Lakshmi Narayan Temple, New Delhi, Uttar Pradesh

February 19, 2002

The word "Hindu" occurs nowhere in the classical scriptures of Hinduism. The ancestors of the present day Hindus did not identify themselves as Hindus. The word "Hindu" originated with Persians. They used the word "Hindu" to refer to the people who lived on the other side of the river Sindu. But they pronounced the letter "s" as "h" - and that is how the people who lived on the bank of the river Sindhu became known as Hindus. When the British colonized the territory, the "h" disappeared, the river became " Indus ", and the people became "Indians".

When Western scholars and Christian missionaries arrived on the scene, the Hindus found their faith tradition "ism"-ized and its name became "Hinduism". Although there is nothing wrong in letting this name continue, it is good to know the history behind the word. Swami Vivekananda said that an accurate name for the faith would be Vaidika Dharma and, for the People, Vaidikas ("followers fo the Vedas") or, more accurately, Vedantists ("followers of Vedanta")

Among the things that are common to the different traditions that have evolved within Hinduism, the first and foremost is their allegiance to the Vedas. If a tradition doesn't accept the authority of the Vedas, it is no more considered a "Hindu" tradition. Which is why, in the Indian context, Hinduism and Vedanta are synonymous. These two words refer to one and the same faith tradition, although it must be granted that most Indians who are raised in the religion of the Vedas would identify themselves as Hindus rather than as Vedantists. The reason for this is simple. In contemporary discourse and literature, the words "Hindu" and "Hinduism" have been used more frequently than the word "Vedantists" and "Vedanta". They have, therefore, become a part of the popular vocabulary. It is with the word "Hinduism" that several generations of Hindus have identified themselves.

One doesn't have to be born into a Hindu family in order to be a Hindu. There is no concept of "conversion" from one religion to another in the Hindu view of life. All seekers of Truth are looked upon as fellow pilgrims. Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda's teacher, reaffirmed the Hindu perspective though his own spiritual practices and experience:

All religions have the same ultimate purpose, namely, God-realization; everything else in religion is secondary. Stripped of all theological trappings, every religion has for its goal the transcending of human limitations to contract the Reality beyond.

There is only one transcendent, ultimate Reality which manifests in various forms, in various attributes, and even as formless, and is known by various names.

The ultimate Reality can be realized through various ways developed by the world religions. Every religion has the inherent power to take its followers to the supreme consummation of human life.

Scripture

Primary Scripture : Vedas (which include the Upanishads) (called sruti )

Secondary Scriptures : Historical and Mythological books ( itihasas and puranas ), later commentatorial literature (all of these are collectively known as smriti )

MIT Vedanta Society

Website : http://www.vedantaofboston.org/mit

Hindu Chaplain: Swami Tyagananda

Email: tyag@mit.edu