Thursday October 19, 2017
Home Indian Diaspora Hindu America...

Hindu Americans are role models for Hindus in India: Dr. David Frawley

0
277
Photo: asaramjibapu.org

By Nithin Sridhar

Hinduism in US: Present and Future: Part 4

The latest PEW survey for the year 2014 has revealed that on one hand, there is a growth of Hindu population in US and on the other hand, more and more Americans are rejecting religion. The survey showed that Hindu population has increased from 0.4% in 2007 to 0.7% in 2014. It estimated the 2014 population as being around 2.23 million. The real figures may be much higher as revealed in a 2008 Hinduism Today estimate, which estimated 2.3 million Hindu Americans in 2008 itself. It also revealed that share of Christianity had reduced in the same time period from 78.4% to 70.6%.

To access these current trends in American society especially with respect to Hindu American community, NewsGram spoke to various people associated with Hindu Diaspora in US.

In this fourth installment of “Hinduism in US: Present and Future” series, NewsGram spoke to Dr. David Frawley (Pandit Vamadeva Shastri), the renowned American author, Vedacharya and a teacher of Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedanta, and Jyotishya, regarding the current status of Hindu American society.

Nithin Sridhar: A recent PEW survey comparing 2007 and 2014 figures revealed two things. One, the share of Hindus in US has increased from 0.4% to 0.7% (though it is suggested that 2007 figures for Hindu population were undercounted). Two, the people who are identifying themselves as atheists, agnostics, or simply as not interested in religion have increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. How do these opposite trends affect Hindu Americans?

frawleyDr. David Frawley: PEW figures only address immigrant or Indian-origin Hindus but has no real way of counting those Americans who have converted to or actually follow Sanatana Dharma in their lifestyle in terms of various yoga gurus and spiritual movements. The figure then would actually be much higher, perhaps more than double.

Those who identify themselves as non-religious are often rejecting only the biblical traditions, particularly Christianity, with its emphasis on blind belief and dogma. They may be willing to recognize a higher consciousness behind the universe, such as many modern physicists are proposing. Many of these so-called non-religious people are interested in meditation, spirituality and natural healing, and are not necessarily averse to Yoga, Hinduism and Vedanta, which they may not know much about.

So in fact, these two PEW trends are not always opposite but may represent two aspects of the same trend, a movement away from biblical religion and a looking for alternatives, which may include other forms of spirituality.

In my own personal background, I went through a short atheist/agnostic phase as I moved from a Christian background to Hindu Yoga traditions. We must remember that Christianity has no real philosophy or science of Self-realization, such as there is in Hinduism, Yoga and Vedanta. Christianity only has faith and belief in a personal God leading to either heaven or hell, which can seem quite regressive and irrational in the high tech era. For those people who reject these, many alternatives including Hinduism and Yoga become open for them.

NS: How should the Hindu American society respond to these trends of rising irreligiousness?

DF: Actually, this rejection of formal religion is a great opportunity for Hindus to explain, share and expand their dharma in the West. It should not be looked at as necessarily being bad. People are questioning religion but looking for a spiritual alternative, including spiritual practices of Yoga and meditation as already noted.

Hindu Americans should be prepared for dealing with this movement away from belief-based religion by learning to explain that Hinduism is not a religious dogma, like Christianity, but a set of spiritual paths, rooted in dharma and aiding all beings in Self-realization. Hindus should be careful and not cast Hinduism as merely another monotheistic faith, instead they should emphasize its broader scope and scientific relevance.

It is true that some of the Hindu youth may become non-religious as well. The best way to deal with them is to acquaint them with the philosophical and scientific aspects of Hinduism such as Yoga and Vedanta. The youth should be allowed to question but there should be answers for their questions from a level of deeper insight.

NS: The practice of Yoga is continuously increasing in US. It has become a multi-billion dollar market.  What do you think is the reason behind this popularity of yoga?

DF: No doubt Yoga has been commercialized to a great extent and such popular Yoga is growing in adherents. There is an entire Yoga community and counter-culture, which revolves around Yoga classes, conferences and retreats. But the spiritual Yoga movements are also growing in numbers, and have large communities, resources and facilities.

While the physical aspect of Yoga is popular, all Yoga groups promote something of a spiritual aura. Even kirtans (singing devotional songs) are becoming popular in America. What makes people attracted even to the asanas (yogic postures) is their ability to bring practitioners to the states of relaxation, peace and letting go.

NS: Do American practitioners of yoga view it mainly as a physical exercise regimen, or do they recognize it as a spiritual lifestyle system rooted in Vedic philosophy?

DF: Many of the people who are new into Yoga or find it offered at a gym, spa, or community center see Yoga as mainly a physical regimen as that is how they encounter it.

But anyone who has been exposed to Yoga for very long, including all serious Yoga teachers, will discover that traditional Yoga is largely a spiritual life-style rooted in Vedic traditions. Some of these people will hold to the physical side only, and may prefer their modern western physical yoga approaches, and keep a distance from the spiritual side. But most Yoga practitioners will eventually bring in some aspects of Hindu spirituality, such as a picture of guru or deity, use of Om, some mantra or meditation, kirtans, rituals or travel to India. Some even will do pujas (worship) and havans (fire worship), use some Ayurveda, Jyotishya (astrology) or Vastu.

Most Yoga teachers will have to learn something about the Yoga Sutras or Bhagavad Gita in order to be certified, something of Yoga philosophy and some Sanskrit terms. While few Yoga teachers know the full scope of Hinduism, most know about some sort of traditional connection in India.

NS: Do you think, this increasing interest in Yoga and meditation will translate into people formally adopting Hinduism and Buddhism as their religions in near future, may be in a few decades?

DF: That desire to formally adopt Hindu Dharma is there even now. The problem is that Hinduism does not have an easily accessible means of converting people to Hinduism or of keeping in touch with those who do. The Buddhists are better in this regard. I know a number of people who had liked to become Hindus but became Buddhists instead because that was more easily available to them. Certainly this trend will grow.

Some Yoga groups, particularly of a spiritual nature, have taken to calling themselves Hindu at a legal level, to protect themselves from charges of being cults. Some Yoga practitioners want to have Hindu marriages, which are also legal in the West.

NS: Do you notice any difference in response towards issues of Hinduism, between Americans who have drifted towards Hinduism through the influence of Yoga and Ayurveda, and Hindu Americans who have inherited their religion and heritage?

DF: Of course, the two groups are coming from very different backgrounds. Americans who have taken up Hindu dharma are usually more serious about their personal practices, but may not understand Hinduism as a whole, being more connected to a particular Guru or lineage.

Those who have inherited their Hindu religion but live in America have to deal with being around a non-Hindu or anti-Hindu culture when they are growing up and in the educational system. And as all children tend to revolt against their parents and parental views, some may revolt against Hinduism as well, just to be different or to be like other American youth.

Some Hindu youth, like youth everywhere, may not be concerned with broader issues of spirituality and religion, and just want to enjoy themselves. It is important to educate the Hindu youth properly as to what Hinduism is, as it is often the lack of education that makes them vulnerable to outside and possible anti-Hindu views.

The Hindu youth is often targeted for conversion by Christian organizations. This must be kept in mind as well. Another problem is that the Hindu youth can be easily affected by anti-Hindu Indians, like the Indian Marxists and leftists who hold some important positions in Indian and western academia.

NS: What role do you see for Hinduism and Hindu American community in near future?

DF: The Hindu American community has become the role model for Hindus in India and what they wish to achieve in years to come. This is owing to their affluence and high education in the Western world. The Hindu-American community shows how by following a Hindu way of life, Hindus can be successful in the modern world, without having to give up their religion or culture. In fact, Hindu values can be used to promote achievement in the modern world.

The term Hindu is a more positive term in America today than it is in India. Hindus in America are associated with affluence, education, strong families, and strong community. Hinduism in India is still denigrated as backward and superstitious, particularly by the media and educational elite in Delhi, which follows more western and leftist values. The Hindu American community needs to challenge this group as well. Hindu-Americans can also work and do business in India and help raise the country overall.

Hinduism as a whole now has strong roots in the American culture, both owing to the immigrant community and over a hundred years of influence of Hindu ideas and gurus. Hinduism will continue as a force of higher knowledge, healing, and consciousness in many forms. It is important that more bridges are made between those following Hindu-based teachings in the West and the world Hindu community, which is primarily in India.

And remember there are immigrant Hindus in Trinidad, the Caribbean, and South America. Native America traditions also have much in common with Hindu ideas and there is room for dialogue with them as well. Ecology is another field where Hindu ideas can be very important.

Let us remember that Hinduism is Sanatana Dharma or the Universal Dharma and is not limited to any particular group or formulation. Hinduism has tremendous scope for growth and for promoting higher values and consciousness in the world for decades to come. The coming century will be marked by Hindu ideas for humanity as a whole.

More in this segment:

Hinduism in US: Present and Future: Part 1

Hinduism in US: Present and Future: Part 2

Hinduism in US: Present and Future: Part 3

 

 

Next Story

Hinduism is Not an Official or Preferred Religion in Any Country of The World, Says a New Report

Though Hinduism is the third largest religion of the world, it is not the official state religion of any country according to a Pew Research Center Report

0
25
Hinduism
Hinduism is not an official religion of any country in the world. Instagram.
  • No country has declared Hinduism as its official state religion – despite India being an influential Hindu political party
  • Hinduism is not an official or preferred religion in any country of the world, according to a Pew Research Center report.
  • 53% of 199 nations considered in the study don’t have an official religion
  • 80 countries are assigned either an “official religion” or “preferred religion”

Nevada, USA, October 16: Hinduism is the primeval and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion followers of moksh (liberation) being its utmost desire of life. India is among the category of nations where the government do not have an official or preferred religion.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank headquartered in Washington DC that aims to inform the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.

The report states that a country’s official religion is regarded as a legacy of its past and present privileges granted by the state. And a few other countries fall on the other side of the gamut, and propagate their religion as the ‘official religion’, making it a compulsion for all citizens.

It adds up on the context of allocation that more than eight-in-ten countries (86%) provide financial support or resources for religious education programs and religious schools that tend to benefit the official religion.

Hinduism
Islam is the most practiced official religion of the world. Instagram.

Commenting on Hinduism, the report states:

In 2015, Nepal came close to enshrining Hinduism, but got rejected of a constitutional amendment due to a conflict between pro-Hindu protesters and state police.

Although India has no official or preferred religion as mentioned in the Constitution,it was found by PEW that in India the intensity of government constraints and social antagonism involving religion was at a peak. “Nigeria, India, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt had the highest levels of social hostilities involving religion among the 25 most populous countries in 2015. All fell into the “very high” hostilities category,” the report added.

As per the 2011 census, it was found that 79.8% of the Indian population idealizes Hinduism and 14.2% practices to Islam, while the rest 6% pursuit other religions.

While Hinduism stands up with the majority, Article 25 of the Constitution of India contributes secularism allowing for religious freedom and allows every Indian to practice his/her religion, without any intervention by the community or the government.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, President of Universal Society of Hinduism, applauded the Hindu community for their benefaction to the society and advised Hindus to concentrate on inner purity, attract spirituality towards youth and children, stay far from the greed, and always keep God in the life.

According to Pew, these are “places where government officials seek to control worship practices, public expressions of religion and political activity by religious groups”.

-by Bhavana Rathi of NewsGram.  She can be reached @tweet_bhavana

Next Story

Paintings Which Beautifully Depict Scenes From Ramayana

0
30
Ramayana
Ram lifting the bow during Sita Swayambar. Wikimedia Commons.

Ramayana, the ancient Indian epic which describes the narrative of Ayodhya Prince lord Rama’s struggles. The struggles include- exile of 14 years, abduction of his wife Sita, reaching Lanka, destruction of the evil. It is strongly ingrained in the Indian culture, especially, the Hindu culture since a long time. Hindus celebrate Diwali based on the narratives of Ramayana.

The story of Ramayana gives out the beautiful message that humanity and service to the mankind is way more important than kingdom and wealth. Below are five paintings describing the scenes from Ramayana:

1. Agni Pariksha in Ramayana

Ramayana
Agni Pariksha. Wikimedia.

When Lord Rama questions Sita’s chastity, she undergoes Agni Pariksha, wherein, she enters a burning pyre, declaring that if she has been faithful to her husband then the fire would harm her. She gets through the test without any injuries or pain. The fire God, Agni, was the proof of her purity. Lord Rama accepts Sita and they return to Ayodhya. 

2. Scene From The Panchavati Forest

Ramayana
scene from the panchavati forest. wikimedia.

The picture describes a scene from the Panchavati forest. It is believed that Lord Rama built his forest by residing in the woods of Panchavati, near the sources of the river Godavari, a few miles from the modern city of Mumbai. He lived in peace with his wife and brother in the forest.

3. Hanuman Visits Sita

Ramayana
Hanuman meets Sita. Wikimedia.

Hanuman reaches Lanka in search of Sita. At first, he was unable to find Sita. He later saw a woman sitting in Ashok Vatika, drowned in her sorrows, looked extremely pale. He recognized her. After seeing the evil king, Ravana making her regular visit to Sita, he hid somewhere in the Vatika. After Ravana left, Hanuman proved Sita that he is Rama’s messenger by showing her his ring. He assured her that Rama would soon come to rescue her. Before leaving Lanka, he heckled Ravana. Agitated by Hanuman’s actions, Ravana ordered to set Hanuman’s tail on fire. With the burning tail, Hanuman set the entire city on fire.

 

Next Story

Exploring the Faces of Faith and Devotion: 7 Principal Gods and Goddesses of Hinduism

Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creater, sustainer and destroyer of the world

0
76
Are you familiar with the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism? Pixabay

New Delhi, October 9, 2017 : Devout Hindus have a god for every occasion and every day – over 33 million, according to popular beliefs. While people of other religions often interpret them as fictional characters, the multiple gods and goddesses of Hinduism are held with utmost devotion and sincerity by the believers.

Ours is a polytheistic religion – in other words, a myriad of gods and goddesses of Hinduism. Foremost among the several gods and goddesses of Hinduism are the Trimurti; Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, the holy triad that signify supreme divinity in Hinduism – the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the world. These divine forces are known to appear in different avatars, embodied by different gods and goddesses.

In Hinduism, Lord Brahma is the creator of the Universe and the first member of the holy trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh). However, he is not worshiped as Vishnu or Shiva with only one temple dedicated to him, the Pushkar temple of Rajasthan.

Here are some of the many gods and goddesses of Hinduism.

1. Vishnu

Vishnu is the second member of the holy Hindu triad, who sustains the entire world – Vishnu is believed to return to the earth during distressed times to restore the balance between good and evil.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Lord Vishnu. Wikimedia

Believed to have incarnated nine times, Vishnu symbolizes the principles of order, righteousness, and truth. His associate is Lakshmi, the goddess of family life and prosperity.

Vishnu is always depicted with a blue-colored human body with four hands, each of which carries four different objects – a conch, chakra, lotus flower and mace. The god is shown to ride the Garuda, an eagle.

So far, Vishnu has appeared on earth in various incarnations. These include fish, turtle, boar, Narsimha (half lion, half man), Vamana (dwarf sage with the ability to grow), Parsuram, Ram, Krishna and Buddha. Devotees believe he will re-incarnate in a last avatar, popularly known as ‘Kalki’, close to the end of this world.

Hindus who worship Vishnu are primarily known as Vaishnava and regard him as the greatest god.

2. Shiva

One of the members of the holy Hindu trinity, Lord Shiva is as the god of destruction, so that the world may be recreated by Brahma. Thus, his destructive powers are perceived as regenerative: necessary to make renewal possible.

Known by different names like Mahadeva, Nataraja , Pashupati, Vishwanath and Bhole Nath, Shiva is known to have untamed enthusiasm, which drives him to extremes in conduct. It is his relationship with wife Parvati which established the balance. While other gods and goddesses are represented in glorious avatars, Shiva is dressed in plan animal skin and usually sits in a yogic aasana.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
God Shiva, Wikimedia

Shiva is often addressed as the Lord of Dance, with the rhythm of the dance believed to be symbolic of the balance in the universe, masterfully held by Shiva. His most significant dance form is the Tandav.

Hindus who worship Shiva as their primary god are known as Shaivites.


3. Lakshmi

One of the most popular goddesses of Hindu mythology, Lakshmi gets hers name from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshya’, meaning ambition or purpose. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and purity and is the associate of Vishnu.

Lakshmi is believed to reside in places of hard work, and sincerity, However, the goddess leaves whenever an individual is overcome with greed or malice or when these qualities are not evident anymore. Hindus believe Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi. Hence, they worship the goddess of prosperity primarily during Diwali, which commemorated the Hindu epic Ramayana.

Gods and goddesses of hinduism
Goddess Lakshmi. Wikimedia

Lakshmi is widely represented as an enchanting woman with four arms, settled or standing on a lotus flower.

Devout Hindus worship Lakshmi at temples and inside homes alike, and believe worshipping her with utmost sincerity blesses an individual with success and fortune.


4. Ganesha

The pot bellied, elephant-headed god Ganesha, also known as Ganpati, Vinayak and Binayak, is the son of Shiva and Parvati. one of the most popular gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ganesha is revered as the remover of all obstacles, which is why his presence is first acknowledged before beginning any new work.

The lord of success and wealth, Ganesha is also the patron of knowledge and learning; devotees believe he wrote down parts of the Hindu epic Mahabharata with his broken tusk.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Ganesh Puja. Wikimedia

Ganesha is typically depicted as a pot-bellied, elephant-headed red colored god, with four arms and a broken tusk. This head is believed to characterize the atma or the soul and the body represents the maya or mankind’s earthly existence. The rats, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.

Lord Ganesha is shown riding mouse, which can gnaw their way through every hardship, are believed to symbolize Ganesha’s ability to destroy all obstacles.


5. Krishna

Believed to be the most popular and the most powerful avatar of Vishnu, Krishna is revered as the Supreme Being or the Purana Purushottam out of a list of several hundred gods and goddesses of Hinduism, by several devout Hindus. One of the most loved and mischievous gods, Krishna means ‘black’ and can be believed to denote mysteriousness.

In Hinduism, Krishna takes several different roles- that of a hero, leader, protector, philosopher, teacher and a friend and is believed to have lived on earth between 3200 – 3100 BC. His birth is widely celebrated on the midnight of Ashtami during the month of Shravan, and is called Janmashthami.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Picture of idols of Lord Krishna and Radha, decorated for Janmashtami. Wikimedia

Stories of Krishna’s birth, childhood and youth and widely read and circulated, with every mother wanting to have a child like him. His raas with Radha is also remembered widely.

Krishna is held with utmost reverence for his role as the charioteer of Arjuna, as explained in the Mahabharata. It was in the middle of this war that Krishna delivered his famous advice about ‘Nishkam Karma’ which propagated action without attachment, which formed the basis of the Bhagwat Gita.

Krishna is extremely fond of white butter and there are several stories about how he stole butter from gopis throughout his childhood. He is depicted as a dark and extremely handsome, usually depicted with a flute which he used for its seductive powers.


6. Ram

Maryada Purushottam Ram is the ideal avatar of Vishnu. An epitome of chivalry, virtues and ethical demeanor, Ram is the seventh incarnation of Vishnu who is believed to have taken birth to eradicate all evils from the world.

gods and goddesses of Hinduism
Ram Darbar. Wikimedia

Unlike all other gods and goddesses of Hinduism, Ram is believed to be a historical character, instead of an imaginary figure. The Hindu epic Ramayana is a retelling and celebration of Ram’s life – a tale of his fourteen years in exile with his wife and brother.

Ram’s birthday is celebrated as Ramnavmi, wherein devotees invoke him with religious chants to attain his blessings shield. The festival of lights, Diwali, which is one of the major festivals in Hinduism, is also observed to celebrate the return of Ram, Laksham and Sita back to Ayodhya after an exile of fourteen years.

Ram bears a dark complexion to show his resemblance to Vishnu and his other avatar Krishna, and is almost always depicted with a bow and arrow in his hands and a quiver on his back. Ram also wears a tilak on his forehead. Accompanying the statues of Ram are idols of his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and the celebrated monkey-god Hanuman, who together combine the Ram Darbar.

7. Saraswati

Daughter of Shiva and Durga, and the consort of Brahma, Saraswati is revered as the goddess of wisdom, learning, speech and music. She is the goddess of knowledge and arts. Devotees often worship the deity before commencing any educational work- books and stationary items are often revered as Saraswati is believed to reside in them.

Saraswati Vandana, religious chants dedicated to the goddess of music often begin and end all Vedic lessons. The goddess also plays songs of wisdom, affection and life on the veena, a string instrument.

gods and goddesses of hinduism
Sarswati, Wikimedia Commons

Saraswati is visually represented in pure white attire and rides a peacock, with a lotus in one hand and sacred scriptures in the other. She also has four hands that signify the four aspects of learning- mind, intellect, alertness, and ego.

Out of all the 33 million gods and goddesses of Hinduism, devout Hindus believe only Saraswati can grant them moksha- the ultimate emancipation of the soul.