Posted on February 27, 2007
In trying to understand what makes a Hindu a Hindu, I have come across various explanations of the defining characteristics of hindus and Hinduism. Unlike Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or any of the “modern” religions, there is no one list of commandments, or basic tenets, or “pillars”, or even “rules of living” that one has to follow, that defines what makes a Hindu a Hindu. In this respect, Hinduism is not an “organized” religion – speaking very literally. I intend to examine what being a Hindu is all about in a series of articles, written whenever I have time to organize my thoughts. When I done with the series, I will create a list that links to all the articles in the series, and write a summary. This is part of the series, “Define Hinduism”.
Today we look at the judicial definition of “Hindu”.
The Supreme Court of India defines the qualities of a Hindu in the ruling of the case, “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal“. The full text of the ruling is available here. The case was regarding declaring Ramakrishna Mission as a non-Hindu, minority religion, under the Indian constitution. So without further ado, here is the relavant portion of the proceedings, which defines the characteristics of a “Hindu”:
The Court Identifies Seven Defining Characteristics of Hinduism and by extension Hindus:
- Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.
- Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that
truth was many-sided.
- Acceptance of great world rhythm, vast period of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless
succession, by all six systems of Hindu philosophy.
- Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.
- Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.
- Realization of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.
- Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as
Read that last one again. I was left wondering if that did not annul the first six Hinduism is really difficult to define. So then, how do you convey a whole picture of what it is to be a Hindu? You present all the facts and thoughts, you provide access to history, and you let the other person form a picture for himself. Given the vast streams of thought in Hinduism – his picture will fit into what Hinduism is. I consider my idea of Hinduism conveyed if the recipient understands that there is no one definition, and also understands the spirit of Hinduism. I think Hinduism is the longest surviving “natural” or “pagan” religion.
Commentary is cheap, and I shall contribute no more cheap junk to this post. In the coming articles in this series, I will try to define Hinduism from various different angles, hoping to let you gain the perspective and 3-dimensional depth that viewing it from different angles will provide!