Meet Hindus who debunk Western misconceptions about caste, cows, karma and more.
BY: Lavina Melwani
Beth Kulkarni of Texas came to Hinduism through marriage and has become an evocative interpreter of the faith for non-Hindus. She has spoken at church religious classes, religion classes at schools and universities. She also takes non-Hindus on tours of Sri Meenakshi Temple, where she is an Advisory Council member.
"One of the most frequent misconceptions is that Hindus are polytheistic," she says. "I reply that we believe in an 'Ultimate Reality' that is simultaneously both with form and without form, and that this Ultimate Reality is both transcendent and imminent, both personal and non-personal. I give the example that I, Beth, am a wife, mother, grandmother, friend, community worker, with different functions and relationships due to these various roles, but am still the same 'Beth.' How, I ask, could God, therefore, not have different roles, functions, and relationships?"
In this Internet age, sometimes the best way to answer questions is in cyberspace, because you can reach so many more people. M. Menon, 63, who is an industrial design consultant, has been in the U.S. since the 1980s. During his college years he studied all the works of Swami Vivekananda and says, "India, Hinduism and Sanathana Dharma are my passions."
"Most Indians are asked questions about India and Hinduism and very little support is available," he adds. "Over the past 5 years I have put together an informative Q&A online and have also been a participant in Internet discussion groups on Hinduism."
One question he often gets is whether idols are Gods. He replies, "Idols are mere representations of God. They represent various aspects or attributes of a single spiritual reality. Consider for example, the IBM logo representing a company. Logo is not the real company. Icons are essential for focused attention. Much like a logo, the religious icons are full of symbolism."
On the other side of the Atlantic, Jay Lakhani is also doing his share to interpret Hinduism for the British. The Gujarat-born physicist, now living in London, says, "I took early retirement to focus on what I love best: studying and promoting Hinduism."
Although he received no formal education in Hinduism, Lakhani has been inspired by the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. He has become a popular speaker in the London school system, speaking with young people from all faiths and no faith.
He has fielded many questions from non-Hindus, but he finds that they are most attracted by the idea of the divinity of man: "When talking to youngsters of the Abrahamic faiths, this idea of the essential nature of everyone as 'divine' - equating it to God - grabs them and makes them run after me, asking me excitedly again and again: 'Is this really Hinduism?'"