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Christmas Enthusiasm Among Hindus

christian Enthusiasm

On December 24th, right after breakfast, one of my old time college friends Amit (name changed) called and started laughing in his peculiar way, as I picked up the phone. Obviously I asked “What happened?”

Another college friend of ours, Sumit  (name changed), typical nice Desi boy, who came  to America about 15 years ago had a sent a picture of himself dressed as Santa Claus to his mailing list. A common Christian friend, who received the over-enthusiastic Christmas wishes, called Amit to understand why would Sumit do so, when he’s not Christian? She could not figure out, how a non-Christian is so enthusiastic about the festival. She was honestly CONFUSED.

Our conversation swung between inside jokes of friends and extracting humor out of people’s silly behavior in cross-culture interactions. Later, I thought to do an experiment on Facebook to see how people would react if I say that “Hindus wishing Merry Christmas to each other is a silly behavior” and I spiced it up with some straight shooting words “stupid behavior, colonized mindset.”  Just so happened, my wife (who’s out of town right now) posted a similar note on her Facebook profile.  The interactions with our friends, gave very good insights into minds of a variety of folks from close friends to casual acquaintances... which is pretty good representation of mainstream Hindu mindset, at least the urban Hindu mindset. I called a couple of friends in India to check on how’s the Christmas celebrations there, and brainstormed on Hindus’ enthusiasm for Christmas. As I was thinking through this seemingly mundane Facebook social experiment, insights into current Hindu mindset were not pleasing – hence this article.  I hope to trigger some introspection among some “thinking Hindus.” While the analysis started with the topic Christmas Enthusiasm among Hindus and it ended up being a survey report on current state of mainstream urban Hindu mindset. Enjoy, critique and expand on it for your own good.

 So here it goes…

 BASIC  KNOWLEDGE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE CURRENT TIMES

I’ll make arguments later in the article based on some basics (really basics) about Hinduism/ Sanatan Dharma, and what a world aware person should know in the current times of globalization.  In my view, here are the minimum 3 things every educated Hindu should understand:

  1. Have essential understanding of Hinduism: Know the basic philosophical foundation (E.g. God’s/ Our divinity, Reincarnation/ Karma, ability to spiritually evolve oneself etc.), and a bit more about your own chosen path. While there’s a variety of interpretations and differences in traditions, still the conceptual foundation is pretty much same. So there’s no need to look down upon others’ paths, which are also “valid/ viable” ways to realize the metaphysical truths. 
  2. Know that there are two major buckets of philosophies in the world: Dharmic versus Abrahamic. Within Dharmic traditions (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism…) the philosophical differences are minor, but there are serious philosophical differences with Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Islam, Christianity…). While a common man doesn’t need to dig into philosophical differences, everyone should be aware about practical ideological differences that matters in everyday life – “exclusivity and expansion.” Exclusivity means that all Abrahamic traditions believe they are the ONLY VIABLE WAY to realize the metaphysical truths (which are not same as Dharmic version) and it is responsibility of the believers of that tradition to contribute in “expansion” of their faith. Mind you, it’s not the belief of an individual that matters; it’s about what organizations that represent Abrahamic religions officially declare. For the expansion, Abrahamic religions need to have machinery (institutions) with some sort of a plan. I’m not saying this ideology of “expansion & exclusivity” is good or bad; but it is sad fact that so many of Hindus are not aware of it. It might be the world's biggest irony that Hinduism philosophy is most open & accepting of other ideologies; and in current times Hindus are the least assertive. Other religions discuss their exclusivity as well as their expansion plans, openly and comfortably.
  3. Know that it’s a competitive marketplace: It always has been! Historically, Abrahamic religions have been gaining the market share. Neither Islam, nor Christianity existed 2000 years ago. Here’s some current data on religions of the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_populations . So know that it’s not an issue only between “You and God”, competitors are working to gain YOUR mind share – with a strategy backed with institutional assets. So everyone must be consciously aware that religion goes beyond “personal & private.” It’s also about control and power; both soft and hard power. Soft power is about influencing your thinking, and hard is about controlling laws/ governance, money, land/ natural resources etc. At least be aware that organizations do exist and are working with clear mission and goals. Another key point is: Leaving aside the reasons, know that Dharmic institutions are not run as effectively as Abrahamic institutions.

Using these above mentioned requirements, think about yourself, the people around you and quality of Hindu institutions you’ve interacted with!

Although I haven’t answered here explicitly, but you might have caught that “Dharma” and “Religion” don’t mean the same thing. Also, you better know which team you are in, even if you have no desire to play a socially important role. You may very well be an atheist, all I’m saying is that be actively conscious of it for your own sake, and the for the sake of your family. In some way, everyone has to deal with these issues, sooner or later. You may very well choose to be a spectator, as opposed to being an active player in this game of inter-religion influence. But if someone doesn’t have the essential understanding I’ve highlighted above, in my view he/she is not well qualified for inter-culture interactions. Even among Hindus they should not be allowed to have a significant voice. It’s like blind leading the blind.

Coming back to this week’s example…

EXTRACTS FROM FACEBOOK INTERACTION

In my Facebook post I provided the context of friends Amit-Sumit and essentially mentioned that if it’s only among Hindus you are stupid and colonized to celebrate Christmas enthusiastically. My wife’s post essentially said, I’m a Hindu and I celebrate Diwali, Holi etc. I’m not a Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, so dear Hindus please don’t wish me Merry Christmas.  We clarified that it’s about defending our tradition, at least in our own home, and not about encroaching the competitor’s turf, let alone hating other religion, which no true Hindu would do.

I’m sharing some extracts and my counter arguments/concern with our friends’ thoughts and arguments. Obviously, the reason for this is to trigger introspection among our community and learn as much as we can. I agree, many of our friends wrote comments casually. I see the casual communication as good, because it is more candid, and it shows what’s in the subconscious mind. Note that, these comments are from our “friends and family” who tried to be nice and polite and are just having a healthy conversation. Imagine the conversation if it included strangers and adversaries! Remember, requirement # 3 above… it’s a competitive marketplace!

I’ll make one or two comments in terms of my “concerns” to friends’ arguments and collectively these concerns should worry anyone who cares about future of Hinduism.

To my friends whose comments I’m borrowing: My “concerns” are not a response to you. I’m only using your thoughts to build a collective list of issues for our community at large.

  1. Merry Christmas to you and family. ANOTHER ONE: hope this is just a fleeting feeling. ANOTHER: As  kids we wished each other merry Christmas on Christmas but nobody changed their religion ... Nothing wrong in wishing someone on a holiday...don't think too much into it .... Enjoy
    CONCERN: Avoiding the issue of substance, and trivialize by humor/ teasing. Also, reconfirms the mindset that we all just vent out emotionally, so it discourages a solemn conversation. It’s like we did not change our religion, so let’s be complacent in competitive marketplace. Also laziness: Take it easy/ “Chalta Hai” attitude
  2. What's the problem in taking first steps. All the markets celebrate Diwali - isn't it. Whatever the religion of shop owner. Trust it just marketing. So enjoy
    CONCERN: Person is clueless about competitiveness among religions and still confident of his opinion. Does a competitor exist? Has he thought about what a competitor would do in what situation?...just clueless
  3. We celebrate gurpurab jointly. And for every one to know that when we do hawan and puja at home our Muslim friend do. Attend.
    CONCERN: It’s not about “individuals,” there are good people in every religion. It’s about philosophy, and about institutional strategies to gain market share. Friends participating in other friends’ rituals is NOT the issue. Gurpurab anyway is a Dharmic tradition, and within Dharmic traditions, we should encourage cooperation, not competitiveness...Shows lack of understanding on the three requirements mentioned above.  
  4. Why don't we dress doti Kurta and pagri. why we wear suits.
    CONCERN: Assumes I’m a backward thinking person who wants to live in some fixed historical time. Can we Hindus answer today, how do we advance/ become modern (make progress in Hindu way), without westernizing?
  5. I do not see any problem in appreciating Eid, Diwali, guru purab and Christmas. All 4 religion are well represented in India.
    CONCERN: Represents lack of understanding the 3 requirements above and shows laziness in thinking, copy/paste of a slogan sentence. Unable to grasp point of “Hindus brainwashed to celebrate a competitor’s festival, even when competitor is not working on it with direct involvement.”
  6. Religion is the root of a lot of problems in the world. Be spiritual not religious !!!
    CONCERN: Most people I’ve talked are unclear on the basic words "Dharma," “religion”, “spiritual” in the context of comparative religion. Another example copy/paste of slogan sentence... without thinking. 
  7. Besides the religious aspect of the holiday, there is a huge cultural aspect to it. Christmas is a big part of North American culture. Amongst other things, we get days off of work and school to spend with our loved ones, so the day has become special to us too… Great- more joy for all. ANOTHER ONE: Christmas is one of my favorite holidays in the US. Christmas to me is having my family at an arm's length. It is a time of joy and love. It is the only time when everything comes to a stop and we enjoy the quality time with family and friends. I don't celebrate it as Jesus' birth but more as a season of giving. I'm proud to be an Indian, and I'm proud to be a Hindu, but foremost I'm proud to be a loving and nurturing human being. I love the spirit of Christmas. I love the jolliness of the season. ANOTHER ONE: I've never felt confused being a Hindu and celebrating a Christian holiday. We celebrate all the festivals: Indian and American. I put up the Christmas tree and decorations, and we exchange gifts. Why shouldn't I celebrate a holiday that brings so much joy and happiness to my family?
    CONCERN: This is a valid point, Christmas has huge cultural value in North America and religious aspect just gets sneaked in.  It is harder to grasp “expansion” when religion is wrapped in commercial & cultural aspects. In India a significant amount of money is being spent to build this wave. We are half way (don't take literally) in digestion process and completely unaware. Obviously, many of us don’t even know that, the digestion doesn’t happen instantly, it may be a multi-generation process. (Consult the book Being Different for details of digestion)
  8. Hon... yes we must not confuse our children, we must teach them to be tolerant and accepting of all religions, beliefs and festivals... as long as it doesn't harm us in any way (which I don't believe it does) why not just be part of the festive spirit... Humanity should be our religion and how we choose to celebrate it w/ our loved ones, a matter of choice…
    CONCERN: Mindset to live in “fairy land/ goodie-goodie world” and staying disconnected from competitive marketplace. Unless we anchor our kids solidly in our own tradition, why would they not get digested?
  9. I'd like to point out that you can be Hindu and believe in Jesus. Maybe not as the Son of God, but there is nothing that says you can't believe he existed. Source: Arsh Vidya Gurukalam in Sailorsburg, Pennsylvania
    CONCERN: This is a good one. I know for a fact that Arsh Vidya Gurukulam believes in being a traditional Hindu and resists digestion. Here the concern is about the transfer of context and using the words of a credible source with completely opposite intent.
  10. Who told you we have many gods , you know God is one, christian call him Jesus, Muslim call Allah , and we have so many God .take there blessing and live happily ever after . We celebrate Diwali holi and Christmas it's time for joy ,happiness share your joy
    CONCERN: This is a good one, because an elderly grandma is saying that.  The root of this issue of dissociating from our heritage started with prior generations. The big damage happened with colonization during British time. So it’s important to understand the importance of “unlearning” and “cleaning the collectively polluted mind” we’ve built in about 200 years.
  11. Come to Bangalore at least you will get some answers on this complex issue!!!
    CONCERN: The problem in not in infancy, it has already become big enough and is growing rapidly. Come to metros and validate!!!
  12. Please go and watch PK movie. You might find answers to your question.
    CONCERN: Many of us honestly believe that “Hinduism” has too many bad things in it (while we have hard time finding anything bad in competitors), so no pride, no commitment, even no reason to defend it.
  13. I think you are misunderstanding the concepts of Christmas Day.
    CONCERN: We start preaching on the subject that we are not experts. We don’t even recognize that "comparative religions" is a body of knowledge; which requires study like engineering or medicine and then practice for a few years, before you can start playing in field against competitors with sophisticated plans. Otherwise forget about winning; today, most Hindu “leaders” just run away when tough issues come up in competitive marketplace.
  14. This is how hindus have been since centuries.......we accept and respect other religion.......if we will start pushing our kids forcefully to follow hinduism then what is the difference between us and muslims.......
    CONCERN: Yes, we have been around for centuries. But you assume that our ancestors were complacent and silly like today’s Hindu community. Our significant cultural degradation has happened with British intervention and thereafter. Think, how much we’ve lost, both in hard power as well as soft power since then.
  15. Hinduism is an umbrella term for the people who actually practices thousands of paths, culture and tradition and sometimes these cultures and traditions contradicts each other. It’s more like culture than a religion.  Why need to confine yourself with a label right
    CONCERN: If Hinduism is nothing concrete - “a religion” so there’s nothing to defend. If you don’t have a tangible/ well-defined item, it’s easier to take it apart. A dangerous thought – when we say “Hinduism is a way of life & culture, not a religion”;   better way to say is: We are a way of life AND a religion – something very clearly defined, which needed to be preserved and defended.
  16. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning the whole world is one family. Love all, hate none is the message from our vedic gurus, and this is the beauty of Hinduism (we pray May all be happy, May all find joy, may all see auspiciousness, May none suffer. We don't say May only Hindus be happy etc.). Love and serve all.
    CONCERN: Both these thoughts are  common copy/paste slogans among Hindus. Yes, we believe that the world is a family & wish good things for all. Remember though, Kauravas & Pandavas were also a family… and you know what Bhagwan Krishna taught Arjun…Fight! Yes, we love all & hate none, but that doesn’t relieve us of our own Purusharth/ Swadharma.

I loved the profiles of the people who shared these thoughts.  We had engagement from urban friends in India, non-religious patriotic friends, first and second generation NRIs in North America etc.  While nuances of responses by segmenting participants are interesting, I’ll skip them, as it's already a long enough article. Most of these participants could very well become Hindu leaders, if they decided to. They have material success and have formal academic credentials, what else you need to be a Hindu leader today? This should be scary for the well-wishers of Dharma…

My final “CONCERN” is that people who were defending Christianity were pretty loud, and Dharmic team members were either subtle and many invisible. Some of them communicated via private emails. I’d say: come out folks, we need active voices as well.

KEY LEARNINGS

Beyond the concerns list, let me leave you with three overarching key learnings from this analysis:

  1. Colonized commitment (at best): While on the face of it, mainstream Hindus may think they are respecting other religions, but deep down, it’s a lack of self-respect, confidence in oneself and our own tradition. These people are going with the flow of popular culture, without asserting our case, especially when competitors’ resistance exists. So commitment is lukewarm, and the mind is polluted with pop culture and likely with the baggage of colonization.
  2. Goofy with professional degrees and material success: Significant % of mainstream Hindus lack even the very basic knowledge that’s needed for inter-faith interactions. The material success, professional degrees and copy/paste slogans can’t make up for this gap. While we can condone some common Hindus like that, we should have very high standards for people who want to be Hindu leaders.
  3. Lack of structured & strategic thinking: Most mainstream Hindus practice the narrow “transactional Hinduism” (A Rajiv Malhotra term) and rarely think beyond it. The transaction is between an individual & God by performing a ritual, to gain something material or selfishly metaphysical. Most are so self-absorbed, lack knowledge & experience in the field and still highly opinionated and noisy…as long as they are talking within Dharmic family.

You test these learnings for yourself and for the people around you!

I should mention that it’s not all negative; friends who are anchored in Dharma shared very good information on the topic. For example, someone exposed how Lord Krishna is decorated as Santa Clause, a video of temple celebrating Christmas, someone shared specifics on Joshua Project (http://www.joshuaproject.net) and an associated multimedia company (www.createinternational.com/).

IN CONCLUSION…

Generalizing...Hindu community is not ready to defend their heritage in the current times of globalization! Yes, we are way behind the competition in terms of organizing ourselves and we have a long way to go. While this is not a pleasant thought, in past few years, I’m seeing an undercurrent of Dharmic people waking up and taking stock of the situation. I’m lucky to know some of the thought leaders in the field of comparative religion. Shri Rajiv Malhotra (www.rajivmalhotra.com) is my favorite and most of the analysis in this article is based on the knowledge I’ve acquired working with him. Anyone who has genuine interest in the subject of comparative religions must read his book “Being Different,” a summary of which is available on Rajiv Malhotra’s website.

Author: Sunil Sheoran

Publised: December 28, 2014

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