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Re: General questions about Hinduism

In article <31mkvc$s41@ucunix.san.uc.edu> nickjohnsn@aol.com (NickJohnsn)  
>     I have practiced yoga for many years and have read much about 
> Hinduism but am still confused about certain things.  I have heard that  
> one cannot convert to Hinduism but must be born a Hindu:  is this true 
> for all Hindu sects? 

The orthodox answer on conversion is that no conversion to Hinduism is  
possible. The real, practical reason why this is so, is because Hinduism  
has never felt the need for a conversion ritual. Jawaharlal Nehru quotes  
in his Discovery of India, how when a group of Muslims in Kashmir wanted  
to reconvert to Hinduism, they were told by pundits at Benares that it was  
not possible. On the other hand, in the recent issue of the magazine India  
Today, there is a small article about a Muslim priest of a Subrahmanya  
temple in Pondicherry, who claims to have the approval of the  
Sankaracharyas of Sringeri and Kanchi. So you see, Hinduism is pretty  
flexible. I know of a case where a pundit from Pune solved this problem of  
"conversion" simply by adopting the European girl who wanted to do so!

There are a number of Hindu groups in the U.S. - all of which have  
American followers. Branches of the Ramakrishna Mission, Self- Realization  
Fellowship of Paramahamsa Yogananda, ISKCON, are a few examples. American  
followers of these groups have been well received and generally accepted  
by many religious leaders in India. One of these should be able to better  
help you. 

> I am also curious about the definition of Hindu sins.  For instance, are
> homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and cussing considered to be 
> sins?

The Hindu attitude towards sex in general, is not that of `original sin'.  
Improper sex is considered to be a sin - according to traditional law, one  
who indulges in improper sex loses caste - which is not too serious, in my  
opinion. For one can lose one's caste and still continue to be a Hindu.  
However, to my knowledge, there are no specific guidelines whether  
homosexuality, or extra-marital sex are considered sins. Is there anyone  
on the net who knows whether these are specifically treated in the various  

> Also, where did the concept of the sacred cow originate?  Is it in one 
> of the holy books?
> I have heard that not all Hindus are vegeterarians and am curious about
> any other information about Hindu dietary laws.

As with so many things Indian, the sacredness of the cow is tradition. A  
whole lot of books mention the cow to be a sacred animal. Gohatya -  
killing a cow - is considered a sin. 

A large number of Hindus are not vegetarians. However, even meat-eating  
Hindus draw the line at beef. Vegetarianism is generally accepted as an  
ideal by most Hindus. Typically, Hindus who eat meat, do not do so on a  
regular basis. The regular diet is more typically rice/wheat, milk,  
cereals and pulses etc. 

> As you might have realized, I am considering converting to Hinduism
> officially but don't even know if that is possible.

There are ways around this, as I indicated earlier. Hindu leaders who are  
concerned about tribes converting wholesale to Islam or Christianity have  
recently evolved some kind of a purification ceremony to admit them back  
to the Hindu fold. According to popular legned, even Harihar and Bukka,  
the founders of the southern Hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar were recoverted  
from Islam to their old faith by the sage Vidyaranya. 

S. Vidyasankar

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