Hinduism, the world’s oldest organized religion is destined for oblivion. It has adherents in pockets across the world but even in the land of its birth, India, scores of Hindus are converting to other religions. In fact, every Muslim and Christian in India (or their ancestors) was a Hindu originally. And each loss to Hinduism was a gain to one of them. Aggressive conversion by waves of Christian missionaries and Muslim traders from the Middle East was partly to blame. However, the reason why the Hindus felt compelled to convert is the real issue. To understand this phenomenon one needs to examine Hinduism’s fundamental precepts, its eccentricities and failings.
Unlike other religions Hinduism does not require strict attendance at temples or observance of the religious occasions. No meatless Fridays or devoting Sundays to Church-going or praying before each meal, no facing Mecca five to seven times a day prostrate or fasting for a whole month each year! You may or may not go to temples to worship; you may opt to set aside a room or a corner of a room for a make-shift temple and worship there. Or you may simply say your prayer in private; or you may do without uttering a word out aloud. Even prayer is not insisted upon. Hinduism thus appears to be the least regimentalized and the most broad-minded of all religions.
That is until you examine why people leave the religion and who those people are. When large numbers of Hindus leave the religion, these are invariably people belonging to the lowest castes; usually the “untouchables”. Here the reason is obvious. This invisible division of the society into “castes” based on inherited occupations and passed down in generations is a uniquely Hindu tradition. The professions had been parceled out by the “higher castes” (Brahmins who naturally were the educators and in turn received the best education). Naturally, their offspring had the best chance to succeed in life. The exact opposite applied to the lowest castes, including the untouchables. They received the least education and were thus robbed of any opportunity to advance in life. Even the brightest among them thus languished at the bottom of the society.
While Indian constitution bans discrimination based on castes (except in the reverse order, in order to help the disadvantaged castes) and in itself it does not hold anyone back from advancing in his/her life, this aspect of Hinduism does play into the hands of other religions attempting to gain converts. In a society that can boast never having had slavery (unlike most of the other old civilizations, including Egyptian, Greek and Roman), this blemish is unfortunately telling. And it is the very existence of the caste system that needs to be abolished if Hinduism is to survive in the long run. This is my first solution to salvage Hinduism from extinction.
The second, a rather indolent ‘plague’ of Hinduism is the fact that (like Judaism) no one is invited to join the religion; one has to be born into it. This is in stark contrast to the two most popular religions, Islam and Christianity; it is the duty of their adherents (especially of the latter) to bring new converts. Only occasionally, and then after much ado and ceremony does a non-Hindu become a Hindu. This must be changed. Every Hindu should make it his/her mission to attract outsiders and a simple ceremony such as a registration process in a government office be all that is needed.
Yet another ‘problem’ unique to Hinduism is the perception by others that it has multiple gods and goddesses and thus most of what they observe can be cast aside as ‘paganism’. Somehow the worship of one omnipotent divine creature is acceptable and ‘superior’, according to the other major religions. But, even in Hinduism as practiced from the Vedic times onwards, all the different manifestations of Hindu deities are simply that… manifestations of one “Supreme Soul”. The Atharva Vedas state this clearly as follows:
“There are no eight, nine or ten Gods;
There are no five, six or seven Gods;
There are not even two, three or four Gods;
To him who knows, there is only one God.
All deities are but different names of the One.
He is the One, the only One.
He is the One who oversees what breathes and what does not breathe.
He is the One with all the power and the authority.”
The Hindus must fight this erroneous perception of the others, if they want to attract the ‘civilized’ and modern Homo sapiens to its fold!
Now, think about this. No specific requirements of observing ceremonies and prayer and accepting new converts into a religion without the caste system. That would prove irresistible to vast numbers of people of all nations, especially those disenchanted with the regimentalization of most religions. Then, we may not witness an age-old religion simply wither away!