Meet Hindus who debunk Western misconceptions about caste, cows, karma and more.
BY: Lavina Melwani
"With Christians, I like to use Plato's Cave Parable as a starting point, one of the most famous parables East or West, and from there, show how both Eastern and Western religions related to it, and then to each other."
Coming from very different walks of life, all these people have devoted considerable time and energy to explaining the finer points of Hinduism, combating the misconceptions. What satisfaction do they get from being the Interpreters of Dharma? Says Lakhani, "The truth of the matter is I have no choice but to carry on like this. If a little bit of Vivekananda gets into one's bloodstream--one has no choice in such matters!"
He believes that many Hindus living abroad are adopting the worst of both the East and the West: "This cocktail has produced a very grotesque scenario for modern India and for Hindus everywhere. Concepts like brahmacharya, or respecting and looking after the elderly, are considered old-fashioned and [are] abandoned, while promiscuous lifestyles and chasing after mammon are considered to be cool."
For Sidhaye, excitement comes from conveying that Hinduism is the only religion not out to convert people: "Because we believe each individual has the freedom of thought to achieve salvation--I use the word `salvation' because non-Hindus are familiar with it. In fact, I tell them that you will not even find a process for somebody to become a Hindu; I ask them to show me any place where Hindus have gone and done mass conversions. I make `freedom of thought' as the basis of my presentations."
Kulkarni, who has become a part of the Indian-American community and has raised her two children in that environment, finds it even more imperative to change the perceptions people may have of Hinduism. She says, "So many Americans know very little about Hindu traditions and I tell them `It's not like 40 or 50 years ago, when Hinduism was the religion of people on the other side of the globe. Today they are your doctors, they are the motel owners down the street, they are your neighbors.'"
She adds, "Hindus are part of the community and we have to know something about the traditions of each other. It's extremely satisfying when I explain reincarnation or karma, and non-Hindus realize that they are not such strange notions after all because they do make sense."