Vancouver-Sun: Are we all Hindus now?
Vancouver Sun: Diwali festival a good time to ask: Are we all Hindus now?
Diwali festival a good time to ask: Are we all Hindus now?
By Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun November 4, 2010
‘We are all Hindus now."
That was the headline of a noted essay that appeared in 2009 in Time magazine, and it’s well worth reflecting on as Canadians of all backgrounds are increasingly drawn to the annual South Asian festival
North Americans have not, we know, openly converted en masse to Hinduism — even if Elizabeth Gilbert’s book about exploring Indian mysticism, Eat, Pray, Love, has become a hugely popular movie, and the lead actress, Julia Roberts, declared this fall she is Hindu.
But it is remarkable how Hindu beliefs, metaphysics and practices have quietly and thoroughly become integrated into North American culture in the past couple of decades, almost as if by stealth. Or osmosis.
For instance, Canada , especially the West Coast, has witnessed the rise of hundreds, if not thousands, of yoga studios, meditation centres, vegetarian restaurants and Ayurvedic health spas, all of which could be said to have roots in Hinduism.
The key Hindu teaching about reincarnation, as well, is accepted now by 30 per cent of all Canadians, including 37 per cent of Canadian women, according to a recent Leger poll.
Hindu meditation philosophy has also gone mainstream through best-selling spiritual teachers like Deepak Chopra and Vancouver ‘s Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now.
In addition, a Pew Forum poll found that two out of three Americans now reject the theologically conservative Christian teaching that there is only one way to heaven, or salvation.
Most North Americans, even while declaring themselves "Christian" or "Jewish" or "secular," are signing onto the long-held Hindu attitude there are many authentic roads to spiritual truth.
It can’t be claimed that Diwali, the autumn "festival of lights" that officially kicks off Friday at temples, is the main vehicle by which Hindu ideas and practices are becoming assimilated across North America .
Still, Diwali’s growing acceptance among non-South Asian Canadians, especially among schoolchildren in urban centres such as Toronto and Vancouver , may have contributed to the quiet trend.
As most Canadians know, Diwali is celebrated not only by Hindus, but in different ways by Sikhs and Jains of South Asian heritage.
One of the many reasons Hinduism tends to be overshadowed in B.C. is that the province has four times more Sikhs than Hindus. Yet, across Canada , there are slightly more Hindus (roughly 360,000) than Sikhs
Hinduism’s unusually low profile in Canada is furthered by the fact Sikhs share many teachings with Hindus: Both promote reincarnation, karma, cremation and the belief that time is cyclical rather than
Both teach the soul is continually reborn in different bodies.
Yet, compared to Sikhism, Hinduism is a much older, much larger and much more geographically and philosophically diverse religion. Compared to Sikhism, Hinduism has had a much wider impact on the planet (including by indirectly giving birth to Buddhism).
What is the biggest reason most North Americans fail to recognize there is truth in the provocative statement: "We’re all Hindus now"?
It’s simple: The religion is often not given credit where it is due.
To put it another way, Hinduism is being plagiarized.
The co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation, Suhag Shukla, is among those miffed that many promoters of yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic health and Indian philosophy often go out of their way to avoid using
the word "Hindu."
Shukla charges that most North Americans stereotype Hinduism as being about "caste, cows and curry." As a result, he maintains everyone from Eckhart Tolle to fitness teachers routinely act as if things like yoga and reincarnation have next to nothing to do with Hinduism.
How exactly does this intellectual theft occur? Many North Americans who market or teach what are in essence Hindu beliefs or practices often call them something else, such as "ancient Indian," "Vedic," "yogic" or even "universal."
Shukla says none of these euphemistic labels for describing Hindu-based practices are exactly wrong, but they’re still misleading.
"Without a nod to their Hindu origins, this de-linking disenfranchises admitted Hindus of recognition and appreciation for the breadth and depth of their faith," Shukla writes.
He has a point. It’s time to give proper credit as South Asian Hindus continue to take a larger role in everyday Canadian life, as Diwali becomes mainstream in Metro Vancouver, as yoga and meditation become firmly established and as more North Americans begin to concur with the foundational teaching of Hinduism’s Rig Veda:
"Truth is One, but the sages speak of it by many names."