Hinduisms Influence on the West

Published 19 Dec 2016

In this paper we told about Hindu religion is one of the oldest surviving religions of the world. The insights of Hinduism spread to other parts of the world through emissaries who visited India and from Indians who visited foreign lands. Since the 1830s Hindus have migrated and are now found worldwide. At first they went to the Caribbean to work on plantations, then to Trinidad and to the country now known as Guyana. They also migrated to South Pacific, Mauritius and East and South Africa.

One of the forerunners of this movement was Swami Vivekananda who addressed the World Parliament of religions at Chicago in 1893. In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda, visited the United States of America and established the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California to disseminate Vedic teachings. Several other figures who generated significant Hindu spiritual influence in the Western World are Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Ramana Maharshi, Swami Ram Tirtha, Swami Ramdas, Sri Aurobindo Ghose, Swami Sivananda, J. Krishnamurti, Sri Satya Sai Baba, Ma Anandamai, Mahatma Gandhi, Maharshi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Chinmayananda. Presently, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation, which is practiced in more than 140 countries, is playing a profound role in spreading the message of Hinduism across the globe.

Hindu religion is a religion of universal harmony and peace and views mankind as one large family and is concerned with the perennial philosophy that defines the inpidual, the universe and “God”. A silver jubilee celebration of the Art of Living Foundation held in India in February 2006 and in Washington DC in March 29th 2007 resonated the same message today, “One Word Family” or “Vasudhaiva kutumbakam”

There are several features of Hindu thought that contribute to its universal outlook and vision. Firstly, Hinduism an inpidual is recognized as a spirit or soul, which is the primary identity of a human being, so religion, geographic region, color, creed becomes secondary. The Hindu concept of unity springs from the belief that all beongs are different manifestations of one Supreme Being, or God. For this reason, the belief in religious tolerance, universal brotherhood and the love mankind has been the living ideals of Hindus throughout the ages. There are many historical examples of this ideology, including India’s providing shelter to Zoroastrians when Persia was conquered by the Arabs. Since that time their descendants, the Parsees have kept their faith alive in India.

Hindu religious tradition does not prescribe central authority, hierarchy, dogma or a rigid moral code for living. Instead, Hindu tradition relies upon pure reason and true knowledge as an essential prerequisite for recognizing the oneness of all mankind. Hindu tradition is always ready to inquire, investigate and assimilate new ideas and adapting to new conditions. The Hindu doctrine of non violence towards all forms of live is an essential prerequisite for universal coexistence.

In today’s world of globalization there is a need of a global civilization. As Sri Sri Ravishankar puts it, “We need to globalize knowledge”. Unity should not be turned into an ideological stereotype that destroys persity, nor should persity become pisive and destroy unity. Hinduism has sufficient spiritual depth to nourish such a global civilization that can embrace all.

There are stories recounting of Jesus coming to India. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar notes, for instance, that Jesus sometimes wore an orange robe, the Hindu symbol of renunciation in the world, which was not a usual practice in Judaism. “In the same way”, he continues, “the worshipping of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism is probably borrowed from the Hindu cult of Devi.” Bells too, which cannot be found today in synagogues, the surviving form of Judaism, are used in church and we all know their importance in Buddhism and Hinduism for thousands of years. There are many other similarities between Hinduism and Christianity: incense, sacred bread (prasadam), the different altars around churches (which recall the manifold deities in their niches inside Hindu temples); reciting the rosary (japamala), the Christian Trinity (the ancient Santana Dharma: Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh), Christian processions, the sign of the cross (Anganyasa), and so on.

The Catholic Church, however, developed with dualistic principles of God in heaven and creation below whereas Hindus believe that the teachings of Christ have non dualism inherent in it. The deification of Christ is a phenomenon often attributed to the apotheosis of emperors and heroes in the Greco-Roman world. These, however, were cases of men becoming gods. In the Jesus story, the pinity takes human form, god becoming man. This is a familiar occurrence in Hinduism and in other theologies of the region. Indeed, one obstacle to the spread of Christianity in India, which was attempted as early as the first century, was the frustrating tendency of the Hindus to understand Jesus as the latest avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.

Recognition of Hinduism’s concepts and principles and their relevance in today’s world has found a new impetus in the recent years in the west. The silver jubilee celebrations of the Art of Living, held at the John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC on March 29th 2007, included many prominent members of Congress, senators, educators, professionals, scientists and business leaders who came to acknowledge and honour the work of the international NGO and its founder His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The highlight of the celebrations was the launch of an initiative to create a ‘violence-free, stress-free’ America. The initiative envisages several programmes to foster human values such as compassion, friendliness, a sense of brotherhood and an attitude of service to society. Addressing the august gathering, Senator Joseph R Biden, Jr, said, “The Art of Living is one of India’s stars. It has an incredible following that cuts through all religions, cultures and background – a very, very difficult thing to do in today’s world.” He praised The Art of Living for its important work promoting peace, combating drug addiction, and empowering youth.

In his address, Sri Sri said, “We all can work toward a dual goal. One is to protect our environment; the second is to protect human values of compassion, friendliness, cooperation and a sense of belonging to each other. This will protect our minds, our hearts – the soul of the planet. These human values need to be nurtured so we can have a stress-free, violence-free society.”

Vijay K Nambiar, Chief of Staff to the United Nations Secretary-General, read out a message on behalf of the Secretary-General. In his message, Ban Ki-Moon stated, “It is reassuring to know that you – a perse assembly of origins and cultures – have gathered to celebrate your commitment to global harmony and peaceful coexistence. The values you champion, including non-violence, compassion and the sanctity of all life, go to the heart of what the United Nations stands for.”

The evening also saw the unveiling of Universal Declaration of Human Values. This Declaration provides a pragmatic vision for the world community, representing a roadmap to foster understanding and harmonious coexistence among different peoples and cultures. Such an event shows how Hinduism’s universal principles find recognition even today in the Western world.


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