Reflections on Hinduism

A friend who is remarkably knowledgeable on many religions, once said in response to an inquiry on Hinduism – “There is no such thing!” His reply reflects a deeper truth as the word itself has been imposed on India. The word Hinduism is not mentioned in any of the classical Sanskrit texts, nor is it “found in any of the 1000s of native dialects and languages of India.” (Jayaram V, Hinduwebsite.com)

Some 3000 to 4000 years ago the ancient Persians mispronounced the river Indus as Sindhu. However, according to scholars, the letter ‘S’ was difficult for them to pronounce. Therefore the word Sindhu became Hindu. This Persian word Hindu originally referred to the land “around and beyond the Indus River” (C.J. Fuller 1992, The Camphor Flame; quoted in Sanskrit, Bhagavad-Gita Grammar).

By the 17th century the word Hindu came to denote “any native of Hindustan (India), but gradually came to mean someone who retained the indigenous religion and had not converted to Islam” (ibid). In the 19th century the ‘-ism’ was added and westerners began to use the term Hinduism to describe the vast multitude of India’s diverse approaches to God.

Thus the marvelous diversity of brilliant insightful sacred writings and spiritual practices, which had emerged over 1000s of years, came to be called Hinduism by westerners who could only perceive the immense fertile complexity of a highly evolved ancient civilization from their own limited perspective.

“Using the term ‘Hinduism’ for the many religions of India is even more problematic than ignoring the differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, merging them under a single term ‘Semitism’. ” (Bhagavad-Gita Grammar)

When I tell people in casual conversation that I study Sanskrit, they usually say that they know something about Buddhism - but nothing about Hinduism. For the beginner the dazzling array of teachings is somewhat overwhelming.

In my view, the rich treasure offered in the Sanskrit texts reflects the amazing capacity of the Indian heart and mind to allow each of us to find our own way to God. I like to say that Hinduism provides a religion for each and every individual!

There are three primary divisions of Hinduism:

Vaishnavas – worship the Lord as Vishnu

Saivas – worship the Lord as Shiva

Shaktas – who worship Devi, the Mother aspect of the Lord

Within these three there are many others, which suit the temperaments and values of individuals and communities in India. Every ‘commentary’ on a Sanskrit text reveals the consciousness of the writer, the level of their own individual realizations, and the school of thinking through and by which they have arrived at their experience of God.

Reading the Sanskrit texts offers you the opportunity to explore your own thoughts and to experience enlightening revelations as you discover your way.

In the end, there is only the Oneness. Like the rivers that flow into the vast ocean, we are all heading towards the same destination – even if we slowly meander over green hills or in desolate valleys. India understands that the return of the Self/Atman to its Source is the sole purpose of all Life. Therefore India has a long tradition of tolerating all paths – for it knows that eventually we will all find our way Home.




SANSKRIT, Bhagavad-Gita Grammar, Vol.I Introduction; Bhaktivedanta Svami Language School, Vrindavan, March 2005.


The Meaning, Definition and Origin of the Word Hindu, by Jayaram V



About the Name Hindu, by Stephen Knapp




Available online!

The Divine Life Society offers the writings of Swami Krishnananda on the web, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Krishnananda has a wonderful down-to-earth understanding of the ancient Sanskrit texts. I highly recommend them to you.



The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad





The early translations of the Sanskrit texts came with an agenda: “Max Müller was a British agent, especially employed (in 1847) to write the translations of the Vedas in such a demeaning way so that the Hindus should lose faith in them.”





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