A Report on The Third Annual Trip to Mauritius

Recalling the remark that in Mauritius, the Church seemed to be getting better organized every year and much more successful every year, Bodhinatha briefly dicusses the salient points of his well-received talk at the Rose Hill Temple on 'Hindu Unity'. Concerned by the division that exists among Hindus in Mauritius, he reads a poem by John Godfrey Saxe on 'The Blind Men and the Elephant' which illustrates that each perspective, however different, is but part of the complete truth. All Hindus - and by extension, all world religions - worship One Supreme Being. Hindus can face their common problems much better if we stand united and strong.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to our guests. Nice to have you here.

Short talk this morning, a little bit about our recent trip to Mauritius. This is our third annual trip to Mauritius at the time of Ganesha Chathurthi. One of the members there asked me to grade the Church. Wasn't so sure what system to grade it in - three-four-five star, good-better-best. So, instead of trying to fit into that, I just said that the Church seemed to be getting better organized every year and much more successful every year. I think they liked that answer!

So, a good example of that was the talk at the Rose Hill Temple. Every year we try and give one public talk at one of the temples in Mauritius. This year, Rose Hill was chosen which is more central than the one we tried before. We had a very good turnout. It was on a Thursday night. We had about four hundred people. The talk was on 'Hindu Unity'. I did the English and then it was translated a paragraph at a time in Creole. And, I was very impressed not only by the size of the group, but the fact they were all listening very attentively to both versions, both the English and the Creole. That was a good sign.

So, the first part of the talk was the presentation of Gurudeva's idea of Hindu solidarity as a andquot;unity in diversity.andquot; And, it was very well received and afterwards, Dr. Pillai, publisher of the monthly, religious newspaper, 'Vanakkam', commented quite positively on the talk. In fact, he offered us a full page in his monthly newspaper, he wants to fill it every month, for Gurudeva's teachings and the activities of the Dharmasala's Spiritual Park there. So, that was a good outcome of the talk. He also liked the content of the talk and pointed out that Mauritius, as some of you know, has some strong divisions among the HIndus and this has existed since Gurudeva started first going there in the early 1980's. Some of the factions there have a unique idea and they promote that Tamil is a religion. A religion, separate from Hinduism. So, Tamil is the religion of the Tamils and Hinduism is the religion of the Hindi-speaking Mauritians. Pretty unique idea but some people buy into it and get divisive, divides the Hindu community, fragments it and of course, there is no scholarly support for this idea at all. In fact, I was looking this morning and thought I might send the reference to Dr. Pillai, because he likes to refute this idea in his newspaper with something authoritative. So, I was looking at our most authoritative book on Tamil, which is the University of Madras' Tamil lexicon. So, I looked up the word Tamil in the Tamil language, the lexicologist refers to the language. It has another word, the 'Tamils', the people. But there is nothing there about religion. [laughs] The variations of this, nothing talks about Tamil being a religion. So, it is an idea that would be good to effectively counter in Mauritius.

So, something which I thought about afterwards and thinking about including in another version of the talk, a future version of the talk, is an idea that goes like this.

Sometimes we encounter leaders of Hindu organizations in North Amercia and even elsewhere, who share with us the perspective that Hinduism should be presented as a unity without diversity, that Hinduism in order to be strong should have one scripture that all Hindus consider its core scripture, concepts regarding the many Hindu deties that all Hindus accept, common beliefs regarding key philosophical concepts such as, God, soul and world and so on.

This, of course, is something I run into regularly. Unity without diversity. So, various Hindu organizations put this idea forth to us on occasion. I always respond with Gurudeva's perspective that Hinduism's natural unity is one that maintains diversity and to eliminate the diversity would be to fundamentally change the nature of Hinduism. In fact, Hinduism's ability to accept diversity is really a strength and not a weakness. For example, it makes Hinduism quite tolerant toward other religions. In other words, the diversity of Hinduism can effectively be presented as a strength rather than a weakness. So, it is an interesting idea that could be developed. Being diverse makes it tolerant. Being diverse makes it broad. Being diverse makes it this, makes it that ... So, it is an interesting theme that could be developed in future talks. The point here is the idea that diversity is the strength of Dharma and tolerance is something the world needs more of these days - religious tolerance, ethnic tolerance and so forth. So, it is an obvious strength, not a weakness.

Moving on, the second part of the talk at Rose Hill on 'Hindu Unity' was the idea that all Hindus worship the same Supreme Being. So, let me quote from that. It is very short.

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 express 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 same 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 all Hindus, but also the followers of all religions of the world, in truth, worship the same Supreme Being.

So, that was the idea in the talk and I realized afterward in talking it over with others that it would be nice to add a quote from Gurudeva. Fortunately the perfect quote came up for future reference just a few days ago in our daily lesson, where Gurudeva says, andquot;Saivites profoundly know that God Siva is the same Supreme Being in whom peoples of all faiths find solace, peace and liberation.andquot;

Didn't waste a word, did he?! Very nice, I will read that again. Saivites profoundly know that God Siva is the same Supreme Being in whom peoples of all faiths find solace, peace and liberation.

So, also we were having some post-talk discussions on this and I remembered the story. How many of you know the story of the blind men and the elephant? [softly] How many of you knowthe story? Blind men and the elephant. Right!

I was thinking about it and saying that it would be good story to get in here somewhere because it is a way of explaining how there could be so many different concepts of the same Supreme Being. It is an interesting story. So, of course, to find the story what do you do? You type a few words into Google! Blind men, elephant - push the button and ... found way too many websites for me ever read. I went to a few of them and came up with what seems to be the most readable version of the story which is a version by the American poet John Godfrey Saxe, 1816 -1887. That is a while ago! The poem that he wrote, the way it is described is: provides a metaphorical explanation as to how the descriptions in the world's religions of the One Supreme Being that they all worship can so radically differ. It is based on an ancient India, story from India. So, he starts out.

It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind

Isn't that cute? [laughs]

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

andquot;God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!andquot;

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, andquot;Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp

To me 'tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!andquot;

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

andquot;I see,andquot; and#29; quoth he, andquot;the Elephant

Is very like a snake!andquot;

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

andquot;What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain,andquot; and#29; quoth he;

andquot; 'Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!andquot;

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: andquot;E'en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!andquot;

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

andquot;I see,andquot; and#29; quoth he, andquot;the Elephant

Is very like a rope!andquot;

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!

Moral:

So oft in theologic wars,

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

Very interesting! So, there is a nice comment here. I think, it is a seventh grade curriculum comment, for presenting to seventh graders.

andquot;The author compares the Elephant to God, and makes the point that each perspective, in this case about religion, has part of, but not the whole truth. This statement on perspective has particular relevence in India where there is a vast array of religions and points of view. One of the fundamental themes in world cultures is learning to understand different perspectives.andquot;

Goes on to expand on the idea. It says, andquot;It is easy for each blind man to jump to conclusions based on limited experience and first impressions. Saxe is telling his audience not to assume you have the whole truth just because you know one part of the truth. Don't rely on first impressions to tell you all you need to know. If we share our perspectives we will come to a more complete understanding of the truth. Working together is more effective than working alone.andquot;

Expanding it to other ideas, beyond just religion. That is the Rose Hill portion of our journey to Malaysia, Singapore and Mauritius. A timeless message, you can pull that talk out every few years, unless in Mauritius, there is some major change it still fits! {laughs as he says this] Because, they are kind of stuck in this division. Hindus have trouble uniting and certain people take advantage of that and play on the differences and kind-of keep the Hindus from uniting as effectively as they could and should, for the betterment of all Hindus. So, therefore, it is good to repeat Gurudeva's message every few years and the part of the message that I didn't read but applies most is standing strong together. United we stand, divided we fall - is the idea that Hindus can face their common problems much better if we all stand together united. And, there are common problems that face Hinduism. And, that is one of the reasons for having an effective Hindu unity that encompasses Hindu diversity, which Gurudeva calls 'Hindu Solidarity'.

Thank you very much.

Aum Namah Sivaya!

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