In what sense am I a Hindu? Does what I read, write, wear and consume make me a Hindu? I think, read and write in English, I wear Western style clothing, I live in a Western country, etc. Even then I am a Hindu at the core of my being.
What defines me as a Hindu is my core belief system. How I comprehend the world is what determines whether I am a Hindu or not. The important distinction here is between “material beliefs” and “cosmological beliefs.”
Material and Cosmological Beliefs
Material beliefs relate to the everyday matter of how to make a living, while cosmological beliefs relate to how should one live. The former is informed by the physical and social sciences (which in my case happens to be economics) and the latter by philosophy. My cosmological beliefs define me as a Hindu. I understand, appreciate and subscribe to the ideas of maya, dharma, karma, moksha and so on.
Even though I have adopted material beliefs that appear to be Western, that does not mean that I have to abandon my cosmological beliefs. They are not in conflict and they are certainly not mutually exclusive. What I wear or the language I speak are superficial features that can mislead those who can only see the surface (and not what lies beneath) into thinking that I am a “virtual” something or the other that I am actually not.
(I write “material beliefs that appear to be Western” — the stress is on the word “appears” — because there’s nothing Western about economic and individual freedom. India has a long tradition of that and only recently has it been eclipsed by socialism. This too shall pass.)
While I have put the above in personal terms, it has relevance for India as a whole. India needs economic development and that would require Indians to change their material beliefs. Indians must understand that material poverty is an unavoidable consequence of wrong ideas of “how to make a living.” But changing their material beliefs will not require them to change their views on “how to live.” Poverty is not a core defining feature of being a Hindu, although Gandhi (and his followers) may insist that they are congruent.
(This is an excerpt from a post from Nov 2012 which dealt with the passing of Shri Balasaheb Thackeray and some people wishing him RIP.)