Are converts accepted in Hinduism?
While I was growing up I heard from various sources that one couldn’t really convert to Hinduism. As someone who was not religious and also someone not interested in religious matters, I never delved deeply into this subject. If I had to think about it I would say that Hindus generally believe that a person could convert and become a Hindu, and converts would be surely be accepted as Hinduism is a tolerant religion…but some Hindus would have doubts as to whether a convert is a ‘true’ Hindu, as ‘true’ as someone who is born a Hindu.
These thoughts came to me as I read a news report which talked about converted Hindus who were being denied their right to enter the Sri Jagannath Temple. The converted Hindus in this instance were the ISKON monks. Priests of Sri Jagannath Temple demanded that they be banned from entering the temple.
In a memorandum to Sri Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA), Sri Jagannath Sevayat Sammilanee (SJSS) said only ‘Hindus by birth’ should be allowed into the temple, one of the four important ‘dhams’ for Hindus in the country…citing two recent incidents in which the priests drove out nine Indonesian nationals from the temple, Mahasuar said they were Hindus on paper. But they were converts…
There have been other incidents in the past as well. An American woman who had converted to Hinduism and was married to an Indian was refused entry into the 11th century Lingaraj Temple some years ago. There was quite a scene because her husband insisted that she be let in. There was a board outside the temple which said no entry for non-Hindus but he insisted that his wife was a Hindu but the priests would have none of it.
I personally do not think anything is wrong even if a non-Hindu enters a temple, even if it is an “important” temple, but ofcourse my opinion doesn’t count. Each temple is managed by a group of people and they make the rules. I guess they are free to make the rules, but the problem is that these kind of rules harm the image of Hinduism. While not trying to convert people is fine, refusing to accept those who have willingly embraced our religion doesn’t seem right to me.
But is there any logic and/or truth behind this? Does Hinduism disallow converts? Does the reason why Hindus do not try to convert non-Hindus explain why converts are not accepted? (at least by some priests) It says on karma2grace.org:
The understanding for the reason why Hindus don’t try to convert is contained in the three major teachings of Hinduism: casteism, reincarnation, and karma. Each of these reinforce each other in the belief that all men are on a path—at varying distances from attaining release from samsara into moksha. So in a sense, Hinduism believes there is no need or fruitfulness to trying to convert someone.
In other words, those who are not born Hindus would (by being re-born) eventually become Hindus (provided they live right.) A cool idea for any religion, as it presumes that a Hindu (caste also comes into this as being just a Hindu isn’t enough) is at the top of re-incarnation heap. If one went by this, everyone is already on their way to become a Hindu, even those from outside the belief system…they just haven’t got there yet. And those who haven’t got there yet aren’t Hindus…they aren’t ready to be Hindus.
To die outside the belief system of Hinduism is not a threat or concern to Hindus, because they believe that these people will be born into this universe in another life in another form. Eventually, if a person lives right, they will ascend through the different forms of life to humanity and then to a high caste and then eventually reach moksha.
Karma is supposed to sort it all out.
But according to this site, converts are well accepted in Hinduism and this stuff is all nonsense (that converts are not true Hindus).
Swami Vivekananda said that conversion into Hinduism from other religions is normal, that it has and should take place time and time again…You’ve often heard that Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion, that Hinduism never convert others, that you have to be born a Hindu to be a Hindu, or be born a Hindu in India to be a Hindu. How ridiculous these notions are. We did a lot of research to find out who originated this kind of thinking. We made a note of every comment of this nature from many, many books and found that it was totally Christian propaganda…Whereas, all the authors of statements that Hindus do bring others into their faith were eminent Hindus.
This couldn’t be true because there are specific instances of Hindu priests not accepting converts. If converts are accepted, then why do some temple priests stop Hindu converts from entering certain temples?
Apparently, Swami Dayananda and Swami Shraddhananda were also for conversions. But despite messages from these eminent swamis, some temple priests continue to refuse to accept converts. Almost a hundred priests of the Sri Jagannath Temple went on a dharna last month demanding a ban on the entry of converted Hindus into the 12th century shrine. Yes, I do know about the different streams of thought in Hinduism, but where conversion is concerned I wish there was some sort of common ground. Conversion cannot be taken lightly, it’s everything to do with the survival of Hinduism.
If one has to answer the question, does Hinduism accept converts, I have to admit that I am still quite unclear. Not having read any scholarly work on the same I cannot answer the question with any certainty. But being a Hindu myself I instinctively know that Hinduism is far too generous a religion not to allow it.
(Photograph is by me and copyrighted)
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