The recent PEW Research Center findings on America’s religious landscape revealed that approximately 56 million Americans are religiously unaffiliated and belong to the category of religious “nones”. There are more ” nones” than Catholics or mainline Protestants and the “nones” are second only to evangelical Protestants. “Nones” are comparatively younger and more educated.
In addition,the PEW survey estimated that the number of Hindus rose from 0.3 percent of the population in 2007 to 0.7 percent in 2014. 77 percent of Hindus in the U.S. are college graduates. Good questions have been raised by Murali Balaji about the challenges of gathering accurate numerical data for American Hindus. He suggests that the actual numbers may be higher.
Although we may rejoice at our growing percentage of the adult population, the rise of the “nones” is particularly worrying for Hindus. Hindus are not immune from these wider trends in the United States. When I was a child attending a Hindu elementary school in Trinidad, we recited a series of questions and answers about Hinduism from a small catechetical text. One of the questions was, “Why are you a Hindu?” The answer followed: “Because I was born a Hindu.” It may have been a good answer in its time, but it will not work for a new generation of Hindu Americans. Affiliation with the Hindu tradition will not be guaranteed by birth.
The principal challenge to the religious commitment of a new generation of Hindu Americans is the rejection of a religious worldview or indifference to religion. Many young Hindus will pursue the finest education, achieve great success in their careers (36 percent of Hindu families have incomes exceeding 100,000 annually-compared to 19 percent of the overall population), live productive and, for the most part, ethical lives, and do all of this without any significant commitment to the Hindu tradition. The Hindu tradition will not inform their choice of a profession, a marriage partner, their leisure activities or their political values. They will not see what religion contributes to the pursuit of their primary life goals or even understand themselves as having religious needs.
The choice, as I see it for a new generation of Hindus in the U.S., is not between the Hindu tradition or another religion; it is between being Hindu or being non-religious.
When the challenge is the attraction of another religion, one may respond by demonstrating and commending the virtues of the Hindu tradition. When the challenge is indifference or the rejection of religion altogether, the response must be different. In the first case a religious need is assumed and one tries to demonstrate the best way of fulfilling this need. In the second case, there is no religious need; one has to begin by establishing one.
We must be clear about the ways in which a Hindu worldview enriches individual human and community life. In order to commend our tradition to another generation, we must first answer the question, “Why am I Hindu?” Answering this question is not just a matter of offering the right words, but also embodying what the tradition means for us in the way we live all dimensions of our lives in the world. This is not an easy question to answer since most of the first-generation Hindu Americans are Hindus by birth and do not wrestle in significant ways with alternative choices, religious or non-religious. They are Hindu without feeling the need to know why — a new generation wants to know why.
A new generation of American Hindus will answer this question in ways different from the earlier generation. A significant number of the first generation Hindus in the U.S. are immigrants from India. For good historical and other reasons, there is a deep connectedness to India and to its languages and cultural traditions. There is a close connection between Hindu identity and Indian identity. I hope that the richness of Indian cultural traditions will continue to flourish in the United States. It is also true that a new generation of Hindus will identify strongly as Americans and engage the world politically and otherwise on the basis of this identity. The Hindu tradition, if it finds expression in their lives, will be less connected with India, nationally, linguistically and culturally. Religion will be, for them, a profound understanding of the meaning of life and a source of values for acting in the world.
In the transmission of the tradition to a new generation, our emphasis will have to be on its deep wisdom that is accessible and meaningful to all human beings. The teachings of the Hindu tradition, after all, are not only relevant to those with ancestral and cultural roots in the Indian sub-continent. If in the transmission of the Hindu tradition to a new generation we are not attentive to this fact, we risk losing its universal dimension. As we look to new generations of Hindus in the United States, these universal teachings will become more important and appealing.
If the universal insights of the Hindu tradition are the ones that will be especially important to a new generation, it is in a particularly strong place to articulate and to offer these teachings. The Hindu tradition is a knowledge-based tradition. Its pre-eminent sacred text is the Veda (knowledge) The Veda describes the fundamental human problem as ignorance (avidyā), and it values in a special way the teacher of wisdom (guru). The tradition does not have to be fearful of truth, whatever its source.
The Hindu tradition values knowledge that aims at the overcoming of suffering (duḥkha) and this concern must again be prominent in its transmission. We need to focus on how its teachings promote a deeper human fulfillment and meaning that are not attainable by prosperity and success in the world. We must show also how these teachings promote the common good and contribute to the flourishing of communities. Religious teachings cannot be good for us if these inflict and legitimize suffering on others. We must return to Hinduism’s emphasis on religious teaching and practice that are always concerned with the public good (lokasaṅgraha).
Although the PEW findings suggest a future of change and uncertainty, a Hindu tradition that commits itself to truth (satyam) goodness (shivam) and beauty (sundaram) is more than likely to win the allegiance and hearts of a new generation in the United States.
It is said that during a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe, when the prayer was being said, half the congregants stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down, and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The rabbi, learned as he was in the Law and commentaries didn’t know what to do. His congregation suggested that he consult a 98-year old man, who was one of the original founders of their temple. The rabbi hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual temple tradition was.
So he went to the nursing home with a representative of each faction of the congregation. The one whose followers stood during the prayer said to the old man, “Is the tradition to stand during this prayer?”
The old man answered, “No that is not the tradition.”
The one whose followers sat asked, “Is the tradition to sit during the prayer?”
Then the rabbi said to the old man, “The congregants fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand!”
The old man interrupted, exclaiming, “THAT is our tradition!”
India is not in the tradition, nor in rituals, or can it be traced in history. India has no adjective to define it. India is simply India, as love is love. It can be felt, it can be experienced sensitively, it can be recognized intuitively but it is futile to put India into a certain framework or a perspective.
I can see the point Wendy Doniger is making. What one believes in it gives a certain focus, a direction, a movement forward. However, the subsequent task is to discern which direction has the potential to connect the past, the present, and the future. The task is to find out what evolutionary alternatives India in general, and Hinduism in particular, has shown. That, I feel, would be a more meaningful “alternative” to explore and elucidate.
India never emphasized History – it does not have a “History” in the western sense of the word “History”. History deals with facts, dates, and details for rational comprehension. India never cared about all these, instead, India looked into the layers of the inner world; it has manifested results of the inner search in symbols, metaphors, and poetic resonance – beyond cognitive or the rational realms of perception. So, to see India and explain it through any “alternative historical” point of view is so out of place and out of context.
The enlightened Mystic, Osho’s insight is profoundly relevant when he says: “India is not just geography or history. It is not only a nation, a country, a mere piece of land. It is something more: it is a metaphor, poetry, something invisible but very tangible. “(The Osho Upanishad, Chapter, 21)
So, how one may comprehend India? Thousands of streams and tributaries flowing, crisscrossing this land of mystics, yogis and millions of idol-worshipping devotees, philosophers and charlatans, emperors, impeccable artisans and celestial musicians. When looked at with an un-prejudiced view, without any a-priori perception, one can indeed find India a paradox, constant images of contradictions. Hardly anything makes sense if one goes by logic, and yet at another level, all seems to fall in place. I believe that, if one has lived in India for a week, one can easily write a book; if one has lived here for a month, he or she can manage to write an article; but if one makes a year- long stay or more in this country, one can barely write a paragraph – that is how enormously complex India is.
It is in the same context, if we see Hindu Religion or Hinduism, it has a kind of freedom. It does not decide what your prayer should be. It has no official prayer. It has no hierarchy — the bishop and the archbishop, etcetera; it knows nothing of that. It is an individual phenomenon. So it is very difficult to say what Hindu faith or belief is. Each one is free to worship in one’s own way. In that sense, it is almost like a chaos. It would be difficult to find a systematic explanation or description of Hindu religion.
Thousands of philosophies are available in the Hindu view for people to choose from, millions of alternatives. All kinds of ideas are in the market. You can choose any. You can even make your own way, a ritual or a practice. Choosing something from here, something from there, one can even make one’s own sort of mixture.
Hence, it needs to be recognized that, Hinduism is not one-dimensional, it is multi-dimensional. In one way it gives freedom, in another way it creates indiscipline. In one way it is democratic and beautiful, in another way it has no order, no system, and no structure. Everything seems to be open but confusing, un-clear and vague. And yet, perhaps Hinduism is like the mystery of a banyan tree – a noble tree with a majestic presence, rooted with massive offshoots. Hinduism, in brief, contains both the immanent and the transcendental simultaneously.
I conclude by sharing the enlightened view of Osho that reveals the nature and nuances of both India as well as of the Hindu way: “India’s way is not of searching with the help of a lamp. India’s way is like a bolt of lightning in the dark night. When lightening happens, all becomes visible simultaneously. It is not that a little is seen first, then a little more; no, there is sudden revelation, all is revealed at the same time. The flash of the lightening shows all that is. All the paths that go far away, as far as the horizon, all of them at the same time.
“In India, what we call experience, intuition, reveals all things simultaneously, like a flash of lightening. Hence, truth is seen in its totality, as it is.”
Asato Ma Sadgamaya, Chapter 16.
Join our Mailing List
Dvesha is a Sanskrit word meaning "aversion", "repulsion” or “hatred”. Hindudvesha is a discourse - or a way of talking about the Hindus, as a singular, homogeneous community of people ...
Vision & Mission
An Initiative of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA)
Copyright© 2020-21 Hindu Dvesha. All Rights Reserved.