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A Hindu perspective on Interfaith

Seeta Lakhani's picture

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A Hindu perspective


An individual who belongs to a particular faith tradition or sectarian movement within his faith may use outward signs, symbols and practices to reflect the ethos of that movement. Outer signs like clothing, or symbols marking the forehead, give a sense of identity, belonging, and offer a kind of comfort zone to the individual. This is not to say that external identity is the sole criterion of belonging to a particular faith tradition. At a deeper level, it is essentially the realisation that a particular system suits the spiritual needs of an individual. The ethos of the movement becomes the guiding principle in the way that the individual lives his or her life. The need for external symbolism gradually diminishes as the individual makes greater spiritual progress.

Freedom to choose Because Hinduism gives freedom to the individual to choose the belief system that suits him or her best, the Hindu religion accommodates a huge variety of perceptions and prescriptions for the spiritual journey. Diversity of ways reflect diversity of temperaments in Hindu society. This is the reason why Hinduism is host to a multitude of different sects and movements. The acceptance of a diversity of approaches is inherent in the pluralistic tradition of Hinduism.

Pluralism within Hinduism Hindus in the UK come from a wide range of backgrounds. They come from different parts of India and the world. The largest Hindu community migrated to the UK from East Africa. Many have come from the Caribbean or Sri Lanka. They speak different languages and observe varying religious customs. They bring with them a vast range of Hindu belief systems and practices. The interaction between these different groups is visible at many levels from education to social enterprise. Overall the relationship is warm and receptive to each other's ways. Different sectarian movements build their own temples or community halls. There is a preference to marry within their groups; this is more to do with convenience than discrimination. The world is now a much smaller place; we no longer have the luxury of living in our own exclusive framework of beliefs. We have to accommodate and give equal recognition to those whose belief systems differ from ours. Unfortunately, a great deal of strife is caused in the name of religion because of the exclusivist agendas of each tradition. The idea of religious pluralism ingrained in Hindu thinking can be extended further to cultivate fruitful interfaith dialogue.

An acceptance It is difficult to see how the truth claims of different religions can be reconciled, but the current circumstances almost demand that world religions start looking for commonality and connections with other religions. This exercise should be seen not as a confrontation but as an opportunity for religious communities to dig deeper into their own faith and come up with better ways of relating to people of other faiths as well as no-faith. Pluralism that accepts many ways of perceiving and relating to spirituality is a wonderful prescription at the heart of Hindu teaching. It allows for spiritual progress in a theistic mode, or a non-theistic mode, as well as a non-religious mode. Hinduism challenges exclusivism of every kind including scientific as well as secularones. Exclusivism promoted in the name of any religion amounts to claiming a monopoly on spirituality. The very act demolishes the potency of spirituality. Insistence on a secular worldview too is an imposition of exclusivism using a different form.

It’s simply good citizenship The secular approach promoting good citizenship sits well with Hindu teachings. Hinduism views this as essentially a spiritual prescription operating in the guise of working for the greater or common good. According to Hindu teachings spirituality has a habit of showing up at the heart of every disciplined human endeavour. In the field of social sciences it springs up as the ideal of promoting good citizenship.