What if you are a Hindu and living in the West

     Is it a boon or a bane; a blessing or a burden; is it a challenge, a liability, or an obligation; or is it really an opportunity and a responsibility? It could be any of it or all of it if you have a conscience about your religion or none at all if you do not care.
     Divine destiny has designated the West as our land of domicile. As we often boast the decision to be purely our intelligent choice, we are consciously cognizant of the many factors beyond our control that contributed to the reality. Having come to this ‘promised land’ with a dream and a desire to enhance our interests, we have struggled in getting educated, succeeding in careers, raising families and choosing to establish permanence here.
     Having accepted that reality, it is important for each of us to subject our minds to some degree of introspection, regarding our duty in our new homeland, towards Hindu Dharma, the religious faith that we have been born into and been raised. Even though it is imperative for every human to periodically brood over such a responsibility, it becomes all the more urgent and critical for those of us who chose to navigate our lives away from the natural habitat of our religious traditions. In spite of destiny that pulled us away from our base, deep within most of us, in our fundamental elements, in our innate emotional habitudes, there lurks an intense desire, an affinity, and love of the unique, fundamental traits of being a Hindu. That certain virtue, as subtle as it may be, is distinctly felt by most of us, brought up in our traditions. The attribute should lead us to cultivate a deep sense of moral conscience to uphold our faith with reverence, as much as we care about our profession, our family and the society we live in. It should not be just an option; it should be embraced as an opportunity. It is our privilege, our blessed entitlement to recognize and do our little part.
     Each of us should do some soul searching as to how we can be effective in our adopted land to perpetuate our traditional practices and prevent them from perishing. It is crucial that we sincerely establish our lifestyle, perhaps within 181 reasonable limitations, yet always adhering to the fundamental teachings of our glorious traditions. It is important that our children see us walking the talk, that it will instill in them a sense of belonging, security and even pride. Unlike in India, where no one questions about the rationale of the rituals and everyone is immersed in the same lifestyle, here we need to have a fundamental understanding of the basic principles of our Dharma and the symbolic meaning of certain practices. It takes an earnest effort, but it will be amply rewarded in our old age, as we watch the younger generation carry over the customs. I would like to add, regretfully, that many of the Hindus do not have a clue about the basics of our faith, often passionately speaking of our weaknesses and even boasting of their ignorance. These groups are the nemesis to our religion and are often beyond any scope of correction.
     Hindu Dharma is a discipline of life-based on observation, inference, and evolution of understanding it. Its tenets are principles imbibed from Nature, studied and recorded by sages and philosophers for many millennia. Its basic principles rest on simple, yet the Ultimate Truth; its complex philosophy may often exceed limitations of our comprehension. It is a ‘way of life’ advocated on principles of Eternal Righteousness, “Sanatana Dharma’. To envisage the meaning of Sanatana Dharma is an accomplishment in elucidating the true meaning of existence. The axiom of Hindu belief is the universal presence of Divinity in everything that exists. The ultimate goal of life to a Hindu is realizing that fact and merging with the Original Presence, escaping from the cycles of life and death. We believe in ‘Karma’, the inevitable yardstick evaluating our performance and tabulating scores required to earn such salvation.
     Living here, we have to be our own ambassadors to help promote and preserve our faith for the next generations, in a land alien to our traditions. It is essential that we make an effort to explain to non-Hindus, the principles of our Dharma, the meaning of our many rituals; invite them to attend our festivals and share with them the joy of our festivities. Extend our role beyond the rituals, crossing over our celebrations but projecting the principles of Hindu teachings in helping the ones in need, in getting involved in worthy causes of the community we live in
     Hinduism gets often accused of multiple gods, idol worship and caste differentiation, mostly out of ignorance or from purposeful distortions. We believe in one God, who can be worshipped in Its numerous manifestations, just as water is seen as ice, steam or flowing river. Idols are objects to allow one to visually concentrate on an identifiable focus for practical comprehension of an enormous, nebulous concept. Castes and class differentiations were originally instituted as a means of division of labor but got abused by vested interests.
     Hinduism does not have any traceable origin (anadhi) unlike most of the prominent, popular religions in the world, most of which originated about two to 182 three millenniums ago. Hindu Dharma neither does have a founder (apourusheya), unlike the other religions, which emerged from some very divine souls who started spreading the praise of the Creator to educate, to enlighten and to guide the masses through the path of righteousness. They gathered followers who spread their message across, preaching the philosophy and campaigning for inclusions and conversions.
     It is important for every Hindu to consciously and deliberately attempt to make our principles understood, that our Dharma upholds lofty ideals, that it is based on basic doctrines of good living, that it is open to all, whether a Hindu or not, that it extols well being of entire humanity, that it is a religion of allencompassing love, not of hate or fear.
     Each Hindu should be involved in the local temples if they are fortunate to have one nearby. Sri Meenakshi Temple has set an exemplary example; our humble dream has blossomed into an enormous reality. To have been committed from its inception, to watch it grow and to have its services available for our various needs, has been a blessing beyond emotional expression. Throughout the United States, many temples have been created, catering to the needs of Hindus in the area. It is heartening to note that most of us have a temple within a reasonable driving distance.
     As a group with enormous patronage of the temple as our base, it is time that we take initiative to formulate guidelines and spearhead a divine obligation, that of disseminating the fundamental philosophy of Sanatana Dharma. Such an effort is essential in the present climate and in the foreseeable future, to expel misconceptions about the integrity and magnanimity of our faith. It will be our generous gesture to make such a treasure available to the entire humanity, as we concomitantly establish an effort to conserve our heritage and preserve our posterity. (July 26, 2006)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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