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Malaysia Conference Part 2

Bodhinatha continues his talk about unethical and ethical religious conversion and cites a number of very useful quotes from Gurudeva's recent book, How to Become a Hindu. Gurudeva encourages religious leaders to behave professionally and ensure conversions that are voluntary, ethical and legal, including a graceful exit from one's former religion by sitting and talking to one's former spiritual leader from that religion. Many other significant points are discussed on this rare, hot topic.

Unedited Transcript:

Moving on to 'How to Become a Hindu'. As we know, Gurudeva put all of his thoughts about religious conversion in there in a very systematic way. One of the issues he raises is about ethical conversion. You know the format for a good portion of the book, is questions and answers. The question that he answers is this.

"Are there ethics and scruples controlling conversion from one religion to another, such as corporations have in moving a top executive from one company to another?"

Gurudeva basically says, "No, there aren't. But, there should be." He says that religious leaders must all be tolerant of one another and be fair and what is needed is a code of ethics. He goes on to talk about doctors and lawyers. He says, doctors don't go around slandering another doctor to get that doctor's patients, they just don't do that. There is a code of ethics that you follow. They respect one another, they are professional. Lawyers do the same thing, they don't go around telling falsehoods about the lawyer down the street to get his clients. They are being professional in the way they behave and they are respected because of that. They are professionals with codes of ethics. They are in competition, but they are in a fair competition with one another.

Gurudeva encourages religions to function in the same way as professional people do. He says, "There must be a graceful exit from one religion and entrance into another, just as a citizen formally changes his loyalty from nation to another, legally and ethically. Ethics must be established among the religious leaders. Then these holy personages will command members to reach out and seek new members in a most enlightened way."

When it comes down to the specifics for ethical conversion, in Phase One Gurudeva emphasizes education. If someone is going to convert from one religion to another, they need to study both religions very carefully. They need to understand them, understand how they agree, understand in what areas they differ. It should not be an emotional experience. It should be based upon a sound intellectual understanding, not just of the religion you are converting into but of the religion you are converting out of.

He suggested studying scripture, studying books on both religions and when that has been done for a while, Gurudeva developed the idea of a point-counterpoint. We take the major beliefs of each religion and compare them to the other. Show in what ways they are the same and in what ways they are different. Very specific listing of point and counterpoint for the two religions. If you can do that in a clear way then you really understand them both intellectually, you understand in which ways they are different and you could explain it to someone very clearly. That is the first phase of an ethical conversion - is study, understanding both religions sufficiently.

Gurudeva goes on to map out a Phase Two, which is to talk to the religious leader of the religion you want to leave. Give them a chance to talk you out of it, give you a chance to talk him into it. When you meet someone, you don't just leave without saying goodbye. You go to the person who is your religious leader or represents your community as a religious person and explain to them what you are doing and why. Let them have a chance to talk you out of it and in some instances they may be able to, because it is an emotional decision, it is not based on a clear understanding. It is not the wisest choice for you in terms of your natural beliefs.

Another area that I forgot was in the book, was an answer to this question - "Is it true that Hindu leaders sometimes make overt efforts to proselytize and convert Jew, Muslims and Christians?"

I would have thought the answer is, "No." That is the usual answer, Hindus don't proselytize. But Gurudeva says, "Yes, a conditional yes. Yes, in the case of those who were converted in the wrong way." Not just in general, Hindus don't go around converting. But if someone converted from Hinduism to Christianity and it was not a good conversion, fraud was involved, force or allurements, free possibilities. If that was the basis for the conversion then it is your duty to try and convert them back. It is not just okay but it is a duty. That is the way he puts it. Specifically, he says, up to the third generation.

So The individual who converts and that individual's child should be approached to try and convert them back to Hinduism. But the third generation onward you should let them be, because they are well established in the new religion. Whereas the first and second generation are not completely established yet in their religion. It takes three generations to become fully established in the new religion.

Gurudeva says specifically, "This kind of proselytizing among our own, we consider our duty. For it is educating the young," meaning the second generation, "and reeducating their parents and it is not infringing on the other faiths who impose these unethical conversions."

That is a very interesting point again that I forgot was in the book. It has so many different approaches to conversion. Some of you have heard us make this point before, it is kind of on the side but it is a good opportunity to make it. We have talked about our own Gotra that Gurudeva established, the Sri Subramuniya Rishi Gotra, which those who receive Vishesha diksha enter at that point. Gurudeva made the same statement there, it takes three generations to establish the Gotra. So the third generation - the parent, the child and the child of the child. The child of the child is fully established, fully adjusted to the religious protocol and flows and approach of the Gotra. But it takes three generations. Even if someone comes from a lineage, a strong Saivite family. Even if you go back and everybody you can remember is Saivite in your lineage. It still take three generations because you are adjusting to a specific Guru Parampara, specific flows, specific approaches that your grandfather did not follow, your father did not follow. There is something new there to adjust to, something is a little different. So even for someone from a strong Saivite lineage, it still takes three generations to adjust. So we have a ways to go before everyone is fully adjusted, three generations. But it is something to look forward to.

There is a broad area which I will just mention in passing here of conversion out of Hinduism, not by another religion but by other beliefs, non-religious beliefs. Materialism, existentialism are two strong ones. Communism used to be strong but unless you are in China, it is not really a threat. In India, communist thought was very, very popular when we first started going there in the 1970's but not any more. Now, it is talk of technology and internet and progress, a very different approach. But materialism and existentialism are still belief structures that do pull people out of being religious Hindus, particularly in the West we are talking about. It is so fascinating.

There is an interesting example of this in immigrant communities. For example, there is a large immigrant community in Toronto from Sri Lanka because of the Civil War in Sri Lanka. There is something like two to three hundred thousand Sri Lankan Tamil Hindus in the Toronto area at this point. It is the largest concentration in one place outside of Sri Lanka. Of course, most are first generation and are still present.

One of the problems they are going to face is, their children are surrounded by something different than they faced. When they grew up, everyone in the area they grew up, was of the same tradition. They were surrounded by Hindus practicing what they were practicing and that is what they are used to. But they are going to find in Toronto, they are surrounded by people of other religions and people of no religion. Therefore their children are going to be exposed to something that they were not exposed to and are going to need some guidance and strengthening. Otherwise they can get pulled right out of their religion by being surrounded by so much materialism and existentialism.

So, we wrote a message which includes that idea. This was just read a few days ago, on November 2nd in the Toronto area. The Sivathondan Nilayam of Canada held an event on Gurudeva's Mahasamadhi on November 2nd. They held it at the Richmond Hills temple there and they asked for a message. So we sent them this message to be read which focuses on the children and this problem we are talking about. Keeping the children in the religion and giving it some good thought.

"Greetings to all who are attending the First Annual Mahasamadhi Guru puja of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, today November 2, 2002 at the Richmond Hill Hindu Temple, Ontario, Canada. I believe if Gurudeva were sitting with you today, he would strongly encourage you to make the major priority, educating the children in the religious practices and philosophy of Saivism. He would encourage you to show them how the Saiva samayam will make them happier and more successful individuals. Gurudeva would suggest that you involve them in the leadership of the temple activities by having them form youth committees and giving them specific responsibilities at the different festivals to develop the feeling that this is their temple not just the temple for the adults.

Today in the West, many Hindu parents and Hindu religious leaders are appalled by the lack of interest that Hindu youth who have reach adulthood show in their religion. The best prevention for this problem as well as the problem of conversion to another religion is providing children a solid education in the beliefs and practices of their Saivite traditions. An excellent place to start is by teaching children Hinduism's Code of Conduct, the ten yamas - restraints and the ten niyamas - observances, as they provide the foundation necessary for a sustained, spiritual life. Gurudeva explains this beautifully in his book, 'Living with Siva'. Religion teaches us how to become better people, how to live as spiritual beings on this earth. This happens through living virtuously, following the natural and essential guidelines of dharma. For Hindus, these guidelines are recorded in the yamas and niyamas, ancient scriptural injunctions for all aspects of human thought, attitude and behavior. In Indian spiritual life, these Vedic restraints and observances are built into the character of children from a very early age."