Book Club: How To Become a Hindu (Chapter Five)

Book Club: How To Become a Hindu (Chapter Five) August 3, 2014

The well respected Himalayan Academy and their guru Subramuniyaswami put out a book several years ago called How To Become a Hindu. Over the next few weeks I’ll be reading the chapters and discussing each one individually. Today we’re looking at the fifth chapter: Gurudeva Speaks on Ethical Conversion.

This week’s chapter is called Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers?

It has some very interesting categories and quotes from several respected sources. The first part of the chapter gives a number of definitions of what makes someone a Hindu.

Definitely an important question to clarify before moving on to Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers!

First of all, he distinguishes Hinduism from some of its “cousins”, like Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, in the acceptance of the Vedas as scriptural authority. Hindus believe in the Vedas, he explains, while what makes these off-shoots their own religions is that they do not.

“Those who follow the Hindu way of life are Hindus.”

Subramuniyaswami supports this with a quote from The Mahabharata in which Yudhishthira said that what makes someone a brahmin is conduct, rather than learning or birth.

Sri K. Navaratnam apparently gave these 11 beliefs as the fundamental basis of what makes someone Hindu…

1) A belief in the existence of God

2) A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body

3) A belief int he existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or maya

4) A belief int he principle of matter (prakriti or maya)

5) A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation

6) A belief int he indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization.

7) A belief in moksha, liberation, as the goal of human existence

8) A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship in religious life

9) A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God.

10) A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue

11) A belif in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress
Sri Sri Sri Jayendra Saraswati (a Shankaracharya) is quoted as defining Hinduism with these four beliefs…

1) The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in his Nirguna as well as Saguna form (The Absolute without form or qualities v.s. the Absolute with form and qualities)

2) The wearing of sacred marks on the forehead

3) Belief in the theory of past and future births in accordance with the theory of karma

4) Cremation of ordinary men and burial of great men


Hindu Vishva gives this definition…

“He who has perfect faith in the law of karma, the law of reincarnation, avatara, ancestor worship, varnashrama dharma (social duty), Vedas and existence of God; he who practices the instructions given int he Vedas with faith and earnestness; he who does ritual bathing, death memorial, offerings to ancestors, and the five great sacrifices (to rishis, ancestors, Gods, creatures, and men), he who follows the dharmas, he who worships the avatars and studies the Vedas is a Hindu.”


 The Indian Supreme Court codified this definition…

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.

2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth is many sided.

3) Acceptance of great world rhythm by all six systems of Hindu philosophy vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession;

4) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and pre-existence.

5) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many

6) Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods to be worshiped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshiping of idols.

7) Unlike other religions, or religious creeds, Hindu religion’s not being tied down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.


And the Himalayan Academy themselves have put together a summary of the Nine Beliefs of Hinduism…

1) Hindus believe in the divinity of the Vedas

2) Hindus believe in a one, all-pervasive Supreme Being who is both immanent and transcendent, both Creator and Unmanifest Reality

3. Hindus believe that the universe undergoes endless cycles of creation, preservation, and dissolution

4. Hindus believe in karma…by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.

56. Hindus believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

6. Hindus believe that divine beings exist in unseen worlds and that temple worship, rituals and sacraments as well as personal devotionals create a communion with these devas and Gods.

7. Hindus believe that a spiritually awakened master is essential to know the Transcendent Absolute, as are personal discipline, good conduct, purification, pilgrimage, self-inquiry and meditation.

8. Hindus believe that all life is sacred…and therefore practice ahimsa

9. Hindus believe that no particular religion teaches the only way to salvation above all others, but that all genuine religious paths are facets of God’s Pure Love



So, clearly it is difficult to come to an agreement on a definition of Hinduism! Even here, while there are many similar concepts, there are some noticeable differences too.

By most of these definitions I’m a Hindu, so that’s a relief. The cremation of regular men and burial of “special” men is a new one to me. I haven’t heard that before.

The ones about the gurus still stick for me. While I think spiritual guides and Realized teachers are a wonderful thing and an important step for most people, I still don’t think it is strictly necessary. The reason being that I’ve been told many stories of people who became Enlightened through great service or self-sacrifice, without ever being taught explicitly to do it. I assume that their past study in previous lives led them to an innate understanding of how to find their way out of the sticky web of life.

Temple worship is the same thing. If you meet God daily in your life tasks, you don’t have to go to a temple to see Him.

Which is to say that some people are progressed in their journey to those points and I am not! The energies of the temple are important for my worship and the guidance of gurus I trust is very valuable to me.

The chapter goes on to explain that Hinduism has always accepted converts and “adoptives” and points out that areas around India now have large Hindu populations that had to have started somewhere.

There are quotes from Swami Vivekananda about welcoming newcomers into the fold and a very moving quote from a Sri Ram Swarup about the “power” of those who have come to the Hindu faith, explaining that there is a new third category of Hindus that includes the people joining it from the west.

The chapter ends with an explanation of a ceremony of welcoming back, meant for people whose ancestors had been forcibly converted away from Hinduism long ago.

It seems that there are actually several ways that someone could end up being a Hindu. It is certainly not as cut and dry as many think.

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  • Regarding gurus, not all branches of Hinduism which believe in the necessity of a guru believe that the guru has to be a living guru. Some believe that one can have a guru who previously lived in this world, but are now on a higher plane.

    Indeed some believe that God can be a guru, as shiva in the form Dakshinamurthy

    • There is also, the belief, you know, that they Guru in a spiritual form hangs around for quite a while after mahasamadhi. Adi Da Samraj speaks of Nityananda’s so doing.

    • Ambaa

      Great point!

  • The Krishna devotees who followed Prabhupada speak of a problem with being Western devotees when they went to India. The white skin and all. They were not treated as real devotees. The Hare Krishna chanters also say that Hinduism is not the truly correct name for Hinduism and that India is not the correct name for India but projections by invaders such as the Moghuls and British. I think Bharata is the name they give India and I have forgotten the name for Hinduism. Oh, Sanatana Dharma they say is the name of Hinduism. They define Sanatana Dharma as the soul’s relationship to God.

    • Niranjan

      Dear sir,

      I don’t think Skin , colour ,poor , rich , cast , these are matter
      ..Everyone is equal and dear to God. Only it matters how much we connected with
      supreme Lord..

      “Lord Krishna says”

      Ø Those
      who fix their minds on Krishna and worship ever with supreme faith,thy are dear to Krishna(Lord)

      Ø Those
      who have restrained their senses, who are even minded everywhere, who are
      engaged in the welfare of all the beings, verily, they also come to Me.

      Ø But
      those who worship me, renouncing all actions in Me, regarding Me as the Supreme
      Goal, meditating on Me with single minded devotion

      Ø For
      them whose thought is so set on Me.,. I will become very soon, the One to
      deliver them from this cycle of birth and death.

      Ø Fix
      your mind on Me alone, Let your thoughts dwell in Me. (By doing so) You will
      live in Me here after

      If you are unable to do even this, surrender to
      me in love, not worrying about the fruits of actions with the self-subdued.

      Better indeed is knowledge than formal
      practice; better than knowledge is meditation; better than meditation is the
      renunciation of the fruit of the action (surrender in love); peace immediately
      follows this.

      He who hates no being, who is friendly and
      compassionate to all, who is free from the feeling of I and mine, even-minded
      in pain and pleasure and forbearing,

      Ever content, steady in meditation, self
      controlled and possessed of firm conviction, with mind and intellect fixed on
      me, such a devotee is dear to me.

      He by whom the world is not afflicted and
      whom the world cannot afflict, he who is free from joy, anger, fear and anxiety
      – he is dear to me

      He who has no wants, who is pure and prompt,
      unconcerned, untroubled, and who is selfless in all his undertakings, he who is
      thus devoted to Me, is dear to Me.

      He who neither rejoices nor hates nor grieves
      nor desires, renouncing good and evil (treating both as the same), full of
      devotion, he is dear to Me

      He who is the same to foe and friend and also
      in honor and dishonor, who is the same in cold and heat, in pleasure and pain,
      who is free from attachment…

      To whom blame and praise are equal, who is
      silent, content with anything, free of selfish attachment, steady-minded and
      full of devotion-such a one is dear to Me.

      Those, who follow this immortal dharma
      described above with devotion and faith, looking upon Me as the Supreme Goal,
      they are exceedingly dear to Me.


    • Ambaa

      Yes, I actually am working on a post about why I use the word “Hindu” when it is popular now to use “Santana Dharma”!


    So, clearly it is difficult to come to an agreement on a definition of Hinduism! Even here, while there are many similar concepts, there are some noticeable differences too.

    This is because you are looking at few different concept of few different Sampradaya that is why you see anomalies, otherwise you wouldn’t see this, and if you do, then you would understand why it has those differences, other then that both concepts are correct where one puts it on top of other and vice versa. Markandya puran answers this perfectly.

    The explanation given by Indian supreme court is not the accurate one, because these were the guideline which were submitted to them, when they asked these questions to those experts who are educated in Indian, who didn’t practice the faith. when the disputes arose in those Sampradya in the past which need to sort it out by the rule of court, that is when this questions were asked.

    By most of these definitions I’m a Hindu, so that’s a relief. The cremation of regular men and burial of “special” men is a new one to me. I haven’t heard that

    This is one of the normal practised code of conduct in all the sampradaya and this is a common knowledge if you are a born Hindu who knows the intimate part of Antim Sanskars.

    The word special men applies to those who are either Sanyasis or Gurus and it’s those special men who this Sansakars are given depending on what their last wish was and when it was specified. This concept is known as Samadhi.

    The reason for this is because our identity is determined by our name, which was given to us by our parents and we live in sansar and we are attached with our relations husband wife brother sister and so on, and while we have this attachment, we are govern by maya, and because we are govern by this maya us and we concept applies which determines our identities and because of this we are not free, therefore our identity is body based and while the body lives directly or indirectly ( Being buried ) we will always have this attachment, therefore we will not progress forward thinking we or I am still here because of the existing of this body even if it’s buried. Where as Sanyasi has no relation to Sansar and no identity via a body where his identity is by it’s soul, therefore they have no attachment with their body and therefore they are free from the concept of maya regardless of whether they are buried or cremated. This is why Samadhi is given to greatest Gurus and Sanyasis and not us.

    As much as you don’t like the concept of guru, it stands. With out this, Hinduism would not have existed. This applies to all the branches of Hinduism and without them non of them would have existed. Let me give you an example, Smirtha would not exist if it wasn’t for all the 72 Guru param para of Sankracharya of Davarka pitth and 69 of those from the south that you believe in.

    Not all the Gurus are enlighten or perfect and it’s because, they are all human and while they occupy the body certain conditions still applies to them. And because of this they have their faults, but which human being doesn’t? But this doesn’t mean they cannot pass the knowledge. Every Puran will tell you this. It also tells you in many puran that not all the gurus will be true or right and it also says that in Kaliyuga you will have only one Guru who is right out of possible 99 who are fake and this also stand. The fake ones will never last due to their true human nature.

    Dattatreya had 24 Gurus but he didn’t give up his faith in a true Guru and that is our goal of seeking a spiritual master who can show us a short cut to our devin
    self and every one who lives in this Sansar needs it, no matter who they are and because of those greatest Gurus our philosophy and faith have come this far, otherwise it would have died and our Purans says this as well.

    Unless you know something different that I don’t then elaborate.

    There are other reasons I can give on all the points that you have stated above but it will be too long, so I will leave it at that.