A leading Hindu spiritual guru has recommended that all non-Muslims should identify as Hindus in India. The Shankaracharya of Puri in eastern state Odisha claims such a move would make Hindus the second-largest religious group in the world, sparking a debate among faith leaders. “We need not take these statements seriously. The fact is that, historically and culturally, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains came from Hindus and Hindu laws are applied to them for marriages, inheritance and adoption, so in that sense the claim of the Shankaracharya of Puri cannot be faulted,” A.C. Michael, national coordinator of the United Christian Forum, told UCA News. “Moreover, Shankaracharya has not said anything about Christians. Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains were given minority status so that they could enjoy the rights and privileges of minority institutions.” Many Hindus have started believing in Christianity but have not converted formally so that they retain the same rights and privileges of Hindus, Michael said. This proves Christianity is a separate religion and does not form part of the Hindu religion, he added.
Buddhist monk Bhanti Nag Bhushan Bodh told UCA News that spiritual gurus like Puri Shankaracharya should refrain from making such statements because this gives the wrong message to other faiths and communities, and the message of brotherhood is disturbed. “A spiritual guru, whether Buddhist, Jain, Sikh or Christian, should always advocate peace, love and common existence,” he said. Shankaracharya says that Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs were part of the Sanatan Dharma (eternal religion) but political leaders and their parties declared them to be minorities for power and votes. “The Sanatan or Vedic system is the foundation of the structure of the society and Hinduism is the foremost religion of India and the government,” the spiritual guru said. He says there are similarities in the ideologies of Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus. All believe in rebirth and believe the Ganges to be a holy river and the cow to be a sacred animal. They believe in the non-destruction of the soul even if the body is destroyed and non-Muslim minorities believe in Om, which is the origin of their faith, he claims. He said these minorities were separated from Hinduism when India’s constitution was made and Article 25 should be amended to declare these minorities as Hindus. Shankaracharya, a hardcore Hindu leader and vocal against religious conversion, says that today’s Hindus, mostly secular, progressives and liberals, don’t follow the Varna system themselves. Four basic categories are defined under this system — Brahmins (priests, teachers, intellectuals), Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, administrators), Vaishyas (agriculturalists, traders, farmers) and Shudras (workers, laborers, artisans). Many minority religious leaders say that India has been witnessing increased religious polarization since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. It projected itself as the champion of Hindus, bolstering Hindu groups to accelerate their action to turn India into a Hindu-only nation. Religious minorities like Christians and Muslims have been complaining of increased violence against their people. Prominent French Catholics issue call for Church reform
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