Namaste. Before I make my 1st offering as a contributing writer I should mention a bit about the point of view I often take when writing on Religion & Spirituality. I aspire to be inclusive and expansive. I don’t always succeed but this is what I aim for. One of my favorite mantras is, “ Tradition gets a vote not a veto.” Hinduism has the built in ability to constantly readjust itself toward modern sensibilities. No, it doesn’t always take advantage of this perk but that doesn’t keep some of us from trying to nudge it along in that direction.
This brings me to my maiden subject. I’m quite disappointed in the case involving the Hindus in Edison, New Jersey, who are suing a restaurant because workers there accidentally sold them meat filled samosas and now may be liable to foot the bill for an all expense paid trip Mata Bharata for a soul cleansing dip in the Ganga. I find this excess spiritually childish and a bit of an embarrassment for fellow religionists. Now, I’ll grant you that I may be less sensitive to the plight of the diners since I spent the 1st 27 or so years of my life as an omnivore. While I don’t eat beef anymore I do know that I never considered myself “polluted.” I also know many meat eaters who are powerfully spiritual. They lead otherwise noble lives and have a great compassion for humanity. These are good folks I attempt to emulate. To be clear, I can imagine that if one led a beef-free life for their entire existence up to that point even the accidental ingestion of cow corpse might be somewhat of an issue. The case could be made that the restaurant is in fact, responsible for emotional damages. But I would hope that those in the Hindu (or any other pro-veg) community would keep this in perspective. Let us also avoid calling the accidental eating of any substance a “sin.” Western philosophers and theologians have it right when they say that to truly commit a sin one must have full knowledge and understanding of the action that one is taking.
I must give the diners the benefit of the doubt that until it is proved otherwise, we shouldn’t insinuate that they are using this case as opportunity to visit Dada and Dadi on someone else’s rupee. But I can’t help asking myself what would happen if it was not a restaurant (with I’m guessing a well funded insurance policy) that committed the transgression, but some close friends hosting a dinner party where foods might have been accidentally mislabeled. Would they so aggressively pursue this course of penance?
I would only hope that as they seek ways to purify themselves they consider exercising the virtue of daya, or compassion toward the wayward restaurant owners. My guess is that such giants of our tradition such as Gandhiji, Ramakrishna or Yogananda would concur. Over the past 30 years I’ve attempted to practice an ahimsa based diet. But I can’t deny that due to misunderstanding or other accident, a forkful of meat has passed my lips on very rare occasions. If my host had been Bill Gates and insisted on flying me to Rishikesh I’m sure I would have taken him up on it. But I’ve not had such luck. No, on those occasions I’ve simply stopped eating the offending offering, said Om Namah Shivaya once or twice and moved on with my life.
I expect I’ll be sharing more of my concerns of ritual purity in future posts. Until then, watch what you eat…and serve.
FRED STELLA began his spiritual search within the Hindu Dharma at the age of 15. He was initiated into his specific tradition over 20 years ago. His training includes time spent in temples and ashrams both here and in India. His articles have appeared in Freeman, India Link and Hinduism Today magazines, and the Grand Rapids Press. For over a decade Fred has held leadership positions in the local chapter of Self Realization Fellowship (Yogoda Satsanga Society in India) , a worldwide society deeply rooted in the Hindu/Yoga system of teaching. He is an ordained Pracharak (which translates to "Outreach Minister") for the West Michigan Hindu Temple. Under the direction of Vivekananda Kendra in 2005 Mr. Stella completed a 30 city lecture tour in India, joining the effort to promote indigenous culture and religion in areas facing the encroachment of Western influence. Here in the United States, he has given lectures, facilitated workshops and retreats at schools, churches and in the private sector. Fred is on the adjunct faculty of Muskegon Community College, where he is an instructor of Hatha Yoga. He is also president of Interfaith Dialogue Association, and hosts its weekly radio program on Religion and Spirituality, Common Threads on local NPR affiliate, WGVU-FM. Mr. Stella was educated at the University of Detroit, where he majored in Media Studies. Besides IDA, Fred sits on the advisory boards of Grand Dialogue (promoting conversations between Science and Religion), The Kaufman Interfaith Institute and the West Michigan chapter of the ACLU, where he often consults on freedom of religion issues.