Monday, August 9, 2010

Hinduism - Is It A Religion?

It made an amusing reading yesterday, the news of Julia Roberts announcing 'I am a practicing Hindu'. The news read - "Julia Roberts has converted to Hinduism in the hope of having a peaceful life in her next incarnation and the Hollywood superstar regularly visits temples with her family to 'chant, pray and celebrate'..."

The basic question one should ask is - What is Hinduism? Is it a way of life, a sect a race or a religion? And if it is not a religion, is not converting to Hinduism an absurdity? Religions, of course, are framed in  rigid sets of codes of conduct. The very basis of a religion is disciplining a society in the hope of establishing an everlasting peaceful co-existence. Hence each religion is defined by its particular set of code, its beliefs and an assurance of good life in the next incarnation or a place in heaven, for the devout followers. Does Hinduism dictate any code of conduct to its followers? Does Hinduism demand following in the first place? Is Hinduism an expansionist organization? Is it a race?

Many learned thinkers have opined that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life which has to change in accordance with changing times and circumstances. That is why they vigorously argue that Hinduism is the most vibrant way of living. Many say that Hinduism gives total freedom to question all and sundry teachings including the Upanishads, which incidentally is universally agreed upon by top level spiritual thinkers as the core essence of Hinduism. Hinduism does not promote blind following, does not dictate terms for living.  They argue, it is the influence of various religions that make people blindly follow certain Hindu beliefs without questioning their veracity, making Hinduism yet another religion. In fact, true Hinduism has a place for atheism too. Hinduism offers an atheist to argue his case with the very rationalism he believes in. The Upanishads say, - do not accept God just because your teacher says so; discover God yourself.

When such is the case with Hinduism, where comes the question of conversion? When true Hinduism suggests discovering without blind following, every born human being is a Hindu. The beliefs come later as dictated by the prevailing society. Hinduism begins in nothingness, giving every opportunity in every split moment to realise life. Perhaps that is why the scriptural sayings like "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (The whole world is one family)" and "Dharmam chara; satyam vada (Dharma the way of living - Hinduism , is moving, vibrant; truth is stationary, permanent)"

Coming back to Julia Roberts, an accomplished actor highly capable of doing any movie role with great ability to depict the character very successfully, adapting to a given role is just like changing frocks to her. And it is so very natural for her to think that "practicing" religions is also a matter of adaptability. But Hinduism is not practice; does not offer you any rewards for your devout following or practicing and above all Hinduism is the only way of living in this world allows one the courage to question the belief of reincarnation and Karma.

At the end of the news column, one Trupti Patel of Hindu Forum of Britain aptly said "If Julia Roberts wants to call herself a Hindu, we welcome her into our Dharma and hope that she can be helpful in various charitable causes for the education and betterment of  Hindus around the world....." The HFB also hopes that it not just a cheap publicity stunt. (Julia's upcoming film Eat Pray Love is recently shot in India) Quite possible in today's world briskly selling "Yoga" and "Kundalini" in the lucrative spiritual market.

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