Hindu Unity

Richly illustrated with many stories, this talk on 'Hindu Unity' to be given at the Draupadee Ammen Temple in Rose Hill, explores three aspects of Hindu unity. First, is Gurudeva's view of Hindu unity as Hindu solidarity, a unity in diversity. This is what helps Hinduism the most in being strong and therefore able to effectively face the challenges that confront it in the modern world. Second, is in the light of the Vedic view - "Truth is one, sages describe it variously." Though Hindus of different denominations worship different Gods, Hindus are united by the understanding that they all worship the same Supreme Being. Third, using another Vedic concept "Truth is one, paths are many", it becomes clear that Hindus believe that all religions worship the same Truth but each is distinct in its beliefs and practices. Only a few, such as Hinduism, provide teachings where man can personally experience God.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning, everyone. Getting ready for our Asia trip, heading off to Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius in one week, next Sun One. Beta-test one of our talks, to see if it works, see what needs to be improved, see if it is too long or too short. This talk is scheduled for the Rose Hill, Draupadee Amman Temple in Rose Hill, it is being co-ordinated by Kulapati SK Moorghen. It is called 'Hindu Unity'.

The title of today's talk is 'Hindu Unity'. This subject is, of course, a broad one and has many different meanings. In our talk we will look at three of those meanings.

Let me begin with a story from a recent trip to Toronto, Canada. After a talk at the Richmond Hill Temple in Toronto, we were having the usual darshan session. Everyone was coming forward and one of the men, who came forward asked me a question. He said, andquot;Should I call myself a Saivite or call myself a Hindu?andquot; That was his question. What do you think I answered? Should I call myself a Saivite? Should I call myself a Hindu? Of course, we know the correct answer. The correct answer is andquot;Both!andquot; Right? Both, a Saivite and a Hindu. That was the answer I gave him.

This simple story, though it is very simple, illustrates a profound point and there is a very nice statement regarding Hindu unity as taught by Gurudeva, which he called andquot;Hindu Solidarityandquot;. As you know, Gurudeva felt Hindu soildarity was very important and one of the reasons he founded our magazine 'Hinduism Today', was of course to promote Hindu solidarity which this year is celebrating its 25th anniversary, He thought it was a very effective, a very effective tool for promoting the idea of all Hindus uniting or Hindus standing together, around the world. Of course, with that in mind, he made it the magazine's first purpose, which reads: andquot;To foster Hindu solidarity as a unity in diversity among all sects and lineages.andquot;

Of course, Gurudeva also gives us a longer explanation, which reads like this: andquot;For all sects of Hinduism to survive in their pristine purity, maintaining their traditions, cultural heritages and religious theologies within our great Sanatana Dharma, each must strengthen the other by strengthening itself. Having found their roots, Hindus of all sects can proceed with confidence and work for Hindu solidarity. The many beliefs and practices common to all Hindus are the meeting ground, the basis of this profound unity in diversity.andquot;

Gurudeva's short explanation is quite filled with profound meaning, so let me elaborate on it, a little bit more. Make sure we all grasp what he is really saying.

So, we can start out with the point that Hinduism has four main sects, also called denominations, which are, of course, Saivism, Saktism, Smartism and Vaishnavism. Gurudeva is indicating that the starting point in achieving Hindu solidarity is for each denomination to strengthen itself. What exactly does he mean by this? How can a denomination strengthen itself? What he means is that the followers of each of these denominations should become more knowledgeable about their denomination and practice it more diligently. This is how the denomination is strengthened. In other words, we don't acheive Hindu solidarity by all coming together and talking about Hinduism as something we all share. Rather, the first step is become solid in your own denomination, become a good, knowledgable Saivite, Saktha, Smarta or Vaishnava. That is the first step.

What then is the second step? The second step naturally occurs by other Hindus being inspired to learn more about their tradition and its practices by meeting Hindus who have already done so. This is the second idea, the idea of andquot;each strengthening the other by strengthening itself.andquot; When Hindus meet other Hindus, who are knowledgeable and diligent in their practices, they become more inspired to do the same, in their own denomination. So, it spreads. This idea of understanding and practice spreads.

This then leads to the third step, which is Hindus of the four major denominations effectively coming together to create a Hindu unity. Their coming together is effective. Why? Because each is knowledgeable and deeply involved in his or her own tradition.

The nature of this Hindu unity is that it is based on solidarity rather than sameness. It cannot be based on sameness as the followers of the four denominations do not hold identical beliefs and follow identical practices. On many points they differ. Therefore, the unity is based on solidarity, coming together on the beliefs and practices common to all Hindus while still acknowledging that in many ways they differ. This is why Hindu solidarity is called andquot;a unity in diversityandquot;.

There is an ancient Greek proverb which says: andquot;United we stand; divided we fall.andquot; The point this proverb is making is that a group, any group, is stronger when it is united and therefore better able to handle the challenges that face it.

There are many challenges that face Hinduism in our modern world: conversion to other religions, the youth not being interested in attending temples, a shortage of qualified teachers, and a lack of religious outreach to the elderly, ill and the needy. Certainly one of the most important challenges that faces Hinduism is the challenge of conversion. In every country where there is a significant Hindu population, there is a serious conversion problem. And it is a certainty that this challenge of conversion is better faced when the Hindus within a country are united rather than divided.

Malaysia provides a good example of a country in which Hindus are effectively united. They are united through the umbrella organization of the Malaysia Hindu Sangam. In recent years the Sangam has held major rallies about the conversion problem, and as a follow-up to the rallies has instigated through a number of temples, social service programs of Hindus helping Hindus. Such programs are an effective way of preventing conversion among Hindus living in poverty or neglect.

In summary, in every country there are always leaders and movements that encourage Hindus to divide by language, the Deity they worship, or other differences and remain apart from other Hindu groups. However, the wisest among us encourage Hindus of different organizations, affiliations and traditions to band together, to stand united, as clearly it is the path of Hindu solidarity that helps Hinduism the most in being strong and therefore able to effectively face the challenges that confront it in the modern world.

Going on to the second meaning of andquot;Hindu Unityandquot;, here is a story to introduce it as well. The last weekend in May, we were guests at the temple of Atlanta. They had two ceremonies going on simultaneously. It was a bit challenging for everyone. They had the kumbhahishekam of the Venkateswara temple, celebrating its 12th year anniversary and right next to it, the new Siva temple, the Deities were getting installed, so they had prana prathistha. So, every evening, they had overlapping ceremonies for both temples that would go on for a number of hours. What was very interesting was, they had about eight Vaishnava priests there, some of the best in the world and again eight Saiva priests, some of the best in the world, all working very hard in their respective areas but they shared their duties. During some ceremonies, you would see the Vaishnava priests all coming over and helping in the Siva ceremonies. And, then when that was over, all the Saivite priests would go over and help in the Vaishnava ceremonies. Likewise, the devotees were moving back and forth in a very free-flowing way and I think, it was quite remarkable to see how well these two traditions, both in terms of the priesthood and the devotees, were able to work together in such a co-operative and supportive way, which of course, is not always the case.

So, one of the talks I gave at Atlanta was on 'Hinduism's Four Denominations' and the reason I chose that subject among about four subjects was to show how Saivites and Vaishnavites view the Supreme Being. I began the talk by quoting from our 'Hinduism Today' article on the subject, which appeared in the October 2003 issue. It states:

andquot;Hinduism is a family of religions with four principal denominations: Saivism, Saktism, Vaishnavism and Smartism. This single perception is essential for understanding Hinduism and explaining it accurately to others. Contrary to prevailing misconceptions, Hindus all worship a one Supreme Being, though by different names. For Vaishnavites, Lord Vishnu is God. For Saivites, God is Siva. For Saktas, Goddess Sakti is supreme. For Smartas, the choice of Deity is left to the devotee.andquot;

The article goes on to compare the four denominations in terms of their history, beliefs, practices and scriptures and is quite informative. We also reprinted the article as a separate pamphlet for use in classrooms as a teaching tool in presenting this very important topic of Hinduism's four main denominations.

The essence of the second aspect of Hindu unity we are looking at is that though Hindus of different denominations worship different Gods, Hindus are united by the understanding that they all worship the same Supreme Being. There is a famous verse from the Rig Veda that is often quoted in this regard. It is: Truth is one, sages describe it variously.

This same statement from the Rig Veda can be expanded beyond Hinduism to include all the world religions - that there is only one Supreme Being and all the world's religions are in truth worshipping the same Supreme Being.

In fact there is a verse often chanted in Siva temples which is Tennadudaiya Sivane Potri, Enattavarkum Iraiva Potri. This verse translates as: He who is worshipped as Siva in the Southland, is worshipped elsewhere as God. What this means, of course, is that people around the world worship the Supreme Being and Siva is one of the many names of the Supreme Being. Thus an even fuller expression of this second idea of Hindu unity is that Hindus are united by the understanding that not only Hindus, but also the followers of all religions of the world, in truth, worship the same Supreme Being.

This belief, by the way, is an excellent response if you are ever approached by someone of another religion who states that their God is superior to your God. You can simply refer to this ancient Rig Veda verse and state with confidence that there is only one Supreme Being and you are in truth both worshipping the same Supreme Being but only referring to Him by different names.

Let me conclude this section on the second aspect of Hindu unity with another story. A few years ago we hosted a professor from a Texas University. He was on a one-year sabbatical from the University and came here to learn more about Hinduism. He had been reading 'Hinduism Today' and felt it was a good place that he could effectively sit down and communicate with our editors, which he did for a week or two. He came and talked about Hinduism and learned quite a bit about it and it was very interesting what we soon discovered that relates to this belief, that the professor was teaching that Hindus believe in a trinity of Gods, in three separate Gods: Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra. That was his teaching. So, we sat him down and we carefully explained: No, no. Hindus believe in a One Supreme Being. All Hindus worship the same Supreme Being that others do. So, he said, andquot;Oh! OK, this is very important to know. Thank you very much.andquot; So, he went back, promised to change his syllabus and from then on, teach what he foun dout was a much better understanding of Hindusim that Hindus worship the same Supreme Being that all religions worship.

Before going on to the third aspect of Hindu unity, I would like to say a few words about our magazine 'Hinduism Today'. A statement was made many years ago and it is stuck in my mind. We were meeting with a bookseller, Giri Trading Company. Mr. Giri from Giri Trading Company, was considering re-printing 'Hinduism Today'. This was when it was a newspaper and easier to reprint, considering re-printing it in Chennai. He made the statement, andquot;Well, taking 'Hinduism Today, which was written in Hawaii and printed in the United States and importing it to India is like bringing coal to Newcastle.andquot; I didn't know what andquot;coal to Newcastleandquot; meant, a classic British statement. Newcastle is like where all the coal is found in England. It is ridiculous to bring coal to Newcastle, right? It already has all the coal that you would ever need. So, we understand the comparison. Why, here we are bringing Hindu teachings to a Hindu country! So, it is like bringing coal to Newcastle! I thought about that for many years and finally came up with a good answer. Let me find that place here. [Looks through his notes]

Though there is of course some truth to this, the comparison overlooks the important point that though there are many excellent Hindu magazines being printed today, most present and represent a specific organization and the articles in the magazines only present that organization's philosophy.

So, that is the difference. That is where 'Hinduism Today' stands out.

'Hinduism Today' was created, on the other hand, to present information on all of Hinduism's major sects and lineages, not just one. Furthermore, as we mentioned earlier, its first purpose is to foster Hindu solidarity as a unity in diversity among all sects and lineages. An illustration of the idea of Hindu solidarity is found in the problem of conversion, particularly to Christianity. The issues involved in conversion are quite similar in all countries. Therefore, if we read in 'Hinduism Today' of solutions that are successful, for example in Malaysia, we can apply many of them in our own country. In conversion and many other issues as well, 'Hinduism Today' encourages all Hindus worldwide to stand together to face their common problems which is the essence of the idea of Hindu solidarity.

'Hinduism Today' is able to present information on all the major sects and denominations. This broad editorial policy enables it to produce articles that give more of an overview of Hinduism than is common, such as the article on Hinduism's four denominations mentioned earlier. Understanding the existence of these four widely diverse viewpoints within Hinduism is central to holding a clear understanding of the Hindu religion. Yet often textbooks and displays on Hinduism leave out this core concept.

Moving on to the third aspect of Hindu unity, here is a story to introduce it. So, a couple of years ago, we visited a home in Chicago on our way back from Toronto. This was our first trip to Toronto. We visited this home, conducted a satsang, chanted Sri Rudram and I gave a talk and afterwards the son, who had been raised in the United States, asked me this question. He is obviously not a super-religious person. He seems to enjoy golf more than religion! [chuckles] So, anyway, from his golfing perspective, he asked me the question, andquot;Aren't all religions pretty much the same?andquot; I gave an answer but it wasn't as good an answer as I could give. So, I kept thinking about it. andquot;OK, here is a doctor's family and they are asking this question about religion. What is an effective way of conveying what we are trying to say here about religion?andquot;

So, I came up with the analogy of a heart problem. Actually, we went through this with one of our silpis. We went through this experience. So, someone has a heart problem, chest pains. They go to their doctor. That is normally where you start, right? You go to your doctor. The doctor does some tests and says, you know, andquot;I am not sure what is wrong.andquot; So, he sends you to the hospital for more tests. The hospital does some tests and at least, on our island they don't have any super heart specialists, cardiologists. So, quite often, they are not sure what is wrong either, even after all the tests. So, what do they do? They send you to Honolulu. They send you to a specialist, one of the best cardiologists in the whole state. You go there and in the case of our silpi, the specialist said nothing is wrong. [laughs] After you go through all that!! The point is, in the case of our story here, the specialist has an authoritative opinion. Finally you get someone who knows what they are talking about.

What is the point? The point is, you know, for a simple disease, say you have a cold or something, a simple flu, you local doctor can handle it. But, for something complicated, for an advanced problem, the local doctor can't handle it, even the local hospital can't handle it, you have to go to a specialist. The point is that, just for medical problems, all medical clinics clearly aren't the same, right? If you have a serious problem, you have to go to a specialist. You have to go a clinic.

So, religions are the same way. If all you want to do is live a virtuous life, religions are all very similar at that basic level of practice. But, if you have an interest in personally experiencing God, only a few religions have within them, the practices that lead to that expereince.

Thus, a third aspect of Hindu unity that we are talking about is based on the understanding of the Vedic statement - Truth is one, paths are many. Hindus are united by holding this common belief that, andquot;Truth is one, paths are many.andquot; However, sometimes, Hindus teach their children that all religions are one. This is actually a distortion of the Hindu belief that, andquot;Truth is one, paths are many.andquot; They are different. Saying, andquot;All religions are oneandquot; and saying, andquot;Truth is one, paths are manyandquot; is not saying the same thing. It does not say, andquot;Truth is one, paths are oneandquot;, does it? No! It says, andquot;Truth is one. Paths are MANY.andquot;

So, the correct teaching is that Hindus believe that all religions worship the same Truth, the same Supreme Being. However, this does not mean that religions are identical and therfore, it does not matter which religion you are in. The beliefs and practices of the major world religions are, in fact, quite different. The Truth they worship is one, but each of the many paths is quite distinct and clearly are not one. Hindus believe that all the world religions are valid paths and feel everyone is well-placed in the religion of their choosing. Thus, Hindus do not proselytise, meaning they do not try to convert members of another religion to Hinduism. Why is this? Because, proselytising is based upon the belief that one's religion is the only true religion and therefore, everyone in another religion should join your religion, because it is the only true religion. However, Hindus don't hold that point of view. In fact, they hold the opposite point of view, which is that all religions are good and the members of those religions are just fine remaining in the religions they are in.

Hinduism has advanced practices within it that many religions do not. As we mentioned earlier, if all you want is to live a virtuous life, religions are all very much the same at that basic level. But, if you are interested in the deeper side of religion, such as yoga, meditation, the chakras and the states of mind, only a few religions contain that knowledge.

A good example of this fact has been happening in Catholic monasteries for decades. Some of the monks in these monasteries have the desire to personally experience God. So, what do they do? Where do they go? They turn to Hindu scripture. They turn to scriptures, such as, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. We have met a number of these Catholic monks. They turn to Patanjali. Why is that? Because, there is no teaching in Catholicism, there is no teachings in Christianity regarding profound meditations. They have to look elsewhere and many of them choose to look to Hindu scriptures. So, using modern terminology, all religions are computers. However, some religions are personal computers, some are mini-computers, others are mainframe computers but Hinduism is a super-computer!

In some religions, the ultimate expereince a religion offers is having a strong belief in the existence of God. In Hindusim however, believing in God is only a first step toward an ever-deepening personal experience of God's presence. Perhaps, the easiest place to see God is in great religious teachers. We feel a spiritual aura about them that is different. We see a light in their eyes, we do not see in the eyes of others.

A second way to see God is to look deeply into the eyes of another person. Look beyond the individual's personality, go deeper than his or her intellect and see the individual's pure, life energy as God. In Hindu culture, we have an opportunity everytime we greet another person, through the traditional gesture of namaskara, to practice looking deeply enough into the eyes of the other person to see God within them as the Life of their life.

A third way to see God is through the Deity's image in the Hindu Temple. This is the devotional or theistic approach. Gods and devas are in the inner spiritual worlds and are able to bless us through the image in the temple. The image is like a temporary, physical body they use during temple ceremonies. Though occasionally, a devotee may have a vision of the God, the more common way we experience the Gods and devas is as an uplifiting, peaceful, divine energy or shakti that radiates out from the image and is easiest to feel during the highpoint of the puja, when the flame is held high.

And, the fourth way to see God is in meditation, internal worship. This is the more mystic or meditative approach to experiencing God by going deeply enough into ourselves to find that part of us that is identical with God. At first, we experience God as peaceful and blissful feelings, later as a brilliant clear white light, and later still as a consciousness that permeates us all and finally as a Transcendent Reality that is timeless, formless and spaceless.

To summarize this third aspect of Hindu unity - The Vedic statement andquot;Truth is one, paths are manyandquot;, is correctly understood as saying that the truth that all religions worship is the same but the paths, the religions themselves, are not the same. They are quite distinct in their beliefs and practices and only a few such as Hinduism, provide teachings where man can personally experience God.

Aum Namah Sivaya!