What does it mean to be a Hindu? Lately I have been confronted over and over again with the question if people who were not born into the Hindu Dharm can be true Hindus?
The fact of the matter is that Hinduism can hardly be called a “religion” is the first place. There is no central doctrine. No set of laws. No requirements of lifestyle or dress. It is a way of life, a broad philosophy, a wide cultural precept.
One can be an atheist and be a Hindu. One can worship multiple representations of God and be a Hindu. One can worship one God and be a Hindu. One can be a vegetarian or a hefty meat eater and be a Hindu. One can go to the temple regularly or not at all and be a Hindu. One can be a Vaishanvite, Arya Samaji, Swami Narayan follower, Shiv Bhakt, Hare Krishna or almost anything else…and still be considered a Hindu.
With this incredible diversity, is there any one string that holds the concept of Hinduism together? What makes someone a Hindu?
Hinduism is encapsulated in Sanatan Dharm. Many have defined Dharm as Duty, but this is a shallow definition.
I recently heard an enlightening presentation by a friend of mine, Tim Shultz, who has been observing the South Asian community for decades. He suggested that we can look at Dharm as a COVENANT. And this covenant is something one is born into.
Is Sanatan Dharm a religion that one can convert to?
So why do we see bhakti yogis and celebrities like Julia Roberts claiming to be Hindus? Performing the rituals, chanting the Hanuman Chaalisa, reading the Bhagavad Gita or following a guru does not make someone a part of Sanatan Dharm. Its all about the covenant of dharm.
This “white Hinduism” is something else.
I am going to pick on the white people, since we are the people in the world that seem to want to adopt other people’s religions. When I see white people like Julia Roberts or Katy Perry who identify themselves as Hindu, I feel incredibly uncomfortable.
When I look at folks like the bhakti yogi movement. Many of these people LEAVE their family and family traditions rather than draw closer to their family. The opposite of what Dharm truly is.
Some of the aspects embedded in Hinduism that I find that most white Hindus are attracted to are:
- Worship of Mother figure (feminine aspects of God)
- Verbal and physical forms of worship
These people “follow” some principles of Hinduism, but the principles they choose to follow within Hindusim are the principles that differ MOST from white cultural Republican Christianity in America. What about family values? What about respect for elders? What about sacrifice? Essential parts of Dharm which are neglected in this brand of “Hinduism.”
Is “white Hinduism” merely a reaction to a decayed brand of cultural Christianity? An exotic escape? The newest religious fad?
Can we call someone a Hindu that does not embrace and embody dharm?
Additional note: due to high volume of response to this blog, I feel the need to set some qualifying ground rules.
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“Dusro ki jaya se pehle khud ko jaya kare.” – “Before winning over others, first win over your self.”