Today, I was asked what the message of Hinduism is. In my opinion, the extremism that we see around us is rooted in hopelessness and the powerlessness. To the contrary, the message of Hinduism, as below, is of plurality, hope and self-empowerment.
1.There is one God whose name is any name that you want to give him or her.
2.God is formless and can be worshipped in any form whatsoever since God pervades them all.
3.Hindus believe in ONENESS, rather than there is only one way to God.
4.Prophets—even Divine incarnations—appear on earth all the time, including right now!
5.We will ALL get Divine Grace sooner or later—no labels and no exceptions.
6.We are ALL born with the spark of the Divine and thus are Divine.
7.Hinduism says that our soul is immortal and we have nothing to fear!
8.No need to convert; converts are accepted.
9.Goddess in Hinduism is a major league player! Total freedom of expression in clothing for women.
10.No room for arrogance – God is more than we can ever imagine.
11.Never been opposed to science and new discoveries.
12.The core values are constant but practices should change as society evolves.
13.There are many scriptures that need to be understood in the proper context.
14.Emphasis of action over belief.
15.Most Hindus have UNDERSTOOD IT!
Yesterday was a special day – IndiaFest 2017 at the State Capitol Grounds. No agenda – pure fun: eating, learning and watching thousands of others having a good time. I have attended this event several times in the past but there was something special this year. This blog is just to catalog my experiences.
The first group I encountered was Jehovah’s Witness people spreading the message of Christ in Tamil. I thanked them for being the first Christian group to stand up for their pacifist beliefs against the Nazi and face executions and deportation to the concentration camps in the hundreds of thousands.
I wondered if there is a message here for us Hindus to act on our beliefs: spread the message of tolerance, pluralism and environmentalism in the form of vegetarianism (beef being two orders of magnitude verse than beans!).
Minnesota is home to a large number of refugees from any parts of the world: the largest community of Somali people, the second largest number of Hmong people, a very large Tibetan population as a result of culture genocide by the Chinese communists, Bhutanese Hindus due to ethnic cleansing in Bhutan (Gross Happiness Index – what a BS!), similarly the Karen people fleeing Myanmar due to religious and ethnic persecution. Some of them are Hindus like those from Bhutan but most are not. But all of them understand what extremism and intolerance can do. In my own humble way, I passed on, to as many as I could, the Namaste buttons – We Are Connected.
Continuing on the topic of spreading the message of tolerance and pluralism inherent in Hinduism, it will resonate more than murti puja (BTW, it’s not either-or) with Hindu youth who are losing interest in Hinduism. In my opinion, this alienation and loss of interest is a far greater threat to Hinduism, even as a philosophy, than proselytizing by the missionaries or by others waging the war of the womb which will be a catastrophe for them as well!
I was recently asked to speak on the topic of Hindu Dharma and, without hesitation, I accepted to speak on “Hindu Dharma in Contemporary Times in America.” Now I have to prepare for it. So what is it? Here is my humble opinion.
In Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Swami Prabhupada explains: “Dharma refers to that which is constantly existing with a particular object. We conclude that there is heat and light along with the fire; without heat and light, there is no meaning to the word fire. Similarly, we must discover the essential part of the living being, that part which is his constant companion. That constant companion is his eternal quality, and that eternal quality is his eternal religion.”
On a website, I found the following definition of dharma:
“In Hinduism it means ‘duty’, ‘virtue’, ‘morality’, even ‘religion’ and it refers to the power which upholds the universe and society. Dharma is the power that maintains society, it makes the grass grow, the sun shine, and makes us moral people or rather gives humans the opportunity to act virtuously.
But acting virtuously does not mean precisely the same for everyone; different people have different obligations and duties according to their age, gender, and social position. Dharma is universal but it is also particular and operates within concrete circumstances. Each person therefore has their own dharma known as sva-dharma. What is correct for a woman might not be for a man or what is correct for an adult might not be for a child.”
So each of us has our own dharma. Whatever it is, it is to be in common good. But is there a group dharma that is common to us Hindus living at the present in America? I think so. In my opinion, our group dharma should be to speak for ourselves. Organization is power. We are too complacent — it’s not going to happen to me(!) and when it happens, we have no one to speak for us and no one else to blame but ourselves. Another reason may be that we are afraid to stand up and stick our neck out for the fear of recrimination and retaliation. Yet another reason may be shame – for whatever reason admitting that we are a minority in this country. No matter what the reason, the upshot is that the Hindu dharma for us is to organize and look out for each other.
Hinduism is open, universal and pluralistic. That is the beauty of it and also its curse. Organizing on Hinduism line seems alien to us and counter to the notion of being universal and pluralistic. But not to stand up and be wiped out – what good would that do to the universalism and pluralism if sectarianism is all that prevails? It is not Incidental that many minority groups are organized: NAACP speaks for African Americans; there are several Jewish organizations; the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) speaks for Muslims in America; UnidosUS, formerly National Council of La Raza (NCLR) is the Latino organization; the OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates is for Asian Pacific Americans.
So who speaks for us Hindus? The only organization that comes to mind is the Hindu American Foundation (HAF – www.hafsite.org). How many us belong to HAF or contribute to it? I recall that when the representative of HAF, Suhag Shukla, came to our temple, there were only a handful of people there to listen to her. I myself don’t subscribe to all their views, for example, the yoga being co-opted by the West, but I support their vision, mission, objectives and goal. Rather than creating another advocacy group, why not support what already exists, and join them actively to guide their policies and actions? Imagine if all of us reading this Blog did that!
As much as I am urging to join and support HAF, I (we) need to be extremely cautious not to develop a victim complex and look for discrimination where it doesn’t exist or it can be easily brushed off. Doesn’t discrimination exist in India? We Hindus/Indians in America have very little to complain. We just need to look at the iconic companies such as Microsoft, Google and Pepsi Cola – all headed by Indians; U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; the President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis; two recent former Governors (Piyush and Nimrata) of southern states including the Palmetto State where one’s ancestry matters above all, and so on.
In this light, whether you are persuaded to join HAF or not, sva-dharma to me is above all of it, and is of paramount importance. How I treat others, my family and friends, my students, will in the end matter more than anything else. I just have to remember it every second (not easy!) and to make it my innate nature – repeating again, in Swami Prabhupada’s words: “There is heat and light along with the fire; without heat and light, there is no meaning to the word fire.” And, the false ego is my greatest of all enemies.
This blog is primarily to complain about what was wrong with my early Indian education but first, what was right.
I was very fortunate to get a first-rate education at the oldest (and perhaps the best?) IIT. I credit this education to be able to pursue higher studies and be elected to the National Academy of Engineering that has less than 200 members nationwide in my field. I have always felt guilty about not returning to serve India but derive solace in graduating 44 PhDs, and as it has turned out, most of them Indians. Most have stayed on (helping to make America great again – without the rhetoric!) but many have returned and teaching at IISc and IITs; some of them have excelled in Indian industries – one of my students is credited with developing the first electric-hybrid bus in India.
Now what was wrong. Growing up, we children were never taught the achievements of Indians in arts, mathematics, science, medicine, etc. I never knew who J.C. Bose was and what he did – what a pity! For that matter, of those pictured below. One can easily google to determine what they did, as I have done.
These are scientists of our recent past. But ancient Hindus were equally amazing. I came to know much of it by reading the book by Dr. Alok Kumar: Sciences of the Ancient Hindus: Unlocking Nature in the Pursuit of Salvation. There is no point in my repeating the tremendous accomplishments of our ancestors as the following picture of the ancient astronomical observatory, Jantar Matar, from Jaipur shows:
Now a question: is it a good idea to be aware and proud of your heritage? Does that not lead to fragmentation of society rather than thinking in a global sense? My answer is absolutely not. When I came here fifty years ago, I had a great sense of inferiority and shame. If I had known what I know now, I would have held my head high and felt that I am some body. I don’t think that knowing your heritage, being proud of it, makes you arrogant.
I am not writing this to get others’ pity and whatever happened to me is “water under the bridge.” My appeal is that we make sure that our younger generation is aware of their tremendous heritage, something that I didn’t.
As many of you know, August 7th is Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan that is celebrated in many parts of India. As the tradition holds, millions of Hindu and Sikh women tie a band around their brothers’ hand as a brother-sister bond and pray for their wellbeing. In return, the brother promises to honor them and protect them. My sister in India has always mailed me Rakhi for the past fifty years. She also did so this year, reminding me to put it on August 7th. But before I could have done that, my wife already put it on her wrist. How cool is that! Why can’t Rakhi, in addition to being as the tradition holds, be a symbol of love, unity and connectedness of us all. My wife used to make these bands (very simple – just two woolen strands of red and saffron with two knots in-between) that I used to hand out to the visitors coming to our temple. For no reason, as many things happen, she stopped making them. I will ask her to start making them again (why can’t I make them?). And, why can’t we all walk around wearing them – Hindus and non-Hindus, Male and female) all year as a reminder of our connectivity? How cool would that be?
Now moving on from the topic of Rakhi to the Namaste Buttons. Are the two topic connected? Absolutely. Many of you read my previous Blog on “Wearing a Namaste Button – Proudly!” a week or so ago. My student and I were in Raleigh, NC for a workshop where yesterday we went the FedEx office to mail back a package to Minneapolis. My student had gone there two day ago to pick it up. The store clerk (an African American young man – not that it matters) recognized my student, and with two fingers pointed to his eyes and then to my student’s eyes and said: we are connected. Hearing that, I pointed to my button (pictured below) and said that we are all connected and gave that button to him. He immediately put in on. How cool was that?
Narendra – SOHAM-MN™
PS: At this workshop, several ladies commented on my Namaste button that they know of Namaste from their yoga classes. I don’t know if they connect Namaste and yoga with Hinduism, I hope they do but I don’t care – I was Happy!
On a regular basis, I have been talking to a group of people coming from various parts of the country through a local missionary organization. From this organization’s website, their mission basically is to reach unreached people experiencing the bondage of their religions. India is one such place and Hindus are one such unreached people.
I should add that those who come, mostly young, are always very pleasant and very respectful. They ask most sincere questions that require a deep reflection on my part and I try to answer them as best as I can. I can feel that they are trying to reconcile their faith, what they observe, and the path of action they may choose to embark upon. In this sense, my input can be important – at least, I hope so.
My approach has been to talk to them with utmost respect as to any other group of seekers and to learn from their questions. I have no idea that I am be getting through to them but can only hope that they appreciate my point of view.
It occurred to me that I can learn from the tips in talking to climate-change deniers. Religion and climate change are two different things: denying climate change is denying science while religion is a matter of faith. But denying someone else’s faith puts it in the same league as denying the climate change, in my opinion. While preparing for a course on the topic of combating climate change, I came across three suggestions on a website by National Geographic:
1) Have the conversation.
2) Find common ground.
3) Maintain a sense of humor.
I was suggested two more: 4) Listen, and 5) Don’t catastrophize.
I fully agree with all of them. But when you feel deeply about a topic, it’s not easy to keep your emotions in check. I can understand the rage that PETA people feel against animal cruelty but their actions seem to have been largely counterproductive. It’s easy to get angry – “why can’t they see it?” But what good would that do? In the words of Swami Vivekananda “Superstition is an enemy of man but bigotry is worse.” Should that be pointed out? How guarded should one be?
Bottom line: no easy answers. Any suggestions?
I have started to wear a Namaste button in public. This was not without internal struggle – soul searching. First, there was an opposition at home and then from my own conscience, both along the same lines.
When I was naturalized in 1982, the presiding judge told us that you are now not a hyphenated American – a Greek-American or an Indian-American – rather, you are an American. Therefore, is it a good idea to do anything that goes counter to this integration? By wearing this Namaste button sets me apart, but so does my face and I cannot do anything about it and it seems to be okay — so far anyway!
America is supposed to be a melting pot but I am not so sure – it seems like a wok-cooking to me! Look at the rise in hijab-wearing as dramatically illustrated by the transformation at the Cairo University (http://www.frontpagemag.com/fpm/48901/how-veil-conquered-cairo-university-jamie-glazov). They can be seen everywhere. Whatever are the reasons, we can all agree that there should be absolutely no restriction on how one dresses. (Fortunately, if I try telling a Hindu woman how to dress, that will be the last thing I will do in my pathetic life!)
Therefore, is it Pollyannaish to buy into this melting-pot theory and lose all our identity, fail to promote our values, and instill pride in our young to be a proud Hindu? Just two day ago I had a heart-to-heart conversation on this very topic with one of my Indian friends of longstanding in Chicago who happens to be a Sikh. He mentioned that he and his wife raised their son, who was born in this country, without exposing him to any religion, Indian culture/languages and customs. Now he is married to a white girl (as he put it; I am too but she is not a girl anymore – it was 44 years ago but even more beautiful!) and losing all ties to India and anything Indian. It makes him and his wife sad.
Coming back to the Namaste button, it’s a small step in the direction of connecting with Hinduism. The message of Namaste is the crux of Hinduism and is also very universal — I honor your Divinity – implying that we are all connected, the whole cosmos, and whatever we may do the Mississippi will get back to us sooner or later.
I have pasted below two designs that I handout during the tours at the temple and in high schools. If you may be interested in acquiring one (or more for your friends/relatives), please come by the temple on any Saturday morning.
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I am very heartened by the “blog stats” that it’s being followed. If you happen to see the previous blog on vegetarianism to slow the climate change, we are living in the end times with death by heat, end of food, climate plagues, unbreathable air, perpetual wars, poisoned oceans and permanent economic collapse, as pointed out in a recent article (The Uninhabitable Earth), like the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Pretty depressing stuff! Should that paralyze us?
The answer is – not at all. Hinduism teaches us that the time is cyclical, that is, each big bang will be followed by a big-crunch and then there will be another big bang. However, how does it all help in doing what we are obligated to, in fact with more vigor, in our day-to-day life? This is where the following message of Sri Krsna in the Baghavad Gita is my guiding light and I am wondering if you would like to share yours:
2:11-12 The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead. Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.
6:1 The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic, not he who lights no fire and performs no duty.
12:6-7 But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Pṛthā – for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
18:66 Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
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We all have heard of greenhouse gases being produced due to our use of fossil fuels. Recently Dr. Gavin Schmidt, the chief scientist and the Director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies run by NASA gave a presentation at our workshop and his presentation can be viewed from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5vbWncrCF7XR3E2RVhYdnBrb0U/view.
According to Dr. Schmidt, the climate is warming and the glaciers are melting everywhere one goes. As the graph below shows, since the beginning of the industrial age, the temperatures have gone up by nearly 1 degree Centigrade or 2 degrees Fahrenheit. It doesn’t seem like much but in fact it’s equivalent to 1/4th of the ice age in the other direction, and that means a lot!
This is happening all because of us, and we basically have two stark choices: 1) “Business as Usual” under which our earth will soon be an entirely different planet (may be Venus!), and 2) “Serious Mitigation” under which we get cooked a little later. In his talk, Dr. Schmidt ruled out “Aggressive Mitigation” which is not realistic, given the political discord and the lack of will to confront the crisis head-on. But hey, what’s wrong with buying a little extra time for ourselves and for our children!
So you may ask: what does it all have to do with Hinduism? Well, our agriculture on the worldwide basis has a large carbon footprint in terms of greenhouse gases; in fact, nearly 1/3rd of the total. Therefore, our diet plays a very important role. As the chart below from our preeminent Regents Professor David Tilman shows, there is a world of difference in terms of greenhouse gases between getting calories from legumes (e.g., arhar dal) and from meat/fish. Not all Hindus are vegetarians but many are, and Hinduism strongly encourages vegetarianism – certainly no beef (ruminant meat) which is the worst by far.
Talking of cows, I hope that you will see a very old Iranian movie “Gaav” (The Cow in English or Gau in Sanskrit: https://www.timeout.com/minneapolis/things-to-do/reshaping-our-world-film-series-the-cow-gaav#tab_panel_3) on July 19th. If so, I would love to hear your impressions since unfortunately I will be missing it due to a conference in Chicago.
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As pointed out in the SBNR article referenced in my last week’s blog, there are millions of spiritual-but-not-religious people – young and old – from various faiths of their birth. Their numbers are growing as the society becomes more secular.
Most, if not all, Hindus believe in murti-puja and therefore it is an important aspect of how Hinduism is practiced today. However, the same Hindus believe in pluralism – complete freedom to see the Invisible as one chooses – thus acknowledging that murti-puja is just one way.
Therefore, we Hindus can sincerely connect with the SBNR folks (and more importantly with our children) by focusing in our outreach on so many other beautiful aspects of Hinduism, as listed in slide#42 of the presentation at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_fDIsgXxsnuQ3g5b1IxcHRldXM/view?usp=sharing.
Just my opinion and comments welcome.