How Can Hindus Unite? and D I D Y O U K N O W ? The Sacred Lotus Flower

How Can Hindus Unite?

The common language of Hinduism must depart from the dominance of Shankaran Advaita

AMIDST THE GLOBALIZATION OF DIVERSE PHILOSOPHIES, Hindus are trying to establish a unique place for themselves. This requires a unique terminology that explains Hinduism, not in a Western framework but on its own terms. Some of our leaders are attempting such a representation of Hinduism, but the ground beneath them is shaky. Their efforts invite ridicule, as they have chosen a terminology which discounts or entirely disregards major streams of Hindu thought. Thus, individual streams of Hinduism are ignoring or just talking at each other. For unity to succeed, leaders must use a terminology that is inclusive and respectful of the diverse branches that make up the tree of Hinduism.

In current definitions of Hinduism, the dominant terminology is that of Advaita, as defined by Shankara’s Mayavada: “brahma satyam, jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva na parah” (loosely translated as “God alone is real, the world is illusory, the individual is none other than God”). This has become part of the defacto popular definition of the Hindu worldview. Wikipedia says, “It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief and the first Hindu saint who significantly brought Hinduism to the West was Swami Vivekananda, an adherent of Advaita.”
Swami Vivekananda was one of the earliest to try to project Hinduism as a unified and consistent philosophy. At the Ethical Society, Brooklyn, New York, 1894, he said, “We believe in a God, the Father of the universe, infinite and omnipotent. But if our soul at last becomes perfect, it also must become infinite. But there is no room for two infinite unconditional beings, and hence we believe in a Personal God, and we ourselves are He.”
Swami Vivekananda was selling Advaita not as Advaita but as Hinduism. He mostly ignores the other diverse Hindu streams, such as the Vaishnavite, Saivite and Shakta sampradayas. In truth, many Hindu traditions are vehemently opposed to Shankara’s concepts of Mayavada and identity of the individual with Brahman. Each stream of Hinduism has its own unique, rich traditions (some much older than Shankara) and a right to stand on its own. Advocate Shankara’s Advaita all you want, but do not reduce the term “Hinduism” to mean just his form of Advaita. Shankara’s Advaita alone does not hold the copyright over the term Hinduism.
However, in influential circles, it is the Advaitins who hold most positions of power. Consider the recent “Hindu Good News” initiative (, which claims to speak on behalf of all Hindus. “And we, every one of us, are endowed with the same potential as Jesus, to uncover this divinity within ourselves in the here and now—without the need for someone else’s past sacrifice.” This again endorses the “jivo brahmaiva na parah” view of Advaita in a subtle and indirect way. The words “same potential” here is not agreeable to other Hindu traditions. It ignores the Vedic hierarchy of beings, the distinction between and among devatas, rishis and manavas, etc. The intent which got lost in translation is that the nature of one’s Atman is the same as everyone else’s, i.e., Sat, Chit and Ananda. But while Hindus agree on the nature of Self, traditions differ on whether or not every individual has the same potential for moksha.
When the non-Advaita traditions enter into a conversation about Hinduism, they are forced to do one of the following:
i) ignore their own beliefs, i.e., multiplicity of Atman or the reality of the material world; ii) engage in incoherent conversations where the speaker and audience have different understanding of the terminology used; iii) declare that they do not belong to Hinduism! Their attempt to communicate their beliefs is doomed to failure. They are marginalized and forgotten in the mainstream debate comparing Hinduism with other religions.
Individually, many of the Hindu traditions lack the means and expertise to stand up on their own against the might of the West. Hence, there is a need for a collective front to engage with the West. However, we do not have to whitewash our differences to put up a unified face in front of other religions. So, it is important to develop a terminology that respects and represents the diverse philosophical streams that make up Hinduism.
To develop such a terminology, scholar and writer Rajiv Malhotra suggests that we avoid terms that have differences within a homogenous group (in this case, Hinduism) and select terms that point to differences between heterogeneous groups (i.e., Western religions). Based on such criteria, the terminology for Hinduism might better include/exclude the following.
Not Maya but Ajnana: Avoid using terms like maya but talk about ajnana (ignorance) being the condition of Atman/Jiva in this world. This concept is mostly interpreted the same by all Hindus and also differs from the Abrahamic concept of humans as sinners.
Not Unity but Sat-Chit-Ananda: Avoid phrases like “Unity of Brahman with Atman” to explain Moksha, a concept with varying interpretations. Instead, talk about the nature of a liberated Atman as Sat, Chit and Ananda, something we all agree on.
Not Advaita but Antaryamin: Avoid using concepts like “Single/Multiple Atman” (a contentious subject among Hindus). Instead, speak of the Antaryamin nature of God, as the omnipresent Divine Indweller of every being, to contrast our faith with Abrahamic religions where God is in Heaven and not within the Soul, i.e., not omnipresent.
Not Mithya but Yuga Chakra: Avoid phrases like “The world is mithya/illusion,” which is specific to Shankara’s philosophy. Talk instead about our common, accepted view of the cyclic nature of the world, creation, maintenance, destruction, in contrast to the Abrahamic concept of linear time with emphasis on just the creation aspect.
Such a change in approach can serve two purposes: It can unite Hindus and at the same time provide a platform to critique the West. Developing an inclusive language for Hinduism is a must, before entering into a dialogue with the West. The language of Hinduism must reflect the ethos on which it is built, i.e., unity in diversity.

(SRINIVAS SUDHINDRA, 32, is a software engineer by profession and is currently based in Bengaluru. Email:

D I D   Y O U   K N O W ?

The Sacred Lotus Flower

THE LOTUS FLOWER, NELUMBO NUCIFERA, possessing both medicinal and culinary uses, has long been significant and sacred to many cultures. Throughout history it has represented the inner depths of man, reflecting in its prepossessing petals the polychromatic patterns of our universe. Now, yet another of this flower’s wonders has been brought to light.
An international team of researchers from the University of Adelaide has sequenced and described the lotus genome in a paper published online at Their research delves into the evolution of this ancient plant, which has apparently been cultivated as an edible crop for more than 7,000 years. One of their most interesting findings is that the lotus flower has the astounding ability to regulate its body temperature, much like warm-blooded mammals.
It was found that over a two-to three-day period the lotus was able to keep a constant temperature of around 32-34 degrees by generating and controlling its own heat, while the surrounding environment varied by up to 30 degrees. A biochemical pathway was found which the plant uses for its temperature regulation. This pathway can be switched on or off, depending on whether more or less heat is needed. This generated heat, along with the flower’s aromas, apparently makes the lotus blossoms particularly attractive to pollinating insects.


A Hindu View of Evil

EVIL IS OFTEN LOOKED UPON AS A force against God. But the Hindu knows that all forces are God’s forces, even the waywardness of adharma. This is sometimes difficult to understand when we see the pains and problems caused by men against men. Looking deeper, we see that what is called evil has its own mysterious purpose in life. Yes, bad things do happen. Still, the wise never blame God, for they know these to be the return of man’s self-created karmas, difficult but necessary experiences for his spiritual evolution.
Whenever we are injured or hurt, we understand that our suffering is but the fulfillment of a karma we once initiated, for which our injurer is but the instrument who, when his karma cycles around, will be the injured. Those who perform seemingly evil deeds are not yet in touch with the ever-present God consciousness of their immortal soul

When the outer, or lower, instinctive nature dominates, one is prone to anger, fear, greed, jealousy, hatred and backbiting. When the intellect is prominent, arrogance and analytical thinking preside. When the superconscious soul comes forth, the refined qualities are born—compassion, insight, modesty and the others.
The animal instincts of the young soul are strong. The intellect, yet to be developed, is nonexistent to control these strong instinctive impulses. When the intellect is developed, the instinctive nature subsides. When the soul unfolds and overshadows the well-developed intellect, this mental harness is loosened and removed. When we encounter wickedness in others, let us be compassionate, for truly there is no intrinsic evil.

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today  and Sri Srinivas Sudhindra ji  for the collection)


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