The other day my mom was pointing out to me that if Truth is universal and One, then it doesn't matter what you call it. You can give any name you want to the divine. I think that's true. Look at Mother Theresa who saw God in every person she cared for. I read a book collected from speeches she gave and over and over again she said that she cared for the poor because when she looked at them, she saw Jesus. That's a pretty Hindu concept, seeing the divine within people. But she found it in Catholicism. Does that truth of unity belong exclusively to Hinduism? Does believing that make you a Hindu? Of course not.
However, knowing that I have a choice what I call the divine, I choose to call it Brahma and to call myself a Hindu.
That word can be a bit charged. I was reading an article in the new Hinduism Today that was about a debate between Deepak Chopra and Aseem Shukla about yoga and whether it is a Hindu practice or one that belongs to everyone. Regardless of that debate, what I found interesting in it was that Dr. Shukla called on Mr. Chopra to acknowledge his own Hindu roots and Chopra refused to. He associates the word “Hindu” with the close-minded Orthodox and calls himself an Advaita Vedantan (that is, by the way, what I used to call myself). Shukla argues for reclaiming the title Hindu and I agree with him.
Shukla writes, “Not willing to identify himself as a Hindu, Chopra is content to accept the term Sanatana Dharma as the source of the yoga and the Vedantic wisdom he propagates. Chopra is hardly the first to find it hard to openly identify himself as a Hindu, just as Eckhart Tolle eschews the term Hindu while he admittedly parlays the copious works of the towering contemporary Advaita Vedanta Hindu master, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Today, Sanatana Dharma and Hinduism are synonymous. Chopra incomprehensibly condemns Hinduism as ‘tribal’…”
In another place Shukla does acknowledge that the ancient rishis did not call themselves “Hindu,” that the term is rather recent, but it is still a useful way to describe the practices and the beliefs.
It is, after all, a word recognized by the entire world, even if grossly misunderstood. I think rather than abandon the word because it is misunderstood, it is up to us to give it its true meaning.
Instead of being afraid of the baggage of the word “Hindu”, why not remake Hinduism to be what it should be? It does not belong to the close minded, hateful, or bigoted. I won’t give the word to those who espouse violence.
Let’s live by example, embodying the good parts of Hinduism and showing the world those best parts.
I wear Indian clothes and a bindi in part to help make it normal in the west, to send the message that you don’t have to whitewash your culture to be American or British, etc. Rather than saying, I can't be religious (or I have to hide being religious) because I am young, modern, and liberal, we can go into the world and show that you can be both. I can be religious and show my religion and at the same time be sassy, modern, and liberal!
I have pride in the title of “Hindu” and I know that I am creating the definition of what that is every day when I interact with people who are not Hindus or who are put off by their memories of unyielding Hindus in their family, etc.
With pride we can say, this is what Hinduism looks like. It is not stuck in the past, it does not have to be "tribal," it is vibrant and alive and modern.