Societal pressure and a lack of grounding in one's culture leads to a disconnect which has been the bane of many a Hindu seeker.
I had grown up feeling that religion was something unwarranted or hurtful to others. Due to my strong inner quest, I had been given mantra initiation at the young age of 8 or 9. Later, I learnt that spirituality has nothing at all to do with religion and that religion often creates obstacles on the path of a seeker. Not knowing, back then, that almost anything could become an obstacle if not taken in the right perspective.
It was easy for me not to associate with Hinduism for the sake of my inner-quest since I had grown up in a liberal family. My vague and confused idea about Hinduism slowly began to clear only later in my mid 30’s. This is my personal journey and there are no absolute claims. However, I felt it necessary to share this article since I see many Hindu seekers struggling with the same issue as me.
By my mid-late twenties, if anyone happened to ask me what my religion was, I gingerly said that I am born as a Hindu. Often people in my social circles, mostly other Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists, would laugh at or condemn Hindu practices, temples and our multiple styles of worship right under my nose. I swallowed it all to maintain a “non-violent” attitude. Though I must admit there were few odd times I got heavily emotional and even aggressive but unfortunately, did not know what to say. I didn’t have the answers myself.
From collective experiences, what I gathered was only one central theme – the association of Hindu identity with some feeling of shame and guilt. My family’s experience in Kashmir added to this. We were citizens without human rights. I felt there was something heinous about Hinduism that I had not known or would discover someday. My education ensured that the only thing I learned about Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma is, that it is heavily laden with social evils. And, it is that one religion that needs complete reform. Needless to say that I am grateful to be born into the open Hindu religion that is ever-evolving and eternal or Sanatan and can be reformed on a sound basis!
I also went through a short but disgraceful phase of disrespecting my own heritage to blend with peers as a youngster. Over the years, there was a constant gnawing within me regarding my religion and its conflict with my journey as an earnest seeker.
What was the issue with religion? Or was there a problem with being Hindu, specifically? My Muslim or Christian friends never had such conflicts. They were bright and bold about their practices and beliefs. I respected that.
As I began to discover ancient Indian teachings as part of my self-discovery, I learned the term “religion” is viewing the Dharmic Indian systems from a western and Abrahamic perspective. While Hindu Dharma can be called a religion, it’s not exactly what the word really implies and is more than just that, as Padma Bhushan Vamadeva Shastri beautifully elaborates in this article.
It started becoming clear that this clash between seeking and religion could possibly apply to religions that are dogmatic but could rarely apply to the set of Dharmic religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism. Since these are not based on a strict unquestionable belief system but rather on seeking and exploring. They contain several sub-methods for attaining peace and fulfilment which an individual can pursue based on their own unique journey. The emphasis of such Dharmic traditions is on living a righteous life. The word Dharma is itself quite complex but has been explained briefly here.
Then, how could such Dharmic traditions be a problem for us “seekers” when the main theme they address is – ultimate freedom or moksha? In fact, would not such a religion provide full facilitation for an inner-enquiry? Hinduism gives all the tools for self-purification, living a meaningful life and move towards recognizing our true nature or Sat Chit Ananda.
Where is the contradiction then? Or are we hypocrites beyond all reason? Let us not forget that people from the whole world land into India for quenching their spiritual thirst – ever thought why?
I heard from many contemporary seemingly Hindu spiritual teachers that they either have nothing to do with Hinduism and/or are “secular” (blindly borrowed western idea). Naturally, they probably forgot that the Hindu system is pluralistic and all-embracing. We can go to any of the well-known ashrams and see that there are several people of other faiths following the ancient Indian monastic Hindu and Buddhist traditions due to the inner quest. They are not asked to convert – since such a concept doesn’t exist. Then why this awkward “secular” disclaimer and/or distancing from Hinduism?
Some say that Yoga is far more ancient than Hinduism. Okay, point taken. However, let me ask them – What is your source of learning and medium of teaching? Is it not the Gita where all the yogas have been elaborated in detail (not talking about just asanas)? Is it not the Upanishads that give the profound philosophy of the Vedas that you preach? Do you not offer your respects to the Adi Guru of Yoga called Shiva before you start your yoga class (asanas implied here)?
I discovered how each and every practice/teaching that I had gathered from several sources over the past 15 years of mind-training, came from nowhere else but the rich teachings of Yoga and Vedanta. And now was the time to go deeper and start the study of scriptures. On the one hand, there was great delight in this understanding. However, on the other hand, my agony worsened.
How can I not respect the source of my knowledge? This is something very crucial. I was face to face with Hindu “religion” once again. It was not just a mere coincidence that all this ancient knowledge and these scriptures I was to explore are the very crux of Hinduism.
I was explicitly warned by one senior seeker friend to stay away from “isms” and they are divisive and exclusive. Fair enough, I totally agree and am grateful for the warning. Unfortunately, I just did not use my brains and was not told that these are western terms simply superimposed on our culture and alter the meanings of the words in this context significantly. Reference to Hinduism and also nationalism here.
So the question arises, are we seekers to simply discard Hinduism (if that is our religion) or nationalism since they are limiting “isms” ignoring the fact that this is simply a matter of language?
You can clearly feel the difference in your heart when you hear ‘Desh Bhakti’ versus ‘nationalism’, for instance. At times I feel much is lost in translation including self-respect! For a few years, I remained totally dumb accepting such ideas for the intense fear of straying away from my goal of inner-growth. I felt confused and pained about my own religion and culture.
What do you do when “isms’ start haunting you? You cannot even say with a heart full of gratitude that the teachings and practices of Hinduism have helped you heal, blossom and evolve. What do you do when you feel you have to serve some elusive ideal of “world peace” when you can’t make peace with your own religion and country?
Do these disabilities make you an ungrateful, hypocritical and ego-centric or do they make you a “global citizen” or some highly evolved humans?
All for the fear of being trapped in some Hindu or Indian identity!? Bizarre!
Why can’t we see these as “roles” like we are asked to embrace the roles of a good mother, professional neighbour, etc? If we play the role of a Hindu or a dutiful citizen of India – it contradicts some absurd idea of spirituality some people uphold and promote in pretty words.
Why would our “spiritual halo” be destroyed if we were to appreciate the source of our knowledge, and share it rightfully? That is when we all claim to be seeking our own Infinite Source in this journey of life.
It is rightly said that charity begins at home and change starts with “me”. Our culture and dharma do not want us to impose ourselves on the globe but rather offer our gifts and abundance to all. However, it seems that many of us are enslaved by a very inflexible conditioning in the name of being “intellectual” or “compassionate” and are strongly identifying with some hollow universal spiritual identity.
It is in the roles we are given to play which serve as the very ground of learning and evolution. So may we wake up and fearlessly appreciate our roles. Being a good dharmic Hindu and Indian are only conducive to our larger spiritual quest. With these realizations, I feel I have been saved on time from falling into a dark abyss of ignorance.