The word Hindu is what defines someone who is following Sanatana Dharma. Not until recently was the term Hinduism coined so that it could be compared and situated alongside Abrahamic religions. In other words it was necessary that the word Hinduism be formed so that it would be fit to call it a religion which technically it is not. It is a way of life as we know it. The word Hindu comes from the word Sindhu. Anyone who is born in the land of Sindhu (India) is a Hindu. It is a cultural and geographic identity. Basically, saying, “I am Hindu” is equivalent to saying “I am Indian” but goes further back in ancient times. The term Indian only goes back about 70 years but it seems as though Indians have been known to be Indians for eternity.
Sanatana Dharma or Hindu is not an “ism” but was made as such due to outside influences. Being a Hindu is following a universal law (Sanatana Dharma) which includes everything and does not exclude anything. It is inclusive in nature and transcends the limits of societal expectations. Being a Hindu does not mean that one is following an organized set of beliefs but instead it simply means one is growing towards salvation.
There is no organized belief system in the Hindu way of life. One can follow any god be it a female or male figure, be it an animal, be it a rock, be it a parent or any other form of nature. Sacrificing for or respecting one over the other does not make anyone better or worse. The ultimate goal is to let these figures of respect and worship lead one in the right direction towards mukhti or salvation. The search and discovery of self allows one to become free of all material goods and feelings of greed and sin. It will bring one outside of all the things the average person sees in our lifetime. Being a Hindu does not mean that everyone in a family has to follow the same beliefs. Each person in a household can have different beliefs yet still be a good Hindu (and part of the same family) in his or her own way so long as this person is in search of liberation.
The interesting thing about being a Hindu is that although one is using figures of God to whom they can relate to, God is only a stepping stone to the ultimate goal which is salvation. People who follow the way of a Hindu worship whatever aspect of life that they can relate most to and that is what helps them to live hence, it is known as a way of life.
The purpose of God is to create a sense of reverence in a person. It’s not what you give ultimate respect to that is important but the act of reverence which is key. The fundamental goal in life is true liberation through spirituality, understanding of self and meeting life goals to move further up the ladder towards liberation.
The true meaning of being a Hindu is freedom and what better way to live life than to be free? The exploration of life is a search for freedom. The ancestors of Hindus goaled to preserve and protect everything that was a part of nature. Through this exploration, they gained wisdom, an understanding of self and most importantly the meaning and feeling of freedom. The lessons of our ancestors must not be forgotten and will help guide us to our own liberation be it in a similar way to theirs on in our own unique ways. The limitless opportunities a Hindu has to be a Hindu and live a dharmic life should not be lost in the midst of appeasing the modern definition of religion. We must pass down this gift of knowledge and life to our descendants.
By Sucheta Rustagi
Sucheta is a writer and teacher by profession and completed her masters in Education at Western University in Canada. She focuses on nature, animal & environmental rights and spiritual philosophy.