Project Conversion

Project Conversion

Hinduism/ Week 3: Interview with Professor Bharat J. Gajjar

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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!
 

Day 14: Guest Artist Surprise!

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Welcome back to Project Conversion: Hinduism!

Today is pretty special as we celebrate what appears to be a nice alignment of events. January 14th marks the beginning of Makar Sankranti, a time when Hindus celebrate the passage of the sun from the Sagittarius constellation into Capricorn. This event carries on with festivities lasting four days! More on that tomorrow as I visit the local temple for a closer look.

In the meantime, I thought we’d mark the end of our Arts and Culture Week of Hinduism with an art debut by my oldest daughter! She’s six years old, loves anything to do with the visual arts, and swears she wants to be a fashion designer. She gets a big kick out of watching me apply the sacred ash and bindi to my forehead. For Arts and Culture Week, she decided to sketch a rendition of the murti (image) I use for Shiva.

An image of my Shiva murti

My daughter's Shiva

Bravo! Thanks for helping Daddy out and sharing your work with us.

As a highly visual and expressive faith, Hinduism has a rich tradition of artistic depictions of the divine. Shiva himself is replete with color and symbolism. Here are a few samples of Shiva art:

 

The Nataraja Temple. Possibly the holiest temple to Shiva, it is said to house the eternal dance competition between Shiva and his consort, Parvati.

Large statue of Shiva at Kemp Fort, Bangalore

Shiva's most popular form is that of Nataraja, the Lord of the Dance. This "dance" is one that represents the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pt-NvcuDVBc

I’d watched and listened to this remix before, however once I began Project Conversion and learned more about Shiva’s dance, this video took on a whole new meaning. Watch and listen. One can see the “dance” in motion as stars are born with fiery brilliance, die, and thereafter sow the seeds for the next generation. Enjoy!

Vegetarianism: A Hindu Way of Life.

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Around the world, followers of Santana Dharma (Hinduism) are recognized by a few conspicuous traits. One of those is the practice of ahimsa, the concept of non-violence. Because Hindus believe that everything that takes birth, ages, and dies has a soul it is considered a sin to kill animals. Thus the eating of flesh is frowned upon. Of course as with everything in Hinduism, the call for humanity to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle is delivered as a suggestion rather than a command. This is due to the concept of freedom of belief–of choice–within the faith. No, you won’t burn in hell forever for eating meat, but because of the law of karma (action-reaction, cause-effect) and samsara (rebirth or reincarnation), someone who killed a goat in this life could very well end up one in the next.

Each birth (until moksha, or liberation) is viewed as an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of a past life. Being born as a goat then would (in theory) help that soul sympathize with the plight of said creature, thus giving him the chance to erase the effects of his negative karma in the future. The food one selects to eat is also said to fall into one of three categories:

  • Sattva
  • Rajas
  • Tamas

Sattva is the healthy stuff. This includes fruits, vegetables, rice, yogurt, and milk. Each food category is also associated with a type of energy which transfers from the food itself to the consumer. Sattva energy then is described as creating a tranquil, non-aggressive, and balanced person.

 

Rajas is your hot, spicy foods that are thought to create a passionate, authoritative, and aggressive nature.

 

 

 

Tamas foods include meat and overeating in general. This is the lowest and most negative form of energy and is associated with a sluggish, inactive, ignorant, and dull personality.

As with much of Sanatana Dharma, there are exceptions and variants–even with the concept of the vegetarian lifestyle. The caste system in Hinduism (the original one that resulted from one’s choosing and disposition, not ascription via birth) recognizes a society as being one of four parts: the priests or teachers, the warriors, the merchants, and the workers. Because warriors need to be aggressive and apathetic toward their enemies, it is acceptable and encouraged for them to partake of both rajas and tamas varieties of food.

There are obvious health benefits to living a vegetarian lifestyle. By doing so, you help stop animal cruelty through the butchering process. An animal raised for food often leads a painful, short, and terrified life of darkness and torment. Vegetables also hoard less (if any) unhealthy fats and hormonal additives that meat is notorious for. Eating vegetarian also places less strain on the environment. Eating meat involves feeding animals grain (unnatural in most species) and therefore twice as much land and fossil fuels are consumed in just raising the animals, butchering them, and transporting them through each phase. The vegetarian lifestyle translates into a direct from field to consumer transaction–especially when this includes locally grown produce.

As I mentioned, vegetarianism within the Hindu faith is a choice, not a commandment. Hinduism places a high value on individual choice. Your karma is your own, and no one–not god or your priest–can intrude upon the law of cause and effect. I chose to live as a vegetarian during my Hindu month and I can honestly say that I feel 100% healthier and have a more tranquil, peaceful outlook. In fact, I might just keep this going.

Namaste.

Hinduism: Week Two: Sacred Marks

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Hinduism is a faith defined by a rich tradition of artistic fluency dating back for millenia. In light of this, nothing–even the gods themselves–are what they seem. Manifold layers of meaning are embedded in everything from a simple hand gesture to an image of Shiva. One of Hinduism’s (and in fact India’s) most popular and best recognized symbols is that of the tilak and bindi.  

The tilak and bindi are marks of auspiciousness placed on the forehead between the eyebrows. This area is said to be the location of the Ajna Chakra where spiritual knowledge and focus is said to derive. A cooling effect given off by the drying of the ash, sandal paste, or kumkum treats the heat generated in the Ajna Chakra by meditation. In fact, when a devotee reaches moksha (liberation) the Ajna Chakra is the window through which enlightenment is viewed through.  

These marks come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. For religious purposes there are three basic forms: Devotees of Shiva apply sacred ash (bhasma, or vibhuti) in three horizontal lines across the forehead called the tripundra, devotees of Vishnu place a fingertip-sized dot of sandal paste on the Ajna Chakra (and sometimes a single, vertical line), while worshipers of Shakti or Devi use the iconic red sindoor or kumkum paste for the bindi spot.  

The three horizontal lines of the tripundra generally represent purification, rejuvenation, and destruction. The red talik (or bindi) is the symbol of Shiva's consort, Shakti, and thus the combination of these two signifies their union.

Over the centuries the bindi has served as both a symbol of Shakti, the seat of wisdom/inspiration, and the mark of betrothal. It is a misconception that only married women wear the bindi, however as a wife, a woman bearing this mark has taken up her place as guardian of her family’s welfare and progeny. She is in effect taking on the role of Shakti, the manifestation of power and energy (particularly creative) in the household.   

Indian woman wearing the bindi

The bindi in particular has undergone a cultural revolution of sorts over the last century and now also serves as a fashion statement alongside its religious counterpart. Bindis now use elaborate crystals, gemstones, colored felt, and adhesive paper designs to adorn the foreheads of their wearers. Many celebrities such as Julia Roberts and Gwen Stefani have been seen wearing the bindi, bringing the ancient mark more and more into the mainstream of pop culture.  

  

   

  

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

  

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

So there is your introduction into the world of sacred Hindu marks. Like all of Sanatana Dharma, there is much, much more beneath the surface of this deep and ancient tradition. Many people practice the use of holy symbology in numerous ways, including its very application. Hopefully this intro will lead you delve more deeply into the world of this sacred and beautiful art.  

Namaste 

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