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Strengthening Hinduism in Your Community

Bodhinatha delivers a wonderful talk which he will be giving at the Hindu Renaissance 2, the second rally on Hindu Rennaisance organized by the Malaysian Hindu Sangam. Gurudeva encouraged Hindus to "think globally, act locally." Bodhinatha's message is comprehensive about how Hindus can integrate this practical and powerful attitude to strengthen Hinduism in their communities.

Unedited Transcript:

Today, you are honored to hear the 'Hindu Renaissance II' talk. You have to pretend you are in a big stadium or something. It is called the Chinese Assembly Hall. A big place, a few thousand people.

Starting out you have to honor everyone. The President, the Swamis, all the dignitaries present have to be honored in the Asian style. Once we get through all of that, we will start.

Vanakkam and Namaste!

We are pleased to be with you all today to celebrate and advance the Renaissance of Hinduism, a faith shared by nearly one-sixth of the human family.

Just two months ago, we completed the one year commemoration of our Beloved Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami's Mahasamadhi. He left us with so many gifts, so much wisdom. He was at the vanguard of the modern Hindu Renaissance, reaching out to Hindus of all persuasions through the magazine 'Hinduism Today', dedicated to uplifting and informing and dispelling myths about the world's oldest faith and through his periodic travel/lecture tours to countries where Hindus live.

One of the themes of the Global Gathering that Gurudeva attended over the last decade for 'World Peace and the Welfare of the Planet', held at Oxford, Moscow and Rio de Janeiro was, 'Think Globally, Act Locally'. This adage certainly applies to today's gathering, in that, though we are focused on catalyzing among Malaysian Hindus, a Renaissance that manifests in increased knowledge of the Sanatana Dharma and greater service to our fellow Hindus, the need is actually a global one.

Hindu communities around the world have the same problems that exist in Malaysia. Therefore, Hindu communities can learn from each other's efforts in dealing with their common problems and see what the solutions are that other communities have developed.

I thought you would be interested to hear a message I wrote to the devotees of a Hindu temple in Ontario, Canada last November, which just as well could have been written for an event in Malaysia.

Greetings to All who are attending the first annual Mahasamadhi Guru Puja of Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami today, November 2, 2002 at the Richmond Hill 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 Hinduism. He would encourage you to show them how the Sanatana Dharma will make them happier and more successful individuals. Gurudeva would suggest 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 a temple for the adults.

Today in the West, just as well could read "Today in Malaysia", many Hindu parents and Hindu religious leaders are appalled by the lack of interest that Hindu youth that have reached 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 Hindu 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 an early age."

The fact that this message, without any editing, speaks equally well to the situation in Malaysia, as in Canada, shows us that indeed that we can all benefit in solving this problem by following the adage, "Think globally, Act locally."

Hinduism is a mind stratum within people and to keep that mind stratum vibrant and contemporary, it needs regular attention, maintenance and renewal from time to time. We are currently in such an age of renewal or renaissance concerned with the health of this great mind stratum.

We can compare the health of Hinduism to the health of the human body. Disease can be significantly reduced by focusing on strengthening the body's immune system through vitamins, herbs and proper diet, exercise and living a balanced life. A weak body with a poor immune system is much more susceptible to disease, which is in fact the natural part of life.

Gurudeva often observed that to combat conversion we must strengthen Hinduism through education. If we look at Hinduism as a living organism we can see that educating its adherents is like building up weak muscles through exercise or sensibly remedying other forms of weakness be they physical, mental or emotional. In other words, the problems that beset Hinduism can be reduced by strengthening the knowledge Hindus have about their religion.

Alien influences such as enticements for converting to other faiths or the allurements of Western materialism will simply have little impact on thriving, confident, well informed Hindu individuals and communities. In other words, we can take the same approach to Hinduism as we do to health of the physical body. Rather than become sick and then cure the sickness with various remedies, prevent the sickness from even occurring by strengthening Hinduism through education, as we do the physical body's immune system through health conscious practices.

Around the world, Hindus are more and more becoming aware of the need for religious education as they see their children and their childrens' children drifting away from Hinduism. Educating Hindus in the basics of their faith must be done from an early age.

We have met many youth who have been brought up with such knowledge, who have been educated in their faith and raised wisely and kindly by caring, compassionate parents. They are bright, enthusiastic, dedicated devout Hindus. They are proud to call themselves Hindus, certainly not ashamed of their faith and certainly not susceptible to conversion from other forms of thought. They are maturing into stable, productive, contributing members of society.

This is the hope of the future. We have the models. Many of them are standing up even now and teaching others about Hinduism. Perhaps these young missionaries are one of the most potent forces we have in providing education to strengthen Hinduism. They should be brought forward and encouraged.

It is interesting to note that yesterday, our major activity was holding a seminar for a group of young adults who are holding seminars in Gurudeva's teachings in the Klang area. The focus was on how to present certain key points most effectively and how to answer certain difficult questions.

So in our own small way, we are contributing to this concept of strengthening our Malaysian youth leadership.

Renewal is new life, youthful enthusiasm, effulgent energy. Where do we look for such energy? Where is this readily found? Why, in the young people! Because to them, everything is fresh and new. They are in the area of discovery and with discovery comes the urge to share and explain their revelations.

Many of the greatest Hindu teachers through the centuries did their most inspired work before the age of 30. Even in our monastery, we follow a tradition whereby it is the young swamis who do most of the teaching of the public, whereas you might think it is better left to the older, more seasoned monastics.

Find among you the young people who are in this stage of discovery and sharing. Bring them forward and encourage them. Don't think they are too young, that only the elders should be allowed to lead.

I know of inspired individuals in their teens who are filled with such enthusiasm and who can speak eloquently about their faith. The elders can and should demonstrate good leadership by sharing the lead with the youth. By your doing so, the peers of these bright souls will see that you are sincere. They will appreciate your wisdom and heed your guidance.

When I say strengthen Hinduism, I do not imply force, opposition or antagonism against other faiths or ways of life. Hinduism prides itself on tolerance and respect for other traditions. Its cardinal principle is non-injuriousness, ahimsa, in thought, word and deed.

What is implied is that Hinduism is a full and complete religion. And, when a Hindu fully appreciates the depth and beauty of his faith, he feels fulfilled, complete and able to face the challenges of the world. Hinduism rightly practiced and understood creates wholesome individuals, families and communities, possessing a quiet strength and self sufficiency that is health giving and inspiring.

A few years ago, I was present at the foundation-laying ceremony of a Hindu temple in Perth, Australia. When my turn came to speak, I made a simple statement about the reason for building the temple. Attending a Hindu temple brings greater peace to the individual, greater harmony in the home and greater tolerance in the community.

Among the threats facing Hinduism is disinterest in religion altogether, due to total fascination with the material world, which with the proliferation of computers, television and other technology becomes more and more intriguing every decade.

Gurudeva spoke of bringing Hinduism into the technological age so that Hindus did not feel that their faith is old-fashioned. We can do this more and more by showing how it is applicable in any age. He wrote, "We have to bring Hinduism into the technological age. It has to be re-iterated, re-edited and re-explained. We must teach how the worship of Lord Ganesha can help people run their computers better, help them become a better typist, help them handle the stress and strain that come from dealing with traffic and coping with people of all kinds. Hinduism has to be retranslated, updated into this industrial and technological era. Who can do that? Only the intelligent older people like yourselves. Intelligent older people can take this on and help me in this reformation and then we will together pass it on to the next generation. Soon the Hindus of all sects will become strong and proud of their religion."

In this regard, we are pleased to see that the Malaysian Hindu Sangam has recently established a web site and now exists in cyberspace as well.

Another threat is conversion to another religion. This is happening all over the world. It is important to distinguish between unethical and ethical conversion.

Unethical conversion is based on force, allurements or fraud. Ethical conversion is based on a true understanding of both religions and after deep thought and comparison, finding out one is not the religion of his true perspective on life and joining the religion that is of his true perspective.

It is interesting timing that the Legislature of Tamil Nadu just a few months ago passed an anti-conversion bill which distinguishes between these two types of conversion. Chief Minister Jayalalitha said the legislation was not directed against any particular religion or minorities. But that there was no provision under the Indian Penal Code to prevent conversion and therefore the government felt the need for the legislation to curb conversion through force and allurement. Those changing their religion on their own volition would not be covered under this legislation, she said.

Gurudeva had hopes for such a bill when he wrote in the year 2000, "In India today, the problems of forced or deceitful conversions are so prevalent that the government is trying to pass a law to prohibit such tactics, like the laws that already exist in Nepal. We hope such legislation is passed not only in India but wherever similar problems exist."

A commentary by Swami Dayananda Saraswati on this legislation was also published. He stated, "I welcome the promulgation of the ordinance of the Government of Tamil Nadu, to ban religious conversions by use of force or by allurements or by any fraudulent means. This is a long-awaited step, a step that insures for the citizens of Tamil Nadu the most basic of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by General Assembly resolution 217A, December 1948 holds in Article 18, that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change his religion or belief.

While the Article endorses each person's right to change his or her religion, it does not in any way allow for another person to change a given person's religion. On the contrary, a systematic coercive effort to impose one's religion on another by use of force or by allurements or by any fraudulent means is a clear violation of this basic human right. The denigration of one's religion and the humiliation that accompanies the conversion experience are violations of the dignity assured to every human being. With the conversion experience comes shame, isolation, deep personal conflict and ultimately the seeds for discord. History testifies to the devastating loss of rich and diverse cultures, gone forever in the aftermath of religious conversion.

I appeal to the political leadership of all other States in India to promulgate similar laws and make sure that all possibilities of religious conflict are avoided and the tradition of religious harmony in India is maintained."

Gurudeva, in his book 'How to Become a Hindu', shared many useful thoughts on conversion. In reply to the question, "Are there ethics and scruples controlling conversion from one religion from one religion to another, such as corporations have in moving a top executives from one company to another?"

Gurudeva states the following, "Ethics must be established among all the religions of the world. They must nurture an appreciation for each other, not merely a tolerance. Religious leaders above all must remain fair. Just as doctors and lawyers have codes of ethics and do not slander one another to acquire the others' patients and clients, so too must religions. A certain protocol must be established, permission must be granted from one's religious leaders, making for a graceful exit from one and entrance to another, just as a citizen formally changes his loyalty from one nation to another, legally and ethically."

Gurudeva wisely outlined a pattern for ethical conversion that could apply to any religion and oversaw the conversion to Hinduism of many of his devotees following this pattern.

The first step of the ethical conversion needs to be based upon a good, intellectual understanding of both the religion one is entering and the religion one is leaving. Gurudeva suggests that after studying both religions, a point/counterpoint be written in which the individual compares the major beliefs of both religions to demonstrate a thorough grasp of the similarities and differences.

Step two occurs once the study phase is completed and is to personally meet with the religious leader of your current religion and explain to him why you are planning to convert, giving him the chance to try to talk you out of converting.

Gurudeva also addresses the question of converting back to Hinduism. In reply to the question, "Is it true that Hindu leaders sometimes make overt efforts to proselytize and convert Jews, Muslims and Christians?", Gurudeva's answer perhaps surprisingly, is "Yes. But only if they previously had a forced conversion from Hinduism through bribery, coercion or financial and educational rewards." Gurudeva goes on to say that, "It takes three generations for the process of conversion to be complete. The child of the child of the convert can be regarded as a settled, born member of the religion. Therefore, any such proselytizing would be focused on the first two generations with a view to bring them back to the Hindu religion. If we neglect them, we are not caring for our brothers and sisters. This kind of proselytizing among our own, we consider our duty for it is educating the young and reeducating their parents and it is not infringing on the other faiths who imposed these unethical conversions."

As you know, a Hindu Renaissance five-point action plan has been created, which is jointly implemented by all the Hindu organizations and temples in Malaysia. The five points are:

Increasing religious knowledge.

Temples to serve as community centers.

Pro-active social services, welfare services and counseling services.

Revival of Hindu cultural activities.

Modernizing Hindu print and electronic media.

We certainly support and pledge to do what we can in our small way to make this plan a grand success.

In conclusion, let me share an inspiring quote that Gurudeva spoke of to thousands of Hindus around the world, stressing that they in truth had but one obligation.

"We have but one duty to perform, to pass our religion on to the next generation, the next, the next and the next. How is this done? Through Hindu education, we must educate our youth well. Our only hope lies in educating the children, the young minds which are open and eager to learn but which are being enticed away from their heritage. Hold them close, protect them, love them dearly and give them the treasures of Hinduism. That is the greatest gift you can offer them. Everything else will perish. Everything else will decay."

Thank you.

Aum Namah Sivaya!