Then suddenly the girl asked: 'What's your faith?' 'What?' I didn't understand the question.
'I mean, what's your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?'
'No!' I replied, 'I am neither Christian nor Muslim'.
She looked at me as if she was seeing a caged animal. She could not understand what I was talking about.
A common man in Europe or US knows about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today. But a Hindu, what?
I explained to her - I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth.
'Who is your prophet?' she asked.
'We don't have a prophet,' I replied.
'What's your Holy Book?'
'We don't have a single Holy Book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures,' I replied.
'Oh, come on at least tell me who is your God?'
'What do you mean by that?'
'Like we have Jesus and Muslims have Allah - don't you have a God?'
I thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans (alone) who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.
According to her (or anybody who doesn't know about Hinduism), a religion needs to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. I understood her perception and concept about faith. You can't compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of God.
I tried to explain to her: 'You can believe in one God and be a Hindu. You may believe in multiple deities and still you can be a Hindu. What's more - you may not believe in God at all, still you can be a Hindu. An atheist can also be a Hindu.'
This sounded very crazy to her. She couldn't imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years (the oldest Religion!), even after onslaught from foreign forces.
'I don't understand but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?'
What can I tell to this American girl?
I said: 'I do not go to temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes..'
'Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?'
'God is a friend. No- I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly.'
She thought for a while and then asked: 'Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?'
'Why should I? Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can throw me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning. I remain as a Hindu never by force, but choice.' I told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islambecause it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority..
'So, you don't believe in God?' she wanted everything in black and white.
'I didn't say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis - Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita - say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that Supreme Abstract Authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe.'
'Why can't you believe in one personal God?'
'We have a concept - abstract - not a personal God. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don't think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect Him or fear Him.' I told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal Gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.
'Good that you agree God might exist. You told that you pray. What is your prayer then?'
'Loka Samastha Sukino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,'
'Funny,' she laughed, 'What does it mean?'
'May all the beings in All the Worlds be happy. Let there be Peace, Peace,and Peace every where.'
'Hmm ..very interesting. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broad-minded and free' she exclaimed.
'The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is all about an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according to his temperament and inner evolution - it is as simple as that.'
'How does anybody convert to Hinduism?'
'Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but it is a Culture, a way of living life, a set of beliefs and practices. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single Authority or Organization either to accept you or to reject you or to oppose you on behalf of Hinduism.'
I told her - if you look for meaning in life, don't look for it in religions; don't go from one cult to another or from one guru to the next.
For a real seeker, I told her, the Bible itself gives guidelines when it says ' Kingdom of God is within you.' I reminded her of Christ's teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.
Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. 'Isavasyam idam sarvam' (i.e., the God is present/inhabits here & everywhere --- nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That's what Hinduism teaches you.
Hinduism is referred to as Sole Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The most important aspect ofHinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity.
For them, God is not controlling or managing just the Earth or the Life & Things on Earth, but this is the God of the whole Universe --- all the Stars & the Galaxies! It's not merely dictating dos & donts only to the Humans on Earth. It is the Creator, and operates/controls the whole Universe, yet allowing us the liberty to choose our actions.