A Life of thinking globally, acting locally, and seeking peace internally.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Stephen Prothero on Patheos.com


Oh, I so want to go take another course at ETS!! Read more Entry>>

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rival Religions?... Let's Reconcile Religious Differences instead.

The subtitle of God Is Not One - The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter – unsettled me, coming from academic Stephen Prothero whose book Religious Literacy highlighted what I always experienced – the ignorance people have about other faiths. I have been fortunate throughout my life to have experiences which enriched my understanding of my own faith as well as that of others. Both books were given to me, each by a Christian interfaith mentor and fellow peace activist, one from MI and one from the East coast. So you may understand as a Hindu American interfaith activist who wants to help develop interreligious understanding, why the subtitle bothered me.

That there was a limit to the number of religions covered was surprising but easily understood in the first pages of the book. The author does say “Much is missing here…” And there is an acknowledgement that, while the “religions appear here in discreet chapters, none really stands alone,” but I didn’t get a sense that this interdependence brings religious communities together. There is a tension emanating from the “rival” in the title that in a work that seeks to “replace na├»ve hopes of interreligious unity with deeper knowledge of religious differences.”

As I read the book, I could understand the justification provided that the eight religions are presented in the order of their influence, although why each was great wasn’t as convincing (great doesn’t mean good, by the way). The presentation of Islam as the first chapter didn’t seem right, given the impact of Christianity’s proselytizing efforts around the world and over hundreds of years. Yet Islam seems to be the one with the most contemporary impact – and the fact that it is presented first is a great conversation starter for anyone reading this book.

The four-step approach to understanding the eight religions identified – Islam, Christianity Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Yoruba religion, Judaism, Daoism and a “brief coda on atheism” – is explained in the intro. I still wonder about this simplification, and what someone who is not religiously literate will interpret, since the nuances are missing.

While daunted by Prothero’s assessment of some of my heroes – think Karen Armstrong, Ramakrishna, Gandhi, lumping them into a category he identifies as “perennialists, who identify all religions as one” – I agree that he is spot-on in his assessment of the need to move into Interfaith Dialogue 2.0. He clearly lays out the need for genuine dialogue across difference, particularly now when our world is filled with religious and antireligious name calling. He reiterates again the need for religious literacy, and the need to reckon with our religious differences. But he raises Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core as an example, where “Patel actively discourages IFYC participants from discussing politics and theology.” And yet a few sentences later, he says we should find “a secular way to talk about religion, with some measure of empathetic understanding.”

I was somewhat perturbed by Prothero’s presentation of the chapter on my faith, that which the Western world has identified as Hinduism. (He got the dissonance we have about the name Hinduism right). It is a family of faiths, it is not an organized religion, and yet, there it is, as number four on his list. In fact, on page two of the intro, he calls [Hindu] Swami Sivananda’s writing [that the essentials of all religions are the same] a dangerous, disrespectful and untrue sentiment. He calls Hinduism The Way of Devotion, and identifies Hindus as being god-besotted. Rather than give fair hearing to the new scientific evidence that is at opposition to the Aryan invasion theory, he identifies it with Hindutva, and the Hindu nationalist movement. He references Hindu nationalists several times, in a country where the impact of corrupt politics and predatory proselytizing is easily visible (I go almost every other year to spend time with family) – even while India still works to stay true to its pluralistic past. I could go on, as an insider offended by the inaccuracies, the clinical approach with which he explains my belief system and that of almost a billion others. But there are many points where he is spot-on again: acknowledging the resilience of Hinduism -“Rather than repelling new ideas, Hindus are forever absorbing them;” “if you are confused at this point, you are not alone;” or identifying God as both “nirguna Brahman” and “saguna Brahman.” He quotes scripture, stories and philosophers and seems to explain what a paradox this faith is. But in the end, he simplifies it beyond my understanding. My faith is not only that of devotion. He states, "It affirms that neither priestly sacrifice (a poor description of the karma yoga path I walk) not philosphical knowledge (jnana yoga) is necessary for release from the bondage of samsara." Being Hindu means I have a multifaceted approach to faith - with many ways, many yogic paths that I and millions of Hindus weave into our lives. To me, he remains an academician with a Western lens who doesn’t understand what the late Indian president S. Radhakrishnan tried to explain in his 1939 publication Eastern Religions and Western Thought. In fact, Indian scholar C. Rajagopalachari said these words while introducing one of my favorite hymns, the famous Bhajagovindam. “The way of devotion is not different from the way of knowledge or jnana. When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life, and issues out in action, it becomes bhakti. Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature, is bhakti. If it does not get transformed into bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that jnana and bhakti, knowledge and devotion, are different from each other, is ignorance.”

The hardest part of reading this book for me came not as a Hindu, but as an interfaith activist. Yes, we need humility, the awareness that we don't have all the answers, and we need interfaith dialogue 2.0 – but it will not come without interfaith dialogue 1.0, where people can discover common ground. Reconciliation of our religious differences – like any other differences – requires tact and compassion. The cross pollination and the deepening of one's own faith that comes with inter-religious knowledge is not offered up for consumption - think Gandhi's following the principles of ahimsa found in the Hindu saint Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, which inspired MLK to follow his Christian path of turning the other cheek with even more dedication. The book didn’t offer me hope – that religious literacy as gained through a book will help those of us who practice the world’s religions (or belief systems) find ways to solve problems created by other people who practice these same religions (or belief systems). Instead, it offered me reality: that religious differences matter, that we must continue to advocate for what we believe in, that we must continue to create friendships across faith lines, and nurture the idea that we should treat others as we wish to be treated.

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

What's going on in my world...

I thought I should share the following from my Bharatiya Temple Outreach activities report.
  • In June, Outreach members Anjali Vale and Padma Kuppa participated in panels for the Women's Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro-detroit. The panels entitled "5 Women, 5 Journeys: How Different Are We?" are part of WISDOM's effort to build bridges of understanding by creating friendships across faith and culture.
  • The Outreach Committee hosted a variety of visiting groups at the temple - ranging from participants in the U of MI Worldviews Seminar in June to a preschool group in Aug. Our visitor traffic will increase in the fall once the academic year starts up, so we are always looking for new volunteers to join the committee.
  • Outreach Committee members were part of a few interfaith service projects, including providing breakfast in June and July for Habitat for Humanity volunteers in Pontiac.
Upcoming dates:
Aug. 29:
In 2010 Hindu American Seva Charities is partnering with United We Serve - Let's Read, Let's Move initiative to organize a national Yogathon in temples and ashrams across America.

Sept. 11 - 12: A-OK (Acts Of Kindness) Detroit - Website for registration, donations, and permission slips will be available shortly.
Interfaith Community Service Weekend - part of National Acts of Kindness Weekend
- Service project selection and coordination
- A morning kickoff rally to start the day
- All supplies and project materials
- Food
- Celebration to finish the day
Initiative and Work Partners include:
  • InterFaith Leadership Council
  • Leadership Detroit
  • City Year Detroit
  • 1 by Youth
  • Greening of DetroitClark Park Recreation Center
  • Mercy Education Project
  • Riverside Park
  • Detroit Environmental Vision
Sept. 21 International Day of Peace event - details to follow - multiple events in region

Oct. 2
Gandhi Day of Interfaith Service - details to follow

Nov. 14
Bharatiya Temple hosts "5 Women, 5 Journeys" Panel discussion
in MP Hall from 2-4

Nov. 21
Bharatiya Temple hosts Troy-area Interfaith Group's 6th Annual Thanksgiving Celebration in MP Hall - 7 to 8:30 pm.

Jan. 30, 2011 Twelfth Annual
World Sabbath at Temple Israel, 5725 Walnut Lake Road, West Bloomfield from 4-6
The World Sabbath is a service that is held on an Interfaith Holy Day of Peace among the religions, races and nations of the world. It consists of offerings of prayer from many beliefs and of a Children of Peace procession.

Anyone available on these dates? Join me... :)
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Patheos has my essay on the Future of Hinduism...

Future of Hinduism

From its traditional diversity and plurality to the sanatana dharma approach to Hinduism, this ancient faith is on the move. The future of Hinduism -- in its intellectual, political, artistic, and cultural facets -- has an increasingly globalized manifestation. Patheos addresses these developments as a part of its Future of Religion series. Contributing authors include: Loriliai Biernacki, Christopher Chapple, Gavin Flood, Thomas Forsthoefel, David Frawley, Pankaj Jain, Khyati Joshi, Vamsee Juluri, Padma Kuppa, Ramdas Lamb, Brian Pennington, Anantanand Rambachan, Arvind Sharma and Suhag Shukla.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Balanced Views of Religion and Spirituality at Patheos

The website Patheos, with a subtext of "Seek, Understand," had a Theoblogger challenge: "Who (or What) is God? in 100 Words or Less." First they asked Christians... Then, I was requested to respond from a Hindu perspective (as part of a multifaith panel).

My reply is now live at Patheos here (scroll down a bit):

All the posts are here:
Since the beginning of human history, we have struggled to articulate our understanding of the Divine. How does one describe the indescribable? We decided to ask a dozen bloggers across faith traditions to answer that very question: Who (or What) is God? And to make it even more interesting, we challenged them to do it in 100 words or less. What follows are their evocative responses.

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/God-in-100-Words.html Read more Entry>>

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hindu American Seva Charities off to a Great 2010!

I am SOOOO behind on posting - not that I haven't worked on several things lately. Anyway, I HAD to share this from Hindu American Seva Charities, a nonrofit that I am active with. Anju Bhargava is a the Founder-Convener of HASC - www.hinduamericanseva.org. She arranged a conference call for many of us in the Hindu American community through her role as a member of the President's Council for Faith Based and Community Initiatives in mid-January. The Exec. Dir. of the Council, Rev. Joshua Dubois, addressed the group, told us about the Council's priorities (to be listed in another blogpost, I hope) and answered a few questions. Here is an article from the Wall Street Journal about "US Community-Building in a Dharmic Environment" - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124875466922186053.html. Read more Entry>>