and/or www.mantra.com/jai (Dr. Jai Maharaj)
2013-11-16 04:04:13 UTC
By Foram Mehta
As a child, I moved around frequently. My parents
emigrated from India to the U.S. when I wasn't even five
years old, and we moved from place to place. It seems
that I've perpetually been stuck with the "New Kid
Syndrome" for most of my life.
Unfortunately for me, the schools I attended weren't ever
very religiously diverse. Christians usually made up the
vast majority of my peers. It was quite lonely for a
little Hindu child like me not having anyone or anything
to relate to. Ah, but then there was always Social
Studies - my favorite subject. No matter what book we
learned from, India was mentioned. As the second most
populated country in the world - it had to be. Finally,
something I could relate to! With the mention of India
always came mention of Hinduism, the religion my family
practiced. I always looked forward talking about Hinduism
in school because I was almost always the only Hindu
around, which instantly made me exotic and the center of
"Wow, cool! There are all these cool-looking gods and
goddesses with so many heads and arms! You really believe
in all of them?" kids would ask me.
Hey, wait a second, there's not really more than one God.
And why are Shiva, Vishnu, Saraswati, and Lakshmi being
referred to as gods' and goddesses?' The Bhagavad-Gita
is mythology? Like Greek mythology? This doesn't sound
This was an experience I dealt with many years ago, and
interestingly enough many Hindus are still dealing with
today: the misrepresentation and subsequent belittlement
of Hinduism. For a religion as established and tolerant
as Hinduism, it is disrespected in the West through other
outlets than just public education. Through media and
marketable fashions and trends, the face of Hinduism
becomes no more than what is represented by many in the
West, a "mythological," pagan religion.
The first issue to address is the fact that many in the
West, including scholars, refer to Hinduism as
"mythology." This is by far one of the most insulting
descriptions to characterize the religion with. By
describing Hinduism as mythology, one suggests that Hindu
beliefs are simply a collection of folklore and tales,
too fantastic to be real. In reality, all religions are
theoretically mythological because no one religion can
prove its validity. Can Christians prove that the word of
The Bible comes directly from God? Can they prove that
the world was created in seven days? No, but even so
Christianity's core beliefs are rarely described as
myths. Rather, they are referred to as "teachings of
Christ." Why then refer to Hindu beliefs as myths and not
just what they are also - beliefs? Perhaps in a part of
the world where monotheistic religions rule, it is
difficult to see truth in a religion with so many faces
of God. It is simply easier to cast it off as a
sensational belief system. Many don't regard how
insulting it is to Hindus to be told they believe in
something that's, frankly, false. We're not asking for
special treatment or a pretty, little pedestal, but it
would be nice if we could stop with the mythology
There's also the issue of referring to the deities as
"gods" and "goddesses" rather than "Gods" and
"Goddesses". Again, because the West is dominated by
monotheistic religions, it seems nonsensical to give a
respectful title to many forms that claim to be "God."
Major religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam
prevail in numbers of worshippers and they give claim to
only one God. Although Hindus believe in one supreme
entity, most don't understand how there can be so many
forms and therefore, they must be referred to as less
important "gods." What most don't realize is that this is
truly disrespectful to Hindus to have Shiva or Ganesh or
Krishna referred to as a lowly god, when they serve as
core representations of their faith.
As a journalist, I often refer to my AP Stylebook, as
many editors require their reporters to follow guidelines
set by the Associated Press. Unfortunately for me and
other Hindu writers out there, it requires that we refer
to these deities in lowercase form. Although because AP
Style instructs to "lowercase gods and goddesses in
references to the deities of polytheistic religions," and
Hinduism is not polytheistic, as many people assume, but
actually polymorphic, I technically could capitalize
"God" and "Goddess" when referring to any of the Hindu
deities. I doubt, though, an editor would side with me on
a technicality he believes to be minor. Of course -
therein lies the problem - it is a minor technicality to
those outside the religion and the exact opposite to
Former AP reporter and current religion reporter for the
San Antonio Express-News, Abe Levy says the rules
probably won't change because numbers usually rule, and
the numbers unfortunately don't lie with Hindus in the
West, and he's probably right (although even he makes the
mistake of calling Hinduism polytheistic).
"I think the honest truth is that monotheistic faiths -
the world's largest three of Islam, Judaism and
Christianity share this belief in one God and so until
polytheistic faiths in the U.S. break out of their
minority status numerically and politically, it won't
change. Is that fair? No. It's more of a pragmatic
solution given the sheer numbers of Muslims, Jews and
Christians and their stamp on U.S. history and culture."
Some say ignorance is bliss - but I have to disagree (at
least when it comes to religion). The problem with
ignorance is that it usually leads to misconception, and
that is definitely not bliss. Misconceptions in the hands
of scholars and educators are just plain dangerous.
Incorrect and misleading information about Hinduism has
often been printed in textbooks and reference books.
Public education is a powerful source of information,
especially for young people learning about world
religions for the first time. What happens when a Hindu
child goes to school and reads, "Durga and Kali are
terrible and extremely bloodthirsty forms of this
goddess," in a textbook like "The Ancient South Asian
World" printed by the Oxford University Press? What about
learning that The Mahabharata, an ancient Hindu scripture
is described as being, " like adventure movies of today
[that tell] thrilling stories about great heroes" as
described in Glencoe-McGraw Hill's "Discovering Our Past
- Ancient Civilizations" textbook? These are certainly
not accurate statements about Hinduism, and what's worse
is that they are superficial. Jesus' crucifixion is never
referred to as a "gripping, emotional roller coaster" so
why precede the description of a Hindu script with such
an introduction? Furthermore, describing Durga and Kali
with such adjectives as "terrible" and "bloodthirsty"
paints vivid pictures in impressionable minds of demons
and monsters like those right out of fairytales. Of
course it's understandable that Hindus and non-Hindus,
alike, assume that Hinduism is a pagan religion when
scholars describe important figures as elaborate,
animalistic idols. Monsters can't be worshipped as God,
so the very idea of Hindu teaching seems ridiculous.
Dictionary.com's description of Krishna is as "one of the
most popular gods [who is] worshipped in several forms
[such as] as the divine cowherd whose erotic exploits,
esp. with his favorite, Radha, have produced both
romantic and religious literature." The relationship
between Krishna and Radha is one of pure, eternal love as
described by Hindu scriptures, and to reduce it to an
"erotic exploit" conveys it as simply a sexual
relationship, in which Krishna is the hunk who gets all
the girls. This description reduces a major form of God
to human form, and worse, shows him in an especially bad
light by making him sound like a flirt.
Jasneshwari Dev, a spiritual teacher at Barsana Dham
Temple in Austin, Texas has written letters to book
publishers and conveyed the Hindu community's
disappointment in such wrongful descriptions in hopes to
promote better education of Westerners about Hinduism.
She says the description of Krishna is completely
inappropriate and misleading.
"Using the word "erotic" to describe the love between
Radha and Krishna shows the ignorance of the writer.
God's love is beyond the conception of the human mind.
But Hinduism does teach us that God is beyond all such
human emotions of lust, anger, greed, jealously. The use
of this word to describe God is highly offensive to
It's interesting the fascination people have with fantasy
and things that seem non-human and unrealistic. Hinduism
again falls into this superficial category and over the
years, it has become increasingly "cool" (and profitable)
to use colorful images of Hindu figures and symbols on
anything from T-shirts and home furnishings to even
costumes and restaurant advertisements. Most have no idea
what any of these images represent, but again the
obsession with things that seem unreal prevails. And if
it makes a product sell, then by all means go for it,
right? Sadly, many would say "yes."
This past summer in Spain, fast food giant Burger King
revealed a new ad campaign depicting an image of Lakshmi
sitting on a hamburger. The caption underneath translated
to "This snack is sacred." The image was used to increase
Burger King's profits and many Hindus saw it as
sacrilege. It seemed to be a mockery and a sarcastic pun
at the fact that most know that Hindus don't eat beef.
Last year supermodel Heidi Klum, known for her
extravagant Halloween parties, dressed to impress - in a
Kali costume. While it was a very colorful and elaborate
costume, it's despicable that she would choose, once
again, a very sacred figure to dress up as. How would
Christians feel if someone showed up with an expensive
costume depicting the Virgin Mary - or worse - Jesus
Christ? Maybe it wouldn't bother many, but what if the
culprit were the last person in the world that should to
be representing a pious, pure Mary or a humble, selfless
Jesus? No one wants others badly representing something
they hold dear, and Hindus are no different. Not to say
Heidi Klum is a bad person, but she's not even Hindu and
who knows what kind of frolicking went on at her party?
Cafepress.com has a variety of fashions available with
Hindu connotations to them, including a couple with the
images of Ganesh and Shiva reading "Ganesh/Shiva is my Om
Boy" playing off the popular slang term "homeboy"
referring to a good friend. It's funny and it's cool
looking, but I doubt most of the people wearing those
shirts have any spiritual relationship with either God to
lay claim to the phrase. But of course, that doesn't
matter most of the time.
Some might say these things aren't big deals because many
don't mean any blatant disrespect, but what they don't
realize is the sheer disregard this shows for Hinduism as
a religion deserving of respect. Small things have big
impacts. Tolerance is stressed heavily in the West, but
maybe empathy and education should be stressed more.
Knowledge opens doors and it could be the key for
Hinduism finally to receive more respect as the ancient,
established, and welcoming religion it really is.
Senior and officer of The University of Texas's chapter
of The Hindu Students Council, Atul Agrawl says he
believes that he sees hope for the future, but it will
take dedication on the parts of many Hindus and non-
Hindus, alike, to make a real difference of how Hinduism
is viewed in the West.
"I believe the key thing to removing ignorance is
subtlety. For example, yoga has hugely impacted Americans
for health reasons. While many people do not divulge into
where it originated or the deeper meaning, there are
others who do. While the goal is to educate everyone, it
has to be one step at a time."
Western Condescension of Hinduism
Jai Maharaj, Jyotishi
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