By Mona Vijaykar
Here we are, ramping up to a season of Hindu festivals which began with Ganapati’s arrival in September. Yet, these occasions have evidently lost their original spiritual significance and are more likely opportunities for consumption of spirits, instead! Some Hindus do go through the motions of performing “sacred rituals” but, often, with the attitude of a child who is made to repeat a hundred lines in detention. Even multiple enactments of the Ramayana may have failed to rescue us from our ignorance. Some of us were probably mortified by the inconceivable Vanar Sena!
Apart from a few who have thankfully discovered Hindu wisdom from Masters across the globe, most of us are clueless about the precious knowledge preserved in the scriptures. With the absence of any formal Hindu spiritual education, I am reminded of the hapless “Dhobi ka kutta, na ghar ka na ghat ka.” As a result we have lost out on valuable tools to deal with life’s challenges. Generations of Hindus have grown up totally disconnected from the philosophy, due to what I call, the ‘Disneyfication’ of Hinduism.
A five year old child who wonders how his tooth falls and disappears will bite the Tooth Fairy explanation. He may even clobber his older brother for challenging his belief, but as an adult he will abandon the Tooth Fairy for the encyclopedia. The Disney approach to knowledge must lead to the channel of Discovery to acquire a logical, scientific understanding of life.
Yet, we Hindus suffer from a life-long Tooth Fairy syndrome, clinging to bizarre mythological stories from the Puranas, taking them literally, without attempting to delve into their meaning and symbolism as adults. Without decoding the superficial tales, popularized by Amar Chitra Katha and which hold enormous potential for entertainment, the deeper knowledge remains a mystery. Worse, any attempt to reveal their true meanings, may even invite the wrath of staunch believers like the toothless 5 year old.
I was invited to teach Hinduism to children at a temple in the Bay Area when a parent became incensed over a particular slide. A picture of Vishnu asleep on the coils of Ananta, titled “Personification of the Living Potential Energy” turned the poor man blue in the face. Needless to say, my sacrilegious classes were scrapped and replaced by a robotics class instead!
A while ago my friend, Savita, engineered an India in Classrooms’ Divali display at a friendly neighborhood church. In the midst of the buzz of eager visitors, I froze as I overheard an elderly Indian woman loudly describe the interesting phenomenon of Shiva attaching the head of an elephant to his son, Ganesh’s body! Amused, I listened patiently as she explained to her wide-eyed American audience, with the seriousness of a Roadshow host, demonstrating a wheel installation on TV. When I dared to interrupt the passionate discourse with polite skepticism, I was impatiently waved silent. So, I did what was best in the circumstance … took a deep breath and continued to watch the curious expressions on the faces of her captive listeners.
But the incident that really knocked the breath out of me was when a high profile attorney of part Indian heritage began her “empowerment” speech at a women’s conference with a reference to “Shiva’s raging testosterone!” She then proceeded to entertain her giggling Indian and American audience with Parvati ‘s gesture of “time out” and other gory details of the popular Hindu myth; by itself, a story without any redeeming value, yet, passed down as precious cultural inheritance.
Of course, had she known that Shankar and Parvati represent gross and subtle forms of energy; and that their “union” gives birth to all organic life, represented by the elephant and mouse, she would have missed out on all that delicious fodder for public amusement.
A high school student at Harker Academy once asked if Hinduism has evolved. My response was simply, “Hinduism as a practice has regressed…yet Hindu wisdom is the most evolved”.
As the editor of India Currents astutely states,” Being American is an idea…not an ethnicity,” being Hindu too is an idea, not a religion. A Hindu is one who lives in accordance with the laws of nature that govern our existence, (regardless of one’s religious heritage). A Hindu is environmentally consciousness, conserves our resources, helps preserve endangered species, and is mindful of his very intricate connection with all beings in the cosmos. A Hindu acknowledges the power of the indestructible Conscious Energy that is the unifying basis of all life. This pretty much renders a whole lot of us non-Hindu! By the same token, some Buddhists, Christians and Muslims may in fact fit the Hindu profile!
Just as Math principles are universal, yet taught by different Masters , through varied speech and methods, these core universal Hindu principles have been passed down through the ages by Masters across the globe through different practices and in the language of their times. Unfortunately, this universal wisdom has been lost in translation and reappeared in the form of seemingly different religions. eg. Buddha replaced the word Moksha with Nir vahana; Christians use the word “bondage” instead of “bandhana” and Muslims use the word Jihad for the war within.
No wonder, a young second generation Indian American confided in me, “Aunty, Hinduism just doesn’t speak to me.” And why would it, if the language (and I do not mean Sanskrit) that we use to convey the knowledge is so far removed from contemporary grasp? How does an Indian American child relate to, let alone be inspired by a story that was conceived in an ancient, alien context? How would a child benefit from multiple enactments of the Ramayana apart from gaining stage presence? Children have an incredible capacity to understand subtle concepts without being fed stories of “angry Shiva destroying tigers or chopping off heads.” If Hindu philosophy is taught through practical games and creative workshops, future generations may have the conviction to face adult challenges with faith and courage rather than succumb to confusion and hopelessness locked in blind belief. Let the path of discovery illuminate our minds so we are no longer Mickey Mouse Hindus.
Mona Vijaykar, mother of two global citizens, is committed to intercultural understanding as founder-director of India in Classrooms teacher assistance program (www.indiainclassrooms.org).
Picture by Rohit Markande, Courtesy Creative Commons.
I fully agree.
The article is apt. However, how does one inculcate basic values of good , sustainable , peace and tranquility spreading lifestyle? Issues have been raised about Indian-Americans. But the article applies to the younger generation of Indians in India too. With globalization spreading fast and wide, it is better to approach a solution on the basis of HUMAN values, NATURE sustaining values regardless of Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist religion one may be following or NOT following.
Enjoyed reading it.Good one.
Should we disney-fyi relgion and fusion it so that it is appeals to the new crowd of hip mod desis and Americana who are ‘repelled’ by our myths?
religion is religion and some myths are REAL to some people.. perhaps not to you.
spoon-feeding people religion is not something that appeals to me… it is like a mysterious mountain only for a few. but glad you have your own opinions, Mona.
Keep your strong opinions going on.
Very nicely written, Mona. Really well thought and well felt words. I think, over the period of time, a great philosophy was misinterpreted as a religion. Reason? In my thoughts — probably some folks wanted to popularize the spirituality. Why popularize (disneyfy) spirituality? A person’s interest in spiritual world should generate from within. If I try to ‘teach’ spirituality, I am bound to fail. Or I will teach something which is more religious than spiritual. I think that’s the whole problem.
If one has to be ‘hindu’, ‘muslim’, ‘christian’ by birth, it will be religious. Spiritualism is a journey that only an adult can embark upon. True spiritual person is never Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist. He is just a truth seeker.
People who really fool themselves with all Purana stories and really believe that is what Hinduism is all about; are kids as you described. Let them believe in Fairy Tooth. They have never experienced true fire of need to seek truth; to be spiritual. You CAN NOT change them. Nor you can change the ‘wrong’ image of hinduism. But I have no doubt in my mind that if there are non-Hindus who are true truth-seekers, they will understand Hinduism exactly the way it is.
Thank you, Bipin. I agree …awareness comes naturally…Hari Om!
You r absolutely right Mona many a time i have been a helpless witness to such peoples literal explanations, by doing so not only r they exhibiting their ignorance but also spreading it. They do not have the time or the sprit to make an enquire into these things, just reflects their total lack of respect for culture they r born in, and is an abuse of the freedom they enjoy in so called Hinduism .
There is a lot more to the Puranas than what is understood as mythical stories. AND as all of them r coded, an understanding of several aspects of the Vedic culture is necessary to decode them.
The pictorial depiction of a god or goddess (with several limbs and heads) should be taken as a symbol for a suggestion, when expanded, opens up larger information. Like the icons on the comp, when one taps, the menu drops down.
a pamara , panditha ,a gyani all view the same thing in different ways .
The so called Hinduism is like an abstract art, it depends upon the evolutionary status of the viewer as to what he sees in
And as said in the Bagavad Geetha to understand these Vedic secrets one needs to be equipped with science and spirituality . lack of spirituality in our scientist and lack of science in our spiritual gurus is the reason for the present confusion.
If Hindu philosophy is taught through practical games and creative workshops, future generations may have the conviction to face adult challenges with faith and courage rather than succumb to confusion and hopelessness locked in blind belief.”
Is that not Disney-land like, itself? I’m not sure that
modern day games teach different lessons than those told in epics like the Mahabharata or even the Ramayana–classics are classics because of their timelessness, and I would hate to see a whole genre of literature disappear. (Don’t girls at Harker Academy read Merchant of Venice and wonder why Portia was so in love with a loser–and then apply it to modern-day decision making?) Myths, epics, and rituals have their place ; and philosophy as explained in the Bhagavad Geeta its own place. In fact the Geeta talks about different paths to achieve the same knowledge.
Perhaps we should stop worrying about or being embarassed by American concern over the myths of Ganesha/Shiva-Parvati: other religions/traditions have their own myths that can raise questions and eyebrows. A better understanding of Hinduism’s use of symbolism, its myths, and its deeper philosophy is relevant…though time-consuming. And I agree with the other readers, religion and/or philosophy is NOT for everyone “it does not speak to them” and that’s okay too (even Lord Krishna would give that a pass and certainly the Rig-Veda’s creation-hymn would). On another note, we are fortunate in the Bay Area to have fantastic masters, their lectures, and their publications. Visit http://www.chinmaya-sanjose.org. My own 17 and 15 yr “global citizens” have greatly benefited from attending these classes and reading these publications, as have I, a self-transplanted global-citizen.
It is the faith of life that Hinduism reflects and i have to fully agree with you when you say: Hinduism as a practice has regressed…yet Hindu wisdom is the most evolved”
Nice article ..I agree! Generation next is influenced across the globe with Mickey or alikes regardless of their origin..however, creative people from animation industry in India have done some excellent work like little Hanuman, Ganesha etc., to educate hinduism stories and on similar lines Krishna lila park is being built to impress generation next with the glorious past of our vedic heroes like Krishna, Rama and Hanuman and counter the influence of Mikcey, Spiderman, Superman.
Hope these efforts are multiplied in years to come and all our Indian epics are promoted in medium, which is next generation and accepted by generation next.