“As we have explained several times, however, we find no such word as ‘Hindu’ in the Vedic literature. The word most probably came from Afghanistan, a predominantly Muslim country, and originally referred to a pass in Afghanistan known as Hindukush that is still a part of a trade route between India and various Muslim countries.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 12.73 Purport)
Friend1: Let me ask you something. Do you call yourself a Hindu?
Friend2: No. Do you call yourself a moron?
Friend1: Hey! Watch the language.
Friend2: You know what I mean, though. Why would you ask such a silly question?
Friend1: Because I’m setting the table for a deeper discussion. You know how this works.
Friend2: So what do you really want to know?
Friend1: Okay, so I know that what we call Hinduism today is actually rooted in the Vedic tradition. Hindu is a word applied by foreigners, right?
Friend2: Exactly. You won’t find that word in Vedic literature, which is so old that no one can accurately date it. It comes from the being who is without a beginning, after all, so there is no way to say that it was authored at some point in time.
Friend1: But even if someone else started it, the word Hindu is still a way to classify people based on the way they live. It means something as far as habits in worship, beliefs, and culture.
Friend2: As a culture – maybe you have something there. Still, an intelligent person would have trouble using that word as a form of identification.
Friend1: Alright, so that is what I wanted to get to. I know that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada would rarely refer to his teachings as Hindu. He made it a point to describe how Hinduism is really varnashrama-dharma.
Friend1: While I always considered that to be an enlightened approach, there are those who criticize him for that. They say that the swami was embarrassed to be associated with India and its culture.
Friend2: Well, that’s just silly. If he was embarrassed, why would he dedicate his whole life to creating genuine Vedic culture around the world? The people criticizing happily apply a sectarian designation to themselves, without understanding the universal applicability of the science of spirit.
Friend1: But why be so afraid of the word? What’s the harm in calling yourself Hindu?
Friend2: The decision is based on intelligence. Calling yourself Hindu is something like saying you believe in gravity. If someone asked you about that, would you give in?
Friend1: If they asked if I believe in gravity? No, it would be ridiculous. Gravity is not something to be believed in. It’s factual. It exists.
Friend2: Exactly. The same goes for the science of self-realization. Aham brahmasmi is the Vedic aphorism that means “I am spirit.” There is no faith involved in this. You don’t go around saying “I’m a Spiritarian.“
Friend1: Making up new words, are we?
Friend2: The truly enlightened soul does not see designations. The closest thing to Hinduism is varnashrama-dharma, which is the system of four occupational divisions and four spiritual institutions. Again, this is a system, not a form of identification. The system is for the entire human race, not just the people of India. You can’t say that an intelligent class is only needed in a certain part of the world. Student life is for every child.
Friend1: I see. But what’s wrong in using the word? Why be afraid to call yourself “Hindu”?
Friend2: Listen, it would be very easy to accept. People will praise you for your culture, how it protects animals, how you don’t limit yourself to worship of a single manifestation of God, how you value marriage and family. But accepting the premise is a trap. This is because the culture is there for everyone. There is no reason to divide people. If Krishna is truly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then He is for everyone. We know this from His pastimes on earth. He never associated with only one group of people. He gave mercy to so many people, from many different backgrounds.
Friend1: So what would be the proper way to identify yourself? Is it Vaishnava?
Friend2: That would work, but again, you don’t want to fall into the trap of accepting the premise of faith. Vedic culture is not a faith. If it’s a faith, then you can accept or reject it at any time. It’s actually a science, like the law of gravity mentioned before. It’s always operating. If you choose to ignore it, it’s at your own risk. In answering the question of identification, the person who follows Vedic culture could say that they are aware of the presence of the soul. They know that there is an origin to all spirit and matter. They have accepted the path that is open to every person: devotional service. They are working their way towards transcendence, out of the ignorance of maya. They are trying to realize their identity as spirit soul, part and parcel of God. They are trying to rid themselves of desire for material gain, renunciation, knowledge, and mystic perfection.
Friend1: That’s a pretty long definition. Isn’t there a shorter way to identify yourself?
Friend2: Vaishnava works because it means that you worship the personal God. You’re not foolish enough to think that the Supreme Lord is without form. Vaishnava identifies the instruction you accept, to which lineage it belongs. Vaishnava is pretty specific, but again the wise souls never take their identity from any word or “ism.” They worship God the person because they know Him. They know that everyone can and should follow the same worship. Even if a person doesn’t accept His personal form as the all-attractive Krishna, they can meditate on the Supersoul within the heart. If that is too difficult, they can contemplate the impersonal Brahman. Whatever way they know Him, they can worship and at least get some benefit. This is why the chanting of the holy names is so emphatically stressed. It unites all the different factions. It has no prejudice to the level of understanding.
Wise away from term to choose,
Not frequently Hindu word to use.
Premise of less intelligent not to accept,
Equating of dharma to faith to reject.
Science just like with gravity knowing,
Vedas true identity of all creatures showing.
If pressed towards Vaishnava word leaning,
Since worship of personal God the meaning.