY WHEN THEY ARE IN MAJORITY. ALL OTHERS ARE ON DEAD BED .

    1. Arvind Tyaggi · · Reply

      true

  2. Himanshu Kumar · · Reply

    Maria in Russian means goddess associated with the god of destruction and true to her name when maria Ji speaks,its like she,the bhagwati uma,the consort of herself is speaking

  3. Pathmanathan Moodley · · Reply

    Hi Maria
    Wonderful, thought provoking and insightful
    Just to share , the maha Ganapathie principle simply put is, the force behind all of existence the very nature of being. Energy will remain in a state of unanimated suspension if no force is applied.
    When Maha Ganapathie is invoked as in all proceeding , a gateway and vibration is established to any specific or all the engeries this becomes THE CAUSE OF THE CAUSELESS , when the manifestation of thought into action this is the FORM OF THE FORMLESS
    Maha Ganapathie also represents that which resonates in every atom,every thought and in every action. The state of being

  4. Great article ma’am. His name is Subramanian Swamy. Please ignore if you’re referring to some other person with that name.

    1. thank you

    2. Dr. Subramanian Swamy received a PhD in Economics in 1965 from Harvard.

  5. Ashwin Rao · · Reply

    Even an atheist can be considered a Hindu.

    The concept of religion as we know and understand it today is post hoc as far as ancient South Asian ‘way of life’ (for want of a better terminology) is concerned. The ‘way if life’ was actually a microcosm of multiple belief systems all being existing simultaneously all valid individually as well as collectively.

  6. This is a great article and i will try to answer your doubts based on my knowledge.

    1. “RSS and BJP say everyone living in India is a Hindu. Then who are actual Hindus? Is Hinduism really a religion?”

    2. So why does the question arise whether Hinduism is a religion?

    3. How do these religions know that this is the truth? Because they claim that the Supreme Being himself has revealed this truth to one person (in the case of Christianity to Jesus Christ some 2000 years ago and in the case of Islam to Prophet Mohammed some 1400 years ago).

    4. Here Hinduism is clearly not a religion, because Hindus are not bound to any doctrine. Hinduism does not have one historical person as founder and does not require blind belief in what this founder said about the Supreme and how to live one’s life.

    5.So is RSS and BJP correct if they say that all those living in India are Hindus?

    6. So why do Indian Christians and Muslims have no objection to be called Indians but resent to be called Hindus? Why are they so allergic to a mere “H”?

  7. KRINVANTO SWAYAM ARYAM – Make yourself noble
    Only when this knowledge (of the Vedas) is put into practice (yoga) for the benefit of one’s protection from pain and misery it is called dharma, until then it remains religion.
    In other words, it is the intellect that must first be addressed in the elevation of the human soul.
    “In studying the systems of philosophy, it is necessary that the mind adopt a discipline of impartiality and sobriety. It must then be raised to an exalted mental condition through the process of reasoning. This intellectual function is required for the comprehension of recondite and invisible truths of matter and nature.” Swami Dayanand
    http://www.vjsingh.info/books.html

  8. Nice article but you tired to analyse based on your stand of opinion. Vedas greatest philosophical texts talks about soul, supreme being etc.. but Indian society has transformed and many things changed and deviated from study of vedas. You just stick onto them and say its a philosophy. You should conisider jts later transformation in the present society. Still case laid before supreme court to differentiate between “hindhuism” and “hinduthva” . You cleaverly ignored the word hinduthva to prove your point. “The jealous god tried make himslef supreme ” shows your stance. Thats doctrine of particular religion you cant say that. Kindly Talk about the contemporary meaning. You talk about fundamental philosophy of Vedas and try to provoke people. Yes vedas are fundamental , but while saying that even mention society’s deviation from it.
    Common belief and well established laws.
    Promising purification of sins.
    Salvation.
    Arent these present jn hindhuism atleast in present form of hindhuism?
    Hinduthva is a way of life but not hindhuism. Be practical and stirve for better human values.

    1. Arvind Tyaggi · · Reply

      akhil ji, not surprised over your explanation of the explanation by Maria ji. three points – 1. everybody analyses on the basis of his/her opinion. No doubt – you are doing the same. 2. don’t be like a common man who gets offended if somebody truly speaks for him (Hindu only). I found this article as an explicit opinion of someones’. Delete from your reply the word “cleverly” 3. the society has always derived based on his/her need. Purification or salvation is an individualistic approach.

  9. sreehari · · Reply

    Thanks Madam, for this wonderful article.

  10. Arvind Tyaggi · · Reply

    simply great as usual. But the basic question remains unanswered as to How to achieve the goal ?

    1. This needs brainstorming. But one important aspect is that this debate about religion is out in the open. People need to know. Then maybe they dare to think for themselves.

  11. Nice article, might have cleared doubts to so many people on the basics of Sanatana Dharma. You again pitched it very correctly. Sanatan Dharma cannot be uprooted as long as the World is exists. There will be some saviours like Sankaracharya emerge as and when there is a need. Well, that’s it. No need worry about.

  12. I’m absolutely left in awe and with no question regarding what you have written. Slow clapping. But the problem is, the truth is always bitter and that’s why rest of the world is trying to resist it including the very Indian converts.
    Nice one Maria. 😆

  13. Jeremiah A.V. Duomai · · Reply

    Maria, as a Christian I am not allergic to the term “Hindu”. The only problem is that some use the term to denote religion, and some use it to denote the territory. Recently RSS chief says that Muslims are Hindu by nationality. Fine. But the question is: If adherents of Islam are Hindus by nationality, and Muslims by faith, then what is RSS Chief by faith?

    Religion is to mean “bind” or to “connect”. It is not used in the sense of imprisoning, but in the sense of relating, connecting, linking with that which is sacred or divine or sublime. It is difficult to define religion precisely, and so normally it is defined in term of cultic rituals. Followers of Vedic religion used to say that theirs is not a religion, but a way of life. But there are Christians and Muslims as well who say similar thing. So I think it depends on how one defines religion.

    The God of the Bible is a jealous God, as you put it. But this is because Yahweh says that all other gods are lesser being, and Yahweh alone is the one supreme divine being, and this lesser ones are not worth our worship. And Jesus is the revelation of the supreme being. You refer to the Vedas to argue for your case, and I would refer to the Gospels of the Bible for my case. (The Gospels that tell of Jesus.) Question is: Which is more reliable?

    Bible never says Christians will go to heaven and the rest will burn in hell. This is a slightly twisted version. The term “Christians” was given by others, not coined by Christians. What the Bible says would be something like this: followers of the one supreme diving being i.e Jesus, will be with him i.e Jesus, and those who refuse to come to Jesus choose their own destiny i.e hell (whether “burning hell” is figurative or not is a debatable point). So it is not God who chooses certain people and send the rest to hell. God calls everyone, and it is those who refuse to come to God that choose to go to hell. ( This is also a point to note that even when God chooses not to force people to choose him, and instead respects human autonomy, how could human force people to choose to worship God and impose a religion on citizen through a state?)

    There is no monolithic “Indian tradition”. It is “Indian traditions”. The missionaries did not create wrong impression of this non existent Indian tradition. Christian missionaries came to Greater-India in the first century itself. It came to present day Pakistan in the 40s and the present day South India (Kerala-Tamil Nadu) in the 50s. This is long before the Europeans came to India.

    In the North East, it is a different story. For thousands of years, we were considered “untouchables”, and this great Vedic civilisation which is not far away from us did not reach out to us. Our ancestors revered the sun, moon, rain, wind etc. that they did not know about, hoping that such would spare them the wrath of flood, cold and heat. Famines, snakes, disease etc. killed them. The missionaries from America and Europe came, crossing the ocean, scaling peaks and tracking the jungles, to teach our ancestors ABCD, and how to treat fever with cold sponge, cultivate the field using buffaloes, employ irrigation system so that our grandparents would never have to hungry again and so on. Our ancestors asked these “saviour” what made them do this when the neighbours would consider them “untouchables”? The answer was “Jesus”. The love of Jesus made them do this. So our ancestors got attracted to Jesus.

    Show me what love is, and I shall follow you way!

    1. Jeremiah, if you feel love for Jesus, it’s great. Worship him. No Hindu will stop you. but just imagine for a moment that it is possible that someone else feels love for Shiva or Krishna or came to the conclusion that all this is Brahman and tries to become aware of that Unimaginable One. Now Christians will say, all those are misguided. They don’t know the Highest, which is only Christ, etc. They of course do not give a proof because there is no proof. It is based on blind belief.
      No problem if all think their own path is best – whether a Krishna or a Christ devotee. But the fact that the Christ devotee is indoctrinated to look down on the other, is it acceptable?
      Maria

      1. Jeremiah A.V. Duomai · ·

        Maria, if someone worships Shiva or Krishna, that’s his or her choice just as it is my choice to worship Jesus. And I think the state should respect our choices. I think we both agree there.

        What I would disagree is the part about blind belief. In natural sciences, maths or logic “proof” works slightly differently from how things work in history. Because in history “proof” will be trying to explain the events in the best possible way. So for me whether Jesus is indeed the one supreme Lord or not is to be answered as whether the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is historically true or not. Some try to do this by asking two questions: Did Jesus really die? And was Jesus seen to be alive few days later by people? Since this is your blog, and the main post is not really on this matter I would not want to give a long explanation on this subject.

        But do I look down on those who I think are misguided or mistaken? Not really!

        Or if I may throw back the question to you: You think that Christians position is untenable, do you look down on Christians for this untenable position? I don’t so. You think that our way of thinking is misguided or not acceptable, and I think that your way of thinking is misguided. I see it this way. There are lot of subjects on which our thinking is misguided or we are ill informed about, and we are just trying to learn more and more about reality with time.

  14. satish ramanathan · · Reply

    namaste………..kindly refer to AVATARA PURUSHA SWATANTARYA VEER SAVARKAR ji works on hindutva nationalism

  15. Ramachandran Nair · · Reply

    Very valid points and an excellent reply, Maria Wirth

    1. Arvind Tyaggi · · Reply

      how and where can I get it from. Is it book ?

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