Why Do I Call Myself a “Hindu”?

Inevitably online when I refer to myself as a Hindu someone is ready to tell me that that word is incorrect.

“Hinduism” they say is a word invented by the British. “Hinduism” others say refers to people who live along the Indus river and cannot refer to me. You should be using Sanatana Dharma they tell me.

If it comes up in conversation I may tell people that the real word for Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma but in my day to day life I identify with the word “Hindu” and that’s what I call myself.


Because the people around me have at least heard of it and are able to remember the word. For a while before I identified as Hindu I told people I was an Advaita Vedantist if asked my religion. The problem with that was I then had to spend an hour explaining what Advaita is to people who only had a passing curiosity about my religious affiliation. Plus the people I was talking to couldn’t say the words and so could never remember what it was I had called myself.

Things got a whole lot simpler when I stared using the word “Hindu” instead.

People may not have an in-depth knowledge of what that means, but they knew it came from India and they had some context they could place it in.

My collegue here at Patheos, Padma Kuppa, has also addressed this issue with a lovely post: Call Me Hindu. Her last paragraph sums up another great reason not to be afraid to use the word “Hindu”:

As Shakespeare said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet . . .”—whatever phrase you choose to call it or the person whose beliefs are derived from it, it has some pretty amazing things to offer such as pluralism, yoga, and Vedanta. Maybe those who are uncomfortable with the terms “Hindu” and “Hinduism” will realize that the only way to dispel these misunderstandings and foster an awareness of its value is by accepting the terms and explaining them correctly.

There’s a saying that the horse has already left the stable. It’s too late now to go back and prevent the words “Hindu” and “Hinduism” from being the ones associated with our religion. Those are the words, like it or not, that refer to what we are. So, as Ms. Kuppa says, it is time to take hold of those words and teach people what they really mean.



Stay in touch! Like Patheos Hindu on Facebook:

Should We Judge a Religion on the Actions of Its Followers?
Navratri 2016
The Peak of Life
Trump Is No Friend To Hindus
About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Auki

    I feel that Sanatana Dharma is neither Hinduism or a religion. However, you make reasonable points about identifying as a “Hindu” for the sake of allowing others to file you away neatly in their little conceptual boxes of the world’s religions.

    “Sanatana” means eternal, perennial, never beginning or ending, abiding, universal, ever-present, unceasing, natural, enduring.

    “Dharma” is from dhri, meaning to hold together, to sustain, harmony, The Way, Divine Design, righteousness, compassion, Natural Law, essential nature, morality, ethics, Truth, philosophy, Natural Order, flow, spirituality, wisdom, purest insight, cosmic blueprint, inherent or intrinsic nature, Law of Being, duty & responsibility.

    “Sanatana Dharma” means eternal path, the never beginning or ending Way, perennial philosophy, universal tradition, All-Pervading Truth, natural flow. The Sanatana Dharma eternally holds All together.

    By its nature, Sanatana Dharma is:

    ~ Experience based rather than belief based.

    ~ Without any ideological divisions.

    ~ Beyond any historical date of founding.

    ~ The process of growth, which comes from the seed.

    ~ Inherent in & inclusive of all.

    ~ Applicable to all people of all places & times.

    ~ In the world, while above the world.

    ~ Spirit-centered rather than prophet-centered.

    ~ Devoid of sectarianism or denominationalism.

    ~ Both immanent & transcendent.

    ~ The whole & the parts.

    ~ Loving of all & excluding of none.

    The universal flow of Dharma, regardless of what name you call it, whether Dharma or some other name, has eternally existed. It has been before any of the great teachers were born. It is not better than, or alternative to, but is inclusive of all. Dharma is that out of which our earth & humanity itself emerged. Dharma not only is, but always was & always will be. To live in alignment with & to know the true nature of that Sanatana Dharma is one of the ways of describing the highest goal of life.

    Dharma vs. Religion

    (Swami Rama offered this perspective:)

    “The words religion & dharma denote two entirely different concepts & perspectives:

    Religion is comprised of rituals, customs & dogmas surviving on the basis of fear & blind faith.

    Dharma ~ a word, unfortunately, with no English equivalent ~ encapsulates those great laws & disciplines that uphold, sustain, & ultimately lead humanity to the sublime heights of worldly & spiritual glory.

    Religion ~ established in the name of God, a religion is an institution that requires a growing number of adherents for its expansion & future existence. A religion discriminates against human beings who do not belong to its particular order & condemns their way of living & being.

    Dharma is eternal, looking for no followers for its propagation. With no discrimination whatsoever, it leads a human being beyond the realms of man-made, institutionalized dictums. Instead of creating fear of God, it makes God manifest in the human heart, not in an anthropomorphic form, but as the absolute & universal One in whom all diversities reside in perfect harmony.”

    • http://opportunityseekers20.blogspot.it AndyT

      I like your definition of Sanatana Dharma!
      Something my ideal of Christianity should be, too!

    • HARRY

      There are few things that you can add, but I am happy with this, because it covers most things or should I say 99% of things that Hinduism addresses.

      • Ambaa

        You make great points! And I do often remind people that Sanatana Dharma *is* the eternal way. It was not created and can never be destroyed. It is, simply, truth.

      • Beverley-usa

        Me I find a very useful Gadget for Exercises and Fitness
        Tracks steps, distance, calories burned and active minutes
        Slim, comfortable and easy to wear
        Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband, Black


    Couldn’t agree more, and that’s exactly what we are, and will always be. :)

  • sashi

    look i have already told you that a white and a muslim cannot convert to Hinduism.
    The sins committed by you have not been repaid to you.
    We indians know how cunning whites are.wherever they go they create problems.
    you cultureless whites were abusing Hindus 50 years back and suddenly you are in love with the same illiterate Hindus.we know its going to create problem for us.so stop your nonsense of showing love for Hinduism.
    The sins committed by you people cannot be washed even by Ganga.
    In anyway in the eyes of Hindus any convert is taken as a traitor.so certainly you too are a traitor of your own religion.go back to your own religion of your barbarian ancestors of christianity.

    Hindus will never accept you.In the eyes of Hindus whites are children of rapists,looters,dacaiots,thugs,thief etc.
    we cannot think of white in any good term neither do the Hindu Gods.
    You whites have already destroyed half of India now with your cultureless society you want to destroy its last surviving things.You people cannot do any good thing in this world.your barbarian ancestors converted millions to your barbarian religion of christanity now you people want to destroy it completely.
    stop this mockery of Hinduism.

    • Arjun

      Apologies if i am sounding rude but i need to say this.You are directing your anger towards a wrong person and in wrong blog. You need to seriously stop stereotyping people based on their ethnicity. There are many “White Hindus” (although because of their less numbers they are not prominently visible) who are more loyal to Hinduism and do more service to Hinduism than people with Hindu sounding names and with brown skin but are a bunch of self hating people always dissing and blaming Hinduism for all the ills in India.If you are concerned about Hinduism, then you should be judging people based on their service and knowledge and propagation of Hinduism, not on their skin color or ethnicity. Because of ignorant people like you (assuming you are a Hindu), Hinduism and Hindus get a bad name.

      You are also using the word “Indian” (“We Indians know how cunning whites are “). The author of this blog is not a Indian, she is a Hindu. Are you also making the same mistake which many “whites” also make ? (Indian = Hindu, American = Christian etc ). Hindu is understood as a religious term, Indian is a nationality. Both are not one and the same. When us Indians use words like “Whites are cunning” we need be more specific since “White” is very ambigious term and can mean many things to many people. I am guessing when you say “Whites are cunning” or “whites did harm to us “, you are referring to British colonialists who colonized India or Portugese Inquisitors who killed Hindus for not converting to Christianity or German and British and recently American “Indologists” who re interpreted Hinduism to suit their political and ideological agendas or American and European Christian evangelical organizations converting thousands of illiterate and poor Hindus in the guise of NGOs etc.These are all valid concerns which i have as well and understand your anger but as i said, you are targeting a wrong person and we should not generalize every “white” as anti-India or anti-Hindu.

      • sashi

        Not just British but the whole of europe colonized the world.
        why do u find whites in america,australia,s.africa americas etc.
        Its because these barbarians were killing everyone in these lands.

        You know what these “white americans” are?
        Actually from the 16-18 century these whites were going to america.They then killed the real people of the land.All of them and those who were not killed were(and still) kept in small RESERVED AREAS,out of which they cannot do anything.Then they were converted to christanity by these whites by forcing them into special boarding schools.
        since all the native people were killed then who was going to work for them.So they brought SLAVES FROM AFRICA..

        Do you know how these slaves were brought?
        first of all whites didn’t considered these blacks as humans.most of the blacks wanted to die than to live because of their condition.
        these africans were brought to americas by ships.These people were chained and made to sleep in rows naked.they were not given food nor time for recreational activities.more than 90% of the slaves died in the journey and then they were thrown into the atlantic ocean.More than 3 crores dead bodies were thrown into the ocean.Then they reached american colonies where they were sold as goods.
        Do you know who bought these slaves?
        Actually any white who had a few hundred pound used to come to americas.for 500 pounds they used to buy, 400 acres of land + 100 slaves.So these slaves were used to toil the land for the consumption of these barbarian whites.

        Do you know how slaves were treated?
        it was allowed that a white can rape 23 black women in a month.(it’s an unimaginable situation but its a fact)
        These women were raped IN FRONT OF WHITE WOMEN but these white women DID NOTHING.Infact these white women used to threaten black slaves that if they dont work then their husband willl rape you.White men used to rape them and them beat them with hunters,and slaves were forced to say thank you for the treatment.

        Now tell me do you still call these white women as women?Women are supposed to be the most compassionate of all but here the word barbarianism is too small for their sin.

        do you still think that these kind of people should be allowed in our faith?Do not forget that whites came to our country as traders and then……………we have paid too big a prize for this and still paying.
        If these people are allowed in our faith then the will destroy it with their culture.

        • saadhak shriman

          Britishers colonized us? Yes.
          They looted our wealth, exploited us? Yes.
          Slavery was rampant in USA? Yes.
          They were all brought from Africa? Yes.
          Is the author of this blog responsible for all that? No.
          Does she deserve hate? No.
          Is she a Hindu (better)? Certainly.
          What do you need now? Some education, peace of mind, meditation and some reasoning skills.

          • Kumar

            This guy ‘sashi’ is just rambling. Hinduism related things (yoga, festivals) have exploded in the west in the last 4-5 years and this is being seen as competition by some members of other faiths. This guy might just be an avatar posing as a Indian to spread hatred.

            As you correctly point out he has horrible reasoning skills, but I think logic and truth are not his pursuit. He just wants to defame the community.

          • saadhak shriman

            And the sad part is that there are many like him in our society; from what I observe in the comments, radicalization of our peaceful, ancient and tolerant religion has already started. If these people are Hindu, I’m afraid they are doing just the opposite of what Hinduism stands for.

          • Kumar

            To be honest, I am myself a BJP supporter. I know many who are right of the center and this guy would then be more right than any right-winger I know of. That is why I find his reaction to be really outstanding (pun intended).

            Radicalization must not be allowed to happen and I hope good education will counter that significantly. Moreover, sensible people must ensure that hatred is not allowed to win.

          • saadhak shriman

            BJP was the only alternative left after the pathetic rule of congress, though I din’t agree with many policies of BJP in the past but I think Modi is doing it pretty good now, I am hopeful of the future.
            Yes, education is the need of the hour, to get rid of extremism and violence especially against women, along with accountability and better implementation of law.

    • Kumar

      I really doubt what your affiliation is ! Keep your hate to yourself and don’t sell it in the name of hindu dharma.

      It is absolutely not correct in either the scriptural sense, in the historical sense or in the moral sense. Hindus are not going to consider her a traitor. It is absolutely a bogus charge. In fact for all we know she is a better hindu dharma follower than many so called ‘born hindus’. Anyway keep this hate to yourself.

      • sashi

        Hindus do consider converted Hindus as traitors.ITS A FACT.
        After all who divided our country in 1947……….these converted muslim traitors.

        for converted christian never wanted a free India.they appealed to british that they should look after them as they are also christian especially south indian christians.

        look into the history of India and you will find the answer.

        she cannot be a Hindu.Hindu values and western christian values are completely opposite of each other.A person cannot be a Hindu and western at the same time.East never meets west.

        She thinks (she is a Hindu) does not mean she is.

        • Sri

          There are Indians who oppose Hinduism. The same way there are westerners who support Hinduism!

        • Kumar

          Are you serious ! I doubt if you are a Hindu at all the more now.

          What is the relationship between people who left hinduism and people who wish to join it (Answer: Nothing) ? The issue in South India has little to do with religion. It had to do with the idea of Dravidians as a separate race (a theory supported and popularized by the British). Genetic evidence has now laid to waste that theory.

          Anyways, you are mixing two entirely different things and trying to promote hatred. Sorry that won’t work.

        • saadhak shriman

          Just tell me, are you a RSS supporter?

    • saadhak shriman

      Well, there are many ways in which I can reply to your comment. A comment full of factual and grammatical errors and filled with hate and ignorance. Just calm down a bit and listen.
      You called “whites” cultureless and cunning, just because their ancestors ruled over us? How irrational is this? Prahalad was Hiranyakashyap’s son, so, by your analysis he should have been a demon as well? You can’t judge a person by his caste, religion, nor even by their ancestors. Doesn’t Hindu Dharma teach it?
      Aren’t you a sinner, aren’t we all sinners? It’s better you think of washing your sins. And if you actually are an Indian, you would by now have known that our country is treating it’s women very badly, rampant rapes and crimes against women are happening. Now don’t you say that the “whites” taught us to treat our women badly.
      And you talk about barbarism, if you forgot (or don’t know at all), just recall what happened in 1984 and 2002. Even in the past, we were just fighting and killing each other.
      Hindus have, and will accept her more willingly than you. She’s trying to find happiness and has chosen this path. Keep this hate to yourself, she doesn’t deserve a bit of it.

      • sashi

        i called whites cunning because they spread the notion of “personal interest in everything” in the entire world.
        why whites are not allowed in some main Hindu temples?
        because 70 years back they were trampling those temples with their dirty shoes,breaking idols or stealing them.The memory of whites and muslims are etched in the temples.

        crimes against women in india are increasing because of the westernisation of the society.People are confused and perplexed which way to go—Indian or western.Indian system teaches sex is bad for inner development while western system teaches sex is casual and says life is about economy(money) plus sex .This casual approach to sex is increasing rape.People are no more connected to their roots.I am in no way defending rape but saying this is what you get when 2 system works on a single mind.
        A classic case of westernization is— “surrogate babies” and “sugar babies”.Capitalism and westernization had made it possible that even a baby and motherhood can be soled.isn’t surrogacy selling of babies or a woman womb under the garb of modernity.Another is the sugar baby,where old Americans(60+) goto poor countries like Ukraine(Odessa) to buy girls as young as 20 years old.There is no stigma attached to it because westernization has brought everything to money, sex and personal gratification.

        whatever happened in 2002 was wrong but it was in self-defence.Muslims burnt the whole train compartment killing many-many Hindu pilgrimages.So 2002 happened because Hindus wanted to save themselves.self protection is not killing.
        1984 was organised by congress party and most of the killers were muslims.
        Have you ever questioned why we Hindus, the most tolerant people on earth are becoming so intolerable?Its because after 1400 years of engagement with islam,500 years of active engagement with christian west and 1000 years of slavery we have learnt that if you want to survive then you have to fight.we dont want our deadly and persecuted history to be repeated in the future so we need to fight.
        Look whats happening to Yazzides.If they don’t fight then do you think they can survive.Who is responsible for this mess in iraq?again Americans +muslims.
        You questioned 2002 to me.have you ever asked why billions of people were killed by whites.where are Hindus in Pakistan?

        You will find Hindus are the only nation who have so much restraint and tolerance even after division of their nation in 3.Other people would have become barbarian.(eg.–palestine)

        i want to ask a question to you and to “THE WHITE HINDU”——–DO YOU THINK Hindu Vedic Philosophy is compatible with that of the western philosophy.?isn’t she living a dual life?
        I don’t hate “the white Hindu” but thinks about her welfare.
        why would i hate her?she hasn’t done any wrong to me or anyone.But i don’t want to see her hanging between 2 civilisation.It will have negative impact on her psyche.

        • Kumar

          You are again raking up issues for which are not relevant. Are you personally responsible for India’s myriad problems ? We all know that India has many problems and many of them have nothing to do with out-of-country influences.

          Finally, as a Hindus in general belief in reincarnation. You never know in which life she was a hindu and now that connection is calling her back again.

          • sashi

            i don’t believe in reincarnation.
            But even if she was a Hindu and Indian in her previous life—-in this life she is a western.
            I don’t want to see anyone living a dual life.Hinduism is the product of Indian culture and civilization which is at complete odd with the west.
            The basics of both the civilization are opposite of each other.
            You cannot wear a BINDI on a jeans/top because it looks odd for that you have to wear sari.so west and east cannot survive together.
            so she should leave Hinduism and go back to her christian past.

          • Kumar

            Oh so after ranting about half the world, you are suddenly concerned about her living a dual life !

            Proudly say – No to birth based discrimination ! No ! No ! No !

            (Don’t bother to reply; I have serious doubts regarding if you are hindu at all, so I won’t be engaging you further)

        • Kumar

          You know the biggest enemy of hinduism – discrimination based on birth ! We had long list of reasons why people should belong to a certain caste and stick to what has been prescribed for that caste. Whatever might have been the idea behind caste, what was finally implemented was a blind implementation based on birth. That has cost us an arm and a leg and I promise as a Hindu to not repeat that mistake which is costing my motherland so badly.


        • saadhak shriman

          In your view, everything bad is due to the West and their values along with the Muslims, while everything good is us and our practices. That’s such a dogmatic viewpoint. Understanding and accepting our own fault is also a part of the game, you only see one side of the coin, The Britishers did a few good things, along with the bad ones, they united us, else you and me would have been living under Islamic rule today. The fact that we were 100 and more smaller states fighting with each other, we were never together. While you count all the negative things, give credit for the good things. The western culture is different but then they contributed so much to science and technology, we would not have been arguing had there been no PC and internet. You fail to see those things, you fail to acknowledge facts and you fail in reasoning. The women and low caste people were quite often treated very badly in earlier times during the rule of Hindu Kings. Our society was full of stigmas and superstitions back then. And the massacres of 84 and 02 were done by Hindus as well. And not all Muslims those who were killed were involved in the train burning incident, children and women killed were not there to burn that train.
          You are just another brainwashed kid of RSS, one step behind Hitler, thinking that we are the best in the world, the greatest country, the best race and the most innocent people and that every other person is a sinner. I say all this in spite of being a devout Hindu and an Indian who accepts and can see both sides of the coin.

          And don’t talk about Pakistan, they are paying for what they did, they will be in a sorrow state for ever, that’s called Karma. And if you think we should do the same with our minorities, then what will the difference be between them and us? We are not in war, we don’t need to fight, we just have to elect good people to power, wipe out all the injustice, lawlessness, poverty, crimes, corruption from our society.

          • sashi

            you fool if you don not the history then dont write anything.mughals were not removed by english but marathas.Whenever an empire breaks anarchy prevails and cunning english took benefit of it and colonised us.
            And you are that traitor who is proud of slavery.
            Our country have always lost not because we were weak but because of traitors like you.

            You should know that before the coming of the british we were economically very strong otherwise why every country on earth would have wanted to trade with us.
            Before the coming of cunning british there was industries in India.Indians were not living in cave man’s era.you need industries to be economically strong.
            And 1st thing british did was to subdue all the industries in India.Millions were without job and when the drought came all died.
            read 1770,1943 bengal famine,1885 south India famine.
            These all famine took place in the british controlled territory and not in princely India. why?between 1860-1900 more than 4 crore people died of hunger and 28% Indians became landless.
            who these landless people were?these landless people were Dalits.this thing increased the animosity towards Dalits.their condition became like dogs.whole of India was in hunger.we were best in terms of science and tech before the coming of muslims.They destroyed our learning centres.remember NALANDA.Nalanda was not alone.there were hundreds of schools and universities destroyed by these barbarians.
            And english developed sc.and tech from the money looted from our country.Just read how much they looted after the battle of palassey.
            why industrialisation in england took place after 1765?its because they got all the looted money from India after 1757 and invested in their own country.
            And then 1st thing they did was to dismantle Indian industries.why?because they never wanted a competition.Now India was just a importer of british goods alone.

            why in India gold is considered precious?because till the 18 th century India imported only 2 things from other countries—–horses and gold.And India was the largest exporter of goods in the world but then british turned it into a largest importer within 30 years.In international trade gold was the ultimate currency. And you can get gold through export.So british stopped export from India so that all the gold of the whites remain with them.

            why do you think there was no industry in India till 1947.because british never allowed it to be.

            India is free but still there are people who are slave like you.I wish you SHOULD have born in england and not in my country.
            I am not an RSS supporter.But i do believe that we are the best people and the best people live here in India alone.we are the greatest country and the best race indeed.

            around 99% problems of the world are created by whites and muslims.why?

            DONT LECTURE ABOUT 84 AND 02.We never kill innocents until they kill us.you will find India is the only nation where minorities live like lions. So it is our Dharma to protect all the Hindus anywhere in the world even if that country is pakistan.India was and is a Hindu nation.
            Have you ever thought why Hindus are annihilated and obliterated in pakistan because there are some traitors like you who will always raise finger at those Hindus who talks of Hindus.
            I know India is full of traitors and this world is full of barbarians. And we need to work hard to civilise this world.
            so i think it is our Dharma to civilise them.

          • saadhak shriman

            Haha, Marathas removed the Mughals. Read the books again, I have far more knowledge and wisdom than you brainwashed kid.

            After death of Shivaji, there was no major threat to Mughals, of course they used to trouble the Mughals but the Mughala had a huge army and had control over huge part of India, and the marathas were in a very small area compared to the Mughals. If you think we had been a HIndu majority country had the british not come and that Marathas could have thrown the Mughals out, then I would say wake up from your dream small ignorant kid.

            “You should know that before the coming of the british we were economically very strong” who was strong? The mughals were strong, not we, the Hindus. We were always oppressed from kashmir to the south, forced to convert to Islam. A few Hindu kings were there who were just acting on behalf of the Mughals. The britishers broke the backbone of the Mughals, not you and not any Hindu king and not marathas.

            All what you mentioned, the Industrial revolution, famines and so on, they were all the result of colonialism, did I ever say that britishers didn’t do it? They were here to make profit. What I meant was we should also acknowledge what they did right.

            I know you are a bajrang dal and massacred thousands in the name of religion. You call me traitor, but your views are more like those of hitler and the ISIS. I wish you were born in Arab and fought for ISIS. Don’t worry there are many brainwashed people in HInduism also, who kill, loot and rape in the name of religion, who are also a blot on Hinduism. Hinduism doesn’t teach to hate and nor create fear in the minds of others. It treats everyone equal, NOT I AM THE ONLY RIGHT PERSON AND ALL ELSE IS WRONG

  • JohnE_o

    And also, you won’t have other folks saying, “yeah I love that band!”