The Hindu Heritage
On both the academic and practical levels, there is a great debate about what it means to be Hindu. Hinduism has evolved over many centuries. It has assimilated an incredible diversity of beliefs and practices.
No wonder the Hindu student arriving in America from India rarely has much depth of understanding about the complexity of Hindu tradition. For these students, being Hindu means belonging to a family and community that is part of an ancient and great civilization. Hinduism is far more than just a religion–it is a way of life.
There is no single human founder and no date of origin for Hinduism. Even to use the term “Hinduism” suggests a unity that does not really exist; Hinduism is all about diversity. Ideas that are quite contradictory are held by different persons and groups, yet all under the Hindu umbrella.
Hinduism has no simple canon of scripture like the Bible. There is a voluminous collection of books that are considered scriptural, and most Hindus are acquainted with only a small portion of these.
For decades it has been faddish in the West to talk of Hindu philosophy. This discussion is mostly limited to Western academic circles, and many Indian students are oblivious to these discussions of Hindu philosophy. The spirituality of most Hindus is rooted in devotional traditions that focus on God and the worship of God.
Hinduism is marked by diversity:
- Of gods
- Of rituals
- Of theologies
- Of festivals
- Of cultures
- Of languages
“Hinduism” is so diverse that it is better thought of as a civilization rather than a religion. For many Hindus, there is no conceptual problem in investigating the claims of Christ and dialoguing with an open mind about Christianity. But as noted elsewhere, if Christians portray this process as “conversion” (including a rejection of one’s original culture and family), Hindus will quickly be turned off.