Indian spirituality is so vast, encompasses such a long span of time and so many scriptures, and is practiced in such a wide variety of ways, that it’s hard to point to any one manifestation with assurance and call it the definition of Hinduism. Unlike Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, or Zoroastrianism, Hinduism is not founded on the life and teachings of a single charismatic figure such as Buddha, Jesus, or Muhammad. We can’t name one or even several key individuals without whom the religion of India would not be recognizable as Hinduism, notwithstanding the fact that Indian history — and modern India — is replete with brilliant and saintly teachers, sages, philosophers, and reformers of all kinds.
Perhaps what defines Hinduism miore than any one individual, however, is the country of India itself, a land in which not only certain towns, rivers, and trees are held sacred, but also cows, snakes, rats, and vultures. Of India’s approximately one billion residents, about 830 million, over 80 percent, are Hindus. (The remaining population is predominantly Muslim, about 120 million, with some Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, and others.) Although Buddhism was born in India and flourished there for more than a thousand years, it is no longer a significant force in Indian life. Hinduism also survived the invasion of various Islamic dynasties, who imposed Islam on much of India from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The predominantly Muslim areas of India were separated out into the new nation of Pakistan, divided into East and West Pakistan in 1947. Following a war of independence in 1971, East Pakistan was reborn as Bangladesh.