1. Hinduism originated in India. What is your personal story to finding Hinduism in America?
Hinduism promotes one’s health, mental wellbeing and spiritual upliftment from within, rather than benefiting from an organization. It is about an individual’s connection to his or her body, mind and spirit, rather than connecting to yet another religious label. One does not have to be a Hindu to connect to any religion, because you are connected to yourself. Practice is specific to the self. As you can see with the growing community of Yoga practitioners, a larger group of us are becoming vegetarians and taking to meditation. This practice can be considered a from of Hindusim that is growing in popularity in America. Hinduism promotes finding a teacher who can guide you and make your spiritual path easier. In America along with Yoga which helps the body, we have Kirtan, a singing practice that helps one become mentally stronger and meditation that allows one to connect to a higher force. Indeed Hinduism is being practiced by more people without being labeled as Hinduism.
2. There are many different deities are worshiped by Hindus. Which gods or goddesses do you celebrate in your place of worship? What do they represent?
Yes. Hindus do have many deities. Each deities represents a certain path leading to Almighty god. The ocean may have different names in different countries but reality there is only one ocean. Similarly the deities are many but they represent the same one God. Hinduism is a true Unitarian religion: that means each individual chooses his or her own practice, while appreciating others religious practices. This is why the Hindus can accept the divinity of other religions, while following their own path. Our temple is focused on divine love. The supreme goddess of divine love is the deity Radha.
3. What goes on during public worship?
Our temple promotes Bhakti Yoga or “devotional service”. We start out by chanting mantras and then listening to a lecture from the Bhavagad Gita, a Hindu scripture. Next we worship the deities by offering them vegetarian food, fire and water. As part of the practice, we fan the deities and then blow on a conch shell, while simultaneous singing Kirtans. We end the ceremony with a vegetarian meal that is offered to everyone who is present at the ceremony.
4. Can you please explain the life cycle and how a person reaches moksha (liberation), or the end of reincarnation?
Hinduism believes in four different aspects of life. The first is in is following your Dharma which means doing your duties. Duties include family duties, social duties and spiritual duties. The second aspect is earning the basic necessities to take care of you daily life. Thirdly , you must enjoy whatever you do. The fourth is to engage in the spiritual services that include chanting, meditation and to be free from the material trap in order to achieve Moksha(fulfillment). Moksha ends ones cycle of birth and death.
5. What are the important holidays and traditions of this religion?
Hindus celebrate many religious holidays. Three important ones that are practiced at our temple and by most of the Hindu population are:
Holi , The Festival of Colors, celebrated in the spring season, Radha Krishna’s appearance, celebrated toward the end of summer and Diwali, the festival of light celebrated in the fall.
6. What role do women play in the Hindu faith?
Women have a very important role in the Hindu faith. Women are regarded as the one who lives in the heart. In Vrindavan, in order to follow the greatest devotional path, you want to follow the temperment of the Gopies (cow-herd ladies). By emulating them you can reach Divine Love very easily. Our temple believes that the Supreme God is divine love and is represented by the feminine Goddess Radha.
7. What goes on during a Hindu wedding service?
The couple makes a vow in front of fire. There is recitation of ancient Vedic hymns. The wedding almost always has a large feast attended by bride, groom, family and friends.
8. Are interfaith marriages encouraged, or discouraged? Why or why not?
As Hinduism is full of different faiths, there are as many religions as there are individuals, Therefore, interfaith marriages are encouraged as part of the culture.
9. What is your opinion on someone converting to Hinduism? What is the process like?
Converting to Hinduism is meaning that you are using one particular faith within Hinduism. That means that you take an initiation from one of the schools of thoughts in the organization to another. For example, our temple represents the Nimbarki Vaisanava tradition and believes that Radha and Krishna are the almighty god and that loving devotion is the superior practice to reach the highest spiritual goal. Bhakti yoga that includes kirtan, mantra chanting, feeding vegetarian meals, following a non violence practice, believing that the whole world is one family and that service is the freedom of the soul. Being a vegetarian is one of the most important requirements for Hindus to follow. Anyone who is interested can join our temple by taking an initiation at our temple.
10. Do you eat meat? Why or why not?
In our faith, meat is not thought of as food. It is an act of violence, therefore no one who is initiated in Nimbarki tradition will eat meat.
11. What are the challenges, if any, to practicing Hinduism?
One is that Hinduism is different than other religions It is not just a sentiment, it is a way of life. One has to go through detoxification in order to follow Hinduism. This includes not eating meat, not drinking, not gambling. It puts the individual at the driver’s seat, rather than just receiving a piece of paper saying that they are Hindu. It does involve taking the way of life you live seriously.
12. Have you ever experienced religious discrimination and how?
No. Our beliefs are very true to our hearts. When someone speaks their truth, we do understand that each individual has the right to speak their own thought. That allows us to not judge other’s practice and faith. Therefore we don’t have any religious discrimination.
13. Some religions are associated with political affiliations, such as Christian right. Are Hindus more commonly associated to a particular political party? Why?
As Hinduism is quite a large concept, anyone can affiliate with different political parties. Hinduism is primarily is focused on body, mind and spirit, individual practice rather than a group practice.
14. Has Hinduism become more modernized over time? How does your faith translate to the 21st century?
Hinduism is an ever evolving religion. In our temple you can often see Westerners leading the services. We are trying to learn every day to engage in service opportunity that is available today. We are there for the 21st century.
15. How has religion shaped your life?
Religion has allowed my heart to become connected to selfless service for all.