Who is a Hindu ?
The "Who is a Hindu" discussion was started on the NavyaShastra list by
Shri Ramdas Lamb on April 7, 2003 which prompted a string of replies. Here is the excerpt:
"How do you decide who is a Hindu?"
Shri. Ramdas Lamb (Apr 7 2003)
A Hindu is someone who possesses one or more preferably all three of the following attributes: 1. Who believes in the inherent divinity of every human being. Who reveres all life. Who perceives the divine in rivers, mountains and in the forces of nature. Who perceives the mother earth as the embodiment of primordial shakthi. (bhakthi) 2. Who constantly tries to integrate self with the universe and defines his or her role in life based on being part of the whole. (karma) 3. Who ceaselessly and relentlessly seeks the truth and acknowledges that while the truth may be one it may be sought or perceived in countless ways. (gnana)
Dr. Mira Govindarajan (Apr 7 2003)

This is a record of a discussion on another forum.

What is Hinduism:
Hinduism is the religion that accepts the Vedas and Agamas as Revealed Truth. Hinduism is a generic term that comprises several hundred sampradayas (spiritual lineages), and these lineages and their adherents can be classified into four traditional sects or religions, namely Saivism, Vaishnavism, Saktism and Smartaism. These four are described as sects of a one religion due to their acceptance of the Vedas as supreme and final authority, as well as due to the near identical practices.

The four are also sometimes referred to as religions because they have their own revealed scriptures, temples, lineages, practices, the vast gulf of differences in philosophy, making them full and complete religions unto itself, having all he ingredients of a religion. In short they are independent of each other. Also included in Hinduism are the numerous, mostly 20th century, neo Hindu reform movements such as TM, Sai Baba, Ananda Marga, Arya Samaj, Brahmo Samaj, etc. All Hindus belong to one of the sects or groups. Balinese are recognised as Hindu because they accept the Vedas and their practices are near identical to other Hindus in India.

Who is a Hindu:
Anyone who accepts the beliefs and teachings of the Agamas or Vedas is theoretically a Hindu. Anyone who practices, even a single one of these teachings, however intermittently is a Hindu. It is both belief and practise that makes one a Hindu.
Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Apr 7 2003)
A Hindu is anyone who self-identifies as such.
Shri Vikram Masson (Apr 7, 2003)
Who is a Hindu?
"Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realization of the truth that the number of gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion." B. G. Tilak's definition of what makes one a basic Hindu, as quoted by India's Supreme Court. On July 2, 1995, the Court referred to it as an ''adequate and satisfactory formula. Source -
Shri. Jyotishi (Apr 7, 2003)

1) I believe in the divinity of the Vedas, the world's most ancient scripture, and venerate the Agamas as equally revealed. These primordial hymns are God's word and the bedrock of Sanatana Dharma, the eternal religion which has neither beginning nor end.

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

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

4) I believe in karma, the law of cause and effect by which each individual creates his own destiny by his thoughts, words and deeds.

5) I believe that the soul reincarnates, evolving through many births until all karmas have been resolved, and moksha, spiritual knowledge and liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is attained. Not a single soul will be eternally deprived of this destiny.

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

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

8) I believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa, noninjury.

9) I 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 and Light, deserving tolerance and understanding.
Shri. Gautham KR (Apr 8, 2003)
For a functional purpose possibly we can stick with Hindu with the understanding that we mean sanatan dharma.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan (Apr 8, 2003)
There is no single point source or prophet for the origins of the Hindu faith. The scriptures have evolved from the traditions and beliefs and not the other way around.
The Hindu concept of God taking human form (avatara) is anathema for other faiths. Yet Hindus are comfortable with this precept because we believe that it is possible for every human being to advance spiritually to a point where they as they were attain to Godhood (nirguna) -aham brahmasmi- In simple terms I am God Himself. This is why there is a deification of religious leaders who are believed to have advanced to this point.
Devotional scriptures/modes of worship: Our relationship with God is as old as eternity. In devotional works the idiom of mother, friend, beloved or child is adopted in reference to God. God is even perceived as sevak (assistant). This is the relationship between Arjuna and Sri Krishna as Partha-sarathy. This is how the vast majority of Hindus make do without access to formal(authoritative/tarian) scriptures. In simple terms God is someone very close to us and we need not stand on formalities.
Higher spiritual attainment is gained by propitiating elements and forces of nature personified as 'devas'. The goal being the one eternal reality-atman or parabhraman. i.e quest for the truth and unification of self and universe. The Upanishads and Yoga are also based on the two latter precepts. The seers of the Upanishads were the first (conceptual if not empirical) scientists. It is this inherent scientific temper that we need to re-awaken.
Processes of nature/ Laws of the Universe:
The Hindu trinity- Creation coupled with Knowledge, Preservation with Prosperity, Destruction with Power. Bhraman symbolizes a unity or negation of these three proceess- God is an eternal unchanging entity. The union of 'male' (purusha) and 'female' (prakrithi) forces underlies the material universe. This is the basis of tantrik modes of worship.
Each one of us is created to fulfill a given role-svadharma or duty -vidhi. Insofar as we execute this faithfully by surrendering the ego to God we may be liberated from karma. Failing which based on inherent nature or guna one is subjected to re-birth. It is only by integrating and harmonising with the world around us that we may fulfill svadharma or vidhi.
"Love for all living beings"- sarva bhutani is the broad conceptual basis for dharma. This comes from identification of self with universe. It is the same precept that underlies veneration of cows and snakes. Wildlife protection is intrinsic to Hinduism tribals are highly sensitized to this aspect. "Who perceives the divine in rivers, mountains and in the forces of nature. Who perceives the mother earth as the embodiment of primordial shakthi)" The Ganga and Narmada are traditionally deemed most sacred. We might add the worship of trees usually nor invariably tribal. We are enjoined at every turn to treat the mother earth bhoomidevi with reverence. We need not therefore look to the west for inspiration to preserve the forest cover or environmental protection.
I believe therefore that the broad definition I had set out at the outset covers most Hindu traditions,beliefs and modes or worship.
I earnestly seek your (own/original) feedback because Hinduism in the main is not a communal faith rather an exciting voyage of self-discovery.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan (Apr 8, 2003)
'Who is a Hindu', can also be defined by one's culture and practices, not beliefs alone.
Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Apr 8, 2003)
The good thing is that most "Hindus" have defined the term "Hindus" very broadly as compared to muslims or Christians i.e somebody does not stop becoming a "true Hindu" if he deviates from a narrow path of do's and don’ts. On the other hand this broadness of the "term Hindu" has tended to apply mostly to "ethnic people of Indian subcontinent". This has not been the case for members of other faiths. Part of the reason has been that the word Hindu is a overloaded word, it implies both the geographical origin and the belief system of a person.
Shri. Rahul Saxena (Apr 8, 2003)
A Hindu celebrates Life. Life:= (Capitalisation intended) Every and any entity which occupies space for a duration of time. := being.
Shri. Rajagopal S. Iyer (Apr 9, 2003)

1) "Hindu", I think, should continue to signify a nationality/polity/ethnicity. It has traditionally been defined "as those people who live east of the Sindhu who are neither Muslim, Parsi, Jewish, or Christian," ... To me, Hinduism is like a massive (Indian) family. The difference between a family (like Hinduism) and an ideology (like Christianity) is that you can switch your ideology at will, but joining or leaving a family is considerably more difficult. There is plenty of room for disagreement even within a family, but this is why a family remains the same or changes as time goes on; ideologies change for different reasons, and are prone to internal division.

2) "who is NOT a Hindu?" [An] "ahindu"=someone who either 1)identifies him/herself as NOT Hindu, upon being asked, or 2) someone who practices an intolerant, conversion-oriented (non-verifiable) belief system.
Shri. Raman R. Khanna (Apr 10, 2003)
Let's be optimistic and at least pretend that's [dharmins] what all Hindus aspire to be. Atleast that's what they should aspire to be. Just need to add prefix "sanatan". We consider all living beings or at least all human beings as 'family' regardless of whether they reciprocate it or no. Even if they call us 'pagan' or 'non-believer'.
Dr. Mira Govindarajan (Apr 10, 2003)
My monastic guru once told me, "A Hindu is one who, on seeing violence ("hinsa"), feels deep saddness ("dukha")."
Shri. Ramdas Lamb
There is no central authority that we can possibly go to certify our Hinduness.
And besides that, what can we base a "definition" on?

Beliefs? An orthodox Brahmin might believe in varnashrama; I do not. Practices? A farmer in Andhra might pray to Pochamma; I do not. Geography? What about the Balinese Hindus or the European converts? A moral or ethical ideal, like ahimsa? Well, you decide whether this works or not. Default non-Christian, non-Muslim, non-Parsi Indian? Tell that to some militant Dalits! Reverence in the Vedas above all else? Tell that to Dr. Loganathan!

Part of the problem may very well be that many definitions promoted here presuppose a universally held set of beliefs, or promote a set of beliefs or practices that should be followed. Most "religions" have these, whereas Dharma does not, though some groups under the "Hindu" umbrella have set beliefs and dogmas. All definitions contain within them the bias of the formulator.
Shri. Vikram Masson (Apr 13, 2003)
If the question "Who is a Hindu" asks for the definition : It is one's own feeling and so one's own declaration. After this if he
learns the descipline it is well and good.
If the question is "What makes one a True Hindu?" : then Narsi Mehtas "Vaishnava Janato" gives one perfect explanation : It is one who has 'Samadhrishti". One who feels other peoples' suffering as their own. One who does not covet for anotherone's properety or harm another person -- One who performs one's own ordained duty and performs it for the sake of a duty to the Divine and not for the profit.

A True Hindu is the One who follows the Karma with Bhakthi or devotion with descipline of Yoga and always eager to reach and receive the Divine knowledge of the Brahman through Jnana and intution, not just analytical scientific study alone. And one who is willing to discard all these when one has to Protect his own Faith, his Divine duties, his Guru, his father, his mother, his spouse, and his progeny [not just himself] - [here take her also in places of him].

Here, this is diffrent from the Western teaching of take care of yourself, do what pleases you, protect yourself and your faith. Please note, when one performs one's karma and lives the life without greed ot passion, one need not believe in a GOD or offer any prayers to HIM. There are well known atheists who also call themselves Hindus. One may believe in One God, Many god or in one form of the many form of gods, or the formless, just go beyond all that and ignore Its presence, and just perfor the duties as ordained with the faith that "If He is there, He will look after Us". So, to make it simple, in Vikram's way, if you feel you are a true Hindu, You are a Hindu. No other person should impose a definition nor a judgement on that.
Dr. Bala N. Aiyer (Apr 13, 2003)


Hindu is: A religion or Dharma or way of life. Comparisons are always made in like subjects or matters. Religions are to be equated and compared with religions and not with Dharmas or other social orders. Religion is a set of systems or disciplines that provide and satisfy the spiritual needs of the human mind ….A way to realization of God…..And to spread goodness in this world to combat evil tendencies of the mind bedeviled with animal instincts.

But Hindu does not come under this analogy as it encompasses various isms, religions and /or other social moorings connected with ethics, economics, duties and obligation of a human being towards his fellow beings and environment and other forms of life also, universally. So all those who stayed back in India [after partitioning] are a Hindu. Nation irrespective of the religion they practices or ism they follow.

Hindu is a nation: So Hindu is not a religion, a faith or any ism or dogma.
Shri. Rajkumar Anand (Apr 14, 2003)

1. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism, or Islam, and like Judaism, Hinduism is both a culture and a religion.

2. For many long centuries, and even today, the vast majority of Hindus become Hindus by virtue of being born of Hindu parents. But, aside from these genealogical or involuntary Hindus, there are also a number of voluntary Hindus (i.e. people born in other traditions who willingly choose to become part of Hindu culture, tradition, and religious framework. Indeed, it is in this context that the question "Who is a Hindu?" arises at all.

3. In thinking of affiliation to any religion, it is useful consider various dimensions. Let us consider these in the Hindu context: [Even for those who are born of Hindu parents, none of the following is obligatory. Even for those who embrace Hinduism, there is the option to accept some, and not necessarily, all that follows.]

(a) Revelational authority: In traditional Hinduism, the Vedas held this place. Most Hindu accept the authority of the Vedas (Sruti) as revealed spiritual knowledge.

(b) Doctrinal: The three most basic doctrines of Hinduism are (i) Law of karma. (ii) Reincarnation. (iii)Considering each living person as a spark of the Cosmic principle (Brahman). (iv) Multiple paths to divinity.

(c) Culture base: All adult Hindus are (should be) familiar with the story line and principal characters of the two great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. They should observe at least one of the principal festivals of the tradition, such as Divali, Holi, Sivaratri, Ramanavami, Krishna Jayanti, etc.

(d) Knowledge base: All Hindus should be at least aware of the existence of the spiritual literatures known as the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. All Hindus should be aware of at least some personal gods of the tradition: Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Ganesha, Siva, Rama, Krishna, Lakshmi, Sarasvati.Most birth-based Hindus are generally aware of the caste-affiliation of their parents, whether or not they accept the rules and values of the caste system. But this is fast changing.

(e) Sacraments: All Hindus should undergo at least one of several canonically prescribed sacraments which involve the ritual utterance of some mantras (in Sanskrit or in Tamil).

4. As noted earlier, these are some of the hall-marks of being part of the Hindu world, and being a Hindu.
Prof VV Raman (Apr 19, 2003)

The general theory is that every Hindu accepts the rights of others to have their own belief.

Rig Veda Hymns on 'One God' :
Idham Mitram Agnim Ãhu atho; Dhivya Sah: Suparnah Garûthman |
E'kam Sath Viprah: Bahudhãh Vadhanthi, Agnim; Yama Matharisvãnam Ãhuh: || -- Rig Veda - Verse I-164.46
They call Him (It) Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni; and He is the heavenly nobly-winged Garuthman !

To what is One, Sages give many a title, Agni, Yama, Matharisvan they call it !!

When Rg Veda says : ekam sat viprah bhahudha vadanti agnim ..... - please read again along with the associated words of the Slokas - it only mentions of the various Divinities they worship in the early Rg Vedic periods like Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Yama, and Agni. It does not say that for Siva or Vishnu nor for the Prophet's Allah or Jesus's God.
Dr. Bala Aiyer (Apr 19, 2003)

While we work to define Hinduism and set a criteria to identify a Hindu, we can certainly know who is not a Hindu.

There are five major threats to Hinduism in the modern world: materialism, existentialism, fundamentalism, secular humanism and communism. Those who hold some or all the beliefs of the "five enemies" usually argue against the practices like temple worship, kriyas, sacraments, etc. These are the critical, halfhearted nominal members of any Hindu society, inwardly torn between dharma and conflicting beliefs and attitudes.
Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Apr 23, 2003)

Hinduism become widespread in the Indian subcontinent and beyond in the ancient world not because it excluded other deities and practices, but because it accepted and included them. In particular, I refer to the tribal deities. Mariamman, Manasa Devi etc. were incorporated into the Hindu pantheon as forms of Devi Shakti. This is why tribal deities can also be considered as Hindu deities, and should not be considered as any less of a vision of the Paramatma.

The point of Hinduism is not to replace the vision of God, but to expand that vision.
Shri. Gautham KR (Apr 23, 2003)

"dalit culture for centuries they had their own Gods such as Elamma and Veerappa".

Please note that worship of Elamma, Veerappa, Pochamma, Polimeramma, Madurai Veeran, Katteri, Mariamma, etc is NOT Agamic sanctioned. They are neither vedic or agamic,although in these temples they (try) to strictly follow agamic rituals. They have tribal origins. BUT because they follow the agamas and vedas, we accept them as Hindus.
Shri. Pathmarajah Nagalingam (Apr 23, 2003)
The problem is that we need to be inclusive, but not over-inclusive. No matter how we define Hinduism, there will be those who consider themselves Hindu who fall outside of our definition
Shri. Gautham KR (Apr 23 2003)

Gautham Rao