The Name

‘Hinduism’ is not the original name of the religion followed by the Indian! In fact, its adherents never gave it any particular name except ‘dharma’ which simply means ‘the eternal law that supports and sustains those who practice it’. Nor was there any need to do so since, being ancient- and in a way prehistoric- there was no other religion from which it had to distinguish itself from! (Swami Harshananda, A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (2008) Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore)

Actually, the origin of the words ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ is geographical. The land of the river Sindhu (Indus) and the people inhabiting it came to be known as ‘Hindu’ among the ancient Persians, in whose language, the ‘S’ of Sanskrit became ‘H’. And this name has somehow stuck. (Swami Harshananda, A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (2008) Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore)

Looked at from this angle, all religions of Indian origin- whether it is Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, or tribal cults-become different facets of Hinduism. However, in practice, the term is applied specifically to the religion dependent on the Vedas.(Swami Harshananda, A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism (2008) Ramakrishna Math, Bangalore)

The word ‘Sanatana Dharma’ (the ancient and eternal religion) is sometimes applied to Hinduism by its more orthodox followers.

What is Hinduism in the words of Swami Vivekananda:

  • The three essentials of Hinduism are belief in God, in the Vedas as revelation, in the doctrine of Karma and transmigration.
  • One point of difference between Hinduism and other religions is that in Hinduism we pass from truth to truth—from a lower truth to a higher truth—and never from error to truth.
  • There have been two lines of progress in this world—political and religious. In the former the Greeks are everything, the modern political institutions being only the development of the Grecian; in the latter the Hindus are everything.
  • Chemistry ceases to improve when one element is found from which all others are deductible. Physics ceases to progress when one force is found of which all others are manifestations. So religion ceases to progress when unity is reached, which is the case with Hinduism.
  • In everything, there are two kinds of development—analytical and synthetical. In the former, the Hindus excel other nations. In the latter they are nil.
  • The Hindus have cultivated the power of analysis and abstraction. No nation has yet produced a grammar like that of Panini.
  • The Hindus progressed in the subjective sciences.
  • There is this difference between the love taught by Christianity and that taught by Hinduism: Christianity teaches us to love our neighbours as we should wish them to love us; Hinduism asks us to love them as ourselves, in fact, to see ourselves in them.
  • All sectarian religions take for granted that all men are equal. This is not warranted by science. There is more difference between minds than between bodies. One fundamental doctrine of Hinduism is that all men are different, there being unity in variety.
  • Too early religious advancement of the Hindus and that superfineness in everything which made them cling to higher alternatives, have reduced them to what they are. The Hindus have to learn a little bit of materialism from the West and teach them a little bit of spirituality.
  • Modern Hinduism, modern Jainism, and Buddhism branched off at the same time.
  • The fault with all religions like Christianity is that they have one set of rules for all. But Hindu religion is suited to all grades of religious aspiration and progress. It contains all the ideals in their perfect form. For example, the ideal of Shanta or blessedness is to be found in Vasishtha; that of love in Krishna; that of duty in Rama and Sita; and that of intellect in Shukadeva. Study the characters of these and of other ideal men. Adopt one which suits you best.
  • Individuality in universality is the plan of creation. Each cell has its part in bringing about consciousness. Man is individual and at the same time universal. It is while realising our individual nature that we realise even our national and universal nature. Each is an infinite circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. By practice one can feel universal Selfhood which is the essence of Hinduism. He who sees in every being his own Self is a Pandita (sage).