Monday, August 31, 2009

Gandhi, the Light-bearer

Gandhi, the Light-bearer

Stephen Hobhouse

Each of us human beings has had to construct a world of his own out of materials set before him. Within this universe of our consciousness there are certain objects which stir the central fibers of our nature, our heart and our reason; and there comes to us in our better moments a constant longing to know them, to love them, to identify ourselves with them more and more completely, ever seeking to liberate ourselves from the trivial and the impure.

I am one of the many who find this central attraction chiefly in the inexpressible wonder and beauty of personality through the best and loveliest of men and women who cross our path whether in the flesh or in books, as well as in the same wonder and beauty breathed upon us from visible nature; in sky and earth and living things. And from these I am inescapability drawn to a faith in that which we call God.

Unhappily, too, I am equally conscious of dark elements of ugliness and discord which mar the growth of harmonious life. They are present within the hearts of men. Unaided I too often lose faith and am all but helpless before the demonic power of these evil tendencies; and I must turn for aid to a closer fellowship of spirit with some other personality.

I have been born and bred in a community where past and present have united in confronting me with the historic figure of Jesus Christ. The same spirit lives in other human personalities whose memory is preserved as the shining lights of our race’s history. I think of them all as messengers of the eternal Christ. Of these historic light-bearers, one of the greatest of all time is Mohandas K. Gandhi.

The decay of ancient faiths, the tyranny of the machine, the evil use of science by misguided industrialists and militarists have produced in world history an unexampled crisis. It is even conceivable that civilization or orderly, kindly, enlightened human society may perish completely in the universal confusion engendered by the self-seeking of human passions.

Gandhi’s great ideals of Ahimsa and Satyagraha present the only means by which salvation can come to the diseased environment in which we find ourselves.

[From a forthcoming publication of tributes to Gandhi,

compiled by Mahendra Meghani]

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Are All Hindus Now

We Are All Hindus Now

Lisa Miller

America is not a Christian nation. We are, it is true, a nation founded by Christians, and according to a 2008 survey, 76 percent of us continue to identify as Christian (still, that's the lowest percentage in American history). Of course, we are not a Hindu—or Muslim, or Jewish, or Wiccan—nation, either. A million-plus Hindus live in the United States, a fraction of the billion who live on Earth. But recent poll data show that conceptually, at least, we are slowly becoming more like Hindus and less like traditional Christians in the ways we think about God, our selves, each other, and eternity.

The Rig Veda, the most ancient Hindu scripture, says this: "Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names." A Hindu believes there are many paths to God. Jesus is one way, the Qur'an is another, yoga practice is a third. None is better than any other; all are equal. The most traditional, conservative Christians have not been taught to think like this. They learn in Sunday school that their religion is true, and others are false. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me."

Americans are no longer buying it. According to a 2008 Pew Forum survey, 65 percent of us believe that "many religions can lead to eternal life"—including 37 percent of white evangelicals, the group most likely to believe that salvation is theirs alone. Also, the number of people who seek spiritual truth outside church is growing. Thirty percent of Americans call themselves "spiritual, not religious," according to a 2009 NEWSWEEK Poll, up from 24 percent in 2005. Stephen Prothero, religion professor at Boston University, has long framed the American propensity for "the divine-deli-cafeteria religion" as "very much in the spirit of Hinduism. You're not picking and choosing from different religions, because they're all the same," he says. "It isn't about orthodoxy. It's about whatever works. If going to yoga works, great—and if going to Catholic mass works, great. And if going to Catholic mass plus the yoga plus the Buddhist retreat works, that's great, too."

Then there's the question of what happens when you die. Christians traditionally believe that bodies and souls are sacred, that together they comprise the "self," and that at the end of time they will be reunited in the Resurrection. You need both, in other words, and you need them forever. Hindus believe no such thing. At death, the body burns on a pyre, while the spirit—where identity resides—escapes. In reincarnation, central to Hinduism, selves come back to earth again and again in different bodies. So here is another way in which Americans are becoming more Hindu: 24 percent of Americans say they believe in reincarnation, according to a 2008 Harris poll. So agnostic are we about the ultimate fates of our bodies that we're burning them—like Hindus—after death. More than a third of Americans now choose cremation, according to the Cremation Association of North America, up from 6 percent in 1975. "I do think the more spiritual role of religion tends to deemphasize some of the more starkly literal interpretations of the Resurrection," agrees Diana Eck, professor of comparative religion at Harvard. So let us all say "om."

[Published Aug 15, 2009 Newsweek]