I have decided that I need to change my blog title from “Westerner interested in Hinduism”. I am more than just interested in Hinduism now, I am a follower of Sanatana Dharma. I have to say a follower at the beginning stages, and perhaps not a very good one. But what should I change it to? Well, it should reflect that I am ethnically Western, and that I am following Hinduism. The obvious title is “Western Hindu”, and that is actually the title that I have decided to use.
Why have I bothered to write this article then? Because there are very good arguments that the title “Western Hindu” is not accurate and some would argue incorrect. This article explores the alternative titles that I have considered, and why I have chosen a title that is not the most accurate. I will start by looking at why the term “Western” is could be misleading, and then look at why some people would claim that my use of the word “Hindu” is wrong.
Why “Western” could be misleading.
There is no doubt that I am Western. Admittedly not by much, the longitude of where I live is only 1.85 degrees west, and part of England is actually in the Eastern hemisphere. Of course Western in this case means coming from a Western Country rather than being in the Western Hemisphere, so perhaps this is a good description. On the other hand there are quite a few Western Hindus, most of them from an Indian ethnic origin. Nobody could say that a third generation Indian immigrant was not a Westerner, so perhaps the title should reflect my ethnic group. How about white as a description. Of course it is not completely accurate, I am not white like a piece of paper! Nevertheless it is a description that would be understood. I don’t like the term white, because it alludes to race more than ethnicity, which is what is important here – I wasn’t born as a Hindu but become one. For a similar reason I will discount caucasian, it is not used much in the UK anyway but it definitely has racial overtones. How about saying “of Western Ethnicity“, or even “of British Ethnicity“. This is very accurate, easily understood, but non really a snappy blog title. The catchy “non-desi” would be understood by people of Indian ethnic origin in the west, but probably not by many other people. Though the term Western could cover people of other ethnic origins, I think its meaning in this context is clear. I have some doubts as to whether a Hindu in India might think it referred to people who emigrated, but I think that would become clear after reading the blog.
Why “Hindu” could be incorrect.
The word “Hindu” was originally used by ancient Persians to refer to the people inhabiting the lands of river Indus. This usage had nothing to do with religion. Some people say that the word Hindu still refers to people from India, and that Sanatana Dharma, or the Eternal Way is the correct term for the religion. By this argument I am no more a Hindu than I would be Chinese if followed Taoism, or Greek if I joined the Greek Orthodox church! However, the word Hindu in normal English does refer to religion, the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Online Dictionary defines it as “someone who believes in Hinduism”. Many words have changed since their original meaning, so I have no problem in using Hinduism in this way. I could say Sanatana Dharma, as it is unambiguos, but many people would not know what it meant, besides it is not a catchy title.
Some people argue that you cannot be a Hindu, as there is no initiation ceremony or acceptance. I have heard two variations of this argument. The first is that you can say you “follow Hinduism” if you follow its practices, you “believe in Hinduism” if you believe the Vedas, but saying you are a Hindu is as artificial as saying you are a “footpath follower” (or “sidewalk follower” for Americans) if you walk down the footpath. In one way this is really nice, it shows how accepting Hinduism is, all you have to do is follow it. On the other hand, I could be described as a “blogger”, because I blog, a “computer programmer” as I program computers. etc. – mabe in the widest sense even as a “writer”. It is a convenient way to quickly identify that someone follows a particular course of action.
The second argument is that you cannot be just a Hindu, you must follow a particular division or School. The Himalayan Academy says in “How to Become a (Better) Hindu”:
It is important to know that one cannot simply enter “the Hindu religion.” That is not possible. It is necessary to enter one of Hinduism’s specific sects or denominations.
One cannot just become a European Citizen, one has to be a citizen of a particular European country. This gives you European Citizenship. Similarly, the argument goes, you have to belong to a Hindu sect, and then you will be a Hindu. I do have sympathy with this argument, and I have to say at that at the moment I am still learning enough to decide whether I am a Shaivite or a Smarta who worships Shiva. That said, I have no doubt that I am on the path to this decision, certainly enough to change the blog title.
So, though “Blogger of English Ethnic Origin who follows Sanatana Dharma” would be a more accurate title, I think I will change it to “Western Hindu”. Not so precise but easier to understand and more catchy!