Recently I had an extended e-mail correspondence with Paul, an old friend of mine with whom I had not spoken for around fifteen years. Paul was angry with me because he felt that I was not behaving as a fit representative of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada. He’d seen me on a late night television programme: “Essentials of Faith” in which I appeared and spoke on Hinduism. The programme, one of a series examining contemporary religious life in Britain, compared and contrasted the beliefs and practises of four members of distinct denominations within the same faith community.
What made Paul hammer away at his keyboard was the fact that during the interview I had seemed to readily accept the designation of ‘Hindu.’ Paul thought that I should have explained ‘our actual position’ to the interviewer. He sent me numerous quotations pulled from Srila Prabhupada’s writings and conversations to substantiate his argument. Although I offered my explanations, Paul was not to be placated; I had misrepresented my guru and had brought the movement of ISKCON down from a revolutionary spiritual movement to the level of an Indian religious denomination.
Paul is right of course. As any reader of Srila Prabhupada’s books will know, he never referred to the path of Krishna consciousness as ‘Hinduism.’ He was, on many occasions, very careful to point out that the word Hindu does not appear anywhere in the Vedas, the canonical literature upon which Krishna consciousness is based. Indeed, the very word Hindu springs from the mispronunciation by early Persian adventurers of the name of the Indus, the river which runs through north-west India and which for them demarcated the boundaries of a distinct land-mass and culture. The land of the Hindus became known as ‘Hindustan’ and then the British, coming to India some centuries later, were the next to add their labels, attaching the Latin-Greek suffix ‘-ism’ and thereby naming the religion ‘Hinduism.’
The British riding high in India
And thus the name has stuck. Historical revisionists in India of the 21st century, tired of being continually defined by labels given to them by foreigners, now say sarcastically: “Hindus did not know they were Hindus until the British told them they were.”
This blog continues – and be warned, its a whopping 4000 words – on www.deshika.wordpress.com – click on: ‘Hinduism?’