“A devotee advanced on the spiritual platform sees everything movable and inert as the Supreme Lord. For him, everything he sees here and there is but a manifestation of Lord Krishna.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.273)
Question: “I’ve been told that one cannot convert to Hinduism; that they must be born into it? Is this true?”
Answer: This is a commonly asked question which has a serious flaw in its premise. Hinduism itself is actually a term adopted only in the recent past by people who could not accurately describe the ancient religious traditions of India. The Vedas are the original scriptures for all of mankind originating out of India, and their teachings apply to everyone.
Hinduism today is actually a religious discipline that differs greatly from the original Vedas. This same issue exists with other major religions of the world such as Christianity and Judaism. Veda means knowledge, so the Vedas themselves represent the original knowledge system passed down from God. Somehow or other, the original teachings of the Vedas have been jumbled and misinterpreted into what is today known as Hinduism. There is no actual accurate or complete description for Hinduism since it is really just a hodgepodge of various ideas. The common theme is the idea of numerous gods. Generally speaking, the practitioners of modern day Hinduism worship many gods, taking them all to be equal. The reason behind this is that the impersonalist philosophy, or Mayavada, is primarily what is passed off as Hinduism. Mayavadis believe that everything belongs to Brahman, the impersonal spiritual effulgence. Thus the goal of human life is to merge into this effulgence through study of Vedanta and the negation of the effects of material nature. Since this is actually a form of atheism, Mayavadis recommend people to choose any elevated form of Brahman to worship, even if these forms include various demigods. They take Krishna, Shiva, Brahma, and Ganesha to all be equal manifestations of the impersonal Brahman.
Along with this impersonalist idea comes the caste system. Originally, Lord Krishna created the four divisions of society and spiritual life based on one’s guna and karma:
“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)
Everyone has specific attributes and traits that they are born with. These qualities and desires then correspond to a specific caste, or varna. The brahmanas are considered the highest class since they act completely in the mode of goodness; studying the Vedas, and teaching others about religion. Gradually over time, this system degraded to the current “caste by birthright” system. People now claim brahminical status simply because their family lineage traces back to a famous brahmana of the past. It is no doubt a high honor to be a descendant of a great sage like Vashishta, Bharadvaja, or Upamanyu, but that doesn’t automatically make one a brahmana. Just as a doctor’s son can’t be called to treat patients simply because of his father’s status, a caste brahmana cannot be considered learned and pure solely off his birthright. So this is where the idea came from that people must be born into Hinduism. Followers of the caste system use their privileged birth as a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya to shut others out from practicing religion. This is not at all in line with the teachings of the original Vedas.
The Vedas actually never mention the word Hindu or the term Hinduism anywhere. They don’t even reference the term religion. What we define as religion, the Vedas refer to as sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, and dharma means occupational duty. One’s occupational duty cannot change; it is something that must be fulfilled. Religion generally refers to someone’s faith, something which can change at any time. Dharma is duty, and the Vedas declare that it is every living entity’s eternal duty to understand and love God. That is the real definition of religion. There is only one God and He is for everyone. The Vedas tell us that He has many different forms, expansions, and corresponding names, but that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, also known as Bhagavan. He is described in this way to make sure that no one will mistakenly think of God as being impersonal. Just as we have identities based on the existence of our soul or atma, God also has individuality based on His eternal nature.
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
Sometimes the Vedas use impersonal descriptions for God such as saying that He has no arms and no legs. But these are just reference points aimed at getting the point across that God doesn’t have the same type of hands or legs that we do. Lord Krishna Himself declares that He accepts offerings made to Him with love and devotion.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Bg. 9.26)
If God were impersonal or didn’t possess spiritual attributes, how could He accept our offerings? God is a person, just like us, except that He is much greater. We have a small amount of independence, but we are still subject to the forces of material nature dictated by maya. God, on the other hand, is never affected by maya. He is known as Ishvara, the Supreme Controller. Everything in this world is acting through His direction or the direction of His various energies.
Sanatana dharma applies to every single person, regardless of where they were born. The point of human life is to love God. Love is the universal language, known even to the animal community. How can we then say that only people born to Indian parents can love and worship Krishna? There are so many examples in history of people who were born outside of the varnashrama dharma system, but still worshiped God in a perfect way.
One such person was Ramananda Raya. Around five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna incarnated on earth as a brahmana preacher known as Lord Chaitanya. To help save the fallen souls of the Kali Yuga, Lord Chaitanya spread Krishna prema, or love for Krishna, throughout India to anyone who was willing to receive it. At the request of His good friend Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, Lord Chaitanya visited Ramananda Raya and questioned him on matters pertaining to Radha and Krishna. In society, Ramananda Raya was actually considered a shudra, a fourth class person, based off his birth. Many caste brahmanas witnessed the talks between Lord Chaitanya and Ramananda, and they were surprised to see Lord Chaitanya embracing him. Shudras were viewed as unclean, so caste brahmanas would never associate with them. But Lord Chaitanya knew that Ramananda was a pure devotee, so He had no problem talking to him about devotional service to Krishna. In fact, Lord Chaitanya declared that Ramananda’s knowledge on matters of bhakti yoga was perfect.
Two other notable examples took place many thousands of years ago. In a previous incarnation, Lord Krishna took birth as the pious prince named Rama. His wife was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Ravana had a brother named Vibhishana who was actually a pure devotee of Lord Rama. Rakshasas are meat eaters that are also addicted to intoxication and other sinful activities. They are mortal enemies of the brahmanas, and they look for any chance they can get to disrupt the sacrifices of the sages and to also kill them. Simply based on birth, Vibhishana was to be considered a wretched person. Yet he was the only one to advise Ravana to return Rama’s wife Sita Devi. Ravana of course didn’t listen, and Vibhishana decided to surrender himself to Lord Rama. Rama gladly welcomed Vibhishana to His army, for He knew that Vibhishana’s qualities were not those of a Rakshasa.
“Diti and Aditi are two sisters. The sons of Aditi are called Adityas, and the sons of Diti are called Daityas. All the Adityas are devotees of the Lord, and all the Daityas are atheistic. Although Prahlada was born in the family of the Daityas, he was a great devotee from his childhood. Because of his devotional service and godly nature, he is considered to be a representative of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30 Purport)
Prior to His incarnation as Rama, the Lord appeared in a half-man, half-lion form named Narasimha Deva. The purpose of this avatara was to help the five year old devotee son of the demon Hiranyakashipu named Prahlada. Daityas are atheists by nature, so it would be natural to assume that Hiranyakashipu’s son would also be an atheist. Yet Prahlada was far from a demon, for he was a pure devotee right from his very birth. His love and devotion for Krishna was so strong that the Lord personally appeared to save him from the harassment handed out by Hiranyakashipu. To this day, Prahlada is considered one of the great teachers in the science of bhakti yoga.
We see that the Vedic traditions are open to every type of person, but how does one go about becoming a devotee? Generally speaking, there is no official conversion process. The reason for this is that loving God is considered every person’s inherent duty. It is not a matter of official business, where one simply goes through the motions of ritualistic ceremonies and then becomes a devotee. On the contrary, a person’s desires and qualities are what count. More than anything else, one must have a desire to hear about Krishna. One can either hear stories about Krishna told by devotees in public, or by reading those stories and teachings found in the classic Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad-gita and Ramayana. An even simpler process is to listen to people chant the Lord’s name or to personally engage in chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Regardless of the method, one must have a strong desire to hear. If one sincerely desires to know and love Krishna, they are guaranteed to be successful in the end.
In this current age of Kali, it is declared that everyone is born a shudra, kalau shudra sambhvan; Janmana jayate shudra. For one to be considered a member of the higher classes, they must take a second birth in the form of initiation from a spiritual master, or guru. This formal initiation isn’t required, but it is recommended. Real initiation means agreeing to sincerely follow the orders of the spiritual master. For this age, the jagad-guru is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. One can hear from him directly by reading his many books or by listening to his recorded lectures. His primary teachings were that everyone should chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a japa mala, and at the same time, they should refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Any person of any religious background can follow these simple guidelines. Even if one is a Christina, Jew, or Muslim, they are not required to give up their current faith. God is for everyone. Lord Krishna should always be worshiped and adored, for that is the topmost religious practice.
Categories: devotional service