Archive for the ‘hinduism’ tag
by Philip Goldberg
Visitors exiting the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue are often perplexed by the street sign that reads Swami Vivekananda Way. What is it doing there? Who is this swami, and why does he deserve an honorary street name like Oprah Winfrey, Hugh Hefner and other Chicago legends? Most Americans would not have a clue, but interfaith activists do, and Hindus do, and a great many yoga practitioners and students of Eastern philosophy do, and everyone in India certainly does. And this year, millions more will learn why Vivekananda remains a revered figure more than a century after his passing. January 12th was the 150th anniversary of his birth, and celebrations and tributes will be held all year throughout India and much of the West.
The leading disciple of the legendary 19th century saint, Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda came to the U.S. in 1893 for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 17-day festival in the midst of a huge world’s fair called the Columbian Exposition. He was an exotic sight in his orange robes and turban; very few Americans had even met a Jew or a Muslim at the time, much less a Hindu monk. Against all odds, the swami became an instant sensation, not as some carnival attraction but as a fresh, erudite voice that spoke with authority, in impeccable English, about his own tradition, religious harmony and the universal truths at the unseen depths of all religions.
He quickly encountered two types of Americans that are familiar to us all today: Christian supremacists who denounced him as a dangerous heathen preaching false religion; and open-minded, rational, spiritual seekers, who found his message and his demeanor irresistible. He was, in a sense, the Jackie Robinson of spirituality, a bold and talented figure shattering widespread misconceptions and biases. Through word of mouth and adulatory press coverage, he became such a superstar that extra talks had to be scheduled for him to accommodate the crowds that flooded the amphitheater in the building that would later become the Art Institute. Hence, the location of Swami Vivekananda Way.
Because he was in demand on the lecture circuit, he remained in America longer than anticipated: more than three years in two separate trips. He passed away in India in 1902, and, like Mozart, Gershwin, and other rare shooting stars who never reached the age of 40, he produced a remarkable legacy in his few productive years.
In voluminous writings, some of which were converted from his numerous lectures, he articulated for the modern age the essential teachings of Vedanta, the philosophical system that stems primarily from the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. His four slim books on the principal pathways of Yoga – karma (selfless action), bhakti (devotion), jnana (intellectual discernment), and raja (meditation and spiritual practice) — became the authoritative descriptions of those categories, and to a large extent they remain so in today’s yoga-saturated world because they set the tone for much of the subsequent commentary on the subject.
In America, Vivekananda’s most enduring impact may be the organization he created to perpetuate his work. The Vedanta Society, which eventually established centers in most major U.S. cities, was the place for seekers interested in Hinduism, Indian philosophy, and yogic meditation in the early part of the 20th century. Through its publications and the swamis who came from India to run the centers, it was the leading voice for what the title of one of its widely read anthologies called “Vedanta for the Western World.” A large percentage of the students drawn to later gurus, such as Paramahansa Yogananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (who was also born on Jan. 12), were primed by the Vivekananda lineage. In mid-century Vedanta Society swamis mentored some of the most prominent thinkers and writers in American history. If you’ve had transformative moments reading Joseph Campbell, Aldous Huxley or Huston Smith, or if you identified with the eccentric spirituality of J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, you were touched by Vivekananda whether you realized it or not.
That 1893 gathering of religious leaders would probably not even be remembered if the token Hindu hadn’t ignited such a fervent response. Instead, it launched the modern interfaith movement and catalyzed an East-to-West transmission that has reshaped America’s spiritual landscape. For those reasons and more, you will be hearing about Swami Vivekananda a great deal in the coming year, and so will people 150 years from now.
Philip Goldberg is an Interfaith Minister, Spiritual Coach, Public Speaker, and author of ‘American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the West’
by CPWR Trustee Anantanand Rambachan
Our celebration of Diwali 2012 occurs in a year when, sadly, the major events associated with religion are stories of violence, suffering, anger, rage and protest. In Milwaukee, Sikh worshippers were slaughtered because they were different-looked different, dressed different and practiced a different faith. A provocative film, made with the singular purpose of vilifying the character of Prophet Muhammad, ignited protests across the Muslim world and resulted in the loss of lives. In the subway stations of New York, Pamela Geller has been running controversial anti-Muslim ads, claiming constitutional freedom to speak words that others may find offensive.
Most of the official political responses to the film on the Prophet Muhammad had a two-fold focus. Condemnation of the film was followed usually by an affirmation of the freedom of speech. I understood the importance of reiterating the right of free speech, and the need to explain the limits of government intervention, but I always thought that more needed to be said. Political responses went as far as may be expected, but something was missing. What remained unspoken? What could I, as a Hindu, coming from a place of religious commitment, add to what was being said by leaders across our world?
I knew that my religion had much to say about speech and so I turned to the wisdom of the Bhagavadgita for guidance on what the Hindu tradition could contribute to our understanding of speech in the public sphere. The Bhagavadgita commends the “discipline of speech” and describes it as satisfying four criteria. It is speech (1) that does not cause pain to another, (2) that is true, (3) respectful and (4) beneficial. Speech is disciplined only when all four criteria are met.
Because the right of free speech was not always protected, and there are still many places in the world where it is not guaranteed, the emphasis in our discourse about speech is properly on freedom. Our value for freedom of speech is conveyed best in words attributed to Voltaire: “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” As precious as this freedom is for us, it does not alone constitute the “discipline of speech” as commended in the Bhagavadgita. Speech is not as free as it may claim to be when words or other symbols are employed with the sole intention of inflicting pain, when truth is disregarded, when the other is disrespected and when the outcome is suffering. Religions cannot stop with affirming the right of free speech without speaking passionately about intention, truth, mutual respect and consequences. These are the locations from where we can lift our voices of concern about a film like the “Innocence of Muslims” or the subway ads of Pamela Geller. In both cases, the intention is to inflict pain and to demean, without any thoughtful consideration for truth or consequences. Every criterion of the “discipline of speech”, as described in the Bhagavadgita, was violated.
What about the criterion truth one may ask? Do we not have an obligation to speak the truth regardless of consequences or any other criteria? Leaving aside the challenges and complexities of determining what is truth, especially when it involves a religious tradition other than our own, it is important to note that in the order of criteria in the Bhagavadgita, the obligation not to inflict pain precedes truth. Ahimsa, that is non-hurting, guides and informs our obligation to truth and always precedes it in the listings of virtues in Hindu sacred texts. In good human relationships, and it is these that are of concern to us, we do not privilege truth speaking above all else. We value love and its expressions in generosity, care and delight in the happiness of others. Truth is never championed inhumanely and with heedless disregard for human well-being. Truth is one of many obligations in a complex set of values that defines and sustains mutually enriching relationships and there is no good reason why relationships with our neighbors of other faiths should be excluded from such considerations.
Does the “discipline of speech”, enunciated in the Bhagavadgita, mean that in interreligious communities one does not enjoy the liberty to be critical of another’s beliefs and practices? One of the most famous students of the Bhagavadgita, Mahatma Gandhi, pondered this question. Gandhi does not rule out public criticism of other religions but, most importantly, believed that the right to criticize another religion had to be earned. It is earned, according to Gandhi, by a careful and sympathetic study of the scriptures of other religions and a willingness to appreciate all that is good in these traditions. Such a study should be undertaken through the writings of the finest exponents and practitioners of the tradition. It is earned also by the cultivation of friendship and trust with people of other traditions. In the absence of trust, criticism is heard a demonization. Neither the maker of “Innocence of Muslims” nor Pamela Geller sought to earn the right that Gandhi speaks about.
Gandhi exemplified some of the highest possibilities of interreligious relationships in his friendship with the Christian priest, Charles Andrews. They remained faithful to their respective traditions, learned deeply from each other and disagreed publicly. Gandhi’s words, written after a disagreement with Andrews, convey the profound trust and mutual respect that permeated their relationship. “It is so like him,” wrote Gandhi. “Whenever he feels hurt over anything I have done-and this is by no means the first of such occasions–he deluges me with letters without waiting for an answer. For it is love speaking to love, not arguing.” We are a very long way from cultivating interreligious relationships in which criticism is received as “love speaking to love,” This alone, however, will save our relationships from suspicion and superficiality.
During Diwali, we pray with the famous words of the Bṛhadaraṇyaka Upaniṣhad:
Lead us from untruth to truth
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortality
May the words that we speak be always free but free also in the most profound religious sense: free from the intention to hurt, free from falsehood, free from disrespect, and free from violence. May our words be peaceful, truthful, respectful and helpful.
A Happy Diwali to All
Professor of Religion
Saint Olaf College
by Stephanie Le Bars
from The Guardian Weekly
Hugues Rondeau is the Radical party mayor of Bussy-Saint-Georges, a new town in the Paris suburbs. His taste for “ordered urban space” has led to an innovation: the multi-faith district. On a plot of land just beyond the built-up area, he has authorised the construction of several places of worship.
“Here there will be two Buddhist temples, a mosque, a synagogue, a Chinese evangelical church and an Armenian cultural centre,” said the mayor, a practising Catholic who is convinced that in a secular state the government should not turn a blind eye to religious fact. “Our 30,000 inhabitants are mostly of foreign origin with 45% from Asia,” he said. “We couldn’t deprive them of their religious practice.”
by Jahnabi Barooah
from The Huffington Post
This week’s Faith Inspires highlights the work of Hindu American Seva Charities (HASC), an organization whose mission is to engage in “seva, interfaith collaboration, pluralism, social justice and sustainable civic engagement to ignite grassroots social change and build healthy communities.” Seva, which means “service” in Sanskrit, is an important aspect of the Dharmic traditions, which include Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
In 2009, when President Barack Obama issued a “call to serve,” Anju Bhargava, a Hindu American resident of Livingston, NJ, was appointed to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. HASC is a result of that collaboration, and was designed to strengthen and put a spotlight on civic engagement and community service efforts in the Dharmic community.
Despite the White House’s support and guidance, HASC did not have the easiest start, and their success over the past two years can be attributed as much to creative theological thinking, as to the Dharmic community’s desire to be fully accepted in the American community.
“The Hindu community didn’t have a faith-based infrastructure [to perform community service],” Anju Bhargava, the founder of the HASC told The Huffington Post. Even though many Hindus were engaging in community service through informal means, Hindus did not have access to sustainable community service programs that were faith-based. If the goal was to bring seva to the forefront and make it relevant in the American context, the challenge was that the Hindu-American community was so fragmented because of its varied religious and philosophical beliefs, Bhargava told The Huffington Post.
by Saumya Arya Haas
from Huffington Post
I never learned much about religion until I started hanging out at Muddy Waters Coffee Shop on the corner of Lyndale and 24th in Uptown, Minneapolis.
I was raised to be a priestess (of Hinduism), grew up surrounded by world scripture and philosophy, and was taught by learned scholars and mystics. But my religious education didn’t really begin until I started talking — and listening — to other people from other ways of life. I had a great foundation but it had to evolve beyond what I could experience as an individual. Understanding is a journey, and it’s nice to have company if you can get it.
When Muddy’s opened in the late 80s, it was grungy, grubby and the bathroom was frightening. The only food on the “menu” was Pop-Tarts and SpaghettiOs. Punks, goth kids and all the other wonderful misfits of Minneapolis risked splinters from the rickety picnic tables to enjoy caffeine and conversation in precious Midwestern sunlight. I would come with my friends but talked to everyone. I got over my fear of homeless people and started seeing them as just people. Some reminded me of the wandering sages of my almost-native India, people who lived by choice or necessity on the fringes and accumulated hardship wisdom the rest of us shied away from.
All the scriptural education in the world is not worth one good hour-long conversation with a stranger about their beliefs.
The following article is a final synthesis paper written by Lora Burge, a seminarian at McCormick Theological Seminary. The course, Religious Pluralism and the Ministry, has been taught by Prof. Robert Cathey and CPWR Trustee Janaan Hashim since 2006. The course developed as an off-shoot from the 2004 Parliament in Barcelona. Over the course of the semester, students actively study five faith traditions: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. Students’ final reading includes Tariq Ramadan’s The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism. Equipped with a semester of observation, research, and writing, students leave the class working on a philosophical and/or theological framework for thinking about religious pluralism in Chicago and beyond. With Ms. Burge’s permission, Prof. Cathey and Prof. Hashim are pleased to share with you this young interfaither’s thoughts. Enjoy.
Finding a Universal
by Lora Burge
Humility is my table, respect is my garment, empathy is my food and curiosity is my drink. As for love, it has a thousand names and is by my side at every window. –Tariq Ramadan 
Approaching the sacred, finding the holy, listening to the divine, worshiping God within and among us. As I reflect on the journey and experiences of this semester, I can’t help but marvel at everything I saw and observed. On one hand, it’s hard to make comparisons between the different religions. Friday afternoon prayers, puja, and a Shabbat service are organized different ways for different purposes. Yet, on the other hand all these involved searching. Looking out and watching for something bigger, something outside of themselves, something beyond human reason and quantifiable experience. They were seeking Brahman, Allah, YHWH, God, enlightenment.
Growing up in a pluralistic, postmodernist world, I have always been taught to be suspicious of overarching truths and meta-narratives. I’m well-steeped in the practice of criticism and always asking “Whose truth? Whose narrative? Who’s speaking? And with what authority?” I wonder if those questions don’t put more distance between myself and my neighbors. Are these questions I was taught to ask other-izing the “other”? It’s a lot easier to ignore, overlook, and mistreat people when central parts of their identity and belief have been objectified away.
I am such a product of my own education that I have a hard time conceptualizing what a universal truth would look like. I was taught to be so suspicious of any universals as to make them seem an impossibility. I will always be a child of postmodernism, understanding life in terms of social constructs, contextual truths, and lived experience. It seems unlikely (at least now) that I will completely break out of this mold of thought that has been the result of two decades of education. Yet now I criticize the critical mode of thought itself. If we objectify all truth, and conceptualize of each human being as living in her or her own uniquely-constructed world, then we’ve erased the possibility of common ground and shared experience. Anybody outside of myself will always be “other” to my reality. Not just somewhat “other,” or different, but completely so, which will make relating and understanding each other difficult.
Here’s the crux of it: by asking so many questions and stripping things bare as social constructs and humanity-made realities, we’ve removed the common ground out from under our own feet. Precisely by focusing on each individual’s uniqueness, we’ve lost sight of or lost altogether the universal nature of our own humanity. We are making “other” out of our own flesh and blood. Until we learn a new way of thinking, we will continue to push people away as irreconcilably different.
Something then must be done to reclaim our common ground. It is not hard to see the ways in which our world is tearing itself apart: wars, violence, poverty, economic injustice, and more. Yet how will we put it back together with such differences? It is imperative that we relearn how to understand our common humanity rather than focusing on differences.
If nothing else, we all share in the same humanity. We all breathe, eat, sleep, learn, and to some extent live in community with other human beings. Some faith traditions understand the condition of being human as the nature of being created in the image of God. Some understand the human condition as rooted in suffering. To others, being human is something to be mastered through rigorous spiritual disciplines. Regardless of our personal understandings of what it means to be human, we all are, and that is one universal characteristic that we share. Across religious, political, ethnic, racial, cultural, economic and any other constructed categories that divide us, we are all human. So what are we to do with our universal human nature?
It is time to recognize that shared humanity in itself is enough of a foundation for shared common ground. We must move forward understanding that we share at least one thing with the rest of the world: our being. This shared existence is something to be honored and respected. Tariq Ramadan notes that, “We must love human beings, with their qualities, their beauties and their difference, but also with their weaknesses, their doubts and their fears. This means acknowledging that they, like us, are capable of the best and the worst.[…] Our love must be resolutely universal, and eager to share.” If human nature is the universal condition, then love must become the universal action. Each of us from personal experience knows of the human potential for good or for evil, and everything in between. Love cannot be measured out on the basis of works and worthiness: this will only lead to constructed divisions, categories, and the naming of people as foreign “others.”
Instead, this universal love needs to be something that we have in common and something that brings us together. The free, unconditional giving of love is not something that comes easy. Survival instincts and greed lead to the selfish management of resources, even love. A few millennia of stingy, particular love have left us a world full of divisions, hatred, and violence. There must be another way.
There is a practice within Hinduism of bowing to other people and saying “Namaste,” or “I bow to the God in you.” Hindus will bow to other Hindus and non-Hindus alike; to them, there is God in everyone. For Hindus, this practice is based on their universal conceptualization of a sacred nature present within each human being. It would be presumptuous to think all human beings would want to engage in the practice of Namaste bowing. With many theological, spiritual, and anthropological understandings of what it means to be human, finding the sacred in our fellow humanity will not be a practical approach to the universal. Yet there is something in the practice that could be a helpful model.
There is no rationale or emotion tied to the bowing. I am not bowing to thank someone for a gift or a professor for help with an assignment. I recognize there may be circumstances where this bowing is easier and other situations where it is really hard to see God present in others. But regardless, the bowing happens simply to unconditionally honor the God-nature in others. This is precisely what we must learn to do. Regardless of any words or actions we may use, we must learn to love and respect the humanity—the human nature—of the people around us, both in the local but also the global sense. We need to recognize that within every other there is a shared human nature, a shared life force, and in fact, he or she is not such an “other.”
This is precisely what I had a taste of this semester. Going to a synagogue, a mosque, a gurdwara, a Buddhist center, and a Hindu temple—I was an outsider and an observer but I never felt like an “other.” All of our speakers and hosts were eager to have us there and as equally enthusiastic to help us learn about their faith tradition. In some instances, there were shared elements of religious heritage between us, and in other instances, none. Yet we are all human beings, living from the same human condition, and searching for similar things. Instead of seeing a young white liberal Christian woman from the West coast, each of them chose to see and affirm a fellow human being also searching for a life of meaning and happiness.
This is what I need to take with me: there is one possible universal truth, and that is love for my fellow humanity. Not a love that requires uniformity in belief or political systems, not a love that dissolves diversity for a false sense of unity, not love that has any conditions or requirements at all. This universal love then is a deep, unconditional positive regard not because of how people are in the world but because they are in the world. This love honors people simply and wholly because they have a human nature and being, which means they are like us.
This universal love is something that needs to be cultivated and practiced. In an economic system based on achievement and merit, giving anything unconditionally is uncommon. Universal, unconditional love for the human nature of all people is not something that will happen overnight; it will happen in many specific moments and encounters. Tariq Ramadan explains that, “Love too is a journey. We have to set out, get away from ourselves. We have to take the first step, and keep our balance. And, ultimately, it is all a question of balance.” We need to step away from our specific selves, step into our common humanity, and live from a universal love and a shared reality that we are, in fact, all human and we share in this thing called life.
 Ramadan, Tariq, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (London: Allen Lane, 2010), xii.
 Ibid., 25
 Pandit, Dr. Bansi, “Hindu Tradition.” Lecture, McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, IL, 2 December 2011.
 Ramadan, Tariq, The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism (London: Allen Lane, 2010), 195.
by DV Maheshwari
from DNA: Daily News and Analysis, India
Another chapter was added to the history of communal harmony in secular Kutch last week when Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji Maharaj, chief of the Maninagar (Ahmedabad) Swaminaryan Gadi Sansthan, laid the foundation stone of a Muslim community hall in Kera village.
The community hall is being built in the Swaminarayan Nagar area of the village by non-resident Indian Salim Molu, a Khoja (Ismaili) Muslim philanthropist based in Mombasa, Kenya. Molu has also announced a donation of Rs50 lakh to the Aga Khani Ismaili Khoja community of the village.
Molu had met Acharya Purushottam Priyadasji last year during the latter’s visit to Kenya and the United Kingdom.
The foundation-laying ceremony took place amid a large presence of people from both the Patel and Khoja communities, which are in almost equal number in Kera. The community hall is expected to be ready by this time next year. According to Prem Patel, solicitor of Molu Firms in the UK, it will also be inaugurated by Acharya Swami.
School pupils have been given the opportunity to ask some tough questions of Scotland’s top religious leaders at an inter-faith event.
The event, hosted by STV at its Pacific Quay HQ in Glasgow, was attended by representatives from the country’s leading faith groups, including Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders.
Scottish Inter-faith council organised the event, hosted by STV’s news anchor John MacKay, to give schoolchildren the chance to talk directly to religious leaders through a virtual video link.
Pupils from Holyrood Secondary School were also invited into the studios to sit around the table with the leaders to ask them their questions.
by Sabur Ali Sayyid
from Common Ground News Service
Islamabad – Hunched on the floor of Gurdwara Sis Ganj, a Sikh temple in New Delhi, Khurshid Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s Deputy Attorney General, earnestly polished the shoes of devotees flocking to him either in delight or amazement. To him, polishing shoes served as penance for the brutal killing of a Sikh man at the hands of the Taliban two years prior in Pakistan. Engaging in this lowly act, for him, relieved the burden on his conscience about the problems that minorities face in his region. He believes they deserve a better life, free of intimidation and coercion.
Some may disagree with Khan’s philosophy of redemption. Khan, himself a Muslim, took time out during his visit to India to shine the shoes of devotees at places of worship, regardless of whether they were Sikh houses of worship or Hindu temples. In doing so, he wanted to show his respect for humanity and for other religions.
No one would dispute the fact that communal harmony in South Asia – particularly in India and Pakistan, where each year a large number of people are killed in the name of religion – is far from satisfactory. And no significant progress can take place in this area unless it is backed by the introduction of a multipronged approach to bring about greater communal harmony.
The genesis of Hinduism and Sikhism lies in South Asia. It has been welcoming to Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths, such as Jainism, Taoism and Shintoism. Peaceful coexistence has been a hallmark of this region. Though there have been instances of great strife, this tradition of coexistence is equally a part of the region’s history.
by Amanda Greene
from The Christian Century
Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 — his year of conversion.
But he’s not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn’t call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.
Not Hindu (January). Not Baha’i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).
Finding faith in God again was not Bowen’s aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.