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What is Hinduism
by Swami Krishnananda

If you travel from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari and ask all the Hindus to tell you what Hinduism is, they will not be able to tell you. They will say that they are Hindus, but they will not be able to say what Hinduism is because they are floating on the surface of the outer religious performance and ritual, and its in-depth significance has not gone into their minds. You will find this problem everywhere, perhaps in every religion. Whether they are Muslims, Christians, Hindus or Buddhists, if you ask them what the essence of their religion is, they will scratch their heads and will not answer anything. They cannot give a reply. They will never be able to answer this question because they have not taken the time to properly think about it.

Ask a man who is a Hindu, “How do you know that you are a Hindu? Prove it.” Let him prove that he is a Hindu. He will look up and say, “What is the matter?” It is very difficult to prove. What proof have you got that you are a Hindu? You cannot answer this question by any amount of scratching the head. You will say, “I know that I am a Hindu.” But how do you know? You have not put a label on your face that you are a Hindu. If you say you are a Hindu because you believe in the Vedas, does it mean that whoever believes in the Vedas is a Hindu? There are great German scholars who believe in the value of the Vedas. Do you call them Hindus? So, that definition is not good. If you say you are a Hindu because you pray to Narayana, then does anyone who prays to Narayana become a Hindu? There are Muslim saints who worship Lord Krishna, and yet they are not Hindus, so that definition is also not good. You will find it is such a comprehensive, interrelated complex that any stereotyped answer will not be sufficient. It is not possible to answer like that. It is a highly involved subject.

In Hinduism you will find the essentials of every other religion also, in some level. There are levels of Hinduism; it is not one compact thing. At one level, you will find the idea of Christianity is correct. In another level, you will find even Islam is correct. In another level, you will say Zoroastrianism is correct. In another level, you will find Judaism is correct. In another level, Taoism is correct. It all depends upon the layers of religion; and all the levels, Hinduism accepts. The only thing is, it will not consider any level as final. This is why it is a very comprehensive religion and, therefore, you cannot even call it by the name Hinduism. It has no name at all. They call it Sanatana Dharma. Sanatana Dharma means eternal religion.

Hinduism is only a post-European concept. Europeans have given that name. We do not call ourselves by that name. 'Hindu' comes from the word 'Sindhu'. When Greeks and Persians came to India some years before Christ—Alexander and Jerious, and other Persian kings and Greek invaders—they crossed the Sindhu, and they wanted to know who these people staying in this country are. They did not know their name. They said that river is called Sindhu, and all those people who are on the other side are Sindhus. In Persian, 'S' is pronounced as 'H', so 'Sindh' becomes 'Hind', so they pronounce it as 'Hindu'; and in Greek it has become 'Ind'. The word 'India' has come from the word 'Sindhu'. 'Sindh' becomes 'Hind', 'Hind' becomes 'Ind'. Therefore, the words 'Hindu' and 'India' have both been created by these historical conditions, historical circumstances.

Really, this is Bharatvarsha. We call it Bharatvarsha. Even now they say 'Bharat'. It is not India. 'India' is a historical exigency. Similarly, the word 'Hinduism'—there is no such thing as that. It is Sanatana Dharma—eternal religion. It is eternal religion because it accepts every level of religious thought. It does not reject any level, but it does not consider any level as final. That is the whole point.