Chapter 17: Practicing Hindu Dharma in
Practicing Hindu Dharma in foreign
lands presents an opportunity and a challenge as well as a dilemma. Modern
emphasis on the materialistic aspects of human life has created a spiritual
vacuum in affluent societies of the world. The lack of a spiritual vision of
life is taking a heavy toll on moral, ethical, family and human values.
Apprehension, anxiety and daily worries about one's job, material needs of the
present, and financial security for the future in a "cut-throat"
competitive environment is causing confusion regarding the basic purpose of
The current confusion of affluent societies is similar to that of Arjuna in
the Mahăbhărata war. Arjuna, with all his sophisticated weapons and military
might, represents the scientific and techno-logical advancement of the modern
world. Krishna, who gave spiritual instruction to Arjuna and removed his (Arjuna's)
confusion, represents the spiritual force needed to resolve the restlessness,
worries and confusion in today's world. Vision and action must be blended every
step of the way to bring harmony in human life. Where Krishna and Arjuna are
together, therein lies the opportunity for progress and ultimate victory.
The challenge to practicing Hindu Dharma (or for that matter any other
religion) in modern societies arises largely due to the illusion of rationality.
This illusion leads to the view that nothing is real if it cannot be directly or
indirectly perceived by the senses. We also tend to believe that reason is
highest in man and that it can give us a reliable and complete understanding of
all our problems.
The sages tell us that intuition is the result of direct knowledge of Truth
and thus intuition is superior to and transcends reason. A reasonable man is not
necessarily a virtuous man. In today's world reason is often used to separate
rather than unite people. The sages further tell us that faith and devotion are
the powerful tools which can be used to tread a spiritual path until one gains
intuition through one's own spiritual experience.
Owing to the increased scientific and technological outlook in modern
societies, the traditional methods of religious teaching based upon mythology,
ritualism, and folk religion are losing their power. The questions that are
being raised by the younger generation pose a dilemma for those who rely solely
on mythological, ritualistic and sociological forms to provide basis for their
beliefs and practices.
In the Mahăbhărata war Krishna did not use mythology, ritualism or folk
religion to address Arjuna's concerns pertaining to his role in the war.
Instead, Krishna used ancient philosophical thought to answer Arjuna's numerous
queries. It was the power of the philosophical teachings of the Vedas and
Upanishads that inspired Arjuna to address his final words to Krishna,
"Destroyed is my delusion, Oh Krishna. I stand firm with my doubts
dispelled. I shall act according to Thy word." (BG 18.73).
Practicing Hindu Dharma means combining devotion, knowledge and work-love,
light and life-for the benefit of one's family, society, country, and the world,
with the ultimate goal of union with God. The following guidelines are intended
to accomplish this goal by blending the vision of Hindu Dharma with the actions
of individuals and social institutions:
- Establish a temple room (or a corner in a room, if the entire room is not
available) for daily worship and meditation. Install a family deity-a
picture, image or a symbol-in the temple room and worship the deity daily in
the morning and evening. Perform the daily routine as described in Chapter
- Have a firm conviction that the family deity will protect and aid if
sincere prayers, offerings and vows are made regularly with love and
devotion. Paramahamsa Sri Rămakrishna is a modern example of how high one
can rise spiritually by sincerely performing deity worship alone.
- Meditate daily and practice yogic exercises regularly. In order to
successfully live in this world of "cut-throat" competition, one
requires a healthy body and a strong mind. Meditation strengthens the mind
and yoga preserves the body.
- Meditation and yoga are the backbone of Hindu religious and cultural
tradition. Establish yoga and meditation centers and libraries to learn and
practice the philosophical and theological themes of Hindu Dharma.
- Earnestly organize and support temple activities to preserve the
traditional religious and cultural heritage. Donate generously to temples
and community service organizations.
- Organize, support, coordinate or host religious festivals and celebrations
of birthdays of saints, sages and holy men and women.
- Organize conferences, seminars, symposiums, discussions, and debates at
temples, community centers, and educational institutions to expound the
teachings of the scriptures and to illustrate how the spiritual wisdom of
Hindu sages and saints can be utilized to solve problems facing the modern
world. Ahimsă, the divinity of ătman, and unity of existence are the three
jewels of ancient wisdom which can promote unity and harmony in the divided
world of today. In the words of Donald H. Bishop, Professor of Philosophy at
Washington State University, "A major contribution [that] Indian
thought can make today is to remind the world of the illusions it must
overcome. Our present crisis results from living by illusions. Indian
thought would call us back to the real." 22
- Invite saints, swamis and scholars to provide discourses on religious and
spiritual topics of interest.
- Support, participate and organize pilgrimages.
- Support, organize and participate in weekly religious activities, such as bhajans,
kirtans, and scriptural readings (swadhyaya).
- Organize events and activities of common interest to enhance the spirit of
unity in the community and pride in the Hindu way of life, and to foster
friendship and understanding between Hindu Americans and other Americans.
- Establish cultural centers to promote religious and cultural activities.
Promote media activities such as radio, television and newspapers to expound
the true teachings of Hindu Dharma and to clarify misunderstandings or
misinformation about Hindu religious teachings.
- Raise, collect and disseminate funds for charity work within the Hindu
community, other communities, the country, and the world.
- Educated Hindus need a demythologized and less ritualistic Hindu Dharma to
blend modernity with the vision of the Vedas, Upanishads and other Hindu
scriptures. In addition to normal activities, temples need to raise funds to
support various institutions such as universities, yoga and meditation
centers, senior citizen centers, and hospitals. Such institutions would be
the symbol and model of the modern Hindu Dharma.
- Organize and support dramatic pageants based on the Purănic and Epic
literature. These pageants carry traditional religious ideals to the young
generation and are effective tools of popular religious instruction for
- Hindu festivals, art, music and dance are the four pillars of Hindu
culture. Organize and support these activities regularly. Such events should
be used to foster friendship and promote understanding between Hindus and
- Remember "He who sees Shiva [God] in the poor, in the weak, and in
the diseased, really worships Shiva; and if he sees Shiva only in the image,
his worship is but preliminary. He who has served and helped one poor man,
seeing Shiva in him, without thinking of his caste, creed or race, or
anything, with him Shiva is more pleased than with the man who sees him only
in temples," declares Swami Vivekananda.30