Beliefnet
Excerpted from a longer article with permission of the author.

In recent years, Pagan groups have reached out to Hindus, pointing out that so-called "heathen" cultures--often in Europe--had much in common with elements of Hinduism. The Lithuania-based World Congress of Ethnic Religions wrote to a 1999 meeting of Hindus in India:
"We wish to draw the attention of the Hindu leaders to the efforts currently made to maintain the ancestral religions of the Native Americans, Africans, and other 'Pagan' peoples in the face of the subversion of their cultures and aggression against their dharmic practices by agents of self-righteous missionary religions. We also wish to draw your attention to the efforts to revive or reconstruct the ancestral religions of those nations who were overwhelmed by Christianization or Islamization in the past. By common origin or simply by a common inspiration, these ancient religions share a lot with the Sanatana Dharma, in both its tribal and its Sanskritic manifestations. We therefore wish to express our hope and intention of establishing a friendly cooperation."

There is certainly truth in this, as the late Ram Swarup, influential Hindu thinker and author, noted. At Ram Swarup's suggestion, I have done some participant observation of Neopagan movements in the last couple of years. I have made many friends in these circles, and I sympathize with the whole idea of the revival of the wrongfully eliminated ancestral religions. Clearly, there is a measure of common ground between Hinduism and Pagan revivalism.

That said, I do have mixed feelings about the actual performance of these fledgling new incarnations of old religions--incarnations which often suffer from some serious childhood diseases. In particular, I would like to draw attention to a few problems in the encounter between Hinduism and Neopaganism.

Sexual ethics: One thing which is bound to make many Hindus uncomfortable is the seeming predominance in certain Neopagan circles of what Indians know as hippyism: the kind of loose and undisciplined behavior which Western backpackers have displayed while travelling in India. Wiccas (neo-witches) dancing naked in the moonlight may not be the Shankaracharya's idea of Dharma. And while nakedness as such need not be immoral in any way, the fact is that the looser morality which Asians tend to identify as typically modern-Western is entirely the norm in most Neopagan circles.

As Fred Lamond candidly admits in his must-read introduction Religion without Beliefs, Essays in Pantheist Theology, Comparative Religion and Ethics (Janus Publ., London 1997, p.111): "Our practical ethics are 90% the same" as those of established religions, but "the only area where our principles differ sharply from theirs is in sexual ethics. To Pagans, sexual intimacy before marriage is neither sinful nor immoral (...) we regard shared sexual passion under most circumstances as a sacrament which, far from harming our souls, can be a gateway to self-transcendence and unity with the divine."

Hindus in India, and perhaps even more so overseas Hindus who have experienced a close-knit family structure and the concomitant "family values" as a great asset, would probably feel more comfortable among Christian evangelicals, with their prudish morality, than among libertine Neopagans.

Vegetarianism: Hindu taboos against beef-eating or meat-eating in general are also an issue. Though vegetarianism is a major trend in some Western Neopagan circles, other groups celebrate hunting and do-it-yourself slaughtering of your next meal as part of the return to a more natural way of life. Even among vegetarian Neopagans, the motive can be health and ecology rather than Hindu considerations such as compassion for all sentient beings and the taboo on touching, let alone digesting, animal tissue in a state of decomposition.

Spiritual practice: One of the most important fruits of civilization is a system of techniques allowing man to reach beyond the ordinary, world-absorbed consciousness. This does create an inequality within the broad category of non-Abrahamic or "Pagan" religions.

I am aware that this may sound elitist, but there is a real difference between the systematically developed techniques of consciousness as practiced in Hindu and Buddhist monasteries (and by laymen every morning and evening), on the one hand, and the whole spectrum of ordinary religious experience on the other: ritual, celebration, devotional practices, even erratic mystical experiences that anyone may have in exceptional moments. The best way to realize this difference is to meet an accomplished yogi. The quality of profound peace he radiates is unlike anything else.

This does not mean that other activities, religious and secular, are somehow bad and to be shunned. Not at all. Whereas Western adepts of yoga often deride "organized religion" with its rituals, I have never heard of an Indian or East-Asian practitioner who did not observe some calendar of rituals (e.g., Zen as a tradition of meditation is heavily ritualized). Contrary to what early Orientalists imagined, 99% of the people in the Orient are not sages; yet, they are aware of the existence and nearness of such a class of seers, and this infuses their religion with a quality absent in the purely naturalistic Pagan religions.

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