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Does Sanatana Dharma Have a Future in America?

Does Sanatana Dharma Have a Future in America?

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Published by dharmacentral
An Examination of the History of Hinduism in America and a Blueprint for our Religion's Continued Growth and Success.
An Examination of the History of Hinduism in America and a Blueprint for our Religion's Continued Growth and Success.

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Published by: dharmacentral on Nov 08, 2010
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Does Sanatana Dharma Have a Future in America?By Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya1.0 Introduction
 The mutual histories of both Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and that of the United States of America have been intimately intertwined for the last two centuries. Though the two cultureshave been so different from one another in many important ways, the profound and continuinginfluence of the world¶s most ancient spiritual culture on one of the earth¶s youngest nationscannot be denied. Hindu culture, ideas, philosophy, spirituality, and practices have found aneager audience in America since at least the early 19
th
Century. While today, in the dawn of the21
st
Century, Hindu influence has continued to mold the American cultural psyche in manyways, surprisingly, Sanatana Dharma finds itself increasingly in danger of becoming assimilatedinto the greater American mainstream, and of losing its own sense of identity as a unique andvibrant religious tradition. Many important elements of Sanatana Dharma have certainly had a powerful presence in the making of American history and culture. The question now is whether or not Sanatana Dharma itself has a secure place in America¶s future.
1.1 Turning East: America Discovers Dharma
The Hindu presence in America is longstanding and deeply pervasive. The first instances of these influences can be seen in the writings of several important 19
th
Century Americanintellectuals. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), two of the most important writers and philosophers of the New England Transcendentalist movement,were quite vocal in their admiration of Sanatana Dharma, the
 Bhagavad Gita
, and Upanishadic philosophy. Having first read the famous
 Bhagavad Gita
in 1832, Emerson wrote the followingabout his profound experience with this most important of Hindu scriptures:"It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, butlarge, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered over and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us."Thoreau, too, inspired by his first reading of the
 Bhagavad Gita
, wrote the following about hisadmiration for Sanatana Dharma:"Beside the vast and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagvat-Geeta, even our Shaksespeareseems sometimes youthfully green«
 Ex oriente lux
[Light from the East] may still be the mottoof scholars, for the Western world has not yet derived from the East all the light which it isdestined to derive thence."Similarly, many other important figures of 19th Century America bathed themselves in the³Light from the East´, and incorporated many elements of Sanatana Dharma for their own purposes. Many of these American intellectuals borrowed liberally from Sanatana Dharma, but
 
often without giving proper credit and acknowledgement of their dependence upon SanatanaDharma. Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Christian Science Church, is known to havederived much of her theology from her readings of the Upanishads. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,the founder of the Theosophical Society, was likewise wholly dependent upon her knowledge of Sanatana Dharma for the formulation of her world-view and teachings.
1.2 The Light of the East Comes West
While many of 19th Century America¶s leading intellectuals, writers, theologians and artiststurned to Hindu India for wisdom and insight, it was not until ³the East´ itself came to Americathat Sanatana Dharma truly gained widespread appreciation and acclaim. Without doubt, themost significant 19
th
 Century event responsible for America¶s deep admiration of Sanatana Dharma was themomentous arrival of Swami Vivekananda on American shores in 1893.A Hindu
 s
annya
 s
i
steeped in both knowledge of Vedic truth, as well as Western philosophy andreligion, Vivekananda was, without doubt, one of Sanatana Dharma¶s greatest heroes andambassadors to the nascent global civilization of modernity. Previous to Vivekananda¶s arrival inthe U.S., all American intellectuals¶ knowledge of Sanatana Dharma was absent the importantelement of a living Hindu voice. Americans had up till now experienced a Hinduism devoid of Hindus, a theoretical Vedanta without the breathing presence of a Vedanta Acharya, a Yogawithout living Yogis. Vivekananda¶s historic speech before Chicago¶s World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is the first instance in American history of a living representative of SanatanaDharma being allowed to represent Sanatana Dharma in its own voice, on its own terms, andfrom its own intrinsic perspective. Sanatana Dharma, as beautifully portrayed by SwamiVivekananda, set ablaze in the American imagination an interest in Hindu philosophy andreligion the likes of which America had not seen previously.Swami Vivekananda was one of the greatest heroes and ambassadors of Sanatana Dharma to theWest. It would be very difficult to overestimate the extremely important and positive impact thathe had in the furtherance of the cause of Hindu renaissance. Swami Vivekananda will always beremembered throughout history for his courage, strength and determination to have the entireworld understand the greatness of Sanatana Dharma.Along with the neo-Vedanta of Vivekananda, early 20
th
Century America witnessed a dramaticgrowth of interest in such elements of Sanatana Dharma as Yoga,meditation, and
bhakti
. Suchappeal was sparked by the presence of yet more Hindu teachers who came to the States in thefirst few decades after Vivekananda¶s momentous speaking tours. These historic figures include:Premananda Bharati and Swami Yogananda.Without doubt, however, the explosive interest in Sanatana Dharma that we are witnessing todayowes its antecedent momentum to the 1960s. In the 60s, America witnessed several concurrenttrends that starkly marked the spiked growth of Sanatana Dharma in the West. In the early 60s,Martin Luther King, Jr., the great leader of the African-American civil rights movement, openlyacknowledged his dependence upon the ideas of Gandhi for the success of his own movement. Inthe mid-sixties, immigration policy was altered so as to allow the influx of hundreds of 
 
thousands of new arrivals from India. This is a trend that has continued today, and has resulted inthe presence of roughly two million people of South Asian origin currently living in the UnitedStates. Along with their hopes of sharing in the relative prosperity of the American Dream, manyof these Hindu arrivals have brought with them important sacred elements of their preciousHindu heritage.The most important development that began in the 1960s, however, was the beginning of theinflux of dozens and hundreds more living representatives of Santana Dharma.
Guru
 s
,
 sw
ami
 s
,
 yogi
 s
and
acharya
 s
from India arrived in America, many of whom started movements that wouldultimately be responsible for introducing tens of millions of Americans and Europeans to a tasteof Sanatana Dharma. Such latter-day Vivekanandas include: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri SwamiRama, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja, Swami Satchidananda, and many others toonumerous to mention. America witnessed the explosive growth of things Indian in the 1960s.Today, in 2006, we are witnessing the mainstreaming of Sanatana Dharma. NRI success inAmerica has become legendary, with the Indian Hindu community now representing the mostsuccessful minority community in the nation. Over 700 traditional Hindu temples have been builtin America, with another 20 or so being built every year. In the post-911 geopolitical scene weare seeing dramatically increasing rapprochement between India and the U.S. in the War onTerror, as well as on economic, military and political cooperation - a trend that can only increasethe admiration of the general American public toward both India and Sanatana Dharma.Most significantly, however, many of the most important elements of Sanatana Dharma have been gaining increasing acceptance and popularity with a very large number of Americans. In2006, roughly 18 million Americans are practicing Yoga. In multiple polls of American religious beliefs and attitudes, up to 25% of Americans believe in reincarnation. Tens of millions of Americans meditate. Over 20 million are vegetarian. Almost half the population has turned toalternative health systems, such as Ayurveda, herbal medicine and massage. Looking at thewidespread acceptance of these many elements of Sanatana Dharma, it would seem that we arealmost experiencing a ³Hinduization´ of the American cultural milieu.
1.3 Vivid Examples of American Hindus
While admittedly, the vast majority of these Americans tend to be interested exclusively in thevarious elements of Sanatana Dharma, to the exclusion of overt Hindu identification, manyAmericans have openly and proudly embraced Sanatana Dharma itself as their own religioustradition. Indeed, many have become respected authorities and globally recognizedspokespersons for the tradition. David Frawley, Steven Knapp, Georg Feuerstein, and I myself represent only several of the many better-known American converts to Sanatana Dharma.
 H 
indui
 s
m Today
magazine, by far the highest quality and most widely circulated periodical onSanatana Dharma on earth today, is created and staffed primarily by American converts toSanatana Dharma.
1.4 Taking the Cross out of the Crossroads

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