Though America is conventionally seen as a country whose ideals are
based on Abrahamic values, one can easily see how seamlessly the values
of Sanatan Dharma, or Hinduism, compliment traditional American values.
From my own experience, I have observed how Sanatan Dharma and the idea
of being an American not only flatter one another, but create a larger
sense of purposeful direction within the individual.
"Santan" means eternal, and dharma means duty or purpose; thus,
Sanatan Dharma is a way of life, older than time itself, that directs
one toward fulfilling their true potential. However, Sanatan Dharma does
not outline only â€œone wayâ€ for one to find their purpose in the world.
There are billions of directions one can take toward fulfilling their
dharma. Each of us has a purpose to fulfill, and thus, a unique path.
What is right for one person may not be right for another. Similarly,
one of the reasons that people from around the world come to live in
America is because of the wide variety of opportunities available to
them. They are not bound to a certain career by their government or
family â€“ they are completely free to discover their own path.
The very nature of Sanatan Dharma is limitlessness. Similarly,
freedom to fulfill oneâ€™s dharma in any way they are directed to is a
basic American ideal. In this way, one is also free to explore any way
that they choose to create their identity. In fact, this has lead to a
rather pliable definition of the prototypical â€œAmericanâ€. The average
American to someone from New York City is vastly different from the
average American from the perspective of someone from Houston.
Similarly, there is no strict definition of who a â€œHinduâ€ is. While it
is true that most people who identify as Hindus may adhere to some
common beliefs, it is not necessarily true that all Hindus believe the
same thing. In fact, Sanatan Dharma is a religion of incredible
multiplicity in practices and philosophies. There is no strict dogma or
ultimate â€œset of rulesâ€. The definition of a Hindu is usually cited as
â€œone who believes and practices the teachings of the Vedas,â€ but there
is no set requirement of which beliefs are adhered to, or even how many
one must accept.
The definition of what it means to be an American is just as
delightfully ambiguous. To limit the definition of â€œAmericanâ€ to â€œone
who lives in Americaâ€ seems sophomoric; there is a greater spirit of
strength, egalitarianism, and liberty that one identifies with America.
One cannot even identify an American as one who believes and follows the
laws set in the constitution â€“ is, then, a criminal not an American?
What about those who do not believe in freedom of speech? While there is
a sort of national character one can identify with America, and there
are certain purposes one can identify with Sanatan Dharma, neither
delineates one binding set of identifying characteristics for the
individual. While we all have roles that we identify with, (e.g.
student, mother, sister, friend, husband) our true identity is something
beyond these roles. To the Hindu, who we really are is something
greater, something universally encompassing. Beneath our self-judgments
and perceived roles is something more permanent and universal. Thus,
oneâ€™s true identity is boundless. We can take on an infinite amount of
functions, as we are capable of an infinite amount of things. However,
in a more absolute sense, we are beyond the constraints of all of these
This points to a core unifying principle of Sanatan Dharma â€“ the
essential oneness of all things. â€œThere is on Earth no diversityâ€¦As a
unity only is it to be looked upon â€“ this indemonstrable, enduring
Being.â€ (Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, 4.4.19-20) While from a
worldly standpoint, we all come from different backgrounds, families,
economic statuses, and religions, essentially, we are all one.
Physically, we are all composed of the same subatomic particles, held in
existence by the same energy. And at the deepest level, there is no
diversity â€“ only smooth, peaceful, sameness. Within all of us is this
proclivity towards unity and balance. This what Hindus identify as God:
the deepest essence of our being that unites us all. This is where
sacredness is found in all things, where divinity lies in the
magnificent and the insignificant. Not only is every creature seen as
sacred â€“ every moment is sacred, and is worth our full awareness,
presence, and attention.
Here, in the profound spirituality of Hinduism, is a clear
representation American culture: diversity in the context of unity.
While America is home to people whose roots are from countries around
the world, there is still one overarching sense of belonging that melds
all people together under the identity of â€œAmericanâ€. By the same
philosophy, and from an even larger perspective, the Hindu is one who
believes that beyond all notions of national and personal identity, we
are all one; our innate infinite nature lends itself to a destruction of
the concept of â€œyouâ€ and â€œIâ€. A deep understanding of Hinduism lends
one to find a greater value in their own sense of purpose, regardless of
whether they identify as a Hindu or not. An American sees their own
face reflected in their neighborâ€™s countenance, sees their own success
in their countryâ€™s success. Thus, by recognizing our innate unity, one
can see the importance of truly American values of respect, equality,
While preserving a sense of national and personal identity is
important in both Hinduism and â€œAmericanismâ€, there is an ultimate sense
of oneness across all people that both recognize. By accepting the
Hindu belief of absolute unity, we are accepting and adhering to the
basic American idea that all people are â€œequally free,â€ and deserve to
fulfill their lifeâ€™s purpose in whichever way they so choose. In this
way, American society becomes a satsang for the Hindu â€“ it is a place where one is allowed to discover their dharma in an environment of unconditional acceptance.
Sarika Persaud is a twenty-year old student pursuing her BA in
Psychology, with minors in Art and Physics, at St. Johnâ€™s University
(NY). She is the Educational Resources Coordinator for HSC (Hindu Students Council
and is also involved with CHY (Coalition of Hindu Youth). Sarika has
also been a teacher at the Hindu childrenâ€™s education program at her
temple, Shri Surya Narayan Mandir, for five years.