Indian Hindu parents are to be given immense credit. The daily challenges that typical Hindu parents face in encouraging their children to maintain their commitment to Hinduism are enormous and very well-known.
Hindu parents try their best to observe fidelity to the religion of their ancestors, often having little understanding of the religion themselves other than what was given to them, in turn, by their own parents.
Just a Family Tradtion
All too many Indian Hindu youth, on the other hand, find themselves un-attracted to a religion that is little comprehended or respected by most of those around them – Hindu and non-Hindu alike. Today’s Hindu youth seek more strenuously convincing reasons for following a religion than merely the argument that it is the family tradition.
Youth Demand Explanations
Today’s Hindu youth demand, and deserve, cogent philosophical explanations about what Hinduism actually teaches, and why they should remain Hindu rather than join any of the many other religious alternatives they see around them. Temple priests are often ill equipped to give these bright Hindu youth the answers they so sincerely seek…mom and dad are usually even less knowledgeable than the temple ‘pujaris’. What is a Hindu child to do?
As I travel the nation delivering lectures on Hindu philosophy and spirituality, I frequently encounter a repeated scenario. Hindu parents will often approach me after I’ve finished my lecture and timidly ask if they can have some advice. The often-repeated story goes somewhat like this:
“We raised our son/daughter to be a good Hindu. We took them to the temple for important holidays. We even sent him/her to a Hindu camp for a weekend when they were 13. Now at the age of 23, our child has left Hinduism and converted to the (fill in the blank) religion. When we ask how could they have left the religion of their family, the answer that they throw back in our face is: ‘but mama/dada, you always taught us that all religions are the same, and that it doesn’t really matter how a person worships God. So what does it matter if we’ve followed your advice and switched to another religion?'”
Many of you currently reading this article have probably been similarly approached by parents expressing this same dilemma.
All Religions are the Same?
The truly sad thing about this scenario is that the child is, of course, quite correct in her assertion that she is only following the logical conclusion of her parents’ often-repeated mantra of “all religions are the same.”
If all religions are exactly the same, after all, and if we all just end up in the same place in the end anyway, then what does it really matter what religion we follow?
Hindu parents complain when their children adopt other religions, but without understanding that it was precisely this highly flawed dogma of Radical Universalism, and not some inherent flaw of Hinduism itself, that has driven their children away.
Parents Not to Blame
My contention is that parents themselves are not to be blamed for espousing this non-Hindu idea to their children. Rather, much of the blame is to be placed at the feet of today’s ill equipped Hindu teachers and leaders, the supposed guardians of authentic Dharma teachings.
In modern Hinduism, we hear from a variety of sources this claim that all religions are equal. Unfortunately, the most damaging source of this fallacy is none other than the many un-informed spiritual leaders of the Hindu community itself. I have been to innumerable pravachanas, for example, where a benignly grinning guruji will provide his audience with the following tediously parroted metaphor, what I call the Mountain Metaphor.
The Mountain Metaphor
“Truth (or God or Brahman) lies at the summit of a very high mountain. There are many diverse paths to reach the top of the mountain, and thus attain the one supreme goal. Some paths are shorter, some longer. The path itself, however, is unimportant. The only truly important thing is that seekers all reach the top of the mountain.”
While this simplistic metaphor might seem compelling at a cursory glance, it leaves out a very important elemental supposition: it makes the unfounded assumption that everyone wants to get to the top of the same mountain! Not every religion shares the same goal, the same conception of the Absolute (indeed, even the belief that there is an Absolute), or the same means to their respective goals. Rather, there are many different philosophical “mountains”, each with their own very unique claim to be the supreme goal of all human spiritual striving.
When we make the sentimentally comforting, yet unthinking, claim that “all religions are the same”, we are unwittingly betraying the grandeur and integrity of this ancient heritage, and contributing to weakening the philosophical/cultural matrix of Hinduism to its very core.
No Radical Universalism, Please!
Each and every time a Hindu upholds Radical Universalism, and bombastically proclaims that “all religions are the same”, she does so at the dire expense of the very Hinduism she claims to love. To deny the uniqueness and greatness of Hinduism leads, in turn, to a very unhealthy psychological state of self-loathing, a sense of unworthiness and a schizophrenic confusion on the part of anyone who wishes to consider themselves Hindu.
Why Kids Lack Interest
This is especially the case for Hindu youth. The effects of this debilitating inferiority complex, coupled with the lack of philosophical clarification, that result from the denigrating influence of Radical Universalism are the principal reasons why Hindu parents find their children all too often lacking a deep interest in Hinduism and, in some cases, even abandoning Hinduism for seemingly more rational and less self-abnegating religions.
Who, after all, wants to follow a religion in which it is claimed that the very basis of the religion is to exult the greatness of other religions at its own expense?
The Answer is One
If we want to ensure that our youth remain committed to Hinduism as a meaningful path, that our leaders teach Hinduism in a manner that represents the tradition authentically and with dignity, and that the greater Hindu community can feel that they have a religion that they can truly take pride in, then we must abandon Radical Universalism.
If we want Hinduism to survive so that it may continue to bring hope, meaning and enlightenment to untold future generations, then the next time our son or daughter asks us what Hinduism is really all about, let us not slavishly repeat to them that “all religions are the same”.
Let us Teach Them Sanatana Dharma
Let us instead look them in their eyes, and teach them the uniquely precious, the beautifully endearing, and the philosophically profound truths of our tradition…truths that have been responsible for keeping Hinduism a vibrantly living religious force for over 5000 years. Let us teach them Sanatana Dharma, the eternal way of Truth.
~ Dr. Frank Morales