The concepts of Nation and Religion are a western world view imported into the Indian society. So when you say India is a mere nation or Hinduism is a religion, that is a very narrow definition you are ascribing to both. Let us see why.
Why is India not a mere Nation?
A nation is a western concept, as a political geographical boundary separating societies and its people meant to be united in a “nationalist” idea. But a political nation need not necessarily always mean a unified society. Take the case of UK which is a nation, and Scotland which is a part of it is soon going to vote in September 2014 to decide if they want independence from United Kingdom. Take the case of erstwhile unified nations which went on to be divided into smaller nations later.
Nor do two nations living side by side mean their societies are not unified. East and West Germany were separated as nations but they were a unified society and hence became unified later. So was North and South Vietnam which was artificially separated by political ideologies. People of North and South Korea have a lot more in common than the boundaries that separate them today. The society in India is lot more diverse than the countries in Europe and still we are a single nation!
India is not a mere Nation, but a Civilization
Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion (in its popular perception as being a religion) after Christianity and Islam. However, an overwhelming majority of Hindus live as a single nation. On the other hand you have Christian majority countries and Muslim majority countries that area a fraction of the size of India living as separate countries next to each other.
Hindus in spite of being such a diverse population in terms of language, geography, practices continue to live as a single nation. The reason? All Hindus share a common civilization which gives them a diverse yet unified culture. They speak different languages and yet think as a single society.
Mere Religion can never be a unifying force, only a common culture springing out of a common civilization can be. Else the entire Europe could have been a single nation, so would have been the entire middle-east. We have a classic example in our neighborhood in how Bangladesh separated from Pakistan.
And it is not just Hinduism alone. Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, all co-exist as a single diverse society in India. Even religions which entered India from outside like Zoroastrianism, Islam, Christianity all have been one in the diverse Indian society and yet maintain their unique identity. Be an invader or a refugee, neither can you destroy the Indian civilization nor does it destroy you. Everybody gets absorbed into this great idea of India.
Civilizations have risen and fallen across the world – Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Sumerian, Roman, Persian all have had their times and vanished – Indian civilization continues to flourish magnanimously since time immemorial irrespective of whether it is a nation or a collection of kingdoms, rising and falling empires, invaders, refugees, doesn’t matter. For India is not a mere nation, but a grand idea with its roots firmly set in the welfare and well being of not just humanity but all life forms.
Why is Hinduism NOT a religion?
Try answering these questions, and you will see why Hinduism is NOT a religion.
- Who is the founder of Hinduism?
- Which is that single holy book in Hinduism which all Hindus have to abide by?
- Who is that almighty single personal God in Hinduism?
- Which is that single religious institution of Hinduism?
- Who is that single religious head in Hinduism?
Answers to all these questions are in the negative. Hinduism has no single founder, no single holy book, no single religious head or institution, no single personal God. And there is even more, you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. You can disagree with all the popular holy books and still be a Hindu. You may have never visited a Hindu temple, and still be a Hindu. It is not about doing Pooja and saying prayers. It is the way you live your life as a Hindu. You can be a Hindu and still go and pray at a Church, nobody can stop you! There is no blasphemy in Hinduism. You can criticize and debate about every aspect of it without any fear. In fact texts like Upanishads, Gitas are full of extremely critical debates and discussions on various core aspects of Hinduism.
Why is Hinduism a Culture?
You practice your religion, but you live your culture. In Hinduism you don’t practice anything, it is your lifestyle. There is nothing like converting to Hinduism. You do not have missionaries in Hinduism. No where do you find in any Hindu text about how one can convert to Hinduism. You just live your life as a Hindu.
Every aspect of nature is divine in Hinduism which means nature should be respected for it provides us shelter, food and a life supporting system in this Universe. So Hindus worship rivers, mountains, trees, air, water, even other animals, Sun, Moon, planets, knowledge, wealth, everything in the Universe is divine for a Hindu. So you respect nature, follow the laws of nature, and don’t be greedy. Tarudevobhava - trees are divine. You don’t cut trees just like that if you are a true Hindu. In fact you will do everything you can to preserve every aspect of nature around you. Birds build beautiful nests without damaging or altering the surroundings around their nests.
In Kerala and in the coastal belt along Karnataka every ancient family settlement has a backyard area which is called Kaavu in Malayalam (in Kerala) and Haadi in Kannada (in Karnataka). This Kaavu or Haadi is a mini forest area untouched by humans and left for wild animals. Kaavu or Haadi are home to many wild life forms. When the ancient Hindus started building houses, they were quite aware that they were encroaching into the land of the wild animals and birds. So they created these mini forests and ensured continuous protection to these areas throughout generations. Such forest areas and trees were tagged sacred, to ensure people didn’t go and encroach them again. Do you see the reason why they paint the images of Gods and Goddesses on walls to prevent people from littering around?
You treat your guests like Gods - athithidevobhava. You wake up early in the morning in the Brahmi Muhurtha. Ayurveda and Yoga is your life style to be healthy and sound – both in mind and body. Ayurveda is not a medicinal system, but a natural life style you live so that you don’t ever need medicines. Yoga is not just an hour a day physical fitness session, it starts with teaching you how to breathe. And you breathe throughout your life, not for just an hour a day. So they are part of your life style.
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam , the entire world is a family is what you abide by if you are a Hindu. Not just all humans, but all living beings are created equally. So we say Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, may all living beings live happily, in peace, may good happen to all, may all prosper and live their lives to their fullest potential.
And all this is done without any prayer to a personal God or without following any religious rituals. Religious rituals are just that, original life styles with rational reasons which overtime become practices irrespective of whether they still hold good or not. Religions are stagnant, always have fixed set of laws, culture is not. Hinduism is a culture that constantly evolves, you can discard earlier lifestyles which are no longer applicable or valid in your times or in your place. Which is why you find different sections of Hindus in different geographies having their own lifestyle which is so diverse from others. Lifestyle in Hinduism is both time bound and geography specific wherever applicable – again the reason why it is a culture that evolves and not a religion.
And if you want a constitutional approval of Hinduism being a culture, below is an excerpt from a 1996 judgement by the Supreme Court of India on what Hindutva or Hinduism means
Hindutva is indicative more of the way of life of the Indian people. It is not to be understood or construed narrowly. It is not Hindu fundamentalism nor is it to be confined only to the strict Hindu religious practices or as unrelated to the culture and ethos of the people of India, depicting the way of life of the Indian people. Considering Hindutva as hostile, inimical, or intolerant of other faiths, or as communal proceeds from an improper appreciation of its true meaning.
Hinduism is a culture not a religion, and India is a civilization not a mere nation.