Ask Yourself the Question: “Are You a Hindu?”
Belief is the keynote of religious conviction, and beliefs vary greatly among the different religions of the world. Psychologically speaking, what we believe forms our attitudes, shapes our lives, defines our culture and molds our destiny. To choose our beliefs is to choose our religion. Compare your beliefs to the beliefs of Sanātana Dharma. If you find yourself at home with Hindu beliefs, the attitudes they produce and the culture that is lived by a billion-plus souls, then obviously you are a Hindu. It is that easy
But formally entering any new religion is a serious commitment, one which must certainly be considered deeply. This Article briefly outlines the purpose and the requirements of that auspicious and important step. If you’d like a more detailed summary Himalayan Academy’s book How to Become a Hindu is a good place to start.
Entrance into Hinduism must come from the heart, from a deep, inner sense, an inner knowing that this is the natural dharma of your soul. How do you know if you are a Hindu deep inside? If an elder, your guru or a friend has given you a Hindu name? If you have met a swāmī or yogi, pandit or satguru who speaks out the truths you always knew to be the way of the universe? If you feel in your heart of hearts that no other religion suits you better, expresses your native spirituality more profoundly, offers you a way to personally know the Divine within you?
If truly you find you are a Hindu at heart then take the next step and accept the culture, the conventions the fullness of the world’s oldest spiritual tradition, with its yogas and its multitudinous wisdoms. Carefully choose the sect within the Sanātana Dharma—the old Sanskrit name for Hinduism—that you will devote your life to following.
Six Steps Toward Formal Conversion
An individual seeking to enter Hinduism must examine and reject those beliefs of their previous religion or philosophy which differ from those of the Hindu sect they wishes to join. Then they must examine and accept the Hindu beliefs which are new to them.
If you were confirmed or otherwise initiated into another religion or ideology, you must effect formal severance from the previous religion or faith before formally entering the Hindu religion through the the name-giving sacrament. Full religious conversion includes informing one’s former religious or philosophical leader, preferably through a personal meeting, that the individual is entering a new religion.
Further, ethical conversion means that the parents and relatives, too, understand the momentous change that has taken place. This societal recognition, along with initiation, vow-taking and legal change of name on passport and all documents, signifies true conversion on all levels of being.
1: JOINING A HINDU COMMUNITY
First and most importantly, the devotee mixes socially and earns acceptance into an established Hindu community. If a local community isn’t available then joining Hindu groups online is also an option. The ideal is to worship regularly at the community’s gatherings or temple, to make a yearly pilgrimage to a distant Hindu temple or holy shrine, and to perform daily pūjā and sādhanas (spiritual disciplines such as meditation) within the home.
The devotee undertakes certain assigned Hindu studies and a formal analysis of former religions, denominations, sampradāyas (lineages) or philosophical systems. He or she writes a point-counterpoint comparing Hinduism with each such school of thought to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the similarities and differences. Part two of this assignment is to complete a written analysis of all former pledges or vows, indicating when and why each point mentioned in those vows was abandoned. This point-counterpoint is then presented to a Hindu elder for their review and comment.
3: SEVERING FROM FORMER MENTORS: POINT-COUNTERPOINT
If formal severance from another religion is required, the devotee returns to the former institution and attends services or lectures for a few weeks. Then, accompanied by a relative or friend as a witness, he or she meets personally with the former mentor. In the case of a married person, the spouse is preferred as a witness. The devotee explains that they will be joining the Hindu religion and wishes to sever ties with this church or institution. Your point-counterpoint will do much for you in preparing you to meet your former priest to convince him that an inner transformation has occurred and you are indeed a Hindu. This is a face-to-face meeting with the religious leader of your former faith or his successor. This step is done on a very personal level, as the fire of severance takes place during this confrontation. It cannot be done through the mail or on the telephone.
A letter of release can often be obtained from former priests when you leave their office which validates your personal release and clears the way for your formal entrance into Hinduism in all three worlds. It is an essential experience and a document useful for your nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra.” If the religious leader grants a verbal severance but will not convey it in writing, the witness to the interview writes a letter stating what took place. This letter is later given to the guiding elder of the Hindu community which the devotee seeks to fully join. Even if there is no granting of severance, verbally or in writing, the conversion is still considered complete.
4: ADOPTING A HINDU NAME
The devotee then proceeds to have a legal change of name. The new name is placed on his or her passport, driver’s license and all important financial and legal instruments, including credit cards, library cards and bank accounts. Even before formal entrance to Hinduism, devotees are encouraged to begin using their Hindu names at all times.
5: THE NĀMAKARAṆA SAṂSKĀRA
The name-giving sacrament can be held at nearly any Hindu temple. Before the nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra, the devotee informs family, relatives and close friends of his or her name change and intended entrance into Hinduism. At the sacred name-giving rite, the Hindu name is received, vows are taken and a certificate is signed, documenting the former name and the new name, place of ceremony and signature of the priest and at least three witnesses. This sacrament marks the formal entrance into a particular sect of Hinduism, through the acceptance and blessings of established members and the blessings of Gods and devas invoked through rites performed by an authorized Hindu priest.
A sample nāmakaraṇa certificate is provided here to download which can be used to document a nāmakaraṇa held at any temple. Four originals of the certificate should be signed: one for the temple management to display, one for the devotee’s records, one for one’s guru and one for legal matters, such as immigration and travel. The nāmakaraṇa certificate is a legal document giving the name of the temple, home or hall where the ceremony was performed. It is proof of one’s Hindu name that can be used for name changes on other documents, though ideally the name change should be legalized before the ceremony. In the United States a legal name change by court order is required to obtain a passport, and in some states it must be signed by a secretary of state. Each country has its own rules, so for these matters it is best to consult the proper authorities. For strength of character, commitment, loyalty and integrity, a double standard should be avoided at all costs, such as being a Hindu in the home and a non-Hindu to others by using the former name, or using a Hindu name on your driver’s license but a non-Hindu name on your passport for international travel.
6: ANNOUNCING THE SEVERANCE AND NAME-GIVING
After the severance and name-giving, the devotee publishes a three-day announcement in a local newspaper stating that the name-change has been completed and that he or she has entered the Hindu religion through the nāmakaraṇa saṁskāra. The devotee should keep a copy of these announcements and all other documents related to the conversion (such as letters from attorneys and elders) as part of a dossier verifying the name-giving, which may be needed in the future, such as when seeking acceptance into a conservative Hindu organization, seeking permanent residency or citizenship in a foreign country or in other cases when the Hindu name may come into question. Similarly, many temples in India and other countries will ask to see the passport, name-giving certificate or other appropriate proof of Hindu identity before admitting devotees of non-Indian origin.