IN MY OPINION Guide Our Youth! and How Can Hindus Unite?


Guide Our Youth!

For the sake of our religion’s future, we must teach children the meaning behind our rituals


IWAS BORN IN THE UNITED STATES, in Ashland, MA, home of the Sri Lakshmi Temple. I lived with my family in one of the priest houses on the temple grounds. Since birth I’ve been surrounded by Hinduism, its culture and its festivals; I didn’t even learn English until after first grade. Provided with a home, a place to play and a place to worship, I had never needed to leave the temple grounds. This nurtured my spirit and my family life, but left me completely unaware of American culture and society.
At five I received my sacred thread in the upanayanam ceremony and since then have been consistent in doing my sandhyavandanam, prayers, three times a day. Knowing it to be important, I have always been very proud of my thread, but at first this pride had no backing. During my school gym class, friends would ask me what my thread was. I was embarrassed because I had no answer to what it meant or why it was significant.
From this very young age I began to question why many of our rituals are performed. I asked many people, and most said they followed what their parents did, without understanding why. In American society blind faith is looked down upon, and I soon became increasingly embarrassed of all the things that I didn’t know. I felt that performing these rituals without understanding them was pure blind faith.
As time went on, more and more questions surfaced, and my faith began to waver. Thankfully, with the help of my father and my spiritual guru Abhaya Asthana, I learned that everything in Hinduism has reason. I learned why we bathe the Deity and what my sacred thread means. My father’s busy life as a priest occasionally limited my religious education, but thankfully, the temple environment still answered many questions.
One program I participated in was called Bala Vidya Mandir. Much of what I learned made me proud to be a Hindu, despite the many widespread Western misconceptions. One of these misconceptions is even taught in schools, where Hinduism is presented as a purely polytheistic religion. Many, including Hindus, do not know the truth and believe the many inaccuracies.
I’m sure that many Hindu children leave their traditions because of their community’s lack of awareness. From a young age, Hindu children in America learn of many other religions, such as Christianity and Islam, but not their own.
It is common today for parents to take their children to temple festivals, and rather than recognizing the temple murtis or explaining anything about the occasion, they just socialize and leave their children clueless. Many parents were raised in a strong religious culture, but the children who grow up here in the West are left in the dark. If this perpetuation of ignorance continues, Hinduism will become a religion of little else but meaningless ritual. Thankfully, there are temple programs that strive to teach Hindu children about their traditions and customs and clarify misconceptions.
I grew up facing the same cultural struggles felt by other Hindu American youth, or even more; but despite these challenges, I found a way to learn the deeper truths about our religion through many programs and people. I wish to see more Hindus taking an active role in serving their community. I wish to see the elders of the community, like our priests, teaching the younger generation about our Sanatana Dharma. I know firsthand the busy life of a priest, and how difficult it is to find time, but if my experience has taught me anything, it’s that it is imperative that our priests and religious leaders guide our youth.
(ANEESH, 17, is a high school senior with interests in biology, drama and philosophy)


How Can Hindus Unite?

The common language of Hinduism must depart from the dominance of Shankaran Advaita


AMIDST THE GLOBALIZATION OF DIVERSE PHILOSOPHIES, Hindus are trying to establish a unique place for themselves. This requires a unique terminology that explains Hinduism, not in a Western framework but on its own terms. Some of our leaders are attempting such a representation of Hinduism, but the ground beneath them is shaky. Their efforts invite ridicule, as they have chosen a terminology which discounts or entirely disregards major streams of Hindu thought. Thus, individual streams of Hinduism are ignoring or just talking at each other. For unity to succeed, leaders must use a terminology that is inclusive and respectful of the diverse branches that make up the tree of Hinduism.
In current definitions of Hinduism, the dominant terminology is that of Advaita, as defined by Shankara’s Mayavada: “brahma satyam, jagat mithya, jivo brahmaiva na parah” (loosely translated as “God alone is real, the world is illusory, the individual is none other than God”). This has become part of the defacto popular definition of the Hindu worldview. Wikipedia says, “It is the Smarta view that dominates the view of Hinduism in the West as Smarta belief includes Advaita belief and the first Hindu saint who significantly brought Hinduism to the West was Swami Vivekananda, an adherent of Advaita.”
Swami Vivekananda was one of the earliest to try to project Hinduism as a unified and consistent philosophy. At the Ethical Society, Brooklyn, New York, 1894, he said, “We believe in a God, the Father of the universe, infinite and omnipotent. But if our soul at last becomes perfect, it also must become infinite. But there is no room for two infinite unconditional beings, and hence we believe in a Personal God, and we ourselves are He.”
Swami Vivekananda was selling Advaita not as Advaita but as Hinduism. He mostly ignores the other diverse Hindu streams, such as the Vaishnavite, Saivite and Shakta sampradayas. In truth, many Hindu traditions are vehemently opposed to Shankara’s concepts of Mayavada and identity of the individual with Brahman. Each stream of Hinduism has its own unique, rich traditions (some much older than Shankara) and a right to stand on its own. Advocate Shankara’s Advaita all you want, but do not reduce the term “Hinduism” to mean just his form of Advaita. Shankara’s Advaita alone does not hold the copyright over the term Hinduism.
However, in influential circles, it is the Advaitins who hold most positions of power. Consider the recent “Hindu Good News” initiative (, which claims to speak on behalf of all Hindus. “And we, every one of us, are endowed with the same potential as Jesus, to uncover this divinity within ourselves in the here and now—without the need for someone else’s past sacrifice.” This again endorses the “jivo brahmaiva na parah” view of Advaita in a subtle and indirect way. The words “same potential” here is not agreeable to other Hindu traditions. It ignores the Vedic hierarchy of beings, the distinction between and among devatas, rishis and manavas, etc. The intent which got lost in translation is that the nature of one’s Atman is the same as everyone else’s, i.e., Sat, Chit and Ananda. But while Hindus agree on the nature of Self, traditions differ on whether or not every individual has the same potential for moksha.
When the non-Advaita traditions enter into a conversation about Hinduism, they are forced to do one of the following:
i) ignore their own beliefs, i.e., multiplicity of Atman or the reality of the material world; ii) engage in incoherent conversations where the speaker and audience have different understanding of the terminology used; iii) declare that they do not belong to Hinduism! Their attempt to communicate their beliefs is doomed to failure. They are marginalized and forgotten in the mainstream debate comparing Hinduism with other religions.
Individually, many of the Hindu traditions lack the means and expertise to stand up on their own against the might of the West. Hence, there is a need for a collective front to engage with the West. However, we do not have to whitewash our differences to put up a unified face in front of other religions. So, it is important to develop a terminology that respects and represents the diverse philosophical streams that make up Hinduism.
To develop such a terminology, scholar and writer Rajiv Malhotra suggests that we avoid terms that have differences within a homogenous group (in this case, Hinduism) and select terms that point to differences between heterogeneous groups (i.e., Western religions). Based on such criteria, the terminology for Hinduism might better include/exclude the following.
Not Maya but Ajnana: Avoid using terms like maya but talk about ajnana (ignorance) being the condition of Atman/Jiva in this world. This concept is mostly interpreted the same by all Hindus and also differs from the Abrahamic concept of humans as sinners.
Not Unity but Sat-Chit-Ananda: Avoid phrases like “Unity of Brahman with Atman” to explain Moksha, a concept with varying interpretations. Instead, talk about the nature of a liberated Atman as Sat, Chit and Ananda, something we all agree on.
Not Advaita but Antaryamin: Avoid using concepts like “Single/Multiple Atman” (a contentious subject among Hindus). Instead, speak of the Antaryamin nature of God, as the omnipresent Divine Indweller of every being, to contrast our faith with Abrahamic religions where God is in Heaven and not within the Soul, i.e., not omnipresent.
Not Mithya but Yuga Chakra: Avoid phrases like “The world is mithya/illusion,” which is specific to Shankara’s philosophy. Talk instead about our common, accepted view of the cyclic nature of the world, creation, maintenance, destruction, in contrast to the Abrahamic concept of linear time with emphasis on just the creation aspect.
Such a change in approach can serve two purposes: It can unite Hindus and at the same time provide a platform to critique the West. Developing an inclusive language for Hinduism is a must, before entering into a dialogue with the West. The language of Hinduism must reflect the ethos on which it is built, i.e., unity in diversity.

(SRINIVAS SUDHINDRA, 32, is a software engineer by profession and is currently based in Bengaluru)

Om Tat Sat

(My humble salutations to Sadguru Sri Sivaya Subramuniyaswami ji, Satguru Bodhianatha Velayanswami ji, Hinduism Today and Articles writers for the collection)

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