The Structure Of Hinduism And Its Relation To The Essence Of America
Many have claimed, based on a superficial understanding, that Hinduism and America are opposing forces and that the two are mutually exclusive. However a closer comparison of the two reveals that they do not clash and instead, the two fit together and complement each other in a substantial manner. We can see that the nature and structure of the Hindu religion enables a person to become a better American by instilling in one a sense of freedom, individualism and a congenial acceptance of all others.
It has been ingrained into our minds that the foundation of America is based on freedom and that America stands as a synonym for liberty. From the Puritans who were vying for the freedom to practice their religion and the colonists vying for the pursuit of happiness to the framers of the Constitution that secured freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the underlying purpose of America was to see that Lady Liberty smiled on all from sea to shining sea. Thus, it is natural that an intense desire for freedom flowing through one’s veins is very much so a prominent and defining characteristic of an American. Now let us consider Hinduism, in which many claim there are millions of manifestations of a single all-powerful God, along with numerous systems of belief and philosophies such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Advaita or Dvaita. The nature of Hinduism is such that it gives to its followers the freedom to choose the form of God (or even the lack of a physical form), the philosophy and the beliefs that appeal most to each individual follower. Hinduism is inherently a free religion, just as America is a free country and it is in this way that Hinduism strengthens the same basic human qualities that America expects of her citizens.
In his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French citizen sent to the United States to examine the American prison system, stated that “the people reign over the American political world as God rules over the universe”. In this statement he stressed the importance of individual expression and individual direction that was and is still true of the United States. Markets and society in general in the United States, to a large extent, work solely based on individual drive. An organized entity did not have to compel Bill Gates by force or any other method to give to the world the computer as we know it. The iPod, iPad, iMac and related products were not the result of a collective or centralized command; they were based on distinct choices of an individual. A similar pattern is found within Hinduism as well. The terms of one’s devotion, worship or expression are not dictated by a central authority whose word is meant to be the translation of God to man. One’s understanding of religion, or dharma is based solely upon the thought process that one has individually cultivated. This forces one to introspect and understand their true identity, their individual ingenuity and that opens the otherwise closed doors of their total potential. This process of introspection and individual understanding is the same process which has made America the powerhouse of intelligence, invention and innovation that it is today. Once again, the structure of Hinduism is akin to the very fabric of America.
Driving down Synott Boulevard in Houston, Texas, and perhaps many other roads all across the United States, will reveal a mandir, adjacent to a mosque, across from a church. This is America. America is the syncretic blend of all thought processes, ideas, forms of expression, religious thoughts, political views, and many other factors. We, as Americans, understand that at the end of the day, my Christian neighbor to my right, my Jewish neighbor to my left, the Muslim classmate in my calculus class, my Buddhist debate teammate, my atheist lab partner and I share one intimate bond, and that is of being an American. America does not attach conditions to whom she calls her own; there is no particular ideology I must subscribe to in order to be an American. America accepts that I am slightly different from my neighbor but still equal in the eyes of her courts and ballot boxes. Not surprisingly, Hinduism does the same thing. “Ekam sat vipra bahuda vadanti,” (The truth is one; the wise call it by many names) exclaims the Rig Veda. The Hitopedesha states, “Vasudhaiva kutumbhakam” (The whole world is one family). In the Bhagavad Gita¸ Lord Krishna proclaims, “Aham atma gudakesha sarva-bhutasya-sthitah” (“I am the Ultimate Consciousness situated within the hearts of all living entities”). Hinduism teaches, through the many forms of God and philosophies mentioned earlier that while different people take different paths towards their ultimate spiritual goal, all people regardless of caste, creed, race, religion, or ideology, are filled with the same basic humanity. Once again, Hinduism instills within us the thoughts that have shaped America to be the great nation that it is today.
Thus, it is evident that those values, thoughts and characteristics that seem so inherent to America are found in Hinduism. The teachings of Hinduism can be seen thriving and apparent in the United States of America. And having applied these teachings to my life, I can declare without reservations, without doubts and with a clear understanding of both Hinduism and the United States of America that my Hindu faith indeed makes me a better American, one that is consciously aware in all aspects of my life of the tenets on which America stands.
Tejas N. Dave, 17, is a rising senior at Pearland High School in Pearland, Texas. Apart from being a stellar student, captain of his Academic Decathlon team and former Vice President of his Speech and Debate team, he has participated in the American Legion Boys State program where he gained knowledge and an appreciation for the American democratic system. Additionally he is very much involved in the Hindu community. He is a coordinator for the annual Sri Meenakshi Temple Youth Camp and has spoken at the Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference in 2010 and will do so again at the 2011 Conference. In addition, his works have been published in the “Hinduism Today” magazine. Currently, he is working with the Coalition of Hindu Youth on a project called Yogafy which attempts to utilize the ancient knowledge of Yoga to combat the epidemic of obesity in America.
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