The last couple of weeks I did a lot of what we call ISKCON Communication Work. Whether I give an interview to university students, visit a Mosque for a Ramadan Feast, have an interfaith program on Vedic rituals or just talk to some school classes - I am always invited to do so, with the understanding that I represent a tradition of the Hindu religion. Some devotees doubt these activities and raise the question whether we are actually Hindus.
The first argument for not being Hindus is obvious. The word Hindu does not appear in any `Hindu-scripture`. It is a term given by invaders: „The actual term Hindu first occurs as a Persian geographical term for the people who lived beyond the river Indus (Sanskrit: Sindhu)“ 1 Srila Prabhupada confirmed this many times and presented an even more important reason for not identifying with being a Hindu: „I am Hindu or Christian because I have got this body from the Christian father-mother, Hindu father-mother. But that is body. I am not this body.“ 2 „Simply we are teaching that “Become God conscious.” God is neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian. He’s God. And we are also not Hindu or Muslim or Christian. This is our bodily designation. We are all pure, part and parcel of the Supreme.“ 3
The following story told by Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu illustrates this point further: After his arrival at the Kennedy Airport in New York, Srila Prabhupada gave a short speech at a press conference and then, surrounded by his disciple made his way towards the exit of the airport. In this moment a late TV Reporter ran to Srila Prabhupada, waved his microphone in front of Prabhupada's face and asked, still out of breath: „How does your group differ from other Buddhists?“ Srila Prabhupada looked straight into the eyes of the reporter and said: „We have nothing to do with Hinduism or Buddhism. We teach the truth, and if you are interested in the truth, you will accept it!“ 4 The confused reporter tried to repeat his question, not understanding that Srila Prabhupada was not willing to answer on this external level. Srila Prabhupada wanted to make clear that he did not come to the West just to introduce another religion. No, he taught universal spiritual truths. For him religion did not mean just some belief, some credo. For him religion meant dharma - the true nature of the soul, which is to be a servant of God. So in that sense we are not Hindus.
At the same time there are circumstances where it makes sense to identify as part of Hindu Tradition. Anuttama Prabhu, ISKCON Communication Minister explains: „When demonstrating the authenticity of ISKCON and the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, it is appropriate to accept the more commonly known term “Hindu”. For example, as Prabhupada’s movement grew and began to be criticized as a “new cult” in various parts of the world, he acknowledged that we are part of the broader Hindu culture. (..) We are servants of God, and this eternal nature of the soul transcends any sectarian identity. However, from a cultural, academic, official, and legal point of view ISKCON is part of the broader Hindu community. For the sake of social discourse and practicality in this world, all people are identified under different traditions—whether they’re geographical, political, religious, ethnic, or linguistic. In this regard, ISKCON clearly falls under the broad umbrella of the Vedic—or what is known today as Hindu—traditions.“ 5
In other words, from the spiritual perspective we are not these bodies, we do not belong to a certain nationality or system of faith. Still it is sometimes required to identify with the external roles we play in this world. If for example I need to answer the `call of nature` and have to visit a public bathroom, it is advisable to identify with a certain gender otherwise I might get in trouble. Or if I am at the custom and requested to show my passport it would not be wise to deny my Swiss nationality. Similarly, if someone invites me to speak about Hinduism I am not starting to preach to that person about my true identity as a spiritual soul but I happily accept the invitation as I did today.
While writing the last lines of this blog I am sitting in a train heading towards St. Gallen where I spend my day in an interfaith program dedicated to the Topic `Food in Religion`. And yes, I will represent Hinduism. By doing so I am given the chance to distribute Prasad, distribute books and speak to people about the importance of ahimsa. Why should I miss this opportunity to share Krishna Consciousness culture and philosophy?
2 - BG Lect. – 22/4/76 Melbourne
3 - BG Lecture NY 23/11/66
4 - Essay RSP
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