Hinduism: A Missionary Religion?

Most Western scholars think that Hinduism is not a missionary religion.

A remarkable exception to this statement is Louis Renou, who has consistently argued that Hinduism is a missionary religion. He makes the following salient statements in his connection:

The expansion of Hinduism from at least the second century onwards over the whole of South-East Asia, from Burma to Java and Bali, is well known. The facts have been partially obscured by the predominance of Buddhism….

It should be remembered that Buddhism played little role in the developing science and technology: for the diffusion of grammar and poetics, for example, it made use of treatises of Hindu inspiration, thinly disguised as Buddhist works.

The diffusion of Vaisnavite and Saivite ideas outside India is strong enough to show that Hinduism, too, was a missionary religion; at a very early date a Hinduist movement took root in the Hellenistic world and penetrated as far as Egypt. The decline of Hinduism after the Moslem period must not be allowed to obscure this fact.

Hinduism long ago advanced beyond the limits assigned to it by Manu, by means of conquest or peaceful absorption, by marriage, and by adoption.

Hinduism has not word to express the process of conversion….

…at a later date, a Brahmanical corps was formed in Combodia.

To confine Hinduism to the circumference of India, however, would be to bypass its missionary character.

Louis Renou even offers some advice to modern Hindus on this point.

Some people think that Hinduism should cease to be ethnical in character (assuming that it ever has been so), and become once more a missionary religion. There are already several organizations for spreading a knowledge of Hinduism in the West, but very often their propaganda does not reach the right circles. When Hinduism is ‘exported’, it tends to be regarded as a kind of theosophy – after all, the basic doctrinal principles of theosophy are rooted in Hinduism – or as a brand of Christian Science, tinged with pseudo-Vedāntism. It can only become a force for good in the world when it emerges in India itself as a purified form of religion, free from primitivism and the cult of images. Extreme practices, such as Hahayoga and Tantrism ‘of the left’, which often make such a deep impression on Europeans, never constitute the main strength of a religion; they are special features that should not be intimated outside of their land of origin.

Louis Renou is thus prepared to accept Hinduism as a missionary religion, both in the past and the future unlike many other scholars of Hinduism, both Indian and Western.

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2 Responses to “Hinduism: A Missionary Religion?”

  1. B Shantanu Says:

    Dr Sharma: Do you have any more info on this? Any links or references to the excerpt you have cited?
    Thanks

  2. JK Says:

    Shantanu,

    I think the reference is ‘Religions of ancient India’ by Louis Renou

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