Without Beginning or End: Hinduism and Pluralism as a Path to the Future

Padma KuppaBy Padma Kuppa

Writing on the Future of Hinduism is something very difficult to do, raised as I have been with an understanding that faith is eternal, without beginning or end, and that my faith, Sanatana Dharma, is not an "ism" as we call it today. And I also struggle since I am no religious scholar who can spout the Vedas, but a simple middle-class (middle-aged) woman torn by the lack of pluralism and the rise of fundamentalism in my community, my countries (of birth and citizenship), and my world. And yet I am a Hindu American raised with a strong consciousness of Hinduism's spiritual and philosophical strengths, which inspire both my activism and acceptance of what's been handed to me in life.

I am appalled by the nativist and Tea Party mentality in my nation, the lack of civil discourse across every continent. I read of Professor Sheldon Pollock at Columbia University, who has said, "Colonialism nearly killed India's capacity to know its past; globalization threatens to destroy its will." I see with dismay the rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley, who deny their Dharmic roots, and others like them who spew exclusivist messages. I am troubled by aggressive proselytization in India and the unacceptable retaliation, and worried about the plight of Bhutanese refugees in America, and Hindus from Bangladesh and Pakistan. I am worried whether a generation of Hindus gobbled up by greed and globalization will be able to pass on values to their children. So I know that the world's Hindu community has far to go and much to do -- along with everyone else on the planet. The whole earth is one family -- so say the Hindu holy scriptures, the Vedas (Vasudhaiva kutumbakam).

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But I am sure that Hinduism, the complex group of belief systems that the word represents, will have a profound impact on the world in the coming years. Of the six philosophical systems in Sanatana Dharma -- outlined by Heinrich Zimmer as the Six Systems or Darsanas (Kapila's Sankhya, Patanjali's Yoga, Jaimini's Mimamsa, Kanada's Vaisesika, Gautama's Nyaya, and Vyasa's Vedanta) -- the Mimamsakas held that the world remains essentially the same all through the years; history repeats itself. The clash and clang of religious fundamentalism being reenacted today has caused untold suffering before. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan can be seen as today's version of imperialism, a belief that one group has the answer to everyone else's problems. But sages and seers have come throughout the ages to revitalize Sanatana Dharma, and many other faiths and bring a period of calm. Similarly, Hindus in America and India and everywhere in between will step forward to help face the challenges of our times, and will be helped by those who understand that pluralism is the answer.

Hinduism has no founder and is defined by absolute freedom of faith. America's Founding Fathers defined a revolutionary formula (the First Amendment) that promoted faith by leaving it alone. Hindus are inspired by an inward pioneering spirit, Americans by an outward one, and Hindu Americans like me are both a synthesis of and a balance between these opposing pulls. Hinduism's future lies in listening to these contrasting voices -- within and without, while living in the moment. Hindu Americans will continue discovering ways to put our faith into action, becoming karma yogis, through civic engagement, social entrepreneurship, and more. Sadhana -- a practice, a quest for perfection, seeking moksha (liberation) -- is an essential part of being Hindu: we, the faithful, "never graduate," as my temple priest Sri V. Janaki Rama Sastry recently explained. Our to-do list is like our faith -- without beginning or end.

As Hindus in America build their houses of worship and find meaning in seva (selfless service), they will look to their faith to help revitalize the pluralism established by the U.S. Constitution for the republic in which we live. They will also look beyond their shores to advocate for those in need, continuing to inspire people to understand that there is more than one way to the mountaintop. In order to do all of this, Hindus must turn to the fundamentals of Hinduism found in the Bhagavad Gita, the Ramayana, and other works of faith to help create peace in the world and their own lives.

Padma Kuppa is a writer, IT professional, community activist,wife and mother working to build a more pluralistic society. She is a member of the Hindu American Foundation's Executive Council. Views expressed here are the personal views of Ms. Kuppa, and do not necessarily represent those of the Hindu American Foundation or of any organization of which she is a part. Her interfaith involvement includes Troy Interfaith Group, an organization highlighted by Harvard's Pluralism Project, WISDOM, and the Interfaith Leadership Council of Michigan. She blogs at padmakuppa.blogspot.com.

6/28/2010 4:00:00 AM
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