Keeping geographical location aside, who is considered to be a Hindu? (i.e. not belonging to other religions)
Should that person accept authority of someone (Vedas, some God, philosophy etc.)?
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In his lecture The Common Bases of Hinduism, Swami Vivekananda says the following on being Hindu:
There are certain great principles in which, I think, we — whether Vaishnavas, Shaivas, Shāktas, Gāṇapatyas, whether belonging to the ancient Vedantists or the modern ones, whether belonging to the old rigid sects or the modern reformed ones — are all one, and whoever calls himself a Hindu, believes in these principles. Of course there is a difference in the interpretation, in the explanation of these principles, and that difference should be there, and it should be allowed, for our standard is not to bind every man down to our position. It would be a sin to force every man to work out our own interpretation of things, and to live by our own methods.
He then goes on to define those principles:
A Hindu must believe that the Vedas form the basis of the Hindu religion. And that they're the last court of appeal to settle spiritual differences between various Hindu sects.
Perhaps all who are here will agree on the first point that we believe the Vedas to be the eternal teachings of the secrets of religion. We all believe that this holy literature is without beginning and without end, coeval with nature, which is without beginning and without end; and that all our religious differences, all our religious struggles must end when we stand in the presence of that holy book; we are all agreed that this is the last court of appeal in all our spiritual differences. We may take different points of view as to what the Vedas are. There may be one sect which regards one portion as more sacred than another, but that matters little so long as we say that we are all brothers in the Vedas, that out of these venerable, eternal, marvelous books has come everything that we possess today, good, holy, and pure. Well, therefore, if we believe in all this, let this principle first of all be preached broadcast throughout the length and breadth of the land. If this be true, let the Vedas have that prominence which they always deserve, and which we all believe in. First, then, the Vedas.
A Hindu must believe in the Supreme God - personal or impersonal.
The second point we all believe in is God, the creating, the preserving power of the whole universe, and unto whom it periodically returns to come out at other periods and manifest this wonderful phenomenon, called the universe. We may differ as to our conception of God. One may believe in a God who is entirely personal, another may believe in a God who is personal and yet not human, and yet another may believe in a God who is entirely impersonal, and all may get their support from the Vedas. Still we are all believers in God; that is to say, that man who does not believe in a most marvelous Infinite Power from which everything has come, in which everything lives, and to which everything must in the end return, cannot be called a Hindu. If that be so, let us try to preach that idea all over the land. Preach whatever conception you have to give, there is no difference, we are not going to fight over it, but preach God; that is all we want. One idea may be better than another, but, mind you, not one of them is bad. One is good, another is better, and again another may be the best, but the word bad does not enter the category of our religion. Therefore, may the Lord bless them all who preach the name of God in whatever form they like! The more He is preached, the better for this race. Let our children be brought up in this idea, let this idea enter the homes of the poorest and the lowest, as well as of the richest and the highest — the idea of the name of God.
That nature has always existed and will continue to exist. There is no end.
The third idea that I will present before you is that, unlike all other races of the world, we do not believe that this world was created only so many thousand years ago, and is going to be destroyed eternally on a certain day. Nor do we believe that the human soul has been created along with this universe just out of nothing. Here is another point I think we are all able to agree upon. We believe in nature being without beginning and without end; only at psychological periods this gross material of the outer universe goes back to its finer state, thus to remain for a certain period, again to be projected outside to manifest all this infinite panorama we call nature. This wavelike motion was going on even before time began, through eternity, and will remain for an infinite period of time.
That the human soul (ātman) is eternal. It cannot be destroyed and can only be liberated which is when it stops taking birth.
Next, all Hindus believe that man is not only a gross material body; not only that within this there is the finer body, the mind, but there is something yet greater — for the body changes and so does the mind — something beyond, the Ātman — I cannot translate the word to you for any translation will be wrong — that there is something beyond even this fine body, which is the Ātman of man, which has neither beginning nor end, which knows not what death is. And then this peculiar idea, different from that of all other races of men, that this Ātman inhabits body after body until there is no more interest for it to continue to do so, and it becomes free, not to be born again, I refer to the theory of Samsāra and the theory of eternal souls taught by our Shāstras. This is another point where we all agree, whatever sect we may belong to.
PS. This wiki is only meant for Swami Vivekananda's definition of Hindu.
The term "Hindu" is a historic name given to the people, who used to reside in northern India, especially around the "Sindhu" river. After 7th century, gradually the term was increasingly used for the whole undivided Indian subcontinent.
With emergence of Islam & Christianity, many people in India changed their belief system to the foreign religions. Eventually the "Hindu" became an identity for SanAtani-s (viz. believers of SanAtana Dharma), Jains, Buddhishts, Sikhs & few other minorities.
The ancient scriptures cannot comment on this term for obvious reasons. Interestingly the supreme court of India has defined this term in a broad yet succinct manner. This can be considered the most authoritative reference, as it's coming from a very reliable entity.
Following is an excerpt from the historic “Bramchari Sidheswar Shai and others Versus State of West Bengal (1995)” case:
A Hindu is identified among below points:
Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matter and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy.
(This point is the most recognized in this site.)
Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent's point of view based on the realization that truth was many-sided.
('My momma is better than yours' - is not acceptable!)
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.
(This is similar to the theory of Eternal Return).
Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.
(Substantially differentiates from Abrahmic religions, especially Christianity and Islam.)
Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many.
(No copyright way or rule to Moksha. Anyone can be eligible, good or bad.)
Realisation of the truth that Gods to be worshipped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshipping of idols.
(This includes Dvaitans, Advaitans & atheists.)
Unlike other religions or religious creeds Hindu religion not being tied-down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.
(This in fact, ease down the pressure on the point-1. Believing in any particular philosophy is fine.)
Controversial though it may sound, all are Hindus—whether they know it or not. Some are more sinful, some are more righteous. Some are more knowledgeable, others have none. But, the same Universal laws of Hinduism apply to all of us no matter what religion or path we profess.
Brahman is the offering, Brahman is the oblation poured out by Brahman into the fire of Brahman. Brahman is to be obtained by him who always sees Brahman in action.
My sources are anumāṇa & upamāṇa.
Taittiriya Sanhita VII:3.1
The Rc verses are limited, the Samans are limited, and the Yajuses are limited, but of the Brahman there is no end
Maitrâyana Brâhmana Upanishad, Fifth Prapathaka:1
'thou art All, thou art the Imperishable. In thee all things exist in many forms, whether for their natural or for their own (higher) ends. Lord of the Universe, glory to thee! Thou art the Self of All, thou art the maker of All, the enjoyer of All; thou art all life, and the lord of all pleasure and joy 4. Glory to thee, the tranquil, the deeply hidden, the incomprehensible, the immeasurable, without beginning and without end.'"
Taittirīya Āraṇyaka 1.2 lists smṛti as the first of four means of epistemology.
Most of the Upanishads
In the Holy text the Merutantra, the word ‘Hindu’ is defined as ‘Hinani Gunani dushyati iti Hindu.’ Meaning that which destroys or dushyati the inferior Raja-Tama components or guns (subtle spiritual components) is a Hindu. Thus, to be a Hindu is to follow a way of life that enhances the spiritually pure Sattva component and Sattva predominant qualities like love, humility, courage, expansiveness, etc. and overcomes the spiritually impure Raja-Tama predominant attitudes like anger, attachment, jealousy, greed, lust, pride etc.
Hindu by birth and action
One can be a Hindu by his actions (karma) or birth (Janma). Karma Hindu -> is a Hindu by his deeds and qualities or spiritual components. Janma Hindu -> is a Hindu by birth. Since to be a Hindu is an attitude, a Karma Hindu is a true Hindu. He is Hindu by action and thought, a follower of Dharma and spreads Dharma, which is a sāttvik or spiritually pure way of life.
Saints on: Who is a Hindu?
Sometimes, people who would like to follow the Hindu way of life or be called Hindu, inquire about ritualistic procedures, such as dikshā to convert into Hindu Dharma. From time to time we also hear about people being accepted into Hindu Dharma after such rituals, which are performed by Hindu Dhaarmik authorities. Here we present some teachings by Hindu Saints on who is a Hindu:
His Holiness Sree Gulabrao Mahārāj on who should be called a Hindu:
“One who accepts the Vēds, Vendaangs, Purāṇas and related sects and one who has been born in a traditionally Hindu family.
One who sincerely accepts the above (the Veds, Vendaangs, Puraṇs and related sects) is also called a Hindu by initiation (Diksha Hindu).
One who does not accept either of the above, but has been born to Hindu parents is merely Hindu by birth (Janmaartha Hindu or Janma Hindu). The best definition is if both factors are present (as in point a. above), but if only one of the factors is present (as in points b. and c. above), I consider the definition of a Hindu by initiation to be superior.”
His Holiness Kane Mahārāj on the definition of a Hindu:
“One who despises Raja-Tama predominant, inferior attitudes, and the resulting inferior physical, verbal and mental actions, One who is immersed in a Sattva predominant attitude and hence, one who considers worship of the Divine (spiritual practice) as the sole purpose of life and attains God-realisation and One who follows the matchless path (Karmayoga) to guide society (in spiritual practice) should be called a Hindu. This is an expansive definition of the word Hindu. Thus, Hindu is a spiritually pure (Sattva predominant) attitude. It means to be a seeker (sādhak) of the Divine.”
In his book Why I Am a Hindu Tharoor says that unlike other religions Hinduism doesn't mandate its followers to abide by any specific set of rules. Even belief in god(s) is optional.
The first challenge, of course, was definitional. The name 'Hindu' itself denotes something less, and more, than a set of theological beliefs. In many languages, French and Persian amongst them, the word for 'Indian' is 'Hindu'. Originally, Hindu simply meant the people beyond the River Sindhu, or Indus. But the Indus is now in Islamic Pakistan; and to make matters worse, the word 'Hindu' did not exist in any Indian language till its use by foreigners gave Indians a term for self-definition. Hindus, in other words, call themselves by a label that they didn't invent themselves in any of their own languages, but adopted cheerfully when others began to refer to them by that word. (Of course, many prefer a different term altogether — Sanatana Dharma, or eternal faith, which we will discuss later.)
'Hinduism' is thus the name that foreigners first applied to what they saw as the indigenous religion of India. It embraces an eclectic range of doctrines and practices, from pantheism to agnosticism and from faith in reincarnation to belief in the caste system. But none of these constitutes an obligatory credo for a Hindu: there are none. We have no compulsory dogmas.
This is, of course, rather unusual. A Catholic is a Catholic because he believes Jesus was the Son of God who sacrificed himself for Man; a Catholic believes in the Immaculate Conception and the Virgin Birth, offers confession, genuflects in church and is guided by the Pope and a celibate priesthood. A Muslim must believe that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is His Prophet. A Jew cherishes his Torah or Pentateuch and his Talmud; a Parsi worships at a Fire Temple; a Sikh honours the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib above all else. There is no Hindu equivalent to any of these beliefs. There are simply no binding requirements to being a Hindu. Not even a belief in God.
I grew up in a Hindu household. Our home always had a prayer-room, where paintings and portraits of assorted divinities jostled for shelf- and wall-space with fading photographs of departed ancestors, all stained by ash scattered from the incense burned daily by my devout parents. I have written before of how my earliest experiences of piety came from watching my father at prayer. Every morning, after his bath, my father would stand in front of the prayer-room wrapped in his towel, his wet hair still uncombed, and chant his Sanskrit mantras. But he never obliged me to join him; he exemplified the Hindu idea that religion is an intensely personal matter, that prayer is between you and whatever image of your Maker you choose to worship. In the Hindu way, I was to find my own truth.
He further adds:
A Hindu can be astika or nastika: the terms are said to relate more to orthopraxy (action) rather than orthodoxy (belief), but action proceeds from a set of convictions. As an astika he can accept the sacredness of the Vedas, the existence of atman (the soul) and belief in God, or he can reject one or more of these credos and still be Hindu, an adherent of the nastika variant of Hindu philosophy. As an astika Hindu he can subscribe to any of the six major schools of philosophy, the Shad Darshanas (which I describe later); as a nastika Hindu he can declare allegiance to one of five schools, including Buddhism and Jainism, which after arising as reform movements against the ritualistic Hinduism of their day, were practically re-absorbed into the parent faith (though their adherents may not see it that way). Or the nastika can attach himself to the materialist Charvaka School, whose followers denounced most religious practices and devoted themselves to wealth and profit. The palette of options available is as colourful as the most inventive artist's.
PPS. This wiki is only meant for Shashi Tharoor's definition of Hindu.