Professor Bharat J. Gajjar has written many books including Hinduism in the West and in India, and joins us today for Hinduism/Week Three: Social Issues.
Andrew Bowen: How about we start with some background?
Bharat J. Gajjar: I am 79 years old and retired from DuPont, and Philadelphia University. Now I keep myself busy by reading and writing. I have written 1 textbook, and 4 other books. The 5th one is on the way. I taught yoga for 40 years, gave seminars on Hinduism and Yoga as well as marriage. I’ve been a very active member of VHP and HSS. I ran the Sivananda Yoga Center for 40 years and had a TV show on Yoga, Meditation and Hindu Philosophy for around 20 years.
Andrew Bowen: That’s quite a list. I understand you’re also credited with introducing yoga to Delaware?
Bharat J. Gajjar: That’s true.
Andrew Bowen: What was the reception like?
Bharat J. Gajjar: It was slow but got momentum as time went on and a lot of credit goes to my wife. She helped me a lot to spread the word. We both taught yoga. Now many of my students are also helping to spread the word of yoga.
Andrew Bowen: Now, there are many types of yoga within Sanatana Dharma. Did you and your wife focus only on the asanas of Hatha yoga?
Bharat J Gajjar: No. We taught complete yoga. All eight steps as I was blessed by Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Sivananda Maharaj.
Andrew Bowen: Was it presented to your students in a secular way or within the context of the Hindu faith?
Bharat J Gajjar: In a secular way. But my secular way was a very Hindu way. I didn’t worry about money so I could say what I wanted to say.
Andrew Bowen: I’ve come to learn that the way of Dharma is very flexible. Was there much resistance from other faith organizations in the area, considering yoga is associated with the Hindu faith?
Bharat J Gajjar: Yes and No. They left me alone, but once in a while I could see the resistance. One time, at the time of President Regan the FBI came to check up on me. When I told that to my Guru Swami Vishnudevananda he said “I have the FBI in my organization too, and it is good for them to also learn yoga.” He didn’t mind having them there. The FBI did not know that Swamiji knew they were there.
Andrew Bowen: So you and your Guru took it as an opportunity to teach then?
Bharat J Gajjar: Yes.
Andrew Bowen: What was the outcome? Did the agents ever approach you?
Bharat J Gajjar: No. They didn’t think anything bad and left.
Andrew Bowen: Maybe now they are practicing yoga…
Bharat J Gajjar:
Yes. In the beginning Americans resisted yoga. But then, they realized that they cannot stop it. Many change the name yoga to something else. Sometimes it’s called Stretching
Andrew Bowen: I suppose it doesn’t seem so “foreign” and therefore less threatening that way. It’s taken a good hold now though.
Bharat J. Gajjar: Yes it has. Everyone does Namaste now, even rock stars. They all like the meaning of it.
Andrew Bowen: And now, you can claim a little of that history. You moved to the United States in the early 50′s, right after India gained its independence from Britain in 1947. Why leave your country as it was in the infancy of its freedom?
Bharat J Gajjar: My father told me that “You should run away from India. As Nehru was very socialistic and communistic.” Nehru did not support Hindus. My father did not like that, and it was my dream to come to America. I came.
Andrew Bowen: Was Nehru anti-religion in general or just with the Hindus?
Bharat J Gajjar: I don’t think he was a religious man. I think he was agnostic. He wasn’t anti, he didn’t support Hindu activities. It was all the way across the board, not just with Hindus, in my opinion.
Andrew Bowen: Was this a time of growth for minority faiths such as Christians and Muslims?
Bharat J Gajjar: I don’t think it was a time of growth, but he was supporting Muslims to get their votes. Christians were only 1 or 2% of the population so they were not much of a factor.
Andrew Bowen: In your book, Hinduism in the West and in India, you describe many threats to the faith, mostly Islamic aggression and Christian proselytization. At what point did these factors become a serious problem for Hinduism?
Bharat J. Gajjar: At this time. Christians are pouring millions of dollars – 10,000 missionaries are running around India and Pope Paul said, “In this century all Hindus will be converted into Christianity.” This is his dream. Muslims are not aggressively converting anymore as they are uneducated and poor.
Andrew Bowen: In your book you estimate the number of Hindu converts to these two faiths at 5,000 a day. Which side is scoring more points, so to speak, and why do you think that is?
Bharat J. Gajjar: Christians and mostly they convert the delits which the English called the Untouchables, but in reality they are lower castes.
Andrew Bowen: Could you describe what you mean by “lower castes”?
Bharat J. Gajjar: There are 5 castes, the Brahmans, the business people, the fighters and the workers. Then those that do cleaning work. It was originally designed to be by the work you did not something you were born into. When the Muslim rulers came the Hindu society became ridge and altered the caste system. Lower castes would be the cleaning people. Currently the caste system is illegal. But the Western caste system is the rich, engineers, business people, and everybody else.
Andrew Bowen: If the caste system is illegal, how do Christian missionaries take advantage of it?
Bharat J. Gajjar: They target the poor and middle class. The caste system was stopping the spread of Christianity. Now that the caste system is dying conversion becomes easy. Now missionaries give jobs and money for conversion to poor and middle class.
Andrew Bowen: Sounds like extortion.
Bharat J. Gajjar: Yes. HSS, RSS and VHP is converting them back to Hindus. Missionaires don’t like this.
Andrew Bowen: What are the tactics being used by these Hindu organizations in comparison to the Christians? It seems like a spiritual tug-of-war between the two with the person in the middle.
Bharat J. Gajjar: They tell them that once they become Christian they lose their freedom of thought and the ability to worship the divine in any form they want. They have no tactics, they just tell them the truth. It is a tug-of-war. Once a person becomes a Christian they are kicked out of Hindu Society.
Andrew Bowen: In Hinduism, Truth is described as one however the paths to it are many. Does the banishment of a Hindu convert to Christianity not conflict with this philosophy?
Bharat J. Gajjar: It’s true, but we’re talking about people here. People will be people. My brother Navin calls religions fraternities and clubs.
Andrew Bowen: It certainly appears that way with some. So would you say that the aggressive conversion of Hindus is the faith’s greatest threat? Especially in India…
Bharat J. Gajjar: Yes definitely.
Andrew Bowen: Hinduism is a faith that discourages its members from proselytizing to others. If there is no “active recruitment” to make up for lost numbers, how does the faith survive?
Bharat J. Gajjar: We are decreasing in numbers. The faith is trying to hold the people that they have. The educated people will not convert. Christianity converted many religions in Europe but afterwards they forced others to convert or kill them. Muslims did the same historically. This is not possible today, however in North East State in India almost 100% have become Christian because the few Hindus that were left were forced to become Christian with a gun pointed at them.
Andrew Bowen: You mentioned what seems to be a resurgence in the Hindu youth–a “Renaissance”–of the culture and faith. What hope do you have for this movement?
Bharat J. Gajjar: I’m very hopeful about them. ISKCON is also spreading Hinduism, they are converting as well to Hinduism.
Andrew Bowen: With the faith under such a threat, do you think fringe elements (or even the mainstream) might become more aggressive in defending the faith and even changing their stance on converting others?
Bharat J. Gajjar: That is possible, but as Hindus have lived under Muslim and Christen Rule they have become very passive.
Andrew Bowen: What do you think is the future of India (from a religious standpoint) and Hinduism in general?
Bharat J. Gajjar: Hinduism is too strong internally and it cannot be destroyed. I see that as a human being becomes more Educated they will accept Hindu Philosophy and it’s freedom of belief system as part of their religion. Look in America, Christianity is accepting many aspects of the Hindu religion. 25 to 35% of Christians accept Reincarnation.
Andrew Bowen: Speaking of America, what role do you see American Hindus playing in this struggle? And what differences are there between Hinduism in the West compared with India?
Bharat J. Gajjar: Hindus in America have a very strong community as they are very Educated and I have not seen 1 Hindu converted into Christianity here. they are building Temples all over America. The way they are going they could become the richest community in America. Their children are excelling because their family culture is so strong. Children are brought up with great love and discipline.
Andrew Bowen: You’ve mentioned education a great deal in relation to those who’ve converted to other faiths. Is Hinduism a faith more predisposed toward the educated?
Bharat J. Gajjar: No I don’t think so, they just are the ones preserving the religion. They don’t buy Christianity.
Andrew Bowen: What do you think turns them off?
Bharat J. Gajjar: The Christian philosophy. They don’t believe someone can get a free ticket to heaven just by getting baptized, going to Church and they don’t believe in Heaven and Hell.
Andrew Bowen: So, would you consider the Christian faith as “incorrect”, even if it presents another path?
Bharat J. Gajjar: It’s not incorrect, it’s another path to God. You can reach God through that avenue to, that’s the Hindu Philosophy.
Andrew Bowen: What advice would you give to those exploring the Hindu faith who currently belong to another?
Bharat J. Gajjar: That question is one for the Lord, that will come to you in your meditation. Meditate.
Andrew Bowen: Project Conversion is about people learning from different faiths–different points of view. What message do you have for members of other faiths trying to convert Hindus?
Bharat J. Gajjar: Follow your path and leave other people alone. The world will be a poor place, where all religions are destroyed and only one religion left. No choices left, no options, it will be like a garden with only 1 type of flower.
Andrew Bowen: Mr. Gajjar, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and perspective today. I hope you are given many more years to bless others with your teaching and selfless spirit. Namaste.
Bharat J. Gajjar: Thank you Andrew. May God Bless You! Hari Om Tat Sat!