Wednesday, 12 March 2014


Hinduism in America on the rise

Lord Hanuman
Lord Hanuman (Anantashakti)
Festivities in a new temple dedicated to the Indian monkey god Hanuman  in Frisco, Texas, earlier this month remind us that a minority of religions exists within the shores of the United States that is relatively silent. The faith that is the subject here, of course, is Hinduism, which in that North Texas town, at least, is enjoying an "expanding population," according to the Dallas Morning News. Despite the fact that Indians have been quietly enriching the American melting pot for decades to centuries, few non-Indians know much about the colorful religion of Hinduism.
In actuality, the term "Hinduism" represents not a monolithic faith but a conglomeration of more or less varied religions, sects and cults largely originating on the Indian subcontinent and often incorporating beliefs, doctrines and traditions dating back several thousand years. What we perceive of as "Hinduism," then, encompasses and embraces a wide variety of beliefs, to the extent that even recent icons such as Elvis Presley, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa have reputedly made it into the extensive Hindu pantheon of a traditional "333 million" deities, demigods and saints, etc.
KHUSHBOO'S HAD it, Amitabh's had it, Bob Marley's had it and now Elvis Presley and Princess Diana will get one each. An award? No, too boring. A temple, no less."
According to his hairdresser-cum-spiritual advisor Larry Geller, the "King of Rock and Roll" Presley, who was raised a Christian, was fond of reading books about Eastern spiritual traditions. The affection for Indian philosophy by members of the music group the Beatles is legendary, especially in the case of George Harrison. Many Indian gurus and yogis have found welcome on this side of the Atlantic and Pacific, and the ancient physical and spiritual exercise of yoga in a myriad of forms is practiced by up to 20 million Americans.
Yet, Hinduism remains a mystery to most Americans, both at times intriguing and bizarre with its sundry gods and goddesses. Part of the reason for this oversight is because Hinduism in its fullness seems so alien to cultures largely dominated by either the Abrahamic faiths with their aloof monotheistic God or the "New Atheism," which has a tendency to ridicule and dismiss such lively piety, and not necessarily without reason.

Hinduism plays nice in the U.S.

Hindu Temple at Malibu, California (G. Krishnamurthy)
Another reason Americans as whole are largely oblivious to Hinduism is because its practitioners in general do not rabblerouse, set up terrorist camps, call for the destruction of the U.S. Constitution, bilk the American public for millions, establish bogus "charities," engage in unethical and seedy "televangelism," lobby Congress for special favors and consideration, challenge constantly the principle of separation of church and state, abuse the First Amendment and all of the fun stuff (sarcasm) we are used to seeing from fervent religionists in our country and elsewhere.
This lack of aggression by Hindus in America does not reflect that they do not take their faith very seriously, as they certainly do. Like Christians who proclaim that Jesus Christ is real because they have had visions of him, devout Hindus often feel as if their deities have made their very real presence known, as in the case of Cheeni Rao, author of In Hanuman's Hands, who while going down the destructive path of drug abuse was "saved" by the monkey-headed god. Rao's experience was every bit as life changing as that of Christians in a similar position—and this instance illustrates that the form of a profound spiritual presence purportedly experienced is largely if not entirely dependent upon one's cultural conditioning, not upon any "ultimate reality" or "absolute truth."
"Hinduism" as a monolith has its flaws—and non-Hindus both religious and secular will no doubt point them out—including taking itself too seriously to the point where, in its native land, a certain amount of strife and atrocity can be traced to Indian beliefs, such as the rare but ongoing practice of widow-burning or sati in various districts, as well as other sexism, prejudices—exemplified in the brutal caste system—and violence committed by its fanatical minority. The grinding poverty, cruel bigotry and debilitating superstition that Hinduism has not only failed to solve but has actually fostered in India—there are many problems with this ancient religion as practiced overall in that nation, and we are not advocating its adoption by anyone as the "one true faith."
However, we would like to emphasize the civil behavior of Hinduism's better educated adherents in the United States. While some "enlightened gurus" have been opportunists preying on a gullible American public with enticing stories of metaphysical and supernatural wonders, so far traditional Hinduism's practitioners generally have not brought unsavory and violent "traditions" along with them to their new homelands and demanded they be allowed to break the law of the land in practicing them, unlike members of other faiths. If there comes a point when Hinduism in America degenerates to the same fanatical state it is in India, then it will need to be assailed further as a source of unethical and corrupt behavior.
In the meantime, we can only hope that other religionists in the United States and elsewhere will follow suit and behave in a similar, more spiritually mature manner as the American Hindu population, rather than bullying and elbowing their way in, exploiting the system and creating enmity. Rarely if ever do we hear complaints or derogatory news items about Hindus in America, while members of other groups such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam often make it into the news for disreputable and illegal behavior. Does this frequent broadcasting of these three faiths result because they are under a bigger microscope, or could there be a problem with the Abrahamic monotheism itself, whereby it insists on its own way, to compel and force itself upon people against their will, with dire threats of eternal punishment for rejecting it?
Concerning the fanatical monotheism depicted in the Old Testament, from which the Abrahamic faiths arose, in Pagan Christs (17-18) John M. Robertson remarked:
Monotheism of this type is in any case morally lower than polytheism since those who held it lacked sympathy for their neighbors. Most of the Jewish kings were polytheists. What I am concerned to challenge is the assumption—due to the influence of Christianity—that Jewish monotheism is essentially higher than polytheism, and constitutes a great advance in religion.... If the mere affirmation of a Supreme Creator God is taken to be a mark of superiority, certain primitive tribes who hold this doctrine and yet practice human sacrifice must be considered to have a 'higher' religion than the late Greeks and Romans."
Monotheism in America will simply need to become accustomed to the fact that this country is inhabited by polytheists such as the Hindus as well as atheists, humanists and secularists, and to stop being so aggressive and insistent upon its own way. That's America under the U.S. Constitution, a fact that freedom lovers everywhere will appreciate.

"We Are All Hindus Now"—says the headline of a lead article by Lisa Miller, Newsweek's religion editor, in the magazine's issue dated August 31, 2009.

Americans Turning to Hindu Beliefs: 

Lisa Miller - Religion Editor, Newsweek

Are US views on God and life turning Hindu?
According to recent poll data, Americans are conceptually "slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity," says Miller.
The article also quotes the Rig Veda, the ancient Hindu scripture, which says: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names," a doctrine that many Americans have started to believe in the ways they think about religion and spirituality. It points out that 30 percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 Newsweek Poll.
Newsweek then cites Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University "who has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism...""
Miller further states: "So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America. "


America becoming less Christian, more Hindu

So concludes Newsweek’s Lisa Miller, after reviewing recent polling data. She’s not referring to immigration or conversion, but ways about thinking of religion:
The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me." Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great.
Julia Roberts has long been called America’s sweetheart.The star of the upcoming movie Eat, Pray, Love revealed in an interview in Elle magazine that she, along with her family, is a practicing Hindu.

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