Meet Hindus who debunk Western misconceptions about caste, cows, karma and more.
"Since my audience is usually Christian, I typically make an analogy with the Christian ideal of the trinity, saying something like, `Imagine the trinity extended to an infinity, and you get the basic concept of God in Hinduism'", he says. "I also distinguish between the high Gods - Vishnu/Shiva/Shakti conceived as supreme manifestations of Saguna Brahman - and the many other devtas, which are liberated or advanced souls, which I compare to angels and saints when I speak with Christian groups."
Knowledge of different religions becomes imperative in talking to non-Hindus. Michael W. Smith, 61, of St. Francis, Minnesota, has been teaching high schoolers, college students and adults about Hinduism for 30 years. Smith, who acquired knowledge through reading and from his gurus, says: "Christians generally think of Hinduism in terms of idol-worship, a belief in false gods rather than a single God, cults, devil worship, primitive superstitions and the abuses of the caste system and ill-treatment of women.
"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."