Date: August 5, 2001
Location: Hindu Community Organization Temple, 2615 Lillian Lane
Meeting Topic: Tour
Facilitator: Robin Smith
PRESENT: Judy Baker, Phyllis Duckwall, Debra Gaier, Edith Holsinger, Miriam Holsinger, Bette Jasko, Bob Jasko, Jack Kelley, Bill Rain, Mary Ellen Rain, Ken Rosenzweig, Robin Smith, Lou Vera.
The tour attendees were greeted at the door of the Hindu Temple by one of its two Hindu priests. His name was Ashwani Kumar, and he instructed us on where to leave our shoes while we were visiting in the temple. The day was a sunny, beautiful one, and the light flooded in through the numerous windows of the Temple to reveal a fascinatingly colorful interior. Priest Kumar then introduced us to our tour leader, Rishi Kumar (no relation). Rishi is a Professor of Economics and is the former Dean of the College of Business and Administration at Wright State University; he is currently on one year’s administrative leave to complete some special projects; upon returning, he will assume the position of Associate Provost. He is also the Vice President of the Hindu Community Organization (HCO) and is quite active in the community of Dayton.
Rishi explained that the Hindu Temple is more that just a place of worship. Speakers are scheduled at the Temple, and there are many cultural events. There is a Sunday School which provides religious and cultural education for children. Another function of the Temple is to raise money to help those in need in the community.
Hindu priests perform various ceremonies. For various life cycle events, Hindus arrange for a priest to perform appropriate ceremonies. Hindu priests are usually married, and they do not take a vow of poverty. However, it is unusual for them to be wealthy. They may be males or females, but most priests are males. Priests study Hindu texts, religion, and culture for many years prior to undertaking priestly responsibilities.
Rishi stated that Hinduism is ageless. The civilization associated with Hinduism dates back at least to the year 10,000 B.C.E. The ancient texts of Hinduism are called the Vedas of which there are four. These very old texts were originally passed on orally, but now they are in written form. Interestingly, they are in the form of hymns and are sung (analogous to the ritual singing of the Torah reading in Judaism). The essence of the Vedas is contained in Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and the Puranas.
Rishi described the three principles of Hinduism: 1. the theory of Karma, 2. reincarnation, and 3. ultimate goals. The theory of Karma mandates that humans have the responsibility to exploit their energies to the utmost, i.e., to be the best human being that it is possible for them to be, given their capabilities. Furthermore, the theory of Karma involves the fact that humans "reap what they sow." In other words, there are consequences to good or bad actions. We, as humans, are entitled only to "effort," but are not entitled to determine the outcomes which are linked to the law of Karma. This leads to the second principle, reincarnation. Humans may not always be punished or rewarded for their bad or good deeds in the same life; humans are reincarnated and may assume any form, including animals, plants, or various classes of people; good or bad actions in one life will result in an elevated or suppressed reincarnation in subsequent lives. The third principle is "ultimate goals." The ultimate goal is to achieve Moksha (salvation), which is liberation from the repetitive cycle of birth, death, reincarnation, and so on. A primary value in Hinduism is "doing good for others."
Hindu worship is different from the norm in Western religions. Most worship is performed in the home. There are no regular daily worship services in the temple. Hindus come to the temple when they want to. There are special ceremonies on Hindu festivals and holidays, but attendance is always discretionary. Hindus tend to come to the temple for life cycle events, such as birth, marriage, and death. For these events, the family will normally hire a priest to perform appropriate ceremonies.
The Hindu calendar differs from the western calendar, so Hindu holidays migrate somewhat on the western calendar (similar to the migration of the Jewish holidays). There are about a dozen major Hindu holidays.
Hinduism is essentially monotheistic, i.e., there is a belief that God is one. The one God is named Brahman or Bhagawan. However, Hindus believe that there are many incarnations of this one God. There are as many as twenty-four incarnations of God which are treated as separate gods with different names and different personalities. Interestingly, Hindus believe that Jesus Christ is an incarnation of God, and so is Buddha and such other personalities. Different Hindu families tend to worship different gods, depending on their family traditions. In fact, particular Hindu temples may focus on one particular god instead of the whole pantheon. Particular gods that are venerated by Rishi and his wife’s family include Durga (goddess of protection), Lakshmi (goddess of wealth), and Saraswati (goddess of learning).
Rishi discussed Indian social structure which is tightly integrated into the Hindu religion. The caste system classifies different people by their work in society. For example, teachers and priests tend to come from one caste (Brahmins), and merchants tend to come from another caste. Originally, the caste system was not designed to be a divisive element in society but rather a functional one since it clarified what people’s designated role in society was, and it was fluid. Over time, the caste system became more crystallized such that people married within their caste, and it was not usual if not impossible for people born in one caste to do work associated with another caste. However, today, the caste system is breaking down, particularly in the cities of India and among the educated classes. Rishi noted that he himself relinquished the name that would identify him as a member of a particular caste during his college years because he did not want to be associated with a caste.
Rishi stated that 80-85% of Indians are Hindus. There is no concept of conversion or proselytizing in Hinduism. All religions are valued by Hindus. In fact, a small community of Jews has lived in India for centuries without any problems. In response to a question, Rishi commented on the demonstrations by Hindus against proselytizing activities by Catholics and other Christians during the recent visit of Pope John Paul II to India. Rishi stated that Hindus believe that most conversions of Indians to Christianity are not voluntary. Special incentives are offered to people who convert to Christianity.
Rishi was asked about the general low regard for female infants in India. Rishi replied that the status of women is greatly improved in India. Currently, at major universities, many and sometimes a majority of the students are female. Women occupy high positions, such as judges, ministers, and high profile political leaders, in Indian society. Of course, in small villages and among the less-educated classes, less-progressive attitudes may be present, but things are changing.
Rishi was asked about the Hindu view of abortion. He replied that abortion is rare in India. However, Hinduism does not have a viewpoint on the precise point when life begins. Therefore, abortion is not an important issue in Hinduism.
Rishi was asked to explain the role of the sacred cow in Hinduism. Rishi replied with an economic argument since he is an economist. He observed that the cow is a most consumable animal since all parts can be used; thus there was great temptation to kill cows. However, in India which has always been predominantly agricultural, oxen were needed for agricultural uses such as plowing fields. The cow may have been made sacred in the Hindu religion to protect it from being killed for eating, thus preserving the supply of oxen for agriculture. Rishi noted that about three times as many people can be fed from a given amount of grain than from meat which is obtained from feeding that grain to cows. Rishi stated that he and his wife are vegetarians. Vegetarianism has historically been a common practice in India, principally because grains and vegetables were much less expensive than meat. He admitted though that as the Indian economy becomes more industrial and prosperous, and less agricultural, the rate of meat consumption is increasing.
Rishi was asked about the dots that are worn by many Indian women and some men on their foreheads. Rishi noted that traditionally, these dots were given by the priests to someone who visited the temple. Also, the dot was a sign that a woman was married. However, today, the dots worn by women are merely ornamental.
For further information about Hinduism, Rishi recommended the following books and website:
David Frawley, Gods, Sages and Kings, Morson Publishing, 1991.
Georg Feuerstein, Subas Kak, and David Frawley, In Search of the Cradle of Civilization, Theosophical Publishing House, 1999.
The attendees to the tour of the Hindu Temple were greatly appreciative of the conscientious, knowledgeable, and open way that Rishi Kumar discussed various aspects of the Hindu religion and replied to questions. After the tour, most of the tour attendees met for dinner at the Olive Garden Restaurant where part of the discussion dealt with what was learned during the tour and similarities and differences between Christianity and Judaism, respectively, and Hinduism.
Ken Rosenzweig, Secretary