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1. New Year Message - A purposeful life – Huffington post
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5. Moderate Muslims Speak out? Link

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Am I a Hindu?

Am I a Hindu?

I came across this excellent piece "Am I a Hindu" explaining religion in its simplest terms. I recommend every one to take a few minutes to read through this. It is the simplicity of talking with a young girl that makes this article beautiful. I have added a few comments and additional information below the article.
Mike Ghouse

Am I a Hindu?
Uday Pai

Four years ago, I was flying from JFK NY Airport to SFO to attend a meeting at Monterey, CA.
An American girl was sitting on the right side, near window seat.
It indeed was a long journey - it would take nearly seven hours!

I was surprised to see the young girl reading a Bible - unusual of young Americans! (Later I came to know that September 11 has changed mind-set of lot of US citizens. They suddenly turned religious, it seemed.) After some time she smiled and we had few acquaintances talk. I told her that I am from India.

Then suddenly the girl asked: “What’s your faith?”
“What?” I didn’t understand the question.
“I mean, what’s your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?”
“No!” I replied, “I am neither Christian nor Muslim”.
Apparently she appeared shocked to listen to that.
“Then who are you…?”
“I am a Hindu”, I said.
She looked at me as if she is seeing a caged animal.
She could not understand what I was talking about.

A common man in Europe or US knows about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today.

But a Hindu, what?
I explained to her - I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth.

“Who is your prophet?” she asked.
“We don’t have a prophet,” I replied.
“What’s your Holy Book?”
“We don’t have a single Holy Book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures,” I replied.
“Oh, come on…at least tell me who is your God?”
“What do you mean by that?”

“Like we have Yahweh and Muslims have Allah - don’t you have a God?”

I thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.

According to her (or anybody who doesn’t know about Hinduism), a religion need to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. I understood her perception and concept about faith. You can’t compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of god.

I tried to explain to her: “You can believe in one god and he can be a Hindu. You may believe in multiple deities and still you can be a Hindu. What’s more - you may not believe in god at all, still you can be a Hindu. An atheist can also be a Hindu.”
This sounded very crazy to her.

She couldn’t imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years, even after onslaught from foreign forces.

“I don’t understand…but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?”
What can I tell to this American girl?

I said: “I do not go to temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes.”
“Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?”

“God is a friend. No- I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly.”

She thought for a while and then asked: “Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?”

“Why should I? Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can convert me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning… I remain as a Hindu never by force, but choice.” I told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority.

“So, you don’t believe in God?” she wanted everything in black and white.

“I didn’t say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis - Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita - say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that supreme abstract authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe.”

“Why can’t you believe in one personal God?”

"We have a concept - abstract - not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don’t think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him.” I told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.

“Good that you agree God might exist. You told that you pray. What is your prayer then?”
“Loka Samastha Sukino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,”
“Funny,” she laughed, “What does it mean?”

“May all the beings in all the worlds be happy. Om Peace, Peace, Peace.”
“Hmm…very interesting. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broad-minded and free…” she exclaimed.

“The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is all about an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according to his temperament and inner evolution - it is as simple as that.”

“How does anybody convert to Hinduism?”

“Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single authority or organization either to accept it or to reject it or to oppose it on behalf of Hinduism.”

I told her - if you look for meaning in life, don’t look for it in religions; don’t go from one cult to another or from one guru to the next.

For a real seeker, I told her, Bible itself gives guidelines when it says “Kingdom of God is within you.” I reminded her of Christ’s teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.

Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. ‘Isavasyam idam sarvam’ Isam (the God) is present (inhabits) here everywhere - nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That’s what Hinduism teaches you.

Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity.

Ancestors of today’s Hindus believe in eternal truths and cosmic laws and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others. The British coin the word “Hindu” and considered it as a religion.

I said: “Religions have become an MLM (multi-level-marketing) industry that has been trying to expand the market share by conversion. The biggest business in today’s world is Spirituality. Hinduism is no exception…”

I am a Hindu primarily because it professes Non-violence - “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” - Non violence is the highest duty. I am a Hindu because it doesn’t conditions my mind with any faith system.

Uday
uday@udaypai.in
http://www.udaypai.in/?tag=hinduism
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Am I a Hindu?
Comments & additional information
by Mike Ghouse


“Who is your prophet?” she asked.
“We don’t have a prophet,” I replied.
“What’s your Holy Book?”

The point of reference is different for each person. When you utter the word “Vacation”, different images are conjured up in different people. Our kids in the US would think of Six Flags or Hawaii, where as our friends kids in India may have a different image. Even in the US, different levels of exposures produce a variety of images. From an interfaith perspective, the writer has hit upon a good point.

“Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.”

For your information, God in Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Bahai and Sikh faiths has no gender and no form; ultimately that is the case with all faiths. God is infinite, she is indefinable and it is unlimited. In Jain and Buddhist way of thinking God is not the central part of life, but goodness is, and it is your karma that is the central part of what kind of life you would lead. Zoroastrianism is right there closely with them.

All religions are expression of wisdom of humanity, and you’ll find similar tunes in every faith as in Qur’aan: 112:1 SAY: "He is the One God; 112:2 "God the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of All Being; 112:3 "He begets not, and neither is He begotten; 112:4 "and there is nothing that could be compared with Him.” Interestingly Hinduism and Christianity also see God in a personal human form, where as the others see more in Abstract format. The Jews do not even want to contain God in words; hence they spell G-d. Indeed, God is not containable.

“According to her (or anybody who doesn’t know about Hinduism), a religion need to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable.”

Agree with the idea, but we need to develop ways to communicate, I think it is more of a handicap of the language. It is not that it is not acceptable; it is that, they have to figure out vacation means Hawaii as well as going to the big city in a bus for a child in India.

It is a good observation and it is the case with every one. The point of reference is different and leads to a different understanding. It is good to learn about other faiths, it simply enhances one’s own faith knowing that the truth is same, expressed in different forms, as the Jains say anekantvad; many views.

I said: “I do not go to temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes.”

The truth of the matter is, it is the case with most average people. Rituals are performed more as a social want than a religious need.

“Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?”

“It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order”

Knowledge enhancement: It is the same fear parents instill in their children, whether they live in a small tribe in a no man’s land or some in living in New York City. Kids are told that if they don’t do this, there will be a time out or get the spanking if they don’t follow certain rules. It is a behavior modification strategy that has been extended from childhood to adulthood. All religions teach God is loving, kind, merciful and caring. It is grounded purely in an idea that one must be afraid of God so they do no wrong to others, rather one must be afraid of themselves from doing wrong.

“We have a concept - abstract - not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don’t think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him.” I told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal gods.”

It is condescending towards ‘less educated”. The greatest saints of the world from yester years did not even go to school or had a degree, yet they imparted the greatest wisdom to us.

“The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.”

Indeed, that is the case with people of all faiths.

“The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita.

Excellent statement! It is the bottom line of all faiths. You do well in this life, meaning being good to yourselves and others with least amount of conflict, you will take birth in a higher life from next time around. If you become a perfect being, you may even get a Mukti (release) from the cycles of birth and death. Where as the same idea is carried little differently in the ‘Abrahamic faiths’, there is a belief of life after death and some day, each one will be reckoned. In both cases, you are individually responsible for your future. Not all, but the most prevalent thought in Christianity is to believe in Jesus as the savior, will save you, in reality the belief in Jesus hinges on being a good human being.

“Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. ‘Isavasyam idam sarvam’ Isam (the God) is present (inhabits) here everywhere - nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That’s what Hinduism teaches you.”

Qur’aan also puts forth the same idea – God is closer to you than your Jugular vein, meaning the all knowing God resides in every atom of the universe and you, and he, it or she, knows your thoughts before it materializes into action. Prophet Mohammed defines good deeds are those acts that one does for the sake of others, very similar to Jain and Zoroastrian idea of Good deeds. There was a narration where Prophets associates asked him which one of the two would be favored by the creator; the one who prays all day or the one who has a foul and is drunk, but before he goes to sleep he would knock on his neighbors and share whatever little food he has, so others don’t go to bed hungry, obviously God graces the one who takes care of others.

“Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity. Ancestors of today’s Hindus believe in eternal truths and cosmic laws and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others.”

Ditto, except that the point of reference of “forms” is turned into “aspects”. God has no beginning and no end. The cosmic truths are expressed as revelations from God to the wise men like Zarthustra, Moses, Solomon, David, Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, Muhammad, Nanak and Bahaulla.

“Religions have become an MLM (multi-level-marketing) industry that has been trying to expand the market share by conversion.”

Indeed, religion has become a business for many. Any one who fights for Hinduism, Islam, Christianity or other faiths is sure to ask for money at the end of his game. Then it is not a religion, it is his business to make money from the suckers who are willing to give. God does not care which pigeon hole you live in, as long as you care about his creation, other than you. Religion, in its simplest form is bringing a balance in one’s life and balance with what surrounds him. (Or her).

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Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis, opinions and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com or (214) 325-1916
For a full bio: http://www.mikeghouse.net/ProfileMikeGhouse.asp

2 comments:

  1. I found this article in another site too
    and it has a second part:
    Why should a GOD be so INSECURE?

    http://www.speakingtree.in/public/spiritual-blogs/seekers/god-and-i/why-should-a-god-be-so-insecure

    ReplyDelete
  2. Am I a Hindu?
    http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/seekers/faith-and-rituals/am-i-a-hindu

    Why am I a vegetarian?
    http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/seekers/wellness/why-am-i-a-vegetarian

    ReplyDelete