Over the past 20 years, I have been seeing more and more white faces in Hindu temples and religious congregations. Why are so many mainstream Canadians gravitating to Hinduism? Traditionally, the Western popular media have focused primarily on gaudy, exotic aspects of Hinduism and the darker side of Hindu society. These serious and open-minded seekers of spiritual knowledge who cared to study Hinduism were enlightened by its universal, non-dogmatic and all-inclusive approach that is so surprisingly compatible with the current global-village environment.
“Vasudeva kutambkam,” meaning “the whole world is a family,” declare the ancient Hindu scriptures. The Hindu idea of God is very open; there is no exclusive “Hindu God.” Hindus believe in the same God as Christians, Muslims, Jews and people of other faiths. The multiple deities Hindus worship merely represent the numerous qualities and characteristics of the same Universal Divine Spirit that lives in every human heart.
Hindus believe the people of other faiths understand this One God in their own ways, and there can be many paths to Him. This philosophy – rather than “our way is the only way” – is more conducive to the inter-faith harmony so crucial in multicultural societies like Canada.
The freedom of expression, the right to dissent, and equality are the cornerstones of Western democracies. Hinduism affirms these principles, even though Hindus themselves may not have practiced equality for many centuries. Logical scrutiny and open discussions of religious beliefs are not only permitted, but encouraged and welcomed in Hinduism without the fear of any reprisal, persecution or accusations of blasphemy. Hinduism is a non-prophet religion. Unlike Western religions, it does not revolve around any specific human founder. Hindus only surrender to God, not to a prophet.
Hinduism is not institutionalized. Its adherents do not have to obey the dictates of any central authority, equivalent to the Pope or Ayatollah. Those who need a guide in their spiritual quest choose a living mentor called Guru.
Hindu temples are totally community based, and do not owe allegiance to any central institution in India.
Independent-minded Westerners with a spiritual bent, find this aspect of Hinduism very appealing. The Hindu concepts of Karma and reincarnation are becoming increasingly popular in the West. These concepts are based on the scientific principle that for every action there is an equal and opposite – and not on the reward and punishment concept. It makes us responsible for our own actions, without assuming we are all born sinners, only to be “saved” by surrendering to a specific prophet.
An increasing number of mainstream North Americans, resentful of dogmatism and authoritarianism, are attracted by the liberalism and free-spiritedness of Hinduism, but they remain closet-Hindus, without knowing how to go about becoming a Hindu. Since Hinduism neither seeks nor promotes conversion from other faiths, there is no formal ‘baptism’ to become a Hindu. You are a Hindu, if you genuinely accept Hindu beliefs and philosophy. However, the Arya Samaj, a 19th century reform, “protestant” movement in Hinduism, devised a rite called Shuddhi (purification) for new entrants and those who had converted to other religions, but desired to re-enter Hindu fold.
More recently, Sadguru sivayya Subramuniyaswami, himself a convert from Christianity, who heads a Hindu monastery in Hawaii, designed a step-by-step, do-it-yourself process for what he calls an ethical conversion.
My contacts with closet-Hindus convinced me that the new millennium holds a bright future for Hinduism in Canada. An increasing number of liberal, open-minded people are questioning the faith they were raised in and studying alternatives. Hinduism may well be the beneficiary of these spiritual quests.
Kevin, a 35-year-old lawyer from Edmonton, wrote to me after reading one of my books. He said:
“Over the years, I have felt like an outsider, as I rebelled against the Christian churches’ strongly held belief that there is only one way to worship and think of God, and those who do not see it in this exacting form will perish in eternal hell. Your book was incredibly inspiring. I identified strongly with all the words, ideas and messages that you presented on behalf of the Hindu culture and religion. Honestly, I felt as if I had been Hindu all my life and just didn’t know it.”
Book: Dharma, Karma & Much More
Article: Ajit Adhopia