ISKCON, Hinduism, and the Language of Labels



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Appearing in the television series “Essentials of Faith” I managed to upset a congregation member by speaking on Hinduism. Here’s my view…

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.’

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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 http://www.deshika.wordpress.com – click on: ‘Hinduism?’

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2 Comments

Filed under ISKCON, Journal

2 responses to “ISKCON, Hinduism, and the Language of Labels

  1. Ranchor

    Dear Kripamoya
    According to Krishnadas Kaviraja, Sri Caitanya used the word ‘Hindu’. In the Caitanya-Caritamrita Lord Caitanya refers to Hindus as followers of the Vedic injunction against cow-killing: ‘vede kahe go-vadha nisedha ataeva hindu-matra na kare go-vadha’ (Adi-lila 17.159). In the ensuing conversation the Kazi makes numerous references to Hindus – one that I like is when he says ‘Hindu krsna krsna bali’: ‘Hindus chant Krsna Krsna’. Krishnadas Kaviraja wrote this account around 1620. He used the word Hindu in the context of relations between Muslims and Hindus, and so set a clear precedent for other Vaisnavas to follow in the context of interfaith discussions.

  2. Thanks for this information Ranchor prabhu, our god brother Sankarshan also had this to say this morning:
    Dear Kripamoya Prabhu,

    Please accept my humble obeisances_/\ò_.
    All glories to Srila Prabhupada!
    I have noted your brilliant article with appreciation:
    ISKCON, Hinduism, and the Language of Labels
    I beg to point out that you made one point which is not true. You stated,
    “Srila Prabhupada never used the word ‘Hindu’ to describe him or us.”
    In this connection kindly note the following quote:

    “So sometimes we are criticized in India, that ‘Bhaktivedanta Swami is spoiling Hindu religion.’ But it is not actually the fact. We are
    increasing the number of Hindus.”
    from Lecture on Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 8.128
    — Bhuvanesvara, January 24, 1977

    Hoping this meets you in good health,
    Always your humble servant,
    Sankarshan Das Adhikari

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