Came across this very interesting writeup about Who is a Hindu? What is a Hindu? and Why am I a Hindu?, on my FB page. Geeta Nijhon Damir
A man was flying from New York Airport to San Francisco Airport to attend a meeting at Monterey, CA.
An American girl was sitting on the right side, near window seat. It indeed was a long journey - it would take nearly seven hours.
He was surprised to see the young girl reading the Bible, unusual of young Americans. After some time she smiled and they had an introductory talk. He told her that he was from India.
Then suddenly the girl asked: 'What's your faith?'
'What?' He didn't understand the question.
'I mean, what's your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?'.
'No!' He replied, 'I am neither Christian nor Muslim'.
Apparently she appeared shocked to listen to that. 'Then who are you?'. He said “I am a Hindu”.
She looked at him as if she was seeing a caged animal. She could not understand what He was talking about. A common man in Europe or US knows about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today. But a Hindu, What even is that?.
He explained to her "I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth".
'Who is your prophet?' she asked.
'We don't have a prophet,' He replied.
'What's your Holy Book?' she asked. 'We don't have a single holy book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures' he replied.
'Oh, come on at least tell me who is your God?'she said.
'What do you mean by that?' he asked.
'Like we have Jesus and Muslims have Allah - don't you have a God?' she asked of him.
He thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief. According to her (or anybody who doesn't know about Hinduism), a religion needs to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. He understood her perception and concept about faith. Hinduism cannot be compared with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of God.
He tried to explain to her - 'You can believe in one God and he can be a Hindu. You may believe in multiple deities and still you can be a Hindu. What's more - you may not believe in God at all, still you can be a Hindu. An Atheist can also be a Hindu.'
This sounded very crazy to her. She couldn't imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years, even after onslaught from foreign forces.
'I don't understand but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?'. He said: 'I do not go to Temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes'.
'Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?'
'God is a friend and no I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly.'
She thought for a while and then asked: 'Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?'
'Why should I? Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can convert me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning. I remain as a Hindu never by force, but by choice.' He told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority.
'So, you don't believe in God?' she wanted everything in black and white.
'I didn't say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis - Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita - say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that supreme abstract authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe.'
'Why can't you believe in one personal God?'
'We have a concept - an abstract, but not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don't think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him.' He told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal Gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.
'Good that you agree God might exist. You said that you pray. What is your prayer then?'
'Loka Samastha Sukino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti (लोका समस्ता सुखिनो भवन्तु !!! ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः)
'Funny,' she laughed, 'What does it mean?'
'May all the beings in all the worlds be happy. Let there be Peace, Peace,and Peace every where.'
'Hmm ..very interesting. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broad-minded and free' she exclaimed.
'The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita and the Ramayana. It is all about an individual approaching his own God in a way according to his temperament and inner evolution - it is as simple as that.'
'How does anybody convert to Hinduism?'
'Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but it is a culture, a way of leading life, a set of beliefs and practices. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single authority or organization either to accept you or to reject you or to oppose you on behalf of Hinduism.'
He told her - 'If you look for meaning in life, don't look for it in religions; don't go from one cult to another or from one Guru to the next'. He went on 'For a real seeker the Bible itself gives guidelines when it says Kingdom of God is within you'. He reminded her of Christ's teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.
Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. 'Isavasyam idam sarvam'. In Sanskrit, Idam sarvam means “all this” while isavasyam means “pervaded by God” - nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That's what Hinduism teaches you. Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma - the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma(duty), the code of life. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity. Ancestors of today's Hindus believed in eternal truths and cosmic laws which are open to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others. Like the British coined the word 'Hindu' and considered it as a religion.
He said: 'Religions have become a multi-level- marketing industry that has been trying to expand their market share by conversion. The biggest business in today's world is Spirituality and Hinduism is no exception. He said 'I am a Hindu primarily because it professes Non-Violence - 'Ahimsa Paramo Dharma' (अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा तथैव च।) which means Non-Violence is the ultimate dharma (duty), so too is violence in service of dharma. I am a Hindu because my mind is not conditioned with any faith system. I am a Hindu because I am free to choose my God and to practise my belief in a way I see fit and with no compulsion, within the parameters of eternal truths and cosmic laws. My belief in God is also a way of life.
Read Why Am I a Hindu(Shashi Tharoor)