Why did the Ramakrishna Mission say they are not Hindus


What is the definition of Religion? Did it ever exist in India? What is the Indian equivalent of religion? I would urge you to read the article ‘Who is a Hindu’ before you read further, go to section Question and Answers Indian Culture on the site.

Articles 25 to 28 cover Right to Freedom of Religion e.g. freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion. The word ‘Religion’ is used in each article. It has been used to provide rights to a section of the population. But what on earth does religion mean, please define?

1. Definition of Religion?
Quote Sri Aurobindo “There is no word so plastic and uncertain in its meaning as the word is religion. The word is European…. The average Christian believes that the Bible is God’s book, but ordinarily he does not consider anything in God’s book binding on him in practice except to believe in God and go to Church once a week, the rest is meant only for the exceptionally pious. To believe in God is to believe that he wrote a book; only one in all those ages, and to go to Church is the minimum of religion in Europe.

Religion is India is a still more plastic term and may mean anything from the heights of Yoga to strangling your fellow man and relieving him of the worldly goods he may happen to be carrying with him. It would be too long to enumerate everything that can be included in Indian religion. Briefly however, it is Dharma or living religiously, whole life being governed by religion. It means in ordinary practice living according to authority. The authority generally accepted in the Shastra. When one studies the Shastra we realize that Indian life and it have little in common, the Indian governs his life by the custom and opinion of the nearest Brahman. In practice this resolves itself into following certain customs and observances of which he neither understands the spiritual meaning nor the practicality. For e.g. to venerate the scriptures without knowing them, to keep Hindu holidays, to worship all Brahmans without knowing whether they are venerable or not. This in India is the minimum of religion glorified as Sanathan Dharam. If a man has emotional or ecstatic piety, he is a Bhakta, if he can talk fluently about the Veda, Upanishads etc he is a Jnani. If he puts on a yellow robe and does nothing he is a tyagi or sannyasin.

The average Hindu is right in his conception of religion as dharma, to live according to holy rule, but the holy rule is not a mass of fugitive customs, but to live for God in oneself and others and not for oneself only, to make the whole life a sadhana the object of which is to realize the Divine in the world by work, love and knowledge”.

What does Religion mean to the common man? If you were to say ‘I am a Hindu’ what does it mean to you? To an ordinary person, i.e. someone who has not read the scriptures, it means –
a) rituals + festivals + spirituality in that order for e.g. following some of 16 samskaras like naming - thread - mundan and marriage ceremonies.
b) belief in the Law of Karma and Rebirth.
c) you could live the Hindu way of life and yet be a Muslim/Christian.

In India there never existed anything like Religion. As a concept it is alien to us. India has a number of languages and diverse cultures but what united us was a Central Idea called Sanatana Dharma, “the Eternal or Universal Dharma. Dharma means universal law, the fundamental principles behind this marvelous universe like the Law of Karma. Sanatana means perennial, referring to eternal truths that manifests in ever-new names and forms. Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world because it is based on the eternal origins of creation. But it is also the newest religion in the world because it adjusts to new names and forms to every generation and looks to living teachers not old books, as its final authority”. Quoted from Hinduism and the Clash of Civilizations by David Frawley.

Dharma - Quote Swami Rama i.e. explanation to verse 31 and 32 of chapter 2 of the Gita “ Sri Krishna explains to Arjuna that one’s duty is of paramount importance, for it is the means to fulfill the purpose of life. That which supports the fulfillment of one’s duty is called Dharma. Dharma is not comparable to religion; it encompasses all the dimensions of life both within and without. It refers to duties done harmoniously, skillfully, selflessly and lovingly. It supports one in fulfilling the purpose of life and helps one to relate to others and to society in a harmonious way”.

Religion vs. Philosophy - Today a school of philosophy has become synonymous with religion. In India there are different schools of philosophy, the six famous ones are Nyaya, Vaiseskia, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta. If we were to go by the western definition of religion, every philosophy must represent one religion. If Hindus were to accept that there would be so many religions in India. To a Hindu variety in thought comes naturally. Each of these schools of thought is within the fold of Sanathan Dharam.

The Sanskrit word for philosophy is darsana, which means direct vision. The words symbolize the difference between modern Western philosophy, which mainly relies on intellectual pursuit and Indian philosophy that relies on direct vision of truths and pure Buddhi (reasoning). Darsana is divided into two categories namely Astika (believer in the Vedas) and Nastika (non-believer in the Vedas). Astika are Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sakhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Nastika are Carvaka, Jainism and Buddhism. Others are a mixture of the ideas of these systems. Although each school of philosophy is unique some of the Nastika schools are treated as religions today namely Buddhism and Jainism. However, certain common characteristics unite Astika and Nastika schools namely Direct experience, Acceptance of authority, Harmony amongst schools, Parallel growth and co existence of so many schools, open mindedness, support of logic and reasoning, belief of eternity, law of karma, moral and ethical teachings, acknowledgement of suffering, thoroughness, practicality and being inward looking. Have excluded Sikhism because in the words of Khushwant Singh Sikhism is a product of distilled Vedanta and Bhakti movement. To my mind Sikhs are a sect within the Sanathan Dharam fold. In the section ‘Why’ there is an article on why I believe so.
To my mind culture, way of life and characteristics of philosophy are three key parameters that distinguish one religion from another.

What does the Law / Courts say?
The term ‘religion’ has not been defined in the Constitution but the Supreme Court has given it an expansive statement. Religion is a matter of faith. A religion has its basis in a system of beliefs and doctrines, which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well being, but it is also something more than merely doctrine or belief. It may lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, prescribe rituals, ceremonies and food, dress. Thus the Constitutional guarantee under article 25 (1) extends to rites and ceremonies associated with a religion. For e.g. cow sacrifice has been held not be an overt act for a Muslim to exhibit his religious beliefs – Moh Hanif Qureshi v Bihar, AIR 1958, SCI,731.

Bottom-line what I am saying is that the term Religion is alien to India and should not have been the basis for articles 25 to 30. How then can one distinguish Hindu from Muslims and Christians? To my mind the differentiating factor is Dharma? That is what separates all Indians who are not Muslims or Christians.

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