Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
part of book: How to become a (better) Hindu, Chapter
7: six steps toward conversion
Sacrificer Dharmantarasya Shatpadi
Sacrifice code wfor0214
Sacrifice date 25 march 2009
How to Become a (Better) Hindu
Chapter 7: Six Steps Toward Conversion
Six Steps Toward Conversion
TO GAIN CLEAR SUBCONSCIOUS MEMORY patterns of the past for his future
religious life, the individual seeking to enter Hinduism must examine
and reject those beliefs of his previous religion or philosophy which
differ from those of the Hindu sect he wishes to join. Then he must examine
and accept the Hindu beliefs which are new to him.
If he was confirmed or otherwise initiated in another religion or ideology,
he must effect formal severance from his 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. Nothing
less will suffice. Even within Hinduism itself there are formal ceremonies
and soul-searching requirements for Hindus converting from one denomination
to another, as when a Saivite becomes a Vaishnavite or a Smarta becomes
a Shakta, accomplished, in part, in some communities by writing with a
golden needle the divine mantras on the convert's tongue.
Before explaining the steps of conversion, we want to advise Hindu societies
worldwide to make close inquiries of adoptives and converts as to their
fulfilling the six steps of conversion to open the doors to the ardha-Hindu
into the fullness of the sectarian faith of his or her choice. Detailed
below are the procedures for religious reconciliation that we have practiced
for several decades in our own fellowship, guiding sincere souls who have
initiated a process of self-conversion which leads from a severance from
their former faith into Saivite Hinduism.
1. JOINING A HINDU COMMUNITY
first and most importantly, the devotee mixes socially and earns acceptance
into an established Hindu community. The devotee should be worshiping
regularly at the community's satsangas or temples, making yearly pilgrimages,
performing daily puja and sadhanas within the home and seriously striving
to live up to the culture defined in the 365 Nandinatha Sutras of Living
with Siva, which is a complete statement of Hindu values and culture.
The devotee undertakes certain assigned Hindu studies and a formal analysis
of former religions, denominations, sampradayas 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 his review and comment.
3. SEVERING FROM FORMER MENTORS
If formal severance 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 he will be joining the Hindu religion
and wishes to sever ties with this church or institution. For an intimate
understanding of severance, I would like to share with you a letter that
one of my family counselors wrote to a potential convert from Catholicism:
"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 soul, not a Catholic. 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.
"During this meeting, your conviction and clear understanding of
both religions will allow your priest to see the thoughtfulness and sincerity
of the decision you have made. A letter of release can, many times, be
obtained before you leave his office when he sees clearly that you have
completely abandoned the Catholic faith. This letter validates your personal
release and clears the way for your formal entrance into Hinduism in all
three worlds. It is an essential experience and document necessary for
your namakarana samskara."
We have many letters from Catholic priests, even archbishops, attesting
to full conversion to Hinduism on the part of their former parishioners.
In the case of formal religions, the devotee requests a letter of release,
as an apostate (such as with the Catholic Church) or as an inactive (as
in most Protestant Christian denominations). 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, based on the canon law of the
Catholic church (and which applies to other faiths in principle, such
as Judaism) that someone who adopts another religion is, ipso facto, an
apostate. In cases where there has been no formal commitment, such as
in nonreligious schools of thought, an inner severance may be effected
through heartfelt conversation with former mentors of that school in which
the devotee shares his or her true convictions.
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 NAMAKARANA SAMSKARA
The name-giving sacrament can be held at nearly any Hindu temple. Before
the namakarana samskara, 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
When seeking out a priest who will perform the name-giving rite, it is
necessary to approach someone from within the sect that you wish to enter.
Most priests will be familiar with how to perform the ritual; but if not,
here are a few guidelines. More information will be posted on our Website
Arrangements must be made ahead of time. In summary, a homa (fire ceremony)
is begun, with the supplicant sitting near the fire. He tells his old
name and new name to the priest, along with his birthstar, nakshatra.
When reciting the sankalpa (pronouncement of purpose), the priest intones
the new name. A large tray of uncooked rice has been prepared. At an auspicious
point in the ritual, the priest asks the participant to read aloud his
declaration of loyalty to Hinduism. Then he is asked to recite his new
name three times. After each recitation, the priest and the congregation
proclaim, Tatha astu, meaning, "Be it so." finally, the devotee
is directed to write his new name in the tray of rice. The certificate
is then signed by the devotee and witnesses.
On the day of this sacred occasion, the devotee should bring an offering
basket of incense, fruits, a husked coconut, rock sugar, loose flowers
and a beautiful flower garland for Lord Ganesha. Dakshina, a love offering
for the priest, is a traditional appreciation of his services in bringing
the seeker into the religion. A generous dakshina, a sum of US$900 or
more, is appropriate by year-2000 standards in the US, depending upon
the number of priests attending. It is estimated that such a Vedic ceremony
will take one to four hours and require many more hours of strict preparations.
The presiding priest would be given $301 or more, his second helper $201
and other helpers $101. Traditionally, cash is wrapped in a betel leaf
or its equivalent and handed personally to the priests right after the
Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime happening, the cost of the giving
should not be a consideration. Of course, when the rite is performed in
a temple, the management should also be given $201 to $501 for the use
of their facilities, which would be arranged with them in advance and
could be paid by check. In general, generosity is preferred to miserliness
when it comes to rewarding our priests for these enormously important
sacred ceremonies and passages. Such appreciation in the form of equitable
payment ensures the gratitude and good feelings of the priests for the
life ahead. If more than one family member is receiving the namakarana
samskara, the amount paid to the priests and the temple would not necessarily
be increased. This depends on the protocol of the particular temple. Any
reception held afterwards would, of course, involve additional costs.
One may elect to give gifts to the temple, such as a picture of your guru
and his books and other publications, in thanks for the assistance and
THE NAMAKARANA CERTIfiCATE
A sample namakarana certificate is provided on the opposite page which
can be photocopied (enlarged) to document a namakarana held at any temple.
(Alt-click or option-click to download a PDF). 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. Each original is signed by the devotee, the
priest, his assistant and at least three witnesses who are established
members of the faith. From his original, the devotees should send photocopies
to all friends and relatives. A copy of this significant document proving
membership in the Hindu faith should always be kept with one's passport
to respond to institutions that ask for proof of Hindu identity before
allowing entrance to their premises, such as orthodox temples in India.
The namakarana 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. This type of behavior
reaps no spiritual benefits, but could reap harm to one's integrity.
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
namakarana samskara. 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.
Download PDF of the Namakarana Samskara, go to site: http://www.himalayanacademy.com
Real-Life Severance Letters
And Other Personal Documents
Critical Podium Dewanand Hinduism
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